Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist

Material Information

Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist a woman apart
Nelson, Cynthia
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla
University Press of Florida
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
xxvi, 322 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Feminists -- Biography -- Egypt ( lcsh )
Feminism -- History -- Egypt ( lcsh )
Women in Islam -- History -- Egypt ( lcsh )
Femmes écrivains égyptiennes -- Biographies ( ram )
Féministes -- Biographies -- Égypte ( ram )
Féminisme -- Histoire -- Égypte ( ram )
Biographie ( swd )
bibliography ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
individual biography ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (p. 306-310) and index.
Statement of Responsibility:
Cynthia Nelson.

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University of Florida
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Copyright by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida. This work is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit You are free to electronically copy, distribute, and transmit this work if you attribute authorship. However, all printing rights are reserved by the University Press of Florida ( Please contact UPF for information about how to obtain copies of the work for print distribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the University Press of Florida. Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author's moral rights.
Resource Identifier:
34514021 ( OCLC )
96015389 ( LCCN )
0813014557 (alk. paper) ( ISBN )
HQ1793.Z75 S535 1996 ( lcc )
305.42/092 ( ddc )

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University Press of Florida

Full Text

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Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist


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Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

A Woman Apart


University Press of Florida
Gainesville/Tallahassee/Tampa/Boca Raton

Copyright 1996 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
All rights reserved

00 99 98 97 96 95 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Nelson, Cynthia.
Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist: a woman apart / Cynthia Nelson.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8130-1455-7 (alk. paper).
1. Shafiq, Durriyah. 2. Feminists-Egypt-Biography. 3. Feminism-
Egypt-History. 4. Women in Islam-Egypt-History. I. Title.
HQ1793.Z75S535 1996
305.42'092-dc20 96-15389

Frontispiece: Doria Shafik, 1952.

The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency for the
State University System of Florida, comprised of Florida A & M Univer-
sity, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida
State University, University of Central Florida, University of Florida,
University of North Florida, University of South Florida, and University of
West Florida.

University Press of Florida
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To Aziza and Jehane in memory of their mother


Action de Grdce

Je rends grace
Sa Dieu
d'avoir vu le jour
au pays des mysteres.
d'avoir grand
a l'ombre
des palmiers,
d'avoir vecu
dans les bras
du desert
garden des secrets...
d'avoir vu
l' clat
du disque solaire,
et d'avoir bu
eaux du Nil
fleuve beni.

I render thanks
unto God
to have been born
in the land of mysteries,
to have grown up
in the shadow
of the palms
to have lived
within the arms
of the desert
guardian of secrets ...
to have seen
the brilliance
of the solar disk
and to have drunk
as a child
from the Nile
sacred river.

-Doria Shafik, Larmes d'Isis






Preface xi
Chronology L xxi
The Awakening (1908-1928)
1. Between Two Poles 3

The Turning Point (1928-1944)
2. To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 33
3. In Search of Love (1932-1936) 53
4. Return to the City of Light (1936-1939) 70
5. A Stranger in Her Own Land (1939-1942) 91
6. The Turning Point (1942-1944) 105

The Struggle (1945-1954)
7. Into the Limelight (1945-1947) 119
8. Carrying the Banner (1948-1950) 142
9. Storming the Parliament (1951) 168
10. A False Dream (1952-1954) 178
11. Divergent Paths (1954) 193

Pursuing the Absolute (1954-1957)
12. Flight ground the World (1954-1955) 211
13. The Beginning of the End (1955-1957) 225
14. A Woman Alone (1957) 238

Solitude (1957-1975)
15. The Interior Life 253
16. Life as a Work of Art 275

Notes 285
Bibliography 306
Index 311




"The End Is My Beginning"

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And ...
Every phrase and sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.1

This is the story of an Egyptian woman who wanted her life "to be a work of
art." It is the story of one woman's struggle against those conservative forces
within her society-whether cultural, religious, or political-that opposed the
full equality of women. It is the story of the encounter between a woman's
emergent feminist consciousness, shaped by the values of Islam and human-
ism, and her society's awakened nationalist identity grounded in the historical
realities of the post-World War II era. Doria Shafik was a woman who wanted
"to experience it all," to be a public heroine in a society that defined and cir-
cumscribed woman primarily in terms of helper, supporter, and moral guide
to the family in the domestic sphere. She derived strength, importance, dig-
nity, and self-respect from her own exploits in pursuit of freedom.
There are several reasons, blending the personal and professional, that make
the writing of Doria Shafik's life particularly challenging. Paramount is the
woman herself. She is complex, contradictory, and controversial. She grew up
in a very modest and traditional middle-class Muslim family in the provincial
delta towns of Tanta and Mansura during the period when Egypt was passing
through the throes of great internal turmoil following World War I, which
erupted in the 1919 revolution. During the 1920s and 1930s, educational op-
portunities for women were slowly beginning to open up, and for some young
women like Doria Shafik-endowed with intelligence, ambition, and beauty-

xii Preface

education became an outlet from the constraints of tradition, particularly the
pressures for an early arranged marriage, and a chance to discover alternative
possibilities to a conventional life. Doria exploited that avenue to the fullest
and obtained her Doctorat d'Etat from the Sorbonne in 1940, achieving the
highest accolade, mention tries honorable. Although not the first Egyptian
woman to receive such a degree, at twenty-nine she was certainly among the
youngest. Education may have been an outlet for her craving to achieve, but
her ultimate ambition was to enter the public and political arena, and it was
within the context of post-World War II Egypt that Doria Shafik catapulted
herself into national and international prominence.
During her brief but volcanic eruption onto the public stage of Egypt, she
openly challenged every social, cultural, and legal barrier that she viewed as
inimical and oppressive to the full equality of the woman in her society, thereby
contributing more directly than had the reformers of an earlier generation to
the construction of an Egyptian feminist discourse surrounding women's rights
and Islam. She presented a radically different model as a leader of the women's
movement in Egypt. Her efforts set against the backdrop of postwar social and
political upheaval, Doria Shafik attempted to shape a new consciousness for
the women of Egypt on several fronts: first, through writing; second, through
developing a feminist organization and political party; and finally, through a
strategy of direct, militant confrontation.
She expressed her feminist vision through writing and not only founded
and edited two prominent women's journals but also authored and coauthored
several books in both French and Arabic on the history, development, and re-
naissance of the social and political rights of the Egyptian woman.2 She estab-
lished a feminist organization and a political party through which she chal-
lenged the very bastions of male authority under both pre-revolutionary and
revolutionary regimes, shaping a feminist consciousness through a strategy
of confrontation: storming the Egyptian parliament, attempting to run ille-
gally for parliamentary elections, staging sit-ins to protest the British occupa-
tion of Egypt, and finally organizing an eight-day hunger strike for women's
rights. She met and spoke openly about "women's rights" not only with the
president of her own country, but also with the heads of state of India, Ceylon,
Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran; she publicly chastised the president of Pakistan for
taking a second wife; she lectured to audiences in Europe, the United States,
and the Far and Middle East on the Arab woman's struggle for political equal-
ity and human freedom-only to lose her own freedom and civil liberties in
1957 following her dramatic protest against the erosion of democracy in Egypt
under the populist regime of Gamal Abdul Nasser.
Although Shafik was silenced and virtually secluded from public life from
1957 until her death in 1975, her image lingers on. Every so.often, the con-

Preface xiii

temporary Egyptian press mentions the Bint al-Nil Union or reprints her pho-
tograph as a nostalgic reminder of Egypt forty-five years ago. Her name can
still evoke strong reactions among certain circles. Following a paper I deliv-
ered at an international colloquium in Cairo in 1985, an angry and heated
debate among several Egyptian participants erupted over Doria Shafik's role
in the history of the women's movement in Egypt. Inji Efflatoun, a well-known
painter and leftist critic, publicly declaimed that "Doria Shafik had been a traitor
to the Revolution and did not merit having a biography written." What then
justifies this biography?
I first became aware of Doria Shafik through a gift of her poetry given me
by her daughters, Jehane andAziza, in June 1983,3 twenty years after my own
arrival in Egypt, twenty-six years after her house arrest and subsequent self-
imposed seclusion, and eight years after her death. From reading these poems,
I discovered a voice which-despite differences of language, culture, and his-
torical experience-was exploring ontological and existential concerns that
seemed so familiar from my reading of the lives of women from other cul-
tures and other times, women who had dared to be different. Although the
images and metaphors were taken from her own beloved Egypt, Shafik's themes
were those of solitude, alienation, determination, struggle, human freedom,
and the search for the Absolute. From the moment I read her poetry and then
later her memoirs, I became increasingly conscious of this interplay between
solitude, alienation, and creativity which ran through her life and work and
which brought her into continual conflict with her family and society. Al-
though her life is an expression of one woman's unique experience in the con-
text of a particular culture and history, her metaphors reach beyond the bor-
ders of Egypt to remind us of other women who also challenged the forces
that constrained their autonomy and freedom in an unswerving "courage to
be." And when thrown back upon herself, Doria listened to and depended upon
that inner realm of memory and consciousness, her muse of interior music,
her beloved companion through whose consolation she escaped on her flight
into the Infinite.

My great comfort
You transform my solitude into Beauty
You extend your hand
As a shipwrecked woman on the High Seas
Despairing to find
Even the lightest landmark
To cling to

xiv Preface

Overwhelmed by the Tempest
I do not know from
Which illumined Heavens
You appeared
Symbol of Love
Symbol of Beauty
I took refuge
In your tenderness
No longer a
Flotsam upon the Sea.4

Deeply touched by such poems, I was curious to know more about the woman
who wrote them. In 1984, I spent the fall semester teaching at the University
of California at Santa Cruz, where I met Akram Khater, a young Lebanese
graduate student who was interested in the history of women's movements in
the Middle East. We worked together for several months and discovered that
scarcely any scholarly attention had been given to the women's movement in
Egypt following World War II and no mention at all of Doria Shafik, despite
her very active public life during that period. Increasingly I became convinced
that a serious biographical study on Doria Shafik was not only relevant to my
own intellectual interests but also, given the dearth of scholarly material, long
Returning to Egypt in the spring of 1985, I broached the idea to her two
daughters, spelling out my feelings and intentions in wanting to undertake a
biographical study of their mother. Their response was and has continued
to be both enthusiastic and encouraging. And it is thanks to their trust that
Doria Shafik's personal memoirs and unpublished papers have been gener-
ously shared, profound and painful memories have been re-lived, and path-
ways of understanding have been established.
What draws me to Doria Shafik is not only her meditative and poetic sensi-
bility-from which she drew sustenance and inspiration during moments of
personal crisis, especially during those last eighteen years spent in near total
seclusion-but also her audacity and courage to fight against the powerful
institutions of patriarchy which challenged her own sense of autonomy and
freedom. Although her quixotic pursuit to reach for her star beyond society's
traditional expectations of what a woman can or cannot do, or be, may have
ended in tragedy, her themes reach far beyond the borders of Egypt.
It is this dynamism and tension created between and among the interlock-
ing and sometimes contradictory strands and demands in her life-the cul-

Preface xv

tures of the East and the West, the languages of Arabic and French, the medi-
tative mode of the poet and the activist mode of the feminist; the exigencies of
domestic and public responsibility-that contribute to her fascination. But is
she more than just a footnote in contemporary Egyptian history?
As C. W. Mills reminds us, "Neither the life of the individual nor the his-
tory of a society can be understood without an understanding of both."5 The
writing of Doria Shafik's life is an attempt not only to express something about
the shaping of a feminist consciousness but also to reveal something about
Egyptian society during a particular moment in its historical unfolding.
As the story of a woman of conscience and a woman of letters, what can
her life reveal about the nature and meaning of feminism, feminist conscious-
ness, and feminist movements during Egypt's struggle to liberate itself from
the last vestiges of colonial domination after the Second World War? What
kind of role model as a "feminist leader" did Doria Shafik offer to her Egyp-
tian, Muslim society, and how was her feminist struggle viewed by that soci-
ety? What were her views on the relationship between Islam, modernity, and
women's rights? How did she express this vision in her feminist discourse?
What did it mean to be a product of both French and Arabic cultures in a
society experiencing the throes of decolonization and national liberation? What
can her life tell us about the conflict of identities in a nationalistic society?
What was the nature of her participation in the construction of women's his-
tory in this post-World War II, pre-revolutionary, and early revolutionary
period in Egypt? In short, how does the life of Doria Shafik intertwine with
the life of her society during a particular moment of colonial encounter?
Doria Shafik was a Muslim modernist trying to forge a public, political
space for Egyptian women on different grounds than had those women lead-
ers who came before her. She not only challenged dominant Islamic traditions
and institutions by demanding full political equality between men and women,
a radical position from the point of view of conservative Islamic definitions of
women's place; also, by her own example, she tried to redefine women's con-
ceptions of themselves and their place in the wider political system. This is
still a burning issue within the Arab and Islamic world, as recent publications
will attest.
In Cairo in June 1995, a religious court ruled that a professor of Arabic
literature at Cairo University is an apostate on the grounds that his scholarly
analyses of the Quran are secularist and heretical. Because a Muslim is for-
bidden to remain married to an apostate, the professor's wife was ordered to
divorce her husband, which she patently refused to do. The couple now live in
a Scandinavian country to await the ruling on their appeal and to avoid pos-
sible assassinationly zealous fundamentalists in Egypt.

xvi Preface

In Bangladesh a reward of 50,000 rupees was offered in 1993 for the death
of Taslima Nasreen, a feminist writer whose novels and poems openly de-
mand human rights for women. A journalist pointed out that "In her latest
novel Lajja (Shame), Taslima Nasreen challenged her culture not on any po-
litical grounds but on the very simple and honest ground that she considers
herself not a Muslim but a secular person. This led in September 1993 to an
obscure fundamentalist group demanding the arrest and trial of Taslima as an
apostate, and a ban on her book."6
Egypt of the 1940s and 1950s was in many ways a much more tolerant
society than either Egypt or Bangladesh of the 1990s. Despite the resistance to
her struggle Shafik could openly engage in a feminist challenge to the reli-
gious establishment because she based her critique on the conviction that Is-
lam, when properly understood, offered no barriers to women's rights and
freedom. If the religious authorities saw in her feminism the hidden hand of
Western colonialism attempting to undermine the Islamic family, they none-
theless did not order her assassination. Nasreen on the other hand publicly
renounced her religion, which constitutes as great a threat to the religious
authorities today as does her feminist message in her fiction.
As Shafik attempted to unite her aesthetic voice with her activist voice in
her struggle for liberation-whether this be on the personal level or in the
domain of women's rights or ultimately for human rights-she ignited the
imagination of some, incurred the disdain of others, and suffered the wrath
and condemnation of many. For over a decade after World War II, she was the
focus of public interest on the pages of the national and international press,
variously described as the "perfumed leader," a "militant feminist," the "beau-
tiful leader," a "radical," a "danger to the Muslim nation," a "taste of candied
chestnut," the woman of the "eighty-eight eyebrows," a "traitor to the revo-
lution," and the "only Man in Egypt." To many of the younger and educated
generation after World War II, who were restless to move beyond the confines
of family into the public sphere but felt that the women's movement in Egypt
had become moribund, Doria Shafik offered a different voice.

Because this biography relies heavily upon Doria Shafik's memoirs-"that
highly personal configuration of significance by which a person views his own
experience"7-the question arises: why not just publish them? The answer is
simple. They are unpublishable as they exist: Doria wrote several versions of
her memoirs, and thus there is the problem of which version to choose and on
what basis. She was more poet than memoirist. Her style is impressionistic,
almost pointillistic-in the manner of a sketchbook rather than a photo al-
bum. No laborious descriptions, just a brush stroke. And as history, the mem-

Preface xvii

oirs can be maddeningly confusing, especially if one is looking for a profound
analysis of social and political situations.
Although written at three different moments of her life and not entirely
complete (some segments are lost; others are simply unavailable), each ver-
sion of Shafik's memoirs is like a separate map of the same symbolic land-
scape, illuminating the central strands of her thought and action within a
broader context of history and society. The memoirs allow the biographer to
follow the contours of her life, to grasp the myths she generated and the meta-
phors she chose to construct and interpret that life, to discover what she con-
sidered valuable and meaningful in the particular situations of her life and in
the individual stages of her past.
She wrote her first version sometime between 1955 and 1956, after her
lecture tour of the United States, in response to a specific request from Eliza-
beth Lawrence, chief editor of what was then called Harper and Brothers. Fas-
cinated by an article she had read about Doria in Holiday Magazine, Lawrence
wrote asking, "what would you think of writing your personal story that would
give you the opportunity to say all the things you believe and are working
toward in your public life?"8
Attracted by the idea, Doria embarked on a manuscript which she wrote
directly in French. The publishers requested an English translation, and by
May 1956, Doria had submitted a few chapters of her story. The editor's re-
sponse was prompt and direct: "The point of view at present seems to me not
quite right for American readers to whom your name is an unknown. It is, to
be frank, too self-centered. Possibly because you are a woman of ideas and
action, it is difficult for you to observe the people and the world around you in
a way to make them vivid for foreigners. It would be more interesting to show
the conditions in Egypt which prompted you to rebel and work for reform."9
When the Suez War erupted on October 29, 1956, all correspondence be-
tween Harper and Brothers and Doria Shafik ceased. Although large segments
of these early chapters are lost, one can still catch a glimpse of the world which
fashioned her and against which she rebelled. More interesting, however, are
the metaphors she uses to describe her project of writing her life story:

In sounding the past, one does not remember according to a pure geo-
metric line because the events get tangled and muddled in the night of
time. But at the moment that I least expect it, my memories pour forth
in luminous patches and enlighten me. To write the story of my life is
nothing less than to undertake the very conquest of my being. It is not a
question of venturing through space toward the conquest of some mate-
rial spoils. Iftis something else entirely. Here it is no more a question of
length, breadth and depth. Rather one perceives completely new lines in

xviii Preface

which the angles of flesh and blood intersect within the exciting mean-
dering of the human heart with its loves and hates, hopes and despair. I
look back upon my life as a series of incessant combats.

Her second version was begun some time after her house arrest in 1957.
Although Doria Shafik never dated her personal documents, it is fairly certain
that she completed this version of her memoirs around 1960 because she spe-
cifically comments, "for more than three years now, I have been carrying the
responsibility for my action to reclaim my freedom and those of my compa-
triots." This French manuscript consists of nearly 550 typewritten pages and
is the most complete of the memoirs. It augments and complements her ear-
lier descriptions of the world in which she grew up, her own parents and fam-
ily, her years in France during the 1930s, her marriage, and her public life
until her political demise in 1957. Throughout it all is the recurrent theme of
her passionate struggle to find a meaningful role in a society that would never
quite accept her on her own terms. Writing just after her dramatic protest
against Gamal Abdul Nasser, under conditions of house arrest and in French-
which was her favorite medium of poetic and literary expression-Doria Shafik
asserts that "this work, which I have titled Freedom, is not a description of
events but the expression of the trajectory of a life-a life that is essentially
an effort to break the chains that centuries of servitude have imposed on Egypt
and the Egyptians. It is an attempt to discover the immediate reasons as well
as the most distant origins of the chains of servitude weighing heavily upon
me since my early childhood."
The writings of a woman secluded in her apartment, having had her publi-
cations destroyed, being forbidden access to publishers, and being banned from
travel, one might ask for whom were these memoirs intended? Since French
was her medium of expression, only an educated elite within Egypt would
have been able to read them. Given the circumstances following her house
arrest, there was little chance she would ever get them published in Egypt.
Perhaps she wrote them for her daughters and future grandchildren. My own
feeling is that she wrote her memoirs as an act of self-preservation from the
semi-seclusion and solitude which she endured over nearly eighteen years.
It was during the final stages of this long internal exile that she wrote a
third and final version of her life, consisting of nearly 4,200 handwritten pages
in English, which she simply titled "Memoirs":
Why am I writing these memoirs? To see clearly into myself. In sound-
ing the past, the present will be brought into focus and then I can look to
the future with more clarity. When evoking the future, I don't speak
only for myself but also for mankind, never having separated my own
destiny from humanity as a whole. In my fight for freedom throughout

Preface xix

my life, I have always had the consciousness that my own freedom was
inseparable from mankind's freedom. Writing this book will help me to
be aware of the essential meaning of the events surrounding me-my
own story thus merging with the history of our century. The ultimate
hope is to reach the comprehension of man's profound nature through
the introspection of my own inner value.

These last memoirs are virtually "stream of consciousness"-incomplete, re-
petitive, and often difficult to comprehend. Yet they communicate an inner
pain and loneliness that is more reflective of an attempt by Shafik to resist her
own despair than to "set the record straight" as she had done in her French
memoirs of 1960. In essence a rewriting of that French version, they were
completed sometime in early 1975, a few months before she took her own life.
Writing had always been her weapon against loneliness, but it was a struggle
that finally exhausted that very resource.
Unless otherwise annotated, all quotations from Doria Shafik in this vol-
ume have been taken from her memoirs, and all translations are my own.
In some measure, Doria Shafik's end was my beginning. Yet for me to have
continued upon the journey depended on the assistance of many people along
the way. Limitation of space precludes my mentioning them all. However, spe-
cial recognition and thanks must go to those students, friends, and colleagues
who helped in the archival research, the translations, the introductions to key
personalities who knew or worked with Doria Shafik, or shared with me their
reactions to my work around the seminar tables, lecture halls, and offices. Es-
pecially I thank Laila Zaki, Lamia Raie, Reem Saad, Hania Sholkamy, Nevine
Ibrahim, and Laurence Moftah for their patient and meticulous help in mak-
ing sure I understood the nuances of the Arabic and French translations and
for guiding me into the history and culture of their own Egyptian society.
My gratitude also goes to Akram Khater, who first stimulated my interest
in and helped illuminate my understanding of Arab feminism and national-
ism, and to Huda Fahmy, who provided the first public forum for me to share
my project with an Egyptian and international audience. I wish to thank my
colleagues in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology, especially Mark
Kennedy, Nick Hopkins, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, whose interest and chal-
lenging queries always stimulated my thinking. To Tareq and Jacqueline Ismael,
Virginia Olesen, Elaine Hagopian, and Suzy Kane, my appreciation for their
unwavering moral support during the long and agonizing process of writing.
A sabbatical grant from the American University in Cairo and the Bunting
Institute at Radcliffe College were a valuable support in the early stages of the
Most significantly I am indebted to the patience of Raghia Ragheb, Munira
Qassem, Ibrahim Abdu, Zaynab Labib, Aida Nasrallah, Mustapha Amin, Inji

xx Preface

Efflatoun, Loutfi al-Kholi, and Pierre Seghers, who not only answered my
questions but offered insightful comments of their own. For her generosity of
spirit, not only for recounting her memories of Doria Shafik to me but also
for offering me copies of some of Doria's letters to her grandmother, I ac-
knowledge my particular debt to Sania Sha'rawi Lanfranchi. Special thanks
are due to Elizabeth Rodenbeck, whose meticulous and sensitive editing helped
put the finishing touches on the manuscript. To El-Said Badawi, my gratitude
for his gentle guidance in helping me understand the subtle nuances of the
Arabic language. Errors of interpretation are my full responsiblility.
Finally and most profoundly, my blessings to Aida Ibrahim Fahmy, with-
out whose nourishing friendship and unflinching faith in me I could not have
sustained the energy and momentum to continue this work, ten years in the


1882 Revolt against foreign dominion led by Colonel Ahmad Pasha
Orabi. The Orabi movement is the outcome of the erosion of
Khedival power and the imposition of European financial control
over the country. It also reflects a weakened Ottoman state and an
empire in decline.
1899-1901 Publication of Le Duc d'Harcourt's L'Egypte et Les Egyptiens
(1893) prompts Qasim Amin to write his two controversial books,
The Emancipation of Women and The New Woman, reflecting
the growing internal debate on how to reconcile Islam with mo-
1908 December 14, Doria is born in Tanta, third child and second daugh-
ter of Ahmad Chafik and Ratiba Nassif. Family moves to Man-
soura. By this time, three major political groups which are to domi-
nate Egyptian political life until the outbreak of World War I have
appeared on the scene. Despite their ideological differences, all three
contemplate the establishment of an independent state in Egypt,
entertain ideas of social reform, and seek to influence public opin-
ion through the press. The Hizb al- Watan (Nationalist Party), led
by Mustapha Kamil (1874-1908), advocates through the pages of
al-Liwa (The standard) the immediate evacuation of all British
even if it requires the use of force. The Hizb al-Umma, led by
Lutfi al-Sayyid (1872-1963), espouses the idea of an Egyptian
nation and regards the remolding of laws and institutions in re-
sponse to the needs of the modern age as the most important task
of their time. Al-Sayyid, as editor of al-Jarida (The newspaper)
contributes to the development of secular liberal ideas at a time
when pan-Islamic sentiment still moves the masses. A third po-
litical trend known as as-Salafiya (an Islamic reform move-
ment), founded by Mohammad Abdu (1849-1905) and catalyzed
by Rashid Rida (1865-1935), comes to provide the major opposi-
tion to secularism in the early decades of the twentieth century.

xxii Chronology

1911 Lord Kitchener takes over as high commissioner in Egypt; in 1913,
he establishes a legislative assembly.
1914 August 3, outbreak of World War I. Egypt is unilaterally declared
a protectorate, an act permanently changing that nation's legal
status by detaching it from the Ottoman Sultanate and defining
the terms of its future self-government. A new leadership repre-
senting the nucleus of a native Egyptian landed and commercial
bourgeoisie emerges and demands unconditional national inde-
pendence. The leader of this new movement is Saad Zaghlul (1857-
1927). Son of the mayor of a small village near the provincial capital
of Tanta, Zaghlul belongs to an elite group of agriculturalists who
are acquiring land and gaining power among the ruins of the
domainal system. He frequents the political salon of Princess Nazli
and marries the daughter of the prime minister, Safia Mustapha
Fahmi Pasha. Although belonging to the old aristocracy, she iden-
tifies herself wholly with her husband's nationalist struggle and
lives on after his death as the venerated "Mother of the Egyp-
1915 Doria goes back to Tanta to attend Notre Dame des Ap6tres, lives
with grandmother Khadiga.
1917 The Russian Revolution.
1918 Armistice declared, the end of World War I. Gamal Abdul Nasser
and Anwar Sadat are born.
1919 Fuad marries Nazli Abdul Rahim Sabri (1894-1971), an Egyptian
commoner with "foreign" blood. Nazli is the granddaughter of
the French Colonel Seve, known as Soliman Pasha al-Fransawi,
who was recruited by Muhammad Ali around 1817 to modernize
the Egyptian army. She is to bear Fuad one son, Faruq (1920), and
four daughters: Fawzia (1921), Faiza (1923), Faika (1926), and
Fathia (1930). (Fuad had been previously married to his cousin
Princess Chevikar but divorced her in 1898 allegedly because she
had not borne him a son.) Zaghlul spearheads the formation of a
national delegation (Wafd al-Misri) to attend the Paris Peace Con-
ference and put forth the nationalist claim for independence.
Zaghloul is not allowed to attend and leads the 1919 national revo-
lution demanding complete independence and the formation of a
constitution. Along with Ismail Sidki (1872-1950), he is exiled to
1920 Doria's mother dies in childbirth, and Doria's forced engagement
to nephew of maternal uncle is broken off.

Chronology xxiii

1922 November 28, Britain unilaterally ends protectorate over Egypt
and proclaims Sultan Fuad (1868-1936) King Fuad I. The declara-
tion contains provisos, known as the Four Reserved Points, basi-
cally assuring continued British control of the Sudan and Egypt's
defense, while guaranteeing special protection to the foreign com-
Doria joins her father in Alexandria, enrolls in the mission
school of St. Vincent de Paul, and prepares Brevet Elementaire.
She changes spelling of her name to Shafik.
1923 Egypt drafts the first Egyptian constitution and holds elections.
The constitution establishes a two-chamber parliament: a senate,
two-fifths of which are to be appointed by the king, and a cham-
ber of deputies to be elected by universal male suffrage. Huda
Sha'rawi returns from the meeting of the International Associa-
tion of Women in Rome and takes off her veil. Doria enrolls at
French Lyc&e and studies for her baccalaureate.
1924 Egypt's first parliament is elected, along with Prime Minister
Zaghlul, who is in the forefront of the attack against the British.
Sir Henry Lee Stack, sirdar of the Egyptian army, is assassinated
by a group of nationalist extremists ushering in an uninterrupted
crisis in domestic politics. Doria passes second part of bachot and
is awarded silver medal for attaining second highest marks in the
country-wide exam.
1925 Sha'rawi founds the Egyptian Feminist Union and establishes its
journal, L'Egyptienne, with Ceza Nabaraoui as editor-in-chief.
1927 Mustapha al-Nahas (1876-1965) succeeds to the leadership of the
Wafd. From this point onward, three groups alternately wield
power in Egypt: the palace, the British, and the Wafd, with minor-
ity parties manipulating the power struggle between the palace
and the Wafd to serve their own interests. Disagreement over the
best strategy for dealing with the British erupts within the leader-
ship of the Wafd, leading to the formation of the Liberal Consti-
tutionalist Party by Muhammad Mahmud in 1922 and the People's
Party by Ismail Sidki in 1930.
1928 Muslim Brotherhood is founded by Hassan al-Banna. Doria writes
to Huda Sha'rawi, meets her in Cairo, and gets scholarship from
Ministry of Education. Sha'rawi invites her to speak at Ezbakiya
Gardens Theater on May 4, where Doria makes her first public
speech for the Egyptian Feminist Union. In August, she sails for
France to study at the Sorbonne.

xxiv Chronology

1933 Young Egypt is founded by Ahmed Hussein. Doria obtains Li-
cence d'Etat and Licence Libre. Returns to Alexandria and stays
with her father.
1935 Doria enters Miss Egypt pageant in Alexandria and is runner-up,
a fact which attracts huge publicity. Marriage to journalist Ahmad
al-Sawi lasts only a few weeks.
1936 Doria divorces al-Sawi and returns to Sorbonne vowing never again
to marry. King Fuad dies; Faruq (1920-1965) succeeds to the
throne. Anglo-Egyptian Treaty is signed in August. Leon Blum is
elected prime minister of France. Fascism on the rise in Europe,
Italian troops occupy Addis Ababa. Civil war in Spain.
1936-1939 Palestinian Revolt-5,000 dead. Doria meets Nour al-Din Ragai.
They marry in Paris in 1937, honeymoon in England.
1939 Sha'rawi holds first Pan Arab Women's Congress on the Palestine
Question. September 1, Germany invades Poland. Outbreak of
World War II. Nour finishes his doctorate in law; Doria still needs
to defend her two theses. They return to Cairo.
1940 Doria returns to Paris in early spring to defend her theses. Is
awarded Doctorat d'Etat. Is rebuffed by Egyptian Feminist Union
and works as an inspector of French language for the government.
1942 In February, tanks roll up in front of Abdin Palace, and Lampson
orders Faruq-appointed pro-British al-Nahas as prime minister.
In April, a malaria epidemic breaks out in the southern province
of Aswan. November 4, the battle of al-Alamein halts German
advance. March 6, Doria gives birth to Aziza.
1944 August 17, Doria gives birth to Jehane. Mme. Marie Reilly be-
comes children's governess.
1945 Egypt declares war on the Axis, but war ends in May. The United
Nations is formed. Prime Minister Ahmad Mahir is assassinated.
The Arab League is established. Doria is approached by Princess
Chevikar to edit La Femme Nouvelle. Doria founds Bint al-Nil
and publishes first edition in December.
1946 Massive student strikes. Sidki resigns. Doria starts children's maga-
zine, Katkout. Meets Pierre Seghers, poet and publisher of resis-
tance literature.
1947 September, cholera epidemic breaks out in the delta province
of Sharqiya. November 29, the partition of Palestine. Princess
Chevikar dies, and Doria takes over La Femme Nouvelle. Huda
Sha'rawi dies; Doria is invited to deliver short eulogy.

