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Egypt as a Woman

Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

Beth Baron

Publication Year: 2005

This original and historically rich book examines the influence of gender in shaping the Egyptian nation from the nineteenth century through the revolution of 1919 and into the 1940s. In Egypt as a Woman, Beth Baron divides her narrative into two strands: the first analyzes the gendered language and images of the nation, and the second considers the political activities of women nationalists. She shows that, even though women were largely excluded from participation in the state, the visual imagery of nationalism was replete with female figures. Baron juxtaposes the idealization of the family and the feminine in nationalist rhetoric with transformations in elite households and the work of women activists striving for national independence.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

In a decade-long exploration of gender and nationalism, I incurred many debts, only some of which can be acknowledged here. Librarians and archivists in Egypt, England, and the United States have made this work possible. Michael Hopper and Alice Deyab at Harvard University’s Widener Library opened doors (and closets), and allowed me to read ...

Note on Transliteration

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p. xv-xv

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pp. 1-12

Unrest broke out in Egypt in March 1919 when the British, who had occupied the autonomous Ottoman province in 1882 and declared it a protectorate at the outset of World War I, arrested and deported leaders of the Wafd (literally, delegation) who sought to present Egyptian demands for independence at peace talks in Paris. Diverse groups in the city and ..

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PART I. Images of the Nation

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pp. 13-15

Part I looks at images of the nation against the backdrop of social transformations. The unraveling of elite Ottoman-Egyptian households in the nineteenth century helped to pave the way for the making of a national family. Nationalists debated the contours of the family and used metaphors of the nation as a family to promote a bourgeois ...

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1. Slavery, Ethnicity, and Family

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pp. 17-39

The origins of nations have been intensely debated by scholars. A consensus has emerged among most historians that nations are “constructed,” “invented,” or “imagined” in the modern period.1 Yet they are not invented from thin air. Rather, nationalists are bound by the cultural materials at hand, the ethnicities on the ground, and socioeconomic ...

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2. Constructing Egyptian Honor

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pp. 40-56

All nations, it seems, have a national honor to defend. Yet just as nations are not givens, but rather communities built around ethnic, economic, linguistic, religious, and other ties, so too national honor must be seen as a modern construct and a crucial element in the making of collective memory. Nationalists worked at promoting a sense of national honor ...

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3. Nationalist Iconography

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pp. 57-81

A nation is an abstraction. That is, it has no material form. Yet ever since the rise of nationalism, the nation has been represented visually. The nation is thus an “imagined community” that is sometimes imagined in human form.1 The purposes of this iconography are clear: images of the nation were meant to reaffirm the unity of the collective and give the ...

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4. Photography and the Press

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pp. 82-101

A nation is made up of a multitude of people who have never seen the vast majority of their compatriots. “It is imagined,” Benedict Anderson tells us, “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” Anderson ...

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PART II. The Politics of Women Nationalists

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pp. 103-105

Part 2 turns to the politics of women nationalists in the interwar years, focusing on the activities of a group of elite women who hoped to be remembered as important political actors. It opens with the story of the “ladies’ demonstrations” of March 1919, or, rather, the way those events entered into collective memory. Subsequent chapters consider the ...

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5. The “Ladies’ Demonstrations”

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pp. 107-134

Elite Egyptian women entered the collective memory and political history of Egypt when, in March 1919, a week into the unrest that came to be known as the revolution of 1919, they staged their own demonstrations. 1 A mythology has grown up around the event, which has received attention in scores of Arabic and English texts and has achieved iconic ...

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6. Mother of the Egyptians

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pp. 135-161

Safiyya Zaghlul, wife of the Wafdist leader Sa‘d Zaghlul, was on hand in March 1919 when her house was the focus of demonstrations, and she signed the women’s petitions delivered to foreign consuls. After the revolution of 1919, she became widely known as “Mother of the Egyptians.” Her title built on the nationalist role cast for elite women from ...

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7. Partisans of the Wafd

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pp. 162-188

The Wafd spearheaded the nationalist movement, and most Egyptian nationalists—male and female—fell in behind the “party of the nation.” Elite women attempted to secure a political niche for themselves by founding an auxiliary party organization—the Women’s Wafd—and by starting political periodicals that supported the Wafd. Yet these women wanted ...

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8. The Path of an Islamic Activist

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pp. 189-213

The politics of Labiba Ahmad (1870s–1951) diverged from those of many of her female contemporaries. Most endorsed the secularism of the Wafd, the Liberal Constitutionalists, and other like-minded parties, although the attempts of these parties to divorce religion from politics was never complete, and their support for women’s participation in the public ...

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pp. 215-220

This book opens with the unveiling of the monumental version of Mahmud Mukhtar’s The Awakening of Egypt. Even though Mukhtar’s sculpture depicts a peasant girl unveiling, contemporary unveiled Egyptian women could not attend the ceremony, suggesting that they were favored as symbols rather than as political actors, and seemingly confirming that ...


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pp. 221-260

Select Bibliography

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pp. 261-276


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pp. 277-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780520940819
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520251540

Page Count: 302
Publication Year: 2005