Though these women come from all walks of Egypt’s time, they nonetheless left a mark on your world, and we’re celebrating them on this most special of days.
We love our mothers (we hope the feeling’s mutual), and unless you’ve been living under an affordably comfortable rock these past few weeks, you’ll no doubt have known that today is Mother’s Day. Now, assuming you’re not a complete waste of skin and sinew (maybe even bones), you’ll have no doubt remembered to get mummy dearest something nice. Seeing as we’re generous and all, we’re going to give you a brief rundown on only five of Egypt’s most influential mother figures; ancient mythological forces, women’s rights activists, valiant pioneers and familiar heartfelt faces, these examples come from all walks of life (and afterlife), and though they may not be mothers per se, they’re still some of the best Egypt has ever had the privilege to host.
Mut – Mother of the Gods
If we were to sit down and sift through the 2,000 or so Ancient Egyptian gods, we’d probably never find an example as all-powerful as Mut, also known as Maut, Mout (creepy) and Vulture-Something-Man Sitting Down (look it up). Mut, in Ancient Egyptian mythology (or reality depending on your tinfoil hat) was a mother goddess with a variety of colourfully different forms and aspects. Existing since primeval times (as in before anything was anything), all the most prominent rulers of Egypt aligned themselves with her, trying to appeal to her limitless power, which makes sense given how she was literally the queen of all goddesses (you try raising a couple thousand gods). She had several temples scattered all over Egypt devoted to her, with daily rituals performed only by priestesses, making her the only known example of a religion exclusively tended to by women.
Though Ancient Egypt has seen its fair share of fearsome female rulers immortalised in art and history, Mut is, unfortunately, relatively unknown, but when you’re called the Mother of the Gods? Yeah, you’re an inspiration of sorts.
Safiya Zaghloul – Mother of Egyptians
We hear you over there with your comments about her never actually being a mother, but when you’ve put your life on the line for people you don’t even know, in a time where being a woman was much harder than it is now, with British occupation bearing down on an entire populace, fostering folks against a common foe as if they were your own flesh and blood, you’re pretty much a mother at this point. Safiya Zaghloul (originally Safiya Mostafa Fahmy) was born into an aristocratic family, going on to marry pivotal revolutionary leader Saad Zaghloul, adopting his surname after his banishment to Seychelles. Safiya took revolutionary matters into her own hands and carried the torch of defiance against the unfeeling might of the British way back in 1919. She would lead entire protests of both men and women, stoking the flames of resistance in a people thought to be downtrodden, and she even played a massive role in furthering female liberty at a time when it was sorely needed. She had opened her home to the people, calling it the House of the People (Bayt al-Umma), raising flags all around and sheltering the country’s at-risk politicians, free thinkers and all those against the occupation. She continued her struggle for 20 years (and you can barely sit through this article for two minutes), against all conceivable odds.
“If the brute English force has arrested Saad and his tongue, then his wife and life partner is making God and the homeland witness that she will replace her great husband…and that she considers herself a mother to all those who came out to face bullets for the sake of freedom,”
Karima Mokhtar – Mother of all Theatrical Mothers
After that 'righteous sermon' about one of Egypt’s most influential women, we thought it’d be apt to talk about a mother figure that everybody the country over would recognise in a heartbeat. If you were to ask your garden variety Egyptian (the ones that aren’t underage) who the motherliest of actresses there ever was in Egyptian cinema and theatre, they’ll immediately tell you it’s Karima Mokhtar (originally Ateyat Mohamed Badry). If you’re a more modern pursuer of the televised arts, you’ll no doubt recognize her for her famous role as Mama Nonna in the hit Egyptian series Yetraba fe Ezzo, doing what she does best by playing a sweet, loving mother figure to Yehya el-Fakharany’s Hamada, and if you’re a bit more classic, you’ll remember her outstanding role as Zeinab Gad Allah in the forever-cherished play El-Eyal Kebret, playing a naïve and caring mother to four misfits (much like us) whose only concerns in life are housework and instilling an appreciation for the family’s father (how motherly can anybody get?). She’s played the mother figure in many an Egyptian production; the likes of Ragol Faqad Akloh, Al-Farah and Saa we Nos. All good things tend to come to an end though, and Mokhtar passed away on the 12th of January of 2017 from this earth, but she’ll always be mama in our hearts, our minds and our spirits.
“Gone is the mother who would tend to our worries and woes as actors, gone is warmth, tenderness and the mother.” – Ahmed Zaki.
Nawal El Saadawi – Mother of Modern Egyptian Feminism
Right from the get-go, we’re going to lay down a disclaimer of sorts; throughout Egypt’s long and storied history, there have been many examples of brave, enduring women that have furthered the Egyptian feminist movement as well as women’s rights as a whole, the likes of Huda el-Shaarawi, Nabawiyya Musa and Doria Shafik to name a few, and exemplary individuals come up each and every day, but Nawal El-Saadawi deserves a spot on this (hopefully not offensive) article for her many, many efforts in furthering human rights in Egypt, vehemently fighting against the horrific malpractice of female genital mutilation (as well as the grossly outdated act of male circumcision), and spreading awareness pertaining to aggression towards women, the sanctity of their bodies and sexual understanding and education. In her ongoing fight against patriarchal oppression and gross violation of human decency, she was the founder of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association as well the co-founder of the Arab Association for Human Rights, and though she has come under fire for her views on religion and other sensitive topics throughout her lifetime, she’s remained steadfast in the face of literal danger, all to further causes most wouldn’t raise a finger against. Mother, writer, activist and woman of medicine, El Saadawi has all but solidified her place in Egyptian history, the mother of modern feminism, a voice for those without.
"Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies."
Mama – Mother of You
Didn’t see that twist coming, did you? Pretend you did, at least? Though these few (but powerful) examples of motherly figures throughout Egyptian history may have left their mark on the world in one way or another, none of them would deny that each and every mother out there is a hero unto herself. We’re not going to guilt trip you into loving your mom (we totally are), that’s just not how we roll, but think about it for a minute or two; this woman, who you’ve no doubt given hell throughout your lifetime, has been busting her back (and everything else) trying to provide and support you throughout your stint on this mortal coil. Yes, she may have been too rigid, too pious, too old-fashioned or even downright cruel a times, but who stood by you the most when nobody else would? Who spent all those nights when you were deathly ill as a child, getting you all the medicine and comfort you needed to survive? Who went to the ends of the earth to get you that one outrageously expensive toy that nobody in their right minds would get you, only to hear you laugh? To see you smile? Who is the one person who will always love you, no matter how badly you fuck up, no matter what you wear or who you consort with?
Being a woman in Egypt is already a needlessly hellish ordeal, being a mother is its own hellish ordeal to boot, being an Egyptian mother in this horrific day and age? Can you even imagine the level of strength you’d need to follow through with that? Your mother may have not been the best to you, she may have done you wrong, or she may have been absent altogether, but deep down in her heart of hearts, she loves you to a degree you will likely never gauge.
Forgive, forget, learn to let go and just try your hardest to show your mom that you truly do love her, even if it’s a hug.