Women: Engendering Citizenship in Egypt

Article excerpt

Engendering Citizenship in Egypt, by Selma Botman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. xii + 115 pages. Notes to p. 124. Bibl. to p. 141. $45 cloth; $13.95 paper. Reviewed by Arlene MacLeod

Selma Botman's clear and perceptive book argues that women are usually left out of politics, and brings gender into the discussions on the meaning and practice of citizenship in Egypt. She asks some important and interesting questions: What is the experience of citizenship for Egyptian women? What do changing historical circumstances do to shape women's experiences? Who defines citizenship in Egypt, and how? The author answers these questions by providing an introductory discussion of the concept of citizenship and its intersection with gender; by covering three distinct periods in Egypt's 20th century political history; and by rethinking the concepts of patriarchy and citizenship. Ultimately, Botman hopes to contribute to our understanding of Egypt's political history, and to the literature on gender in the developing world.

Discussing citizenship, Botman reviews the work of Carole Pateman, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and others who have argued that women are often left out of considerations of politics and citizenry altogether. When women are included, it is generally as a note of contrast; women exist in the private realm, on which the political world is founded and from which it remains conceptually distinct. Women become, in this account, a kind of necessary foundation for the possibility of politics, with the ability to use their intuition and emotion to shape families and households. They are also divorced, by definition, from the realm of public action, for their obligations and nature suit them to the private, the emotive, the family. Botman also uses authors who discuss the Islamic tradition, drawing on Fatima Mernissi, for example, who argues that the Islamic tradition holds more than one view of women's nature and proper place, and that democratization requires a rethinking of Middle Eastern families.

The strongest part of the book is the three chapters which cover three distinct periods of political history: the 1920s nationalist, semi-liberal period; the state-run socialism of the Gamal `Abd al-Nasir period; and the open door era (from the 1970s through the 1990s) of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. …