Chronology xxv

1948 May 15, Egyptian troops attack Israel unsuccessfully. Palestinians
become refugees. Doria founds the Bint al-Nil Union and "goes
on the offensive."
1949 Cease-fire, armistice concluded in March. Struggle for national
liberation takes various forms. Faruq divorces the popular Queen
1951 In February, Doria leads a march on parliament, storming the gates
demanding rights of suffrage. She is arrested and summoned to
appear in court in April, but the case is dismissed sine die. Octo-
ber'8, Wafd unilaterally abrogates Anglo-Egyptian treaty. Novem-
ber through January, violent demonstrations against British oc-
cupation. Mossadegh, the first elected prime minister of Iran, vis-
its Cairo.
1952 January 25, British troops kill forty Egyptian police in their quar-
ters in the town of Ismailiya. Doria and Bint al-Nil demonstrate
in front of Barclay's Bank. January 26, Egyptian mobs burn for-
eign clubs and businesses in Cairo (Black Saturday). The king dis-
misses Nahas, recalls Ali Mahir. In March, Doria registers, ille-
gally, to run for elections. July 23, a military coup. July 26, the
king leaves Alexandria. Free Officers annul the 1923 constitution,
nationalize the press, abolish political parties, and appoint a fifty-
man commission to draft a new constitution.
1953 General Naguib is named president. The military Revolutionary
Command Council is placed in charge of government.
1954 February 24, Naguib resigns; Nasser takes over as chairman of
"Revolutionary Command Council. No women on constitutional
committee. Martial law reinstated, political parties dissolved, elec-
tions postponed. March 12, Doria and eight women from Bint al-
Nil stage an eight-day hunger strike at the Press Syndicate to pro-
test omission of women's representation on new constitutional
committee. In October, Doria begins round-the-world lecture tour.
October 27, attempt on Nasser's life by Muslim Brothers. In No-
vember, a new revolutionary tribunal is appointed; Naguib is put
under house arrest.
1955 Nasser goes to the Bandung Conference in April and meets Tito,
Nehru, and Chou En-lai. Establishment of non-aligned status.
1956 January 16, the new constitution is announced. Women granted
the vote, with condition of literacy, but all voluntary and private
organizations are suppressed. State co-opts women's voluntary

xxvi Chronology

associations and places them under Ministry of Social Affairs. Bint
al-Nil, along with all other private associations, collapses. Press
turns on Doria and begins a campaign of ridicule. July 26, Nasser
announces nationalization of Suez Canal Company. October 29,
outbreak of Suez War. Tripartite aggression halted by Eisenhower.
1957 February 6, Doria stages hunger strike at Indian Embassy, demand-
ing the end of dictatorship in Egypt and the withdrawal of Israel
from Egyptian soil. She is placed under house arrest. By June, all
Doria's magazines cease to exist and her publishing enterprise is
closed down. Her name is officially banned from the press. She
enters her long period of seclusion in her apartment in Zamalek.
1958 Union with Syria and the formation of the United Arab Republic.
1960 Doria writes a letter to Dag Hammerskj6ld protesting impotence
of the United Nations to protect "human rights."
1962 Free-enterprise system gives way to a centrally controlled, directed
economy. Egyptianization and subsequent nationalization of "en-
emy property" (largely British, French, and Jewish banks; insur-
ance companies; industrial enterprises; and land holdings).
1965 Mustapha al-Nahas dies; an enormous cortege follows his coffin.
1967 In February, Egypt and Syria sign a mutual-support pact. Israel
attacks and annihilates air force during the Six-Day War.
1968 Doria asks for a divorce.
1969 Nasser launches War of Attrition. First grandchild, Nazli, is born
to Jehane and Ali.
1970 Black September suppression of Palestinians in Jordan. Nasser
mediates. September 28, Nasser dies of a heart attack. Sadat (1918-
1981) becomes Egypt's third president.
1971 Sadat successfully survives a major coup against him known as
the May 17 Corrective Revolution. Doria visits Aziza in North
Carolina and sees her first-born grandson, Sharif.
1973 The October War and negotiations begin with Israel to gain back
the Sinai. Sadat initiates his turning to the West and economic
liberalization by announcing his "open door" policies. Second
granddaughter, Hedayat, is born to Jehane and Ali. Doria begin-
ning to fall into depression; begins writing third version of her
1975 September 20, Doria ends her life by throwing herself from her
sixth-floor apartment.

The Awakening (1908-1928)

To catch the imponderable thread connecting my very own existence to my own
past, as well as to my own country's history and civilization. The Egypt I knew
in my early years was an Egypt awakening from a thousand years' sleep, becom-
ing conscious of its long sufferings-that it had rights! And I learned in my
early childhood that the Will of woman can supersede the law.
-Shafik, "Memoirs" (1975), 4



Between Two Poles (1909-1928)

I find myself again at a huge window, looking out upon the Nile. My
governess is holding me and singing a melancholy tune filled with yearn-
ing for her native Syria. This view of the river enchants me with its
great beauty, overwhelming me with an indescribable feeling of the In-
finite-a sort of immanence of the Absolute. I lean out of the window to
see where the river ends, but then I feel the painful sensation of restraint
as the nimble hands of my governess pull me back to the chair. At the
same time I see my mother and grandmother sitting on a large sofa in
front of this window, drinking innumerable cups of coffee. Gently and
slowly they sip from the small cone-shaped cups as if Time had been
stripped of all Motion. If these images return simultaneously, it is for
the same reason, for like the Nile, the beauty and the extraordinary pres-
ence of my mother dazzled me and conveyed to me my first feeling
of the aesthetic Between these two poles of light my early childhood
slips by.
With this nostalgic glance back upon an idyllic scene from her childhood,
Doria Shafik opens her memoirs and introduces us not only to the social and
historical milieu within which her life unfolded but also to those crucial early
experiences which helped shape her into that indefatigable "seeker of the Ab-
solute." It is through her chosen metaphors that we are guided to a deeper
understanding of her personality and from which we discover those dominant
strands and underlying motifs around which she organized her life.
Born December 14, 1908, in Tanta, the capital of Gharbiya province, in the
home of her maternal grandmother, Doria was the third child and second daugh-
ter of six children born to Ratiba Nassif "Bey" and Ahmad Chafik "Effendi."
Although both parents were natives of Tanta, they belonged to two distinct
status groups, a fact revealed by the different titles appearing at the end of

4 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

their names. Titles were often bestowed on male members of certain powerful
families as part of an extensive hierarchical patronage system practiced through-
out Egypt when the country was still part of the Turkish Ottoman Sultanate
and were coveted marks of status within a society that was rigidly class struc-
tured. The most prestigious title, after the elite Royal Family of the Khedive,
was that of Pasha and was usually reserved for the wealthy and powerful
landowners or men in high political positions, whether these were the Turco-
Circassian elite or the indigenous Egyptians. Bey, a somewhat lesser status,
was often granted to men belonging to prominent urban groups, such as law-
yers, doctors, and wealthy merchants; or the rural notable families (al-'ayan)
of the provinces. Effendi was usually reserved for the petty civil servants who
served in the Khedival government and represented a lower status than Bey,
but certainly a step higher than the majority of the country's impoverished
Egypt at the turn of the century was a society in which a multitude of
factors combined to create conditions of protracted and intense crisis. The de-
feat of Ahmad Pasha Orabi in 1882 and the subsequent occupation of Egypt
by Great Britain marked the end of one era and the beginning of another in
Egyptian modern history. The reform and reconstruction of the Egyptian ad-
ministration and economy imposed by European financial control over the
country not only led to the emergence of near-feudal conditions in which huge
social and economic barriers separated social classes; it also meant a further
and more rapid fermentation of ideas begun earlier under Muhammad Ali,
the founder of the elite Royal Family of Egypt that ended with the abdication
of King Faruq in 1952. These conditions of foreign domination provoked pro-
found socioeconomic and political change throughout Egypt during the first
quarter of the twentieth century.
Marriages between people from different class backgrounds, while not usual
or desired, did occur, particularly when impoverished women of higher status,
usually Turco-Circassian, were married off to native Egyptian men of modest
means. Due to certain economic and cultural pressure, specifically linked to
the family circumstances surrounding Doria's grandmother, Ratiba and Ahmad
were forced into such a marriage.
Doria's grandmother, Khadiga, was the granddaughter of one of Tanta's
more influential notables, Husayn al-Qasabi, and thus inherited part of the
family wealth as well as notable status. When only a child of twelve, Khadiga's
family arranged for her marriage to a wealthy man nearly twice her age. By
the time she reached her twentieth birthday, she was a widow with three young
daughters. As a woman without male heirs, she was prevented by cultural
taboos from living on her own, even though the wealth she had inherited
from both her husband and her parents would have supported her indepen-

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 5

dent existence in great luxury. Women of Khadiga's generation-particularly
those from religiously conservative, Muslim families of the al-'ayan-were
not allowed to live independent lives without endangering their family's repu-
tation in the entire town. Khadiga, therefore, was obliged to live with her el-
der brother, Abul 'Azz al-Qasabi, known locally as "the pasha" because of his
wealth and very high position in the provincial government. The pasha as-
sumed the guardianship of his sister and her three "orphaned" daughters. To-
gether with his wealthy Turco-Circassian wife, his four daughters, and two
sons, they formed an extended family in his large palace in Tanta. Since there
was never a question of Khadiga's remarrying-"only girls of the street dream
of marrying again after the death of their husbands"-her wealth fell under
the control of her brother. As the absolute master of the family, the pasha
managed her fortune as he liked, without her being able to open her mouth or
demand the least account, "because she was only a woman and meant noth-
ing! She had even to accept her own husband taking a second wife into her
house because she had produced no male heirs."
At the same time, Abul 'Azz's wife believed that it was her prerogative to
arrange the marriages not only of her own daughters but also those of her
husband's sister. For her own daughtersshe arranged marriages among those
families who held the same social rank as their father. For the "orphans," she
made other arrangements. Khadiga's eldest daughter, Hafiza, was promised to
an army officer, Ali Chafik, who, although financially comfortable, had nei-
ther wealth (that is, land) nor high status. This was considered a shameful
downfall for Khadiga, who upon her own marriage had received several slaves
as a dowry. Because she had no male heirs to protect her own interests or
those of her daughters, Khadiga had to obey her brother (the head of the fam-
ily) in silence and without protest. As a matter of convenience, the pasha's
wife decided to marry the two sisters at one go. Thus Ratiba, who was barely
fifteen years old, was promised to Ali's younger brother, Ahmad Chafik,
a penniless student at the university finishing his studies in engineering.
To compensate for this financial problem, it was decided that the two young
couples would live together in the household of the elder brother, who would
assume all the financial responsibilities until his younger brother completed
his degree.
A double marriage ceremony, the katb-il-kitab,1 was arranged immediately.
However, fate intervened, and within a few weeks the army officer was killed
suddenly in an accident, rendering the marriage of Ratiba Nassif to Ahmad
Chafik somewhat meaningless. Even though Ahmad had fallen in love with
his bride upon first seeing her at the contract ceremony, he offered, out of a
fundamental sense of decency and pride, to withdraw from the marriage con-
tract if the pasha demanded it. Neither Khadiga nor her brother would con-

6 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

sent to annulling a marriage. That would have meant divorce in front of soci-
ety and thus would have brought great dishonor to all the family. Khadiga
later explained to her granddaughter Doria: "Weighing the two choices, a poor
man from a lower class or a family dishonored by divorce, the Pasha decided
to accept your father as the lesser of the two evils."
This class difference between her parents was a source of pain to the sensi-
tive child who felt that people around her considered her father not equal to
being the husband of a woman as well-born as her mother: "There always
seemed to be an unspoken feeling of mortification within Mama, who felt
diminished compared to her cousins, the majority of whom had married
wealthy landowners. And within Papa, a profound hurt. He loved my mother
deeply and had achieved a high level of culture through his own efforts, yet he
felt irreconcilably outclassed. A great tragedy existed within my family and
they hardly even realized it."
This class difference also heightened Doria's awareness of the particular
qualities she admired in each of her parents. From her mother, she developed a
love of beauty; from her father, the joy of reading and a deep sense of reli-
gious devotion. Although her love for her mother surpassed everything else,
Doria was also very fond of her father, whom she describes as "a man of deep
intellect and piety with an appearance of timidity and impenetrable reserve
who, like myself, adored my mother. I often overheard people say that my
mother had fallen on good luck; for however poor the revenues of Papa might
have been he was a very kind man and always showed great deference to his

During the first eighteen years of her life, Doria grew up within three differ-
ent social and cultural milieus of Egypt, Mansura, Tanta, and Alexandria, each
of which would be remembered because of their special significance in her life.
For Doria, these towns became identified with three different cultural worlds
that evoked contradictory emotional feelings. Mansura always remained the
idyllic locale where her mother's loving presence provided Doria with stabil-
ity and a sense of her own significance. Tanta, on the other hand, represented
Khadiga's household, conveying feelings of sadness, separation and estrange-
ment, a sense of chaos and disorder, the oppressive weight of ancient customs
and traditions. But Alexandria exposed Doria to the world of ideas, the en-
counter between East and West. From it she herself would embark for Paris in
her ambitious quest for a coveted degree from the Sorbonne.
She spent the first seven or eight years of her childhood in the picturesque
town of Mansura, in the province of Daqahliya, where her father had been
posted by the government as a civil engineer for the railways. She would later

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 7

return to Tanta for her schooling. Mansura personified her mother's house-
hold, embodying feelings of happiness, love and tenderness, a sense of order
and harmony, the Nile's serenity. On its way through Mansura, the Damietta
branch of the Nile flowed past her window. Doria's awakening to the pain of
separation came about when Ratiba left her husband and children for several
months of the year to stay with her mother and unmarried sisters in Tanta:
"For half the year my grandmother and her youngest daughter, Hikmat, who
at seventeen and unmarried was considered a potential old maid, lived with us
in Mansura. The other six months my mother returned to Tanta with grand-
mother, leaving me and my sisters and brothers under the care of Badia, the
Syrian governess, and an array of domestic servants. These frequent separa-
tions were exasperating and filled me with a dreadful anxiety. When my mother
left, the sun seemed to vanish around me and the days grew long. To forget
the pain and to help the time pass I would watch the boats on the Nile glide by
my window."
Doria grew up in a basically female-centered household which included her
mother, her grandmother,-her unmarried Aunt Hikmat, and her orphaned
cousin Zohra-whose mother, Hafiza, having lost her husband, Ali, after only
a few weeks of marriage, died herself while giving birth. In addition, there
was a swarm of servants, among whom was Zaynab, her mother's maid and a
key figure in Doria's early life, with whom she felt a very close bond: "I loved
Zaynab, she had the gift of the gab and the charm of the story teller and she
enraptured us children with her wondrous tales of good and evil spirits." It
was Zaynab who told Doria the story of her parents' marriage. It was Zaynab
who brought "the sorceress into the house to perform mysterious rituals for
Mama and her friends." Ruling over this menagerie of servants and children
was Badia, the French-speaking, Syrian nanny. Badia also took care of Doria's
older sister Soraya, "who I adored because of her good humor," and her elder
brother Gamal, "who had an excessively turbulent and violent temper brought
on by a childhood disease which had left him with a very bad limp. His lack of
response to affection and his tempestuousness earned him the title 'the lame
brat.'" What seems clear in her own mind is that Doria felt she was the favor-
ite child of her mother, while Soraya was the favorite of her grandmother.
"My sister called me La Reine [the Queen], because of the special attention I
received from Mama, who was a sort of Divinity in my eyes, and I was in
heaven whenever I could be the center of her attention." Her other siblings,
Ali, Muhammad and Layla, were all much younger and, with the exception of
Ali, were born after Doria had gone to live in Tanta.
As a child growing up in Mansura on the eve of the First World War, Doria
observed that being female involved differential, unequal, and sometimes un-
just treatment. Why was she punished when she walked on the side of the

