- Daughters of the Nile: Egyptian Women Changing Their World by Spencer, Samia I
Auburn University French professor emerita Samia I. Spencer’s Daughters of the Nile: Egyptian Women Changing Their World, as described by Melanne Verveer, an Obama Administration–appointed ambassador for global women’s issues, “is a collection of autobiographical presentations by a group of Egyptian professional women,” and its contents go a long way toward providing “an important example of the history of achievement of women in the Middle East—all the more important because of the negative stereotypes and ignorance that often color today’s discourse” (p. xiii).
Apart from the acknowledgments, Verveer’s preface, an introduction by Spencer, and a section on contributors (pp. 391–402), the book is divided into topical essays penned by more than three dozen women of Egyptian heritage who excel in diverse professional fields, including medicine, journalism, teaching, engineering, diplomacy, and linguistics.
Most of the writers showcase their professional lives, but several feature impressive biographical anecdotes. For example, “Between Egypt and Sweden: A Passion for Improving the Lives of Egyptian Children,” the contribution by Dr. Hanna Aboulghar (pp. 9–18), starts with details about the author’s birth in Sweden because “Egypt had just lost the 1967 war against Israel, and my parents thought it would be safer for my mother to give birth in her hometown. At six months, she took me to Egypt, where I have lived ever since” (p. 9). She adds that growing up in a home grounded in two different cultures greatly affected her worldview. Educated in Cairo University to be a medical doctor, she points out: “The Swedish model of social justice that seeks to achieve equality and fair chance for all makes me particularly sensitive to social injustice and inequality in Egypt” (p. 10). Toward that end, she showed interest in the CSS NGO, founded by an Englishman, but run [End Page 103] by an Egyptian board, to help street children; she joined its board in 2005 and served for three years (p. 11). She and others established the first shelter for girls living on the street in the poor Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba. She played a vital role in establishing the Banati Foundation, the largest Egyptian NGO caring for children at risk, and is a professor of pediatrics and clinical nutrition at Cairo University.
Tyseer Aboulnasr, a Cairo University–trained engineer, earned her MS and PhD degrees in engineering at Queen’s University in Ottawa, Canada, where she concluded her academic career as dean of engineering after having been dean of applied science at the University of British Columbia. She writes that her mother defied or challenged antifemale norms in Egypt, including traveling “alone to study in the UK, marrying late in life, taking on three step-children to raise, in addition to three of her own, and all the while holding a 24/7 position as a powerful and engaged school principal” (p. 19). Having achieved professional success on her own, she confesses: “Everyone who knows my mother and me says the apple does not fall far from the tree, or as the Arabic saying goes, a girl turns out to be just like her mother” (pp. 19–20). She adds: “My mother never fit the stereotype of the women of her time. She created a new role model, and taught people to respect it, even when they disagreed with some of its aspects. Long after she passed, her influence has not been forgotten by those who crossed her path” (p. 26).
In “Waves of My Life: From the Sea of Alexandria to the Lake of Geneva,” Dr. Fawzia al Ashmawi, professor of Arabic language and Islamic studies at the University of Geneva, admits that in school, she strived to be the best, but regrets that “my mother could not read my remarkable results because she was illiterate” (p. 27). After 1971, when Al Azhar University awarded her husband a four-year scholarship for study at the University of Geneva to...