A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Remembering the Revolution's Great-Grandmothers: Hamieda Khalil, Hoda Sha‘arawi, Safiyya Zaghlul and the Revolutionaries of 1919

Women Demonstrating in 1919
I've posted previously about resemblances between Egypt's revolution of 1919 and the ferment that brought down Husni Mubarak. Yesterday's big march by angry women evokes memories of another march some of their great-grandmothers may have joined, the first great demonstration by women during the 1919 Revolution (sometimes called an uprising by the British Occupation it sought to end, but always thawra to Egyptians.)
With the crescent-and-cross flag
Women had played a role from the beginning of the troubles, and on March 14, 1919 a woman from Cairo's Gamaliyya district, Hamieda Khalil, was killed, the first woman martyr of the revolt. Two days later, on March 16, Hoda Sha‘arawi organized a demonstration consisting entirely of women, at least 300, to march and protest. March 16 is now celebrated as Egyptian women's day. Much of what little is available about Hamieda Khalil is in Arabic, or in general accounts of women in the Revolution, and I don't know if she was ever photographed.

Hoda Sha‘arawi
On multiple occasions, however, I have posted about the pioneering Egyptian feminist Hoda (Huda) Sha‘arawi, who famously stepped off a train in Cairo in 1923, returning from a feminist meeting in Europe, without her face veil. She became the heroine and patron saint of Egyptian feminism. But as the 1919 march shows, she was an activist long before she took off the veil.

Hoda Sha‘arawi & Safiyya Zaghlul
Another early activist and feminist was Safiyya Zaghlul, wife of nationalist leader Sa‘ad Zaghlul; her husband's forced exile to the Seychelles by the British was the spark that ignited the 1919 Revolution. Sha‘arawi and Safiyya Zaghlul are shown together at right.

These women were the pioneers. I'm sure they'd applaud yesterday's March, but also be appalled that things have not progressed more and may in fact be moving backward.

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