8 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

river near the boys' school? Why couldn't she enter the mosque as her broth-
ers did? Why was Zaypab, the maid, beaten and banished to Tanta? Why did
the husband of her mother's friend take a second wife? Why did the sorceress
perform special rituals so that women would have male children? Was there
something bad in being a girl?
Her mother's pregnancy with Ali worried Doria. She had overheard the
servants talking about her mother having a baby, and this awakened her curi-
osity. She asked Badia, "Why is Mama wearing such large dresses and looking
so heavy and clumsy? How will she have the baby?" Badia told her, "One day
you will find it under the tree, near the window":
The days passed and the baby didn't appear. I was convinced that as soon
as the baby appeared, Badia would rush and grab it from the branches
and carry it immediately to my mother's room. Grandmother arrived
with her two slaves,2 Adam, a large black woman who was totally veiled
and never left the house nor spoke to anyone, and Lala Fayruz, a wom-
anish looking eunuch with large tinted lips, a red fez and the voice of a
child. Why does a woman have the name of a man? Why does a man
have a voice like a child? Badia said I asked too many questions! A few
days later grandmother and the "wise woman" are in my mother's room
and I hear her cries. Soon I hear Zaynab shouting: "It's a boy!" I ran to
the window but I understood nothing as the most absolute calm reigned
at the tree. A few weeks later mother came out of her room and I saw
that she had regained her svelte figure and I wondered if there wasn't
some connection between her thinness and the arrival of the baby and
posed the question to Badia who slapped me across the face forbidding
me to ask the same question again. What had I done to deserve such a

This response to her innocent question so upset her that it inhibited her from
approaching her father "with the heap of questions that worried me. I wanted
to ask him what God looked like? Was he like the round, white rock near the
bridge or like the trees by the window? Afraid of exposing myself to other
smacks I decided not to ask any more questions"-not even when she partici-
pated in the naming ceremony of her new-born brother a few days later.
Throughout Egypt, especially among traditional families in the rural areas,
during a special ceremony called the siboua (literally meaning "the seventh
day after birth") children, males usually, are the center of a joyous celebration
and given their names. Ali was named after his uncle, the army officer who
had died tragically, shortly after marrying Ratiba's sister. The ritual, which
involves a great deal of cultural symbolism, accentuates the social value of
males. "In an elaborate procession Ali was taken from Mama's room and car-

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 9

ried by Lala Fayruz through two rows of lighted candles held by the children
(males on one side females on the other) to the Rabbi who was waiting to
carry out the circumcision. The servants trilled their ululation; incense hung
heavily in the air and songs were sung-all in celebration of the birth of a
boy." She wondered about the day of her own birth-"a day no doubt filled
with great gloom. Are boys truly better than girls? This question would tor-
ment me for a long time. But the sting of the slap guarded my tongue."
In addition to observing traditional rituals within her immediate family,
Doria also listened to stories of women's lives told by her mother's friends,
the wives of the town notables who "flocked to our house attracted to mother
who was like the radiant sun of the universe. Every Monday afternoon when
the ladies of Mansura visited, the entire household bustled with movement as
everything was turned upside down and father was banished to his library."
During these gatherings, Doria listened to the women tell their life stories
and was astonished at how powerfully the institutions of polygamy and di-
vorce and the values of shame and honor were embedded in the fabric of soci-
ety and how heavily they weighed on the lives of these women:

An oppressive and agitated atmosphere reigned that Monday in the sit-
ting room of our house in Mansura. It was as if a beloved friend had
died. They were all there: Mama, Grandmother, my unmarried Aunt
Hikmat, the ladies of Mansura, Zaynab and the itinerant peddler look-
ing shamefaced as if she had committed a great crime! The cause of this
gloom was the news that the wife of the town prosecutor, Mama's friend,
had just learned that her husband had taken a second wife, because she
had failed to produce a male heir. The peddler had been given a large sum
of money to procure the services of a local sorceress who had promised
to use her special powers to bring a son from this pregnancy. But instead
of the desired male, the woman gave birth to twin daughters, augment-
ing to nine the numberof her female children. Now faced with a second
wife in her household she shouted. "I want a divorce!" With that shout
an icy silence fell over the room. I remained transfixed with astonish-
ment, not only at the violent reaction of this woman who up until now
was considered a sort of simpleton incapable of taking any serious ac-
tion, but also at the energetic opposition to her announced decision by
the women around her. Grandmother whose attachment to the past could
not be severed so easily led the campaign. "I don't understand you women
of today insisting on exclusiveness. You are making a mountain out of a
molehill. By taking a second wife the husband reduces the burden on the
woman. I remember when my husband took another wife, I was pleased
to have a friend in my rival. For I was sick to death of the company of

10 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

slaves, eunuchs and servants. I had someone to talk to. And even when
he took a third wife we all banded together against him, the common
enemy. Never pronounce the word divorce! It signifies dishonor for you
and your daughters who will never see the shadow of a suitor if you act
in this way." My grandmother's words seemed to act as a whip over the
other women as the thought of their daughters being old maids sank in
and they all rallied round her. "Forget this idea," my mother counseled,
"You must fight to regain your husband's love." "To fail once or even
many times does not mean you will always fail," concluded grandmother.
So they decided to ask the peddler woman to find her sorceress again.

Doria grew up not only listening to these women's unhappy tales of domestic
life but also sensing her mother's inferiority complex in front of certain rela-
tives within their extended family structure. Whenever her Aunt Aziza, Ratiba's
best friend and wealthy cousin from Cairo would visit them in Mansura, bring-
ing news of the latest fashions and political events from the capital, "the whole
household was turned inside out in preparation. It was necessary that Tante
Zaza, who was married to a rich lawyer from Cairo, see that our lifestyle was
that of a rich family. Always this same complex with my mother."
Although Doria was aware that women were being treated unfairly, she
also realized that in the bosom of her own family, her mother totally domi-
nated her father and even herself. Her mother and grandmother could get all
they wanted by manipulating her father into feeling that everything had been
his idea in the first place. His complete and utterly selfless devotion to his wife
was the envy of many of the women in Mansura:
Better a kind husband than a rich and tyrannical one. Mama could never
get used to the idea that she was married to a simple functionary who
had no other revenue than his salary. Her lavish attempts to maintain
appearances in front of her rich cousins led to a continual exhaustion of
the financial resources of the household-until the point of bankruptcy.
There were never sufficient funds from my father's modest salary to
maintain the lavish style in which my mother entertained. This became
the chief source of friction between my parents as well as creating within
me a great feeling of insecurity. I felt somewhat deceived that Mama
attached more importance to her innumerable friends, to the Monday
receptions, to the visits of Grandmother, to the cousins from Cairo who
came with their children, than she did to our comfort or that of Papa.

Not only was Doria an unhappy witness to the social inequality "reigning
within the bosom of my own family"; she also felt the sting of humiliation in
being relegated to a class category inferior to her own self image: "I always
had the tendency to place things and people into categories and classes. And as

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 11

I nearly always figured out that I was not on the class level that I imagined, I
suffered terribly."
She noticed that "our home like the homes of all the other less wealthy
people in Mansura, was situated on the banks of the diversionary canal, called
the little river, while those of the great landowners were all along the banks of
the great river." She was made to feel that the nationality of one's governess
could also be the basis for lowered social status. The most wealthy families
could afford to hire an English governess, which was the case with her Aunt
Aziza. She felt demeaned "when one day my cousin threw me a haughty look,
scorning Badia, who was but a simple Syrian. I was mortified not only be-
cause I loved Badia but because this governess hierarchy relegated me to the
less wealthy or rather the more poor. My cousin could attend the prestigious
French Lycee in Cairo while I had to enroll in the miserable Italian nuns' school
in Mansura."
These early childhood encounters with the yoke of social and gender in-
equality must have provoked within Doria some very deep, personal feelings
of outrage and indignation and probably did more than anything else to ag-
gravate her impulsive temperament to revolt. While questioning (within her-
self, to be sure) the reasons behind these social inequities, she seemed equally
preoccupied with trying to understand the meaning of God. There were so
many diverse interpretations of the divinity expressed by those around her.
There was the God of Zaynab, who "always blended His name along with the
pantheon of underworld spirits and jinns to assure her protection from the
evil eye or the veracity of her words." There was the God of her Christian
governess and the nun's church that "thanks to the stained-glass windows
allowed me to imagine God in a human form." There was the God of her
grandmother, "who prayed five times a day to some invisible person demand-
ing regularly, at the end of each prayer, the protection of her two remaining
daughters." Her mother hardly mentioned God at all, but Doria believed that
"my mother's beauty was testimony enough to His existence." Finally there
was the God of her pious father, "the most formidable of all, the God who did
not pardon":
The interpretation that my father gave to us of the divinity was so ab-
stract that I could not understand a thing. It was absolutely forbidden
for us to represent God under any material form whatsoever. I would
break my head trying to represent a line so very fine that it would escape
matter. But always I would stumble on a material object. I was very of-
ten disturbed thinking about this during the night. Then one day while
watching the river moving toward the invisible, beyond the distant shore,
I had the intuition that God must be there. Often when I awoke at dawn
to the chant of the muezzin,3 I was filled with this profound emotion, a

12 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

harmony blending with a sense of quietude. I forgot every oppression.
Not understanding what had passed through me I remained overwhelmed
by nothing less than an indescribable symphony. Everything, like the
minaret, which I could see from my window on the opposite side of the
little river, seemed to soar up in the direction of heaven, in prayer. The
breaking forth of this religious sentiment filled me with a sense of the

During her early childhood, Doria never felt the same sense of harmony with
other people that she experienced in the presence of her mother and the river.
Even when she was playing "rough games" with the other children, games
she wanted to join, "I always had this unbearable sensation of feeling like a
stranger. I experienced a great trauma in discovering myself un etre a part-
not like everybody else. It tortured me to find that I was too thoughtful for
my age. Being too young, I did not understand the irreconcilable opposition in
me between dreams and action. An antagonism that took me a very long time
and many battles to resolve. Whereas the others played simply, my reflections
preoccupied me to the point of paralysis, depriving me of that ease which I
instinctively tried to grasp. I was unhappy."
This sense of estrangement was accentuated by her mother's frequent and
long absences. Doria was left under the care of Badia and the domestic ser-
vants and, in her solitude, would often slip into a mood of withdrawal, "listen-
ing to songs of the boatmen on the Nile which enchanted me and helped dissi-
pate my misery. They were like a lament and blended perfectly with the chants
of the muezzin."

A most painful moment of separation occurred when Doria was around six or
seven years old. Her parents decided to send her to Tanta to live with her
grandmother so that she could attend the highly respected French Mission
School, Notre Dame des Apotres. Foreign schools, particularly French mission
schools, played a prominent role in the education of a certain class of Egyptian
women during the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twen-
tieth centuries. When Doria entered primary school, more than half of all young
women registered in schools throughout the country were in foreign sectar-
ian schools-most of them Coptic, Greek, or Jewish-to which very few Mus-
lim families sent their girls. The number of French mission schools was nearly
triple that of the British, even though the country was a British protectorate.
It was only in 1873 that the first Muslim girls' school (al-Saniya) was founded
under the patronage of Haunt, Ismail Pasha's third wife. Few upper-class fami-
lies appear to have taken advantage of this school because at the beginning,

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 13

"girls were recruited from among the white slaves belonging to the different
families related to the ruler and from the families of the palace officials. The
foreign aristocratic families employed European teachers privately, a practice
not widely adopted by the Egyptian people."4 By the end of World War I, it
was becoming increasingly more prestigious and culturally acceptable for
middle-class Muslim families to educate their daughters in foreign schools.
However, the objective was not to prepare such a young woman for an inde-
pendent life. It was to equip her with those proper and desirable assets that
would make her a "Lady of the Salon" and thus an attractive prospect for a
good arranged marriage.
The decision to send Doria to Notre Dame des Apotres had as much to do
with her mother's social-class aspirations for her daughter (after all, she her-
self had attended this school) as it did with the actual lack of governmental
schools for women in the provinces as this time. There is no question that this
decision would influence the future course of Doria's life. On one level, this
early educational experience contributed to her bias toward French language
and culture, alienating her from the more dominant Arabic cultural and lin-
guistic roots of Egyptian society. On another level, it intensified her sense of
abandonment'by her mother.
When she learned that she would have to leave Mansura, she was filled
with misgivings: "I could not imagine how it would be possible to leave Mama,
my ultimate Source of joy, my source of light without whom everything in
me and around me became dark." But her mother persuaded her that it would
be in her best interest to go to this school, which was far superior to the one in
Mansura. In fact Doria felt stifled by the Italian nuns' school, "where nothing
had ever attracted me except the immense garden where we played all too
briefly and the grand piano in the parlor on which despite the lessons, I never
could quite create the right sounds. I paid more attention to the music from
the chapel than my lessons and received innumerable raps on the knuckles."
Doria attempted to compensate for her unhappiness at the thought of being
separated from her mother by telling herself that she would at least be re-
united with her sister, Soraya, who had been sent to Tanta two years earlier.
Despite their sibling jealousies over parental attentions, Doria missed her
sister's vivacity and was looking forward to being "happily established in
Grandmother's house and perhaps in Grandmother's heart as well."
Accompanied by her mother and Badia, Doria traveled the thirty-five miles
from Mansura to Tanta by train. When she arrived at this melting pot of the
Delta-the heroic capital of Gharbiya province and the third largest industrial
and commercial city in Egypt5-her dream that "Tanta might be even more
beautiful than Mansura" was shattered by a first impression that seemed to
augur the bleak life that lay ahead of her: "The streets seemed dirty and the

14 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

people had ghost-like faces. Tanta was a town without color, without light and
above all without the Nile. Nothing but a miserably shallow and muddy ca-
nal. Was it chiefly the absence of Mama and the Nile? Or was it perhaps an
intuition of the unhappiness that was awaiting me?"
Her grandmother was now living in her own house. Since her daughters
Ratiba and Hikmat were now married and her older daughter as well as older
brother had died, Khadiga al-Qasabi was no longer forcibly obliged to live
under male tutelage. Although she could have benefited more in a material
sense by living within the household of her wealthy and forceful uncle, al-
Sa'id al-Qasabi (1860-1927), son of the powerful Husayn al-Qasabi, she was
allowed to live independently in her own house on part of the family estate
she inherited after her brother's death. In Doria's eyes, this decision reflected
a "contempt for material values," an attitude that Doria always admired in her
maternal grandmother. The fact that Khadiga was allowed to do this suggests
a certain relaxation on the seclusion of widows. A more fundamental reason
for her decision is probably linked to the status difference that existed be-
tween Khadiga and her uncle. Although he had political power ("On February
23, 1924, al-Sa'id al-Qasabi was elected senator from Tanta"), he lacked social
status ("He was black and wore a gallabiya").6 In Egyptian parlance, to "wear
a gallabiya" (a loose-fitting robe, the traditional dress of peasant males) usu-
ally meant that one was of the underprivileged class and also illiterate. To hint
at his skin color was to suggest his black "slave" origins.
Although uncle and niece were linked agnatically through Husayn al-
Qasabi, they did not share the same mother. Among certain wealthy, rural
notable families of Husayn's generation, it was not unusual for a man to have
several wives as well as concubines. In fact, it was common family knowledge
that al-Sa'id was the offspring of the union between his father and a black
concubine slave, which automatically made him Khadiga's social inferior. De-
spite this "status inferiority" and the fact that he was also illiterate, al-Sa'id
al-Qasabi was still able to amass a large fortune through the cultivation and
sale of cotton during the war years. He was able to "buy" his way into a domi-
nant social position through the avenue of politics. During the stormy years
following World War I that were characterized by national uprisings and the
rise to power of Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd, al-Sa'id rapidly became a very
prominent personality in Tanta: "People were whispering that al-Sa'id had
filled his pockets with Grandmother's fortune and in its turn the Wafd party
had fed its treasury with al-Sa'id's money. And rumors affirmed that al-Sa'id's
millions were the only reason that he had been chosen by the Wafd party as a
parliamentary candidate of Gharbiya governorate. When I compare this pow-
erful, though illiterate, man to my brilliant father, whose name never appeared
in the papers, I was nauseated at the unjust power of money."

