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A Brief Reflection on Egypt As A Woman

December 2, 2008

Egypt as A Woman

Egypt as A Woman

Beth Baron answers in her book Egypt as a woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics an interesting question, which is why Egypt is seen as a woman? She uses historical analysis and cultural ones to answer this question. She believes that Egypt is seen as a woman for many reasons some are historical and others are cultural. The Egyptian nationalists during 1919 until 1940s played a great role in using these two elements to provoke Egyptians to see Egypt as a woman. In chapter four: Photography and the Press, Baron describes the nation as imagined as Anderson states. Also, she is emphasizes on Anderson’s notion print capitalism which helped in building imagined political community. As she states, “this trove of images circulated widely throughout Egypt in the first few decades of twentieth century, helping to shape political identity” (Baron: 82). In addition, “the new visual culture mapped the nation, familiarizing the viewer with its physical geography and human demography and generating new nationalist symbols and leaders” (Baron: 82).

The intellectual Egyptian women, the feminist movement, and the other parties, such as Islamists agreed that Egypt is a woman; however; the feminists and the intellectual women wanted to link the honor of the woman with her class and status rather than her body. Pomes were very powerful weapon that Egyptian nationalists used to resist the colonization. Honor with its different meanings and connotations were the main theme of the pomes. Baron gives three main Arabic equivalents to the word honor, which are karama, sharaf and ird. Each of them has a different connotation. The author illustrates that although the Egyptian women played a very positive role in the colonization, and they created their own political culture, they were not allowed to participate in nation- state later.

Nationalism is built around family honor and female purity. Nationalists use these cultural materials to promote a sense of national honor. Further, nationalists used the classical and colloquial language and multiple forms of oral and other media- speeches and poems to create the sense of national honor which is linked to the women’s honor and purity (Baron: 44). The author states that the rape by an enemy had political and personal results. Moreover, the dishonor to the women and her family became a collective one. Rape and prostitution brought dishonor to a woman’s family. As in prostitution a woman is willing party, she paid a high price in punishment. Interwar press published many stories of prostitutes killed by their relatives. The press showed these killers are heroes rather than criminals. Feminists were afraid to be seen as prostitutes because they were unveiled and mixing in the society. The feminists’ movement along with the Muslim brotherhood and other parties were against legalizing prostitution in Egypt because it dishonored the nation. Egyptians agreed that the nation was to be represented as a woman; they disagreed as which women would be chosen and what being a woman meant.

Fatima Rashid, Labiba Ahmad, and Huda Sha’rawi are some of the early nationalists Egyptian women, who the author mentions in the book. They stressed on the honor of the nation and the role of the Egyptian women. For instance, quoting the author, Rashid said that “educated women in their capacity as a mother had a duty to spread nationalist sentiment”, labiba Ahmad has a famous phrase which is “national pride”. Huda Sha’rawi’s famous quote: “defending our national honor”. Egypt was represented in the cartoon as a young female, infant, pharanic queen, or peasant. Promoting Egypt as a young woman was a great tool to mobilize the young generations as they easily identify with images, which mirrored their spirits. Egypt was seen as a woman and it is reflected in the cartoons, on the stamps, and statues.

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