Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 countryside, including urban elite women, staged protests. Inspired by what came to be known as the revolution of 1919, Mahmud Mukhtar sculpted a work called Nahdat Misr (The Awakening of Egypt), which shows a peasant woman lifting her veil from her face with her left arm and placing her right arm on the back of a sphinx as it rises up on its forelegs (see figure 6). Juxtaposing Egypt’s ancient pharaonic glory with her modern awakening, Mukhtar’s sculpture thus depicts modern Egypt as a woman. the work captured the public imagination, and the campaign to have the model sculpted in monumental size accelerated in the wake of the British unilateral declaration of Egyptian independence (with points reserved for future negotiation). the press closely followed the progress of the carving of The Awakening of Egypt in a public square in front of the railroad station. the government planned a big ceremony for the unveiling of the statue in 1928, to which foreign dignitaries and local notables were invited, and over which King Fu’ad presided. But by the latter’s explicit orders, and with few exceptions, Egyptian women were barred from the ceremony.

The almost complete absence of women from a national ceremony celebrating a sculpture in which a woman represented the nation epitomizes . . .

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