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 15

If Tanta could evoke her mood of revulsion as personified in someone like
al-Sa'id al-Qasabi, it could equally spark her feelings of religious sensibility
as embodied in the figure of the thirteenth-century Shaykh al-Sayed Ahmad
al-Badawi, one of Egypt's most holy and venerated Sufi shaykhs. Although
born in Fez, Morocco (A.H. 596, Islamic calendar), al-Badawi's ancestral lin-
eage goes back to a religious family in Mecca. He received intensive religious
training as a youth and later turned to mysticism. After making the pilgrim-
age to Mecca, he traveled to Iraq to meet Sufi leaders there and eventually
settled down in Tanta. It is believed that he possessed miraculous powers of
healing, and still today, tens of thousands of people pour into Tanta in late
October for the celebration of his annual Moulid, or festival, marking his birth.
A mosque named after him and constructed over his tomb attracts many pil-
grims throughout the year and accentuates the sacred origins of the town it-
self. Three weeks prior to al-Badawi's birthday in October, thousands of people
from all parts of Egypt and even from countries as far away as Pakistan and
India flock to Tanta, set up their tent-like pavilions around the city, and en-
gage in religious rituals, including recitations from the Quran, the slaughter
of calves whose meat is distributed to the poor, and the telling of mystical,
religious stories, accompanied by the playing of tambourines. Sufi religious
leaders sway rhythmically while chanting Quranic verses and odes to the
Prophet Muhammad.
Zaynab, her mother's servant, once took Doria to Shaykh al-Badawi's
Moulid. She describes in her memoirs her feelings upon visiting his tomb:

All along the streets on the sidewalks are immense heaps of hommos
[chickpeas] gathered into pyramids illuminating the town like so many
lamps of shining yellow. Sidewalks are crowded with vendors selling al-
Badawi's halawa semsimeya [candy made of sesame and roasted
chickpeas]. Groups of young men dressed in gallabiyas chanting verses
from the Quran circulate around the tomb carrying on their shoulders
large green drapes covered with religious inscriptions. In the interior of
the mosque there is a large silver grille encircling the tomb of the Shaykh.
The sick crowded around to touch his tomb in the hopes of being healed.
Zaynab points out to me the special place in the corner of the mosque
that is reserved for Grandmother and her uncle. Because of their lineage
connections to al-Badawi (and thus to the Prophet himself) they have
the honor of being buried there. While listening to the religious songs I
felt transported beyond the crowds. These songs that I was hearing for
the first time were not unknown to me. They seemed to arise from my
own depths. Then I remembered the church of Mansura where my gov-
erness used to take me every Sunday until my father discovered and

16- Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

forbade it. The songs of the church blended intimately with the songs of
the Quran evoking the feeling of God's infinite mercy. The faith of these
pilgrims evoked the profound beliefs of my father. I was deeply moved.

Except for these brief moments of inner harmony evoked by religion and her
mother's visits, Doria always felt ill at ease in her grandmother's house, where
"I lived as a stranger." There seemed to be "a tribal atmosphere where the
interests of the community dominated those of the individual." She felt help-
less. Even the house was constructed as a labyrinth so that "in order to go
from the kitchen to the dining room you had to go through the bedroomsand
in order to go from the bedrooms to the bathroom you had to go through the
dining room. An uninterrupted stream of busy people scurried up and down
the numerous hidden staircases so that you couldn't climb two steps without
bumping into a servant or a door. I felt like a boat going adrift. An unvoiced
revolt against the negation of my self started to rise within me! My torments
Another source of confusion arising from her early childhood experiences
centered around the meaning of love and how severely a woman could be
punished for admitting to "being in love." One year during Sham al-Nessim
-a holiday associated with the planting season, its name literally meaning
"the breathing of spring"7-when Doria returned with her grandmother to
Mansura to enjoy a long school vacation with her family, she was witness to
the disaster that befalls a woman who publicly reveals her love. Badia, the
governess, was allegedly jealous of Zaynab's vitality and charm and, there-
fore, reported to her mistress that Zaynab had sent a note wrapped around a
gift of chocolate to the neighbor's cook:

My mother's first reaction was to dismiss the affair with a smile but
Grandmother was scandalized and our household erupted into a tem-
pest. Zaynab shut herself in the bathroom beating her cheeks and pull-
ing her hair and crying: "If only the 'master' (meaning my father) doesn't
find out." One knew the intransigence of Papa on the question of honor.
It was the duty of the man to safeguard the honor of the family. Zaynab's
own brothers swore to kill her. When father returned from work and
found out what had happened he beat Zaynab without pity. It was the
first time I had ever seen my father, usually so timid and sweet, actually
strike someone. I was very upset. Is it a sin to love? How could I explain
the very great love that Papa has for Mama. Why is this love permitted
and not that of Zaynab for the cook, which seemed equally touched by
the Absolute? This problem tormented me: Why is something so beau-
tiful as love prohibited? What would I be without Mama's love? My

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 17

questions remained unanswered but I took my precautions: Never speak
from the balcony to the neighbor's son.
More disturbing to Doria was to witness the fate that awaited Zaynab fol-
lowing her fall from grace. Ratiba and her mother arranged to marry her off,
not to the cook but to an old, one-eyed former servant of Khadiga's who owned
a small carpentry shop in Tanta and was not himself married. The plan was to
offer him thirty pounds of Zaynab's own savings on the condition that he
marry a "dishonored" girl:

Zaynab, who was so much the source of gaiety and life within the house-
hold that she was always in demand by the ladies and children to tell
stories and enact veritable pieces of theater, became very sad. All her
dreams of beauty and of love vanished. She was now destined to pass the
rest of her life with a husband three times her age, who mistreated her at
every turn. I often overheard Zaynab complain to her mother who re-
peated the same refrain again and again: The only things that the woman
can resort to are patience and resignation! After a short time I don't
remember seeing Zaynab again, she had been delivered over to her un-
happiness-her destiny-to use the language consonant with the atmo-
sphere of fatalism in which I grew up.

Although her own father was kind and gentle toward his wife, Doria grew
up in an atmosphere where women, rich or poor, suffered in their marriages
and lived at the mercy of man and the "whims of his tyranny, a tyranny that
had become second nature." Al-Sa'id al-Qasabi seemed a living proof:
His first wife was a black ex-slave whom he regularly forced to abort
through harsh beatings. Because he himself was the black son of a black
concubine and had suffered great humiliation during his childhood, he
did not want a black son. "My sons will be white," he had declared.
Whereupon the wife prayed to God that he would never have a child.
And God executed that prayer. For in taking three consecutive wives he
did not produce an heir. The fourth, a Lebanese, had been chosen because
her sisters had each given their husband seven sons. However despite
recourse to sorceresses and midwives no heirs appeared. Her life was
spent in the monotony of the greatest luxury, totally lacking in any spiri-
tual nourishment. In time this luxury became as intolerable as the greatest
misery. I wondered who suffered the most of these two women: The
wealthy Lebanese or the poor Zaynab? It was not easy to answer.

Doria's observations of oppression and injustice were not limited to the
institution of marriage. Notre Dame des Apotres disappointed her with its

18 ,Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

harsh discipline, "generally found in religious institutions." She recalls being
slapped by one of the sisters for reading a book that was "not for my age" and
being wrongly accused of taking someone else's pen and being embarrassed
by her rich cousins attending the same school for not being a "daughter of
landowners." She seems to have compensated for these cheerless experiences
by identifying with the "songs coming from the chapel," which, although dif-
ferent, reminded her of the call to prayer from the minaret:
The call to prayer from the minaret awakened a memory of a past glory.
The song from the chapel invaded me with the splendor of the unknown.
Behind those stained-glass windows of a million colors (I see them still)
was the world of dreams. Flights toward the immeasurable, the Abso-
lute. As Muslim students we were not allowed access into the chapel,8
hence I never saw the interior, which concealed the immensity of my
dreams. I remember the indescribable effect of the shimmering lights of
the stained glass windows that served as an intermediary between my
flashing imagination and that which I supposed to be there, beyond the
real. All the beauty of the dream. The music from the chapel transmitted
a new vision, a new language.
Her aesthetic sensitivities were profoundly shaped by these two great reli-
gious traditions which permeated her early childhood.
However, it was Ramadan-the holy month of fasting for all Muslims
whose observance constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam-that most sym-
bolized her identification as Muslim: "It was that moment of the year during
which the spirit of religion permeated every object and every word, to the
degree that the poetry of the Quran itself raised human existence to the level
of the Absolute." For Doria the exalted moments of Ramadan were always
associated with the blind Quran singer who used to pass the entire month at
her grandmother's:
To hear her sing was to savor the life of the beyond. I often sat near her
on the couch (out of respect for the Quran she did not sit on the floor
like the other servants). As soon as the divine words rang out, silence
was imposed and it was never broken until the singer gave the signal.
I used to ask her to sing the verse about Miriam (Mary, the mother of
Jesus). I listened to her with profound emotion, delighted that silence
substituted for the great disorder that habitually reigned in Grand-
mother's house. I felt transported onto another plane where there was
nothing except order, harmony, love and peace of the soul. At the mo-
ment when the anguish of the Virgin was sung, I nearly stopped breath-
ing. Her sufferings were carried with such grace that I loved suffering!9

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 19

A presentiment of my childhood was that through suffering and love
one arrives at the Sublime.

The feast days following Ramadan were usually periods of great joy for Doria
because her parents always came to join the family celebration at her grand-
mother's farm outside Tanta. It was during one of the feasts of Grand Bairam1o
that Doria became aware of her mother's very serious heart condition, deep-
ening her foreboding of disaster.
Her mother, who was in her early thirties, was expecting her seventh child,
even though she suffered from frequent cardiac crises and had been repeat-
edly warned by doctors that having more children would most certainly result
in her death:
The feast began badly for me. At dawn all the children had been as-
sembled on the terrace to assist in the sacrifice of the sheep.11 We arrived
at the moment the throat was slit and I fainted. Too sensitive. Words
resounded in my ears as if someone had said I was incurably ill. But as
long as Mama was there my pains did not last long. Her presence, even
the fact of her existence (although far from me) was a balm. When the
shock of the morning began to wear off toward the end of the day, there
came another event that was much worse. The doctor was summoned in
great haste. My father had a very worried look on his face. But the fact
that Mama was always radiant and never stayed in her bed reassured
me. A momentary illness, I convinced myself, but an indescribable anxi-
ety invaded me. Is it possible that Mama could die? No! God would not
allow it! And above all Grandmother prayed five times a day. I decided
that I would also pray. This was one of the blackest nights of my life. I
overheard Mama talking to Papa: "Before I die I would like to assure the
future of Doria, as I have done for Soraya." (My elder sister had been
engaged earlier to one of father's nephews who was studying medicine
in Cairo). "With my two eldest married off, each in her turn could look
after Layla." Mama's words cut through me like a knife. Papa reprimanded
her tenderly assuring her that she was in good health. The tears in her
voice revealed the horrible truth.

Within a few days, an engagement was arranged between Doria and a nephew
of al-Sa'id al-Qasabi, "a man I had seen once and only from a distance during
the marriage of Aunt Hikmat. He was rich, and for my mother that was suffi-
cient guarantee for my future security." The marriage would be consummated
only after the nephew's return from Germany where he was completing his
medical studies and when Doria would have reached her sixteenth birthday.
How did she feel? "A ring was put on my finger and with it was the collapse of

20 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

all my dreams of a free future! A door had been slammed on the unknown
and its unsuspected riches. Distressed, I felt marriage was nothing but a mere
expedient undertaken in dreadful circumstances."
Doria, who had not yet passed her thirteenth birthday, could not displease
her mother, whose very existence seemed tenuous. She thus "made no protest
against that which had been decided for my future" and endured her fate with
painful resignation. She returned to school and anxiously awaited the sum-
mer holidays when the family would again be reunited on the farm and Doria
would have the chance to be near her beloved mother. But what appeared to be
the start of a happy family reunion would end in a cruel nightmare:
I was so happy! I simply couldn't believe that I would be with my mother
for two whole months. I remained close to her side so as not to lose one
moment of our time together. All the family surrounded us. The bright-
ness of her beauty and incomparable high spirits drove away any dark
thoughts about my future. She was captivating. At thirty-four she was
in the prime of her beauty. One morning toward dawn the morbid sounds
of women shrieking awakened me and I ran towards Grandmother's room.
A servant stopped me and announced: "Your mother is dead!" The abyss
opened under my feet. Vainly I searched for tears. Stupefied, I was sus-
pended in the void!
This loss of her mother was the single most excruciating experience of Doria's
childhood. Recalling that moment in her memoirs nearly thirty-five years
later, she wrote, "Such a day remains in my memory as a profound and incur-
able trauma, a wound so huge that it marked, with its desolation, the whole of
my life. I feel I am returning to an immense emptiness of sadness. My pen
slides away from my fingers as if loath to continue. Terrified. To return to this
Time, so decisive in my young existence, is painful." And in the midst of these
sentences, she penned in French this short verse: "Tous ces murs si hauts si
sombres qui s'ecroulent sur moi!" [All these walls so high, so gloomy, are
crumbling in upon me!].

Doria, along with the other children and the cook, was immediately sent back
to Tanta, where her mother would be buried in the family tomb. In the frenzy
that ensued, the cook mistakenly bought third-class tickets, creating a situa-
tion which further added to Doria's gloom and her creeping realization that
now she was "an orphan." As she entered her grandmother's house, she was
overpowered by the cries, tears, and laments of the women friends and rela-
tives who had come from near and far to offer their condolences. She observed
the dignified silence of the men gathered in the large tent set up outside the

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 21

house-men who "retained a sort of stoicism in face of death"-in contrast to
the frenzied shrieking of the women within the house, who "gave the impres-
sion of having caught fire." And throughout these painful moments, not one
person took her into their arms to comfort or console her. No one seemed to
notice the lost and lonely child forgotten amid the tumult:
All these women, including the servants, were beating their faces in the
traditional gesture of sadness, and wearing black. Where did all these
women come from-so numerous, in the rooms, on the staircase, every-
where that it became impossible to circulate? The house became an im-
mense black blot, as did my heart! Grandmother in the midst of this
madness was the living image of desolation. Resigned to the will of God!
I tried to reach her but I was prevented. I had the sensation of being
shipwrecked in the midst of a sea of black veils. Suddenly the howling of
the women increased as the coffin departed, accompanied only by the
men. I tried to get to a window to see Mama one last time. But how to
get through this mad crowd? I was pushed back. I thought of the terrace,
I stumbled on the staircase. A waif.

Following his wife's death, Ahmad Chafik was transferred to Cairo. He left
his three sons and youngest daughter, Layla, in the care of Badia in Mansura,
while Doria and her elder sister Soraya remained with their grandmother in
Tanta. The next two years were very miserable for Doria, who felt not only
the loss of her mother but also the complete dislocation of her family. She
cannot remember the family "ever being all together again" except for very
short periods of time, and for the rest of her life, she never went back to
Mansura: "Nothing in the world would make me set foot in this town where a
thousand details would evoke the past without end." From that moment, her
father "closed in upon himself and his sadness, honoring to the end of his days
his absolute love of my mother." But according to Doria, "This somber soli-
tude that my father had consciously chosen was not completely negative or
empty of content. After my mother's death, pledging himself entirely to the
education of his children, he did his utmost for each of them. Imposing on
himself total abnegation he channeled toward his children his infinite love for
my mother. It was only later, reading the work of Balzac, that I saw in my
father that grand figure Pere Goriot."
With this further separation from her family, Doria felt even more lonely
and lost. This town that she had never liked from the very beginning became
even more intolerable after her mother's death. Her grandmother became the
epitome of human sadness at its most tragic-seeking solace in religion, pray-
ing the customary five times a day and passing every Friday at her daughter's
tomb, taking Doria with her. But Doria cried so much that she stopped accom-

22 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

paying her grandmother. According to her younger sister, Layla, "Doria was
so totally broken-hearted that she cried continually and shut herself into her
room for days on end, not talking to anyone."12 In her own memoirs Doria
describes herself as "Being lost in the desert, without a guide. I felt I was be-
coming this great sick being. A being on the margin of her surroundings, who
ceased being interested in that which preoccupied others ... and who little by
little saw others losing interest in her. Discovering myself at the edge of the
abyss ... by instinct I reacted. To be able to turn my back on my grief... I
don't say forget. I needed to act. I threw myself completely into the prepara-
tion of my exams."
School became an outlet for her despair, and she excelled to such an extent
that at the end of the term she skipped a class, finishing her certificate of stud-
ies within the same year as her sister. This pleased her father, who "visited me
often in Tanta smiling at my scholarly success." Then Soraya's fiance, having
completed his studies in England, returned. At age sixteen her sister, who had
little interest in further studies, married and moved to Alexandria, where her
father had also been transferred. Her sister's marriage made Doria conscious
of the eventual return from Germany of her own betrothed, and the idea of an
arranged marriage haunted her and created an "intolerable oppression as each
day passed by. But how to get out of it?"
Doria thought of leaving Tanta to go and live with her father in Alexandria
but did not want to hurt her grandmother, "who found in me the image of her
daughter." Doria never doubted, however, that the "moment would come when
this obsession with leaving would carry me away." Biding her time until the
proper moment, Doria wrote to her father asking him to take her with him to
Cairo to pass the Bairam holidays. Her father happily agreed and took the
opportunity to show her the ancient monuments that were the "marvel of our
capital": "I rediscovered the Nile, my great friend, almost not daring to look at
it in such a strong light. The Pyramids welcomed me from the distant land of
my ancestors! At the foot of the Sphinx my heart beat as I, drowned in his
look, heard his words: 'Doria don't ever despair.'"
Whether her father sensed her unhappiness or Doria asked him directly is
not clear. But shortly after her visit, her father told Khadiga that he wanted to
take Doria back to Alexandria to live with him. The grandmother objected,
however, saying that to have Doria was to have a small part of her daughter.
Doria finally summoned all her courage and, with a feeling of liberation, told
her grandmother that "I want to live with Papa and I ask you to announce to
al-Sa'id al-Qasabi that I renounce this marriage to his nephew." Doria exerted
her will. The engagement was broken off, and she went to Alexandria with
her father.

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 23


Alexandria opened a new chapter in Doria's life. Everything about the city
contrasted sharply with Tanta. By the time of her arrival in 1924, little sur-
vived of the ancient Greek city which was now known by the Arabic name
Iskandariyah.13 Alexandria offered Doria a place of emotional refuge and re-
newal for which, after the turmoil of Tanta, her own sensitive and poetic soul
hungered. Where Tanta was dark and closed in upon its traditions, Alexandria
was light and open to new ideas. Where Tanta was encircled by land, Alexan-
dria was almost surrounded by water-on the north by the Mediterranean,
on the south by Lake Mereotis. When Doria glimpsed the sea for the first
time, it brought back fond memories of the Nile and Mansura, and she spent
hours watching it: "Its immensity bestowed upon me a sort of messenger from
the Absolute. I discovered nature in its profound beauty, whispering to my
heart, creating marvelous dreams of crossing to the other side."
Doria was enrolled in the French mission school of St. Vincent de Paul,
where she prepared for the elementary certificate known as the Brevet
elementaire.14 While studying at this school, Doria met a young Greek girl
whom she immediately nicknamed "Pugnose," who became Doria's first and
only childhood friend. What drew them together was their shared ambition to
excel in their studies. Doria was able to skip one year and sit for her exam at
the same time as her friend. When they went to Cairo for the public exam,
Pugnose was terrified. To give comfort to her young friend, Doria filled out
the forms and changed the spelling of her last name from Chafik to Shafik, so
that she could sit near her friend. This spelling remained with her for the rest
of her life. They both passed with first-class distinction, but Doria still did not
feel satisfied. A "great void still persisted within me that nothing seemed able
to fill since Mama's death."
She thought about becoming a secretary and explored the possibilities of
studying shorthand and typing at one of the foreign institutes in Alexandria,
but her father and Soraya reacted negatively: "No man of good family would
marry you. People will look down upon you." But she wanted to do some-
thing with her life. She wanted to have a career: "And if I were to have a career
I decided it would have to be a brilliant career." As a way of preparing herself
for this "unknown career," she decided to register for the French baccalaure-
ate, or bachot. The only route to this diploma was to enroll in the boys' French
lycee of Alexandria for a two- or three-year course of study. But for Doria,
who was "in a great hurry to connect to a future that I always believed to be
fleeing in front of me," that was too long a time to wait. Also the prospect of
facing several long summer months with nothing to do prompted her to pre-

24 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

pare immediately for her exams, hoping to pass in a few months what others
took over a year to accomplish. She convinced Pugnose to join her in this
"true adventure with all the risks, the emotions and the inexorable discipline
of work that was imposed upon us:" After four months of intense study, they
succeeded passing the first part of their exams, with Doria coming out among
the top three in the country. Doria recounts that when one of the outside ex-
aminers who had come to hear the oral examination heard her answering a
question, he asked what school had prepared her. One of the priests answered,
"the French mission school." The professor expressed surprise, since he knew
that the school had no curriculum available for girls. "We shall from now on,"
the priest answered.
Again, Doria's success was not enough to assuage her nagging sense of
emptiness. She and Pugnose decided to sit for the second part of their bachot,
which demanded another year of intensive study. They selected philosophy, a
subject that would require the services of a special tutor. Realizing the best
professor was at the Lycee, Doria wrote a letter imploring him to tutor them
at home. He obligingly accepted, and her father agreed to pay his nominal fee
on behalf of both girls. Doria developed a schoolgirl crush on the handsome
Belgian professor and for the first time in her young life experienced the sen-
sation of falling in love: "From the very first lesson I do not know what con-
fused feelings invaded my heart. A sort of very sweet music blended with
disquiet, I would say even anguish, plagued me. I felt somewhat like a ship-
wrecked soul finding land! However, I saw the danger of this voyage that would
lead nowhere. My professor was three times my age, of a different religion, a
different culture and worse, married! I resolved, as they say in Arabic, to put a
stone on my heart and conquer my feelings."
Doria passed brilliantly, placing second in the country. But she never saw
her professor again. She was awarded a silver medal of commendation. At
sixteen, she also was the youngest in the country to obtain the bachot.15 Yet
her success did not seem to dispel the nagging sense of void, idleness, and
depression which continued to haunt her. Even among her extended family,
she believed herself to be an outsider: "One evening after dinner at Tante
Aziza's, I inadvertently overheard a conversation between my aunt and one of
her friends who alluded to me as an orphan, telling my aunt that it was abso-
lutely necessary to find me a husband. The effect on me was disastrous. Again
I felt this terrible impression of being a waif, like the day when my mother
died. My grief returned."
About this time, two of her brothers were sent to Europe to pursue their
studies in engineering-Gamal to Berlin and Ali to England. The governess
had married and left the family, and it was automatically assumed that Doria

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 25

would take care of her father and youngest brother, Muhammad, and manage
the household. She did so, but continually felt that there had to be something
more to life. She wanted to pursue her own dream of going abroad to continue
her studies as much as to get away from the daily reminders of her inferior
social status vis-a-vis her rich cousins: "I often asked myself why my sisters,
who belonged to the same family as I, never felt this terrible sensation of
being estranged from my cousins."

By 1928, the idea of leaving for Paris and the Sorbonne had become an obses-
sion for Doria, and she was more than ever resolved "to get away from the
memories and the pain of estrangement; to tear myself away from all these
nightmares." But there seemed to be too many obstacles to overcome: "How
could I abandon my father and younger brother? How could I convince a fam-
ily as conservative as mine, especially Grandmother, to accept a plan that would
seem nothing less than my downfall?" The overwhelming barrier was finan-
cial, as her father had already committed whatever resources he had to send-
ing his two sons to Europe. This essentially meant that Doria would have to
wait years until their return before she could have her chance unless she could
obtain a scholarship. She believed that "in Egypt one could obtain nothing
without being backed or helped out by someone who had connections." She
had to find her own contacts "because I could not count on the husbands of
my aunts. For a long time I had ceased to be understood by these people."
Without mentioning her plans to anyone, she once again took matters into
her own hands and wrote a letter to the esteemed Huda Hanum Sha'rawi (1879-
1947), a woman who was seriously trying to bring an end to veiling and seclu-
sion and open the doors of higher education and professional work to women
of all classes. As the daughter of Sultan Pasha, one of the richest landowners
in Egypt, and the wife of Ali Sha'rawi, a leading member of the newly formed
Wafd party, she was endowed with all the potential that social status, wealth,
and power can confer-assets that she did not hesitate to use in her own struggle
to improve the status of women. With the assistance of Ceza Nabaraoui (1888-
1984), her fille spirituelle, Sha'rawi organized and founded the first feminist
organization in the Arab world, through which she spearheaded a drive to
push for social reforms such as equal rights in education, the abolition of pros-
titution, the abolition, of the veil, and the raising of the age of marriage to
sixteen for women and eighteen for men. She submitted petitions to parlia-
ment advocating reform in the Islamic Personal Status Law, specifically de-
manding the abolition of polygamy; respect for a woman's rights to divorce
under conditions specified in the Sharia; and an increase in the age of children

26 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

remaining in the mother's custody after a divorce. These reform measures lay
dormant in parliament until Doria Shafik resuscitated the struggle for equal
rights a quarter of a century later.16
Shortly before Doria moved to Alexandria, Sha'rawi gained national rec-
ognition in 1923, following her public and dramatic act of removing her veil
as she disembarked from the boat returning from Italy, where she had led the
first Egyptian delegation to the International Alliance of Women. She thus
signaled to Egyptians that a new era for women was beginning. During the
late 1920s her efforts on behalf of women's rights were gaining national at-
tention not only among the educated elite in Cairo but in the provinces
as well. Doria recalls a family incident that first brought the naine of Huda
Sha'rawi to her attention and made her aware that alternative possibilities
were opening up for Egyptian women: "Behind the shutters, Grandmother
awaited the arrival of my aunt, saying, 'I see the governess but where is Zaza?'
Because she was unveiled Tante Aziza was mistaken for the governess. When
Grandmother recognized her unveiled niece, she was shocked! When the ini-
tial emotions died down, I realized that Tante Aziza's gesture was not an iso-
lated event. The winds of change were erupting in Cairo. A signal for women
had been initiated by a certain Huda Sha'rawi and I felt joy that a woman had
at last opened a way along the route. From afar and without my knowing it,
Huda Sha'rawi entered my life!"
Evidently touched by Doria's letter, Sha'rawi immediately cabled the ar-
dent young woman, inviting her to come to her palace in Cairo within the
week. Ahmad Chafik, resigned to his daughter's habit of deciding things on
her own, gave his consent for her to travel alone to meet the celebrated Egyp-
tian feminist:
She welcomed me with such charm and simplicity that she immediately
won my heart. I found in her a warmth that resembled that of a mother,
who would take my hand and guide me towards my future. She saw how
moved I was and did everything to make me feel at ease. "I am happy to
see you are so clever and I am pleased that a girl of your standard will
represent Egypt abroad," she said. "Then you think I can go?" "Why
not? Tomorrow someone will speak about you at the Ministry of Educa-
tion." She saw so much emotion and gratitude on my face that she asked
me: "Why this ardent desire to study abroad?" I was near to tears. She
noticed it and, without waiting for the answer, quickly changed the sub-
ject. She spoke to me about the causes which led her towards the path of
feminism. She told me about the unhappiness she had experienced within
the harem when a newly-married thirteen-year-old girl and almost a
prisoner in her own home. For the first time I realized that this lady,
although rich, beautiful, having everything, had suffered. I also realized

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 27

that there had to be other values beyond the material ones. Liberty was
the profound goal of her "feminism." I left her palace with an exalted
sense of calm, convinced that nothing really worthwhile can be accom-
plished without suffering. She was an example of how the will of a woman
can overcome the law. An example which would forever remain in my
memory and my heart.

Doria Shafik's first encounter with Huda Sha'rawi marked the beginning of
an inspiring yet controversial relationship that would unfold over the next
twenty years, not only linking her life to the women's movement in Egypt
but also helping to shape her own feminist consciousness.
The year of their first meeting, 1928, also marked the twentieth anniver-
sary of the death of Qasim Amin (1863-1908). Qasim Amin, the son of an
aristocratic Turkish father and respectable middle-class Egyptian mother, was
sent to France on a scholarship in 1882 to study law. It was during his years in
France that he met and worked with the exiled Egyptian Shaykh Muhammad
Abdu and the popular Islamic reformer and political agitator Jamal al-Din
al-Afghani-both of whom had a profound impact on Amin's own ideas about
the necessity for reform in Islam. Amin argued that society could raise the
status of women primarily through encouraging their education, a reformist
idea earlier put forth by Muhammad Abdu. The whole question of changing
the personal status law or encouraging women to participate in the political
life of the country was not touched upon. At the turn of the century, Qasim
Amin forced an agonizing reappraisal of Islam around the "woman question."
In response to a particularly harsh attack on the morality of the Egyptians
contained in Le Duc d'Harcourt's L'Egypte et les Egyptiens (1893), Amin wrote
an apologist rebuttal defending Islamic customs-a defense that brought the
whole question of the "emancipation of women" into sharp and immediate
focus and provoked a polemical debate that would dominate public discourse
in Egyptian society for the next several decades. He became a dominant figure
in this struggle and-on the basis of his two controversial books, The Emanci-
pation of Women (1899) and The New Woman (1901)-is described by some
as Egypt's "first feminist."
Some contemporary feminist scholars, arguing that Amin's role is exagger-
ated, point out that during the final decades of the nineteenth century, there
existed a considerable repertoire of Egyptian women's writings articulating an
awakened feminist consciousness.17 Nevertheless, in 1928 he was still perceived
as a staunch supporter of women's emancipation and, as part of the celebra-
tion to commemorate his contributions to that end, a national contest was
held to select the best essay written by a young Egyptian woman honoring his
memory. Doria won the contest and was invited by Huda Sha'rawi to speak at
the theater of Ezbakiya Gardens on May 4. Sha'rawi opened the celebration

28 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

with a eulogy to Qasim Amin expressing what she felt he represented to Egypt
and to Egyptian women. Sitting on the stage next to the founder and presi-
dent of Egypt's first Feminist Union, Doria listened in rapt attention to this
remarkable woman who had now become her benefactress. Sha'rawi's words
only added fuel to Doria's burning ambition to escape those painful childhood
years of estrangement: "Gentlemen, if we honor today the remarkable gifts of
Qasim Amin and particularly his fight for the emancipation of the Egyptian
woman, it is because we are firmly convinced that his sentiments in this re-
gard, his battles in the defense of women and his pleas for the necessity to
educate them were inspired uniquely by his respect for justice and his love for
equality, as well as his country and by the noble desire to raise the prestige of
Egypt among all nations. It is this same goal that Egyptian women have as-
signed to their feminist movement."18
As if echoing her heroine's voice Doria stood before her audience and for
the first time publicly proclaimed her feminist vision. It was an extraordinary
speech for a girl of nineteen, showing Doria's amazing grace and courage:
Madam Huda Sha'rawi: One of your protegees has come from far to
participate at this anniversary as much celebrated as painful. Qasim Amin
Bey is a name which has been engraved in our hearts with gratitude
eternally. Has he not been our guide in the darkness? I will try to be one
of his disciples whose example will teach women to fend for themselves
in spite of the necessities of material life. What miseries the depths of
the harems have concealed for so long! What experience can one acquire
if one has simply made a trip from one part of the house to the other?
And in her torpor, the woman was not aware of her own captivity; hav-
ing always led the same life, she did not think she could liberate herself.
I ask myself why certain men persist in isolating women? Do they be-
lieve that age-old traditions can be adapted to the current of modern
life? Or is it that they do not understand the absolute value of liberty?
Perhaps we should lock them up for one or two years for them to get the
idea of what they impose on women.... Perhaps our distant ancestors,
who burned their daughters alive, were a little more humane because
when they took away liberty they took away life. You men, when you
decide to let women out, you cover their faces with lugubrious black
veils so that they can't see the world except through a cloud. And when
you tire of the first wife, you believe you were wrong in your choice, so
you take a second, and a third. It is useless to continue your search. They
will always have the same nature-devious and ignorant.
Let man ask himself just once: What is a woman? She is a reasonable
human being just like himself. Some men, anticipating the battle that
would erupt if women were placed on a par with men, have argued against

