"Brilliantly re-creates the untold story of Doria Shafik, the most impressive exponent of liberal Egyptian feminism. . . . Magically, the delicately sketched background gives the reader a wonderful sense of the sweep of modern Egyptian history. . . . The effect is mesmerizing."--Raymond W. Baker, Williams College
"A compelling story, beautifully written."--Jacqueline S. Ismael, University of Calgary
Cynthia Nelson brings to life a bold and gifted Egyptian of the mid-20th century who helped define what it means to be a modern Arab woman.
Doria Shafik (1908-1975), an Egyptian feminist, poet, publisher, and political activist, participated in one of her country's most explosive periods of social and political transformation. During the '40s she burst onto the public stage in Egypt, openly challenging every social, cultural, and legal barrier that she viewed as oppressive to the full equality of women. As the founder of the Daughters of the Nile Union in 1948, she catalyzed a movement that fought for suffrage and set up programs to combat illiteracy, provide economic opportunities for lower-class urban women, and raise the consciousness of middle-class university students.
She also founded and edited two prominent women's journals, wrote books in both French and Arabic, lectured throughout the world, married, and raised two children.
For a decade, she ignited the imagination of the press, where she was variously described as the "perfumed leader," a "danger to the Muslim nation," a "traitor to the revolution," and the "only man in Egypt." Then, in 1957, following her hunger strike in protest against the populist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, she was placed under house arrest. Within months her magazines folded, her name was officially banned from the press, and she entered a long period of seclusion that ended with her suicide in 1975.
With the cooperation of Shafik's daughters, who made available to her Shafik's three impressionistic, unpublished, and sometimes contradictory memoirs, Nelson has uncovered Shafik's story and brings the life and achievements of this remarkable woman to a Western audience.
Cynthia Nelson is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor of anthropology at the American University in Cairo and author of articles in Women's Studies International Forum, Feminist Issues, American Anthropologist, MESA Bulletin, and Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics.
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"an extensive, well written, and readable biography of one of the main figures in Egypt's women's movement, based partly on her unpublished memoirs and including intelligent discussion of the surrounding Egyptian situation." - IJMES International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
"For Western women, reading biographies of Middle Eastern women is often a chilling reminder of how terrible sexual inequality is outside of the Western world." "Nelson successfully resurrects a woman largely unknown in the West. Hers was not always a happy existence, but her moments of fulfillment still serve as an example for women today." Library Journal
"Cynthia Nelson's biography of Doria Shafik, the well-known and controversial Egyptian feminist of the post-World War II era, will surely remain definitive. The book is detailed but fast-moving, carefully researched but lively. It is narrative biography at its best." "Books like Ghada Hashem Talhami's The Mobilization of Muslim Women in Egypt and Cynthia Nelson's poignant biographical study Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist make clear that there are many women living lives of quiet desperation." Digest of Middle East Studies
"an intimate, insightful and gripping account of Shafik's life and quest for enlightenment and liberation, from her childhoodin Tanta and Mansoura early in this century, until her tragic death in 1975. The book also serves as a useful briefing on the Egyptian women's movement from the 30s to the 60s, and the concurrent debate on the relation between Islam and modernity, and between nationalism and feminism." Jordan Times
"Cynthia Nelson has created a sparkling account of the life of Doria Shafik (1908-1975), and Egyptian feminist, poet, student of philosophy, publisher, wife, and mother. The work highlights tensions between the liberal aims of freedom and feminism, and the political restriction of these aims. The author . . . expands her biographical task with necessary historical material and paints a picture of social transformation through the experiences of a controversial individual." MESA Bulletin
"In this exceptional biography, Cynthia Nelson skillfully narrates the tragic but inspiring story of Doria Shafik, an Egyptian feminist, writer, and political activist. The book beautifully weaves together the personal chronology of Shafik, major political and cultural trends of mid-20th-century Egypt and Europe, and the expressive and journalistic writings of Shafik herself, in which she explores questions of love, personal and political liberty, and the nature of knowledge."--International Journal of Middle East Studies
"Nelson succeeds in capturing the complexity of this bold and yet vulnerable activist by detailing both her personal poetic and public political personas. This is a compelling, well-researched biography which will be of interest to anyone concerned with Middle Eastern women's issues, international feminism, and Egyptian social and intellectual history." International Journal of Middle East Studies
"No previous book has documented in such detail and across so many domains how important is the capacity to engage in bringing social justice in the feminist world. The book provides useful and provocative information about an unusual woman, it also gives a rich analysis of the impact of cultural factors on people's lives." Journal of Gender Studies
"An important book that should be part of every library on the modern Middle East. . . . Strongly recommended to those interested in the history of modern Egypt as well as in the women's movement in newly decolonized countries." -- British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies