While they may or may not have you thinking valar morghulis, these incredible Egyptian women have used their talent to kick some serious literary ass. #EgyptianGirlMagic, anyone?
These women came from different socioeconomic backgrounds from all over Egypt; they have contrasting opinions and take different approached with words. But, what they all have in common is being blessed with incredible writing superpowers that changed their scene in Egypt for three centuries with a range of themes that has led (and continues to lead) to changing the social status of women in Egypt.
Aysha Taymur, or Aisha Al Taymuriyyah (1840 - 1902)
Born to an aristocratic (originally Kurdish) family in what was once an affluent neighbourhood – Al Darb Al Ahmar in Cairo – and raised in a political and literary family, she was educated in both French and English. Taymur was married at only 14 years old, but that did not stop the iron woman from writing or pursuing it as a career. She wrote in Arabic and Farsi, and published poetry in both languages. She was known for works like A Mirror of Contemplation, which is a key work in the Arab world, that reinterpreted the Quran to argue it is less patriarchal than what was thought.
Doria Shafik (1908 - 1975)
This one's a bit sad, because while Shafik was known for her poetry, editing, translation, and philosophy, and part of the women's liberation movement in Egypt, she had a tragic ending. She was born in Tanta and educated in French missionary schools, and at the age of 19, she was granted a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne in Paris! When she returned, she was due to teach at Cairo University's literature department, but the dean dismissed her for being too modern. She took on her feminist activities, she stormed the parliament, went on a hunger strike, took a trip around the world to speak on Egyptian women's conditions, got women the right to vote in 1956, and published works like her novel The Slave Sultane, in French, as well as her memoirs, and poetry. She also translated the Quran from Arabic to English and French. But, in 1975, she committed suicide after being placed under house arrest for almost 20 years (since 1956) by president Nasser for protesting against him.
Nawal Sa'adawi (1931 - )
As controversial as a woman can get. We all know about her, right? Well, she is a hardcore feminist who fought for her right to education and becoming a doctor. Often, her work is still considered too taboo for Egyptians, even in this day an age – she comments on everything under the sun; women's rights, religion, sex, and politics. Some of her strongest novels include Woman At Point Zero (1973), The Hidden face of Eve (1977), The Circling Song (1978), God Dies by the Nile (1985), Zeina (2009), and heavily explore themes that are more than relevant to Egyptian women – rather, they're a reality to most. Her husband, Sherif Shehata, translated many of her texts, and English versions of her novels are taught in universities abroad – get yourself a copy.
Radwa Ashour (1946 - 2014)
All the literature geeks felt a part of them gone on November 30th, 2014, when Radwa Ashour left our world. She was a unique literary woman who went on tangents exploring a variety of themes in literature. From the University of Massachusetts, she focused her PhD in African-American literature – she was all about the minorities. Her works are widely translated into English and are not only praised, but they are forever considered masterclasses; through her stories she dives into a journey through various historical periods in the region, seeking to delve into the mind of a plethora of characters living political and personal changes that affect their lives and their futures, and the hells they often have to collectively raise to survive. Some of the novels we suggest are Warm Stone (1985), Khadija and Sawsan (1989), I Saw the Date Palms a collection of short stories (1989), Apparitions (1998), Granada (2003), Siraj (2007), The Tanturian (2010) and finally, Blue Lorries (2014). She's also married to a poet, and her son is a poet. That family probably didn't just say 'good morning' like us regular folk.
Ahdaf Soueif (1950 - )
With a mother like Fatima Musa, who was a prominent translator and literature professor, you just know Soueif has game with words. She received tons of awards for her works, which include In the Eye of the Sun (1992), Sandpiper (1996), The Map of Love (1999), I Think of You (2007) and Cairo: My City, Our Revolution (2012). Soueif explores themes of love, human interactions, identity, sense of place and belonging, the relationship between the body and art, and revolutionary politics. She also initiated the Palestine Festival of Literature, seeking to assert "the power of culture over the culture of power. She writes in English, and is definitely not one to pass up on.
Miral al-Tahawy (1968 - )
From a conservative Bedouin family to an award-winning Egyptian novelist, writer, and professor at Arizona State University. Need we say more? Her father was the one who pushed for her to pursue her education, eventually earning her a degree in Arabic literature. She went on to study in Cairo University, accumulating the ability to speak many languages, including Hebrew, Farsi, English, and Urdu. She published her first and most critically acclaimed novel, The Tent (1996), followed by The Blue Aubergine, and Gazelle Tracks, where in all texts, she was one of the first novelists to ever write on the Egyptian Bedouin life and express problems faced by women of that society and the importance of their liberation. This woman does not write like all the others, this is some fiction set straight into non-fiction situations.
Mariam Naoum (1977 - )
Probably one of our recent favourite women in Egypt. She's a screenwriter and we just want to forever thank her for making a remarkable leap in Egyptian television in the past few years. She is so committed to the theme of Egypt and the career of writing that she left France, where she studied economics, to return and pursue screenwriting at the High Institute for Cinema in Cairo. Her works are written in Arabic, but, no worries for those who don't read Arabic; we suggest watching and seeing how she comes up with scenarios and perfectly translates renowned Egyptian novels and plays into gold on screen – from Zaat and Moga Harra (2013), to Segn El Nisaa (2014), to Ta7t El Saytara (2015), to Seqoot Horr (2016). We know you love this one because it includes binge-watching.