Between Two Poles (1908-1928) 29

the instruction of young girls. They argue that within a few years we
would have to deal with pedants who, with their science would come to
dispute our position with us. You are mistaken gentlemen. You would
deal with enlightened wives who with true affection would serve your
home from the heart. Would you content yourselves with a heart with-
out any knowledge of life? Do you believe that a woman could truly love
you if she did not understand you? And for her to understand you,
mustn't she be educated? Young girls of today, are they not the mothers
of the future? Does an ignorant mother know how to give her child a
clear idea about infinity, duty, justice? Would she know how to explain
the course of the planets, if she herself takes them for brilliant pearls,
scattered on a black ceiling? One young woman assured me the other
day that a moon exists for each particular town. In this case, if men have
the fancy to create a new town, God will have to create a new moon.
That is where the deductions of ignorant women lead us. It's in the un-
selfish love of the mother, in this true love of the husband, that one sees
the reflection of divine religion. You men construct walls around your
daughters, you multiply the number of gates and guards, but you forget
that walls are never high enough for feminine ruse. To enable them to
communicate with the outside world, your daughters have an old woman
or a domestic servant. You show them the world through the windows
of their imagination so they see only illusions. And at the first opportu-
nity they fall into the abyss. Why don't you use religion as your sup-
port? Give your daughters a good conscience and let them out into the

The day after her performance at Ezbakiya Gardens, Doria received word
that her scholarship from the Ministry of Education was arranged. Her finan-
cial problems were solved. But how to settle the family dilemmas? How could
she leave Egypt with no one to care for her father? As luck would have it, her
sister's husband was going to be transferred to a hospital in Alexandria within
the year, and Doria, who was staying with her sister during her visit to Cairo,
convinced Soraya to move with her husband and infant into her father's house,
a plan that suited everybody.
All that remained to be done was to convince her grandmother, who was
more of a stumbling block than her father. The news of Doria's plans to leave
for France startled her: "'Madness! The departure of this young girl to go and
live in exile among the Druze!'20 For my grandmother all non-Muslims were
Druze! 'And where is the man who would want her when she returns?'" This
last innuendo that she would remain an old maid began to haunt her: "Per-
haps Grandmother was right. I also saw the possibility of finding myself alone
until the end of my days without a man to help me. Tant pis! I would go no

30 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

matter what the price! But I had to get her blessing. I couldn't leave without
it. Finally she relented after all my entreaties and kisses on her cheeks and
By August, Doria was on a ship headed for France, leaving her family and
country to venture forth into the unknown. Ahmad Chafik was pleased and
proud. And before she embarked, father and daughter went to Tanta to visit
Ratiba's tomb: "For the first time I did not cry. I felt the strange sensation of
being the continuation of my mother's life. She was not dead, but living for-
ever within me. This strange sensation of being on the threshold of realizing a
great dream, unacknowledged but vaguely felt by generations of oppressed
women, a secret buried deep within their hearts, which little by little, as within
my own, would become the day of liberation."

The Turning Point (1928-1944)

We are witnessing the great turning point that constitutes the crisis traversed by
the woman of today: a passage from one moment to another moment of her
history, a substitution of a new reality for another reality.
-Shafik, "Memoirs" (1930), 20





To Want and to Dare (1928-1932)

Oh, mysterious Sphinx, what do you want of me? You dominate all and
your strong shoulders represent all the glory of ancient grandeur. Be-
fore you I feel myself so small in spite of all there is to be proud of.
Many times I have gazed into the mirror of my consciousness and heard
your voice: "Only you Know, only you Can, only you Want and only
you Dare." Four words which contain all perfection. Could I guess the
eternal enigma that you have posed to humanity?1
Doria was only nineteen years old when, along with eleven other young
Egyptian women and a British chaperone, she boarded the ship in Alexandria
and sailed for Europe. Although not the first group of Egyptian women to
have been sent to Europe for higher education, they did constitute an impres-
sive array of talent and ambition, as their subsequent contributions to Egyp-
tian society testify.2 They all were in their the early twenties, most were gradu-
ates from al-Saniya (the first government school for women established by
the wife of Khedive Ismail in 1873), and like Doria, they were operating under
the auspices of the Ministry of Education's Cultural and Educational Mission
Abroad program. But instead of heading for England "to study fields such as
geography, home economics, medicine and business, subjects deemed practical
for women's education," Doria was to avow, "I was on my way to Paris to
study philosophy." She described her traveling companions as having "clever
eyes and high spirits," and she seemed to like them. She enjoyed the experi-
ence, feeling that "the spring of life was smiling upon me." Daring to break
tradition, "I escaped from the sleeping British chaperone with one of my new-
found companions to attend a dancing party on the deck."
Doria harbored no self-doubts or second thoughts about leaving Egypt for
France, and one can imagine her at the ship's railing looking forward toward
Marseilles rather than backward toward Alexandria with a sense of determi-

34 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

nation, inspired not only by the thought of Qasim Amin but also by the knowl-
edge that the mantle of approval had been bestowed upon her by Huda Sha'rawi
herself. In a touching letter written to her benefactress on August 17, 1928,
we catch a glimpse o; Doria's inner mood and frame of mind.
Very Dear Madam:

I truly regret not having been able to write you before my departure,
because I did not know the name of the ship until I saw it: then it was too
late. I am very happy with my journey and the sea has been very calm;
perhaps it has understood that this is my first voyage and did not want
to cause me any trouble. My affection toward Egypt has doubled since
my departure; perhaps I have always loved my country as much, but I
was unaware of all that love until I left it. The homeland is more than a
mother: it nurtures us even when we are ungrateful. It is for that reason
I have not only wanted to serve my country to the best of my ability, but
also to enhance my power to prove to her all the love that wells up within
me. God has helped me in my ambition; He has chosen you to replace
the one that is no more and I am sincerely grateful to you for all that
you have done for me. I have learned something further: before serving
one's country, it is useful to leave it, in order to become aware of all the
devotion that one carries in oneself for the motherland. I have chattered
too much and your time is precious. But I need to be able to converse
with you at length. I would chat more but I am waiting to get to Paris. I
kiss your hands with all the tenderness and gratitude that I feel toward
As an echo to Doria's letter and a signal to the Egyptian public that a new
generation of young women, with Doria Shafik as one of its leaders, was ful-
filling the dream of Qasim Amin, L'Egyptienne published Doria's photograph
in the frontispiece of their September 1928 issue. There could not be a clearer
public affirmation of Doria's expected future role in the vanguard of the Egyp-
tian women's movement than this statement in the very pages of the journal
representing that movement:
We are happy to announce to our readers that among the students sent
on mission last month by the Egyptian government in order to special-
ize in the different branches of feminine education one finds the name
of our young friend: Mlle. Doria Ahmad Shafik. Our readers will un-
doubtedly remember the success of this congenial young speaker at the
evening commemorating Qasim Amin Bey. On the occasion of her de-
parture we have the pleasure of publishing the photo of this valiant femi-
nist who so ardently desires the emancipation of women and who, in

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 35

order to attain it, has dedicated herself to the education of Egyptian youth.
In wishing her all the success that she deserves, we hope to see her one
day in the ranks of the militants who will achieve the final victory of
their noble cause.

Doria's romantic notions about France were tarnished somewhat while dock-
ing in Marseilles, "this radical city where the commune was proclaimed." She
discovered "that with a few cigarettes my companions cpuld avoid the cus-
toms. Marseilles' radicalism did not seem so radical after all!" She was en-
thralled by the French countryside: "For the first time I saw mountains and
marveled at their picturesque green and magnificent heights, conveying a sense
of the infinite. I felt again that intense "aesthetic emotion" that had filled me
when I first saw the sea. So anxious was I to arrive in the City of Light that
the Paris-Marseilles train seemed to crawl." But again she was somewhat dis-
appointed by that first encounter: "How let down I was by the gloomy obscu-
rity of the Gare de Lyon. In my quest to greet this free life (forgetting that our
chains pursue us) I only wanted to see Light." The secretary of the Egyptian
office in charge of the students in Paris had come to meet her: "Already a
jailer! I felt an intense desire to break completely with the past. But impos-
sible and I knew it!"
Doria bade farewell to her traveling companions as the chaperone turned
her over to the care of the secretary, whom Doria found "kind and well man-
nered." The director of the Paris office of the Egyptian educational mission
had decided that it would be best for Doria to live with a family in a French
boarding house, a pension de famille, until the other Egyptian mission stu-
dents returned from their summer holidays in October, at which time she
would join her compatriots. The secretary took Doria by taxi to a pension de
famille located in the Auteuil district: "While we went along the secretary
told me stories to put me at ease. From time to time when he laughed to him-
self I laughed too, so as not to disappoint him; but I wanted so much to be
alone, to savor this important moment in my life-my first contact with Paris
at dawn. The streets were silent and a light rain was falling like a hundred soft
kisses upon my cheek."
The taxi stopped in front of a large building in the elegant Auteuil district
where Doria was introduced to a middle-aged widow who had established the
pension in order to take care of her two sons and two unmarried daughters.
This was Doria's new "family," with whom she would live for the next two
months. They were joined each evening for dinner by other family friends,
including a young French poet studying at the Sorbonne. An immediate at-
traction developed between them: "In his poetic attitude toward life I felt an
echo of my own dreams. A ray of hope was kindled in my heart, hinting that

36 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

there might be a possible reconciliation between me and life. It was obvious
that the poet took an interest in me which made me happy, but my joy was
tempered by the dreadful fear that the news might reach the director. But
what connection could there be between the pension and the director? I tried
to rid myself of this anxiety."
During her first weeks, Doria was drawn more and more into the Parisian
atmosphere surrounding her, despite her homesickness: "The active and noisy
household didn't make me feel uncomfortable. It was a different type of tur-
bulence from that of Grandmother's house. It somehow seemed more civi-
lized. At least a/t table they didn't all try to speak at once. The atmosphere was
more poetic and the friendly table conversation with the boarders helped me
get to know the people of Paris."
At her first meeting with the director of the Egyptian education office, Doria
faced a situation in which she challenged his authority. One of the stipulated
conditions of her scholarship from the Ministry of Education was that she
study one of the "branches of feminine education." She was assigned history
and geography, subjects which the ministry felt were "more suitable for women
who would become future teachers" but which Doria detested. When she con-
fided her "horror of geography" to the director, he responded, "And of what
do you not have 'horror'?" "Philosophy!" came her defiant answer. "It is not
what you like or dislike," returned the administrator; "It is the government's
decision. One cannot change the order of the minister!" "I could tell from his
smile and mercurial manner," Doria was later to write, "that this man would
not put himself out to help me." Before she left his office that day, the director
gave Doria some worldly advice: "I must warn you. Avoid speaking to young
men! Pay attention to your reputation! Behave yourself, or else you will be
sent back to Egypt!" "Anyway I will study philosophy!" she silently whis-
pered to herself as she leapt down the stairs four at a time; "I didn't come this
far to give up! I shall study what I want to and nothing else!"
Believing that it might be in bad taste to request another favor from Huda
Sha'rawi so soon, Doria turned to Dr. Taha Husayn (1889-1965), the famous
blind Egyptian nationalist and liberal reformer of the twenties and thirties
who had studied at the Sorbonne and then served as dean of the faculty of arts
at the National University in Cairo.4 It was he who was responsible for admit-
ting the first women students to the university in 1928, and his French-born
wife was a member of Huda Sha'rawi's Egyptian Feminist Union. She decided
to cable him for help. Within days, the director received a telegram from the
Ministry of Education in Cairo advising him to-change Doria's program at her
pleasure: "This was my victory. But I paid for it dearly. The director became
my enemy!"

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 37

She had succeeded in realizing one of her cherished dreams, registering for
the course in philosophy a week later:
I was so excited as I mounted the large stairway, passing under the clock
tower of the Sorbonne into the immense hall surrounded by amphithe-
aters. The mystery of the medieval cathedrals came to mind and I thought
of the Sorbonne's intellect blended with the religious splendors of the
past. I entered the Sorbonne as if entering a sanctuary. I reached the
secretariat and was asked to pay only 80 francs. I am not costing my
government very much, I thought! I left the university radiant. I am at
the Sorbonne and I am in the philosophy section!"

As bold and self-confident as Doria was in challenging barriers to her intel-
lectual ambitions, in matters of the heart she seemed more constrained and
less willing to disregard the Muslim, middle-class values that constituted her
sense of "moral propriety"-a fact exemplified by her friendship with the
young French student whom she had met at the pension. As a way of amusing
herself, or "lightening her heart," as she described it, Doria would often stroll
through the streets of the Latin Quarter, enthralled by her discovery of "her
new homeland with its books, mountains of books!" Balzac, Baudelaire,
Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Poe were some of her favorite purchases.
She loved music as well. Having studied the piano as a child, she attempted
to learn the violoncello while in Paris, "but my fingers could never make those
notes achieve that sublime sound." She often bought gramophone records and
wiled away the hours in the pension listening to her favorite composer, Rob-
ert Schumann. Returning home one afternoon "with my recent purchase of
Schumann's Reveries,"5 she encountered the French poet in the drawing room.
He expressed interest in her choice of music and asked if he might listen with
In silence we listened to the pathos of the music. "Do you know," he
said, "you evoke a certain Poetry around you! You are as mysterious as
the Sphinx." The next day I received this poem:

Reine Queen
des Temps Anciens of Ancient Times
revenue returned
parmi nous among us
vous incarnez you incarnate
l'Egypte Egypt
le Nil the Nile
l'ineffable the ineffable

38 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

grandeur grandeur
de siecles of centuries
revolus. past.

Her encounter with this young poet and the discovery that they both shared a
love of the aesthetic inspired Doria to write her own poetry: "Feeling this in-
tense urge to write, we exchanged poems and I was happy to discover that I,
too, was a poet."
It was through poetry that a tender friendship developed between them,
and it was through this friendship that Doria was introduced to the Parisian
world of art. But at the same time, she did not feel entirely free in her rela-
tionship with the young Frenchman:

In that brief moment of hesitation I experienced when the poet first in-
vited me to accompany him to the opening of an art exhibition, I re-
membered the words of the director. Reputation! Be wise! They rever-
berated in my head like a hammer. What is reputation? What is it to be
wise? If I followed the advice of the director it would mean nothing other
than losing that for which my being longed. To be in contact with the
most fundamental of human values-Art and Love. My desire to attend
the exhibit with the poet was so strong. I wanted to learn how to look at
a painting! To touch in some way that world of dreams to which the
painting would transport me. I did not hesitate for long.

It was while looking at some paintings by George Rouault that she was re-
minded of "that melancholy train ride to Tanta" following the death of her
mother. But being with the poet made her "hope that the wounds of my child-
hood would begin to heal." That is all we learn about Doria's relationship with
the French poet-whose name we never learn-while she was living in the
In October, when students were returning from summer holidays, the di-
rector of the Egyptian mission summoned Doria to his office to introduce her
to three Egyptian girls (two sisters and their friend) with whom she was now
obliged to live in an apartment especially rented by the Egyptian government
for its female students. Doria was not happy with this ultimatum: "Why the
devil must I live in the Bois de Boulogne so far from the Sorbonne instead of
in the Latin Quarter where I had always dreamed of being?" But she prur
dently decided not to argue the point, having so recently challenged the direc-
tor about her program of study, rationalizing that "necessity has its laws."
Her sadness at leaving the pension and the daily contact with her poet was
heightened by the realization that she had so little in common with her Egyp-

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 39

tian compatriots. But the poet told her that if she would agree, they could
continue to exchange poetry and attend exhibits from time to time: "I ac-
cepted with every intention of going along with it." She felt ill at ease in her
new surroundings. Without a room of her own in which to study, or soul mates
with whom she could discuss art and poetry, she became increasingly unhappy
and withdrawn: "I found the uproar of Grandmother's house including Tanta's
tribal life transplanted into the heart of Paris! I felt I had returned to the old
chains. I was in a prison without bars. Feeling on the verge of a depression I
threw myself into my studies."
Her course of study at this time included philosophy, sociology, and mental
illness. But she became "so upset-at seeing the plight of the inmates at St.
Anne's Hospital, sometimes imagining their symptoms within myself that I
switched to aesthetics." She had made some friends among her colleagues in
philosophy, and through them, she was introduced to some white Russian
refugees, mostly Georgians, with whom she felt a shared cultural understand-
ing. Still, the atmosphere in her apartment was frustrating to her: "I did my
best to avoid friction but the jealousies intensified particularly when my brother,
Gamal, came to visit me and I was oblivious to the evident romantic interest
in him by one of the sisters. After a while I lived in a sort of isolation, with
tension building up to bursting point among my house mates."
Often during these moments of estrangement and unhappiness, Doria would
escape to the inner world of the imagination and express her despair and lone-
liness through the metaphors of her poems and essays. Although not her best
writings, these early pieces are important for what they reveal about her self-
image and inner feelings. Through them, we catch a glimpse of her nostalgia
for the Nile: "Alone next to the waves that pass, no sound reaches you except
the heavy roaring of the always majestic Nile, the echo of Infinity from the
desert, that mysterious silence where the human soul finds a point of contact
with Eternity; a sublime and mournful kiss between perfection and the still
imperfect human being; between man and Divinity, a kiss that leaves an in-
delible mark within the silence of the desert." And we witness her attempt to
build and nourish a sense of self confidence: "Do not despair you are still young
and the truly strong souls are the ones forged by suffering. Above your de-
spair place hope beyond all reach."
In an essay Doria wrote during her first year in Paris, we catch a glimpse of
a nascent self-consciousness as she constructs a dialogue between the mighty
Sphinx and the child of the Nile:

Shake off your slumber, child. Why do you still sleep? From where are
you coming and what do you dream as you gaze upon these waves pass-
ing by?

40 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

Sphinx, I would like to be like thee, regarding the universe from on
high and seeing nothing except infinity that circles everywhere under
the multiple forms of mere mortals. The Nile gave birth to me and Madam
Sha'rawi Pasha became my protectress. The Nile, overflowing with life,
sparkling between the banks that nature has traced, has thrown up a
human wreck upon its shores, a wreck waiting for a hand to lift it up and
imbue it with a consciousness of life that lies dormant within. Oh Nile,
sire of my ancestors, thy spirit courses within my veins. I would like to
propel myself over thy waters where thou wouldst carry me, gently flqat-
ing, following thy course to the sea where I would merge with infinity.
But instead thou hast thrown me upon the shores indicating another
path for me. It is very painful, the obstacles are numerous and the blows
are often grievous.
Paltry being, who traverses the desert, you do not know your way
because you do not know yourself. You bleed, human being, and your
wound is all the more painful because you do not know where it is. It is
throughout your being and you will always bleed until you know your-
Sphinx, only thou knowest. Tell me the secret of human nature. Thou
wilt spare me a very painful way!
Poor human being, who are you in comparison to the Past?
I dare answer: "I am the being that wants to touch true knowledge
with her own hand."
In the midst of the somber night, which began its doleful wailing, the
child of the Nile heard a voice which echoed from the desert: "Child,
raise yourself and move forward and you will understand. It is not in the
age of roses that the Sphinx will answer you. You are indeed far away,
but if you despair, you will die!"
The child of the Nile arose and slowly moved forward keeping the
head of the mysterious Sphinx in view. A voice in the distance called out:
"Courage, Child, and I shall answer you."6

The contrapuntal themes of Doria's world seem etched into the metaphors of
this essay. The mystical bond between herself and the Nile, the mournful kiss
between perfection and the imperfect human being, the reconciliation of dreams
merging with infinity, the trauma of being thrown into the world with its
painful obstacles and grievous blows but then the forging of strong souls by
suffering, the despair countered by this being who wants to touch true knowl-
edge with her own hand, to Hope! Know! Will! Dare! These four words po-
etically woven within her essay presage an attitude toward life that illumi-
nated her path later on.

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 41

In another essay, she muses on the question "Does a woman have a right to
philosophize?" In attempting to answer her own query, she articulates what
she believed "is the great drama bursting forth to which the modern era may
bear witness: the sensitivity of the woman; the intellect of the man-two con-
tradictory aspects within a single being." Through her defense of woman's
right to philosophize, Doria is not merely arguing for the right to study one
subject as opposed to another; she is offering us her ideas on the crisis chal-
lenging the woman of the modern era: "If it is true that every reality is the
truth of the moment, then we are witnessing the great turning point that con-
stitutes the crisis traversed by the woman of today: a passage from one mo-
ment to another moment of her history, a substitution of a new reality for
another reality."7
What is this new reality that the woman must substitute for the other real-
ity? What is the nature of this passage? What was Doria's image of the "new
woman"? How did she connect this to woman's right to philosophize? Explor-
ing passages from her essays, we discover the profound influence of the ideas
of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) on Doria's thinking as she explored the
philosophical underpinnings of her own evolving feminist consciousness. His
dictum that man is by nature virtuous, free, and happy, and has been cor-
rupted by society; his emphasis on moral purity and sexual chastity; and his
belief in importance of maintaining one's principles-all struck a responsive
chord within her own value system. So absorbed by Rousseau was she that
she focused her first degree at the Sorbonne on his life and works. Her essay
"Une Femme a-t-elle le Droit de Philosopher?" opens by addressing male read-
ers in particular:

Be reassured, gentlemen, to philosophize is something other than sterile
meditation. The modern epoch requires a philosophy more real than pure
rationalism. Rousseau has revealed to us the true values of Nature by
which Man could live in face of the paradoxes that are by necessity in-
herent in this world, a world where man, toy of his own passions, allows
Chance to have right over his Will, where the human being becomes the
irony of the universe and awaits the inevitability of his Fate.
How can we move from a romantic conception of things to a new
realism? The triumph of this struggle against passion, is it so simple?
How is the repression of the great Romantic wave possible? Woman has
confined herself to this world of "Feeling" of Rousseau to the exclusion
of clear knowledge. Being a toy of her own passion she has become the
toy of those who want to live love. For a long time woman has adopted
this sentimental attitude, which undoubtedly had its charm with you,

42 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

Now one must consider a new woman very different from the old. It
is time that a new realism wipe away these tears, from now on useless
and even paradoxical.
Realism as I understand it consists of getting rid, as much as possible,
of illusions of the imagination and as a condition of this effort to con-
serve the desire of Being, this cry of the Self. It is from this Self that I set
out and ridding it of all hallucination, I introduce it into the world of
pure knowledge. I ask for a return from this sentient wandering. I ask
for a passage from the complaints of Rousseau to a social adaptation that
prepares the return to realism.
Doria seems to mean by the phrase "a return from this sentient wandering" a
passage from a first stage, where woman abounds in sensitivity, to a second
stage, where woman explains the universe for herself:
There are moments of respite in human life where, by reflectiormupon
the self, it is possible to observe oneself objectively. This self that is pas-
sionate can, by looking back upon itself, study objectively the passionate
Being that it was. This Being with a Janus face is simultaneously both an
"I" and a "me." It is this being, in all its (indefinable) complexity, which
must constitute the proper object of philosophy. Woman must, insomuch
as she is intuitive, be able by looking back upon her past, to regard this
intuition objectively. This calm of reason is indispensable to the present
feminine epoch.
Doria reveals a certain "modernist" outlook in her attempt to grapple with
one of the fundamental issues in philosophy: the relationship between intu-
ition (immediate, spontaneous, subjective knowledge) and reason (distanced,
systematic, objectified knowledge).
She explores this question within the context of the situation facing women
who, like herself, are caught between two philosophical moments:
The opposition of the woman of yesterday to the woman of today re-
flects the great opposition of an intuitive philosophy to a more system-
atic philosophy. I mean a philosophy of presentiment where mystery
reigns, but one in which the harmonious base is glimpsed by the human
heart. Perhaps it is there wherein lies great philosophy? Anyway there
is another philosophy that is venerated much less than this latter one
but has the advantage of being incontestably realistic. It is a philosophy
concerned with the multiple problems posed at every moment to the
individual to which the only solution is Action. To philosophize one must
first live; but only living would be insufficient. It is indispensable to
turn inward and consider the living being that one is.

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 43

For Doria, the feminist problematic involves the possibility of uniting appar-
ently contradictory modes of knowing, which leads her to consider the rela-
tionship between art and positivism, a very contemporary issue: "Art and Posi-
tive philosophy? Is such a unity even possible? The essence of art rests above
all in the spontaneity of the work itself; the artist cannot predict the goal ex-
cept very vaguely and the goal can only be seen once the work is completed.
Positive philosophy on the other hand is contrary to Art. It demands above all
a work of discrimination and analysis, aiming at a principle of clarity, elimi-
nating everything that is confused. It seeks systematization. How to unite
these two domains?"
With that question it becomes clear that Doria does not intend to leave the
argument as a mere opposition between women of two different eras or be-
tween two different philosophical positions. She wants nothing less than to
find a true synthesis:

How could I explain to myself the synthesis of an intuitive and system-
atic conception of the universe? A concrete response is suggested to me
by the woman of the present era. She has come through a great crisis of
growth, a crisis characteristic of a passage from one stage to another.
There always remains a spark in the ashes from what has been burned.
Likewise woman who systematizes will save from the intuitive being
that she was, the embers of the center of her passions in order to recon-
stitute a new passion: that of Knowing! As magic has given birth to sci-
ence (the analogy permits me to say) so the woman of today, daughter of
the woman of yesterday, preserves within her that which she was, but
she lives with a new life. How can woman, in being artist, pretend to
pure knowledge? She is herself a work of art! In this work she is no
longer placed as an object of contemplation. Her goal is knowledge. She
wants to conceive clearly that which she has produced spontaneously.
She wants to introduce the spirit of system into that which by its es-
sence, defies analysis. She sees the possibility of blending Intuition and
Concept. And in this, one cannot refuse her the Right to Philosophize!

There is a definite "modernity" in the manner in which Doria has structured
the crisis posed in the successive moments of feminine history when a new
adaptation is substituted for the old. Although in this essay she is not analyz-
ing any particular historical reality where this transition is taking place, she
nonetheless reveals a certain insight into the problem she is confronting as a
woman intellectual who desires the right to be recognized in this world "where
so many authorities (daughters of centuries past) would like to ridicule her."

44 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

She believed in her right to choose, at the same time conscious of the struggle
Objections will be made that it is a pity that woman loses that which
characterizes her as woman, in throwing herself in the path of man!
That it is against the possibility of all future life that the woman wishes
above everything to be equal to man! Why do you, gentlemen, infer
that the future will be what the past and the present have suggested to
you? Perhaps you miss the gentle companion of former days and, pro-
jecting her image into the future, you would want it reborn? The charac-
ter of the living is not to lament something that is inevitably dead but to
deduce a future which must be new and completely alive.
Woman as a work of art! That phrase was not just a casual metaphor. Doria
believed this with her entire being, and in one sense, it reflected her own self-
image as the new woman of the post-World War I era.
Paris in 1930 was the fashion capital of the Western world, and Doria obvi-
ously enjoyed clothes. Possessed of an astute sense of fashion, she knew how
to make the most of her striking appearance. Therefore she did not consider it
a contradiction to be writing essays on philosophy at the same time as she was
modeling dresses for one of her Egyptian colleagues studying haute couture
at the Ecole Normale.
In a letter written to Ceza Nabaraoui in May 1930, Doria reveals what she
might have meant by the New Woman as "two aspects in one Being":
Dear Mlle. Nabaraoui:

We have dispatched to you, along with this letter, two photographs
and the "philosophical" article from one of us. In the two photographs
Alia Kamal and Doria Shafik are modeling dresses created by Alia Kamal.
The shawl that the latter is holding in her hand is entirely sketched and
made by her; her dress is rose tulle (the model is one of her creations).
Next time she will send you one of her portraits in the lounging pajamas
of which she has created the genre. Presently she is preparing for her
second diploma in cutting and sewing at the Institute of Paris.
We also draw your attention to the fact that Doria Shafik has received
the grade "with mention" in her exams in: (1) Psychology; (2) Ethics and
Sociology; and (3) General Philosophy and Logic. Presently she is pre-
paring for the fourth certificate that ends with the licence d'enseignement
and hopes that the French government (with the approval of the Egyp-
tian government) will accept the admission of an Egyptian woman among
the candidates for the Agregation de Philosophie, given the fact that up
until now the Agregation is reserved only for the French.8

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 45

For Doria to have aspired to enter the state competitive examination for re-
cruitment of secondary-school teachers in France is indicative of her ambi-
tions. Whether she actually received the permission to enter this examination
and, if so, whether she succeeded in obtaining the Aggregation is not known.
Clearly coming through this letter, however, is Doria's desire to overcome yet
another barrier preventing her from being allowed to pursue her goal. Only
this time by using the pages of the reputable L'Egyptienne, and with the tacit
support of its editorial board, she tried to influence the French government!
Her essays provided one outlet forrher deepening sense of loneliness. An-
other was the anticipated visits of Huda Sha'rawi, who would always contact
her when passing through Paris. Once, Doria was in Switzerland conducting
research on Rousseau. Her sadness at having missed her benefactress is re-
vealed in the following letter: "Dear Excellence: Upon my return from Swit-
zerland I found the card that your Excellence left for me. I was so happy to
have received a small word from you and regret not having been able to see
you before you left Paris. The Egyptian woman could not be more worthily
represented than by your maternal hands. With my best wishes for good health
and my inexpressible gratitude. Doria Shafik."9
Meanwhile life in the apartment near the Bois de Boulogne was becoming
intolerable for Doria. The incident that unleashed the storm between her
and her housemates was Doria's discovery of the disappearance of her French
friend's poems. When she confronted her companions, they did not deny that
they had taken them but seemed to relish telling her that they had sent them
to the director of the Egyptian mission! Doria was visibly shaken by this event
which "disgusted and disheartened me. Decidedly the human being is not as
good as I had wanted to believe. Did they really believe they were doing the
right thing? I kept-asking myself: What harm is there in writing and receiving
She was summoned immediately to the director's office. "I suppose you
know what we have to talk about?" he asked her. She answered that she did
not. "The director looked askance at me, saying: 'Anyway, I think you will
have to get ready to go back to Egypt! You know perfectly well you cannot
continue to have your scholarship!'" Doria was outraged, but she didn't waste
any time feeling sorry for herself. She took immediate action: "In a flash my
decision was taken: to the devil with the lot of them-compatriots, director,
scholarship, the government! I would work just like my poor companions at
the Sorbonne, and then I would do with my life exactly as I pleased! Without
a reproach, without a word of good-bye, I packed my things and left. I was
Perhaps the romantically inclined would have preferred a scenario in which
Doria returns to the pension and finds her French poet, and together they

46 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

struggle through life at the Sorbonne in blissful poverty writing love poems.
to each other. However, this was not Doria's way of liberation when she felt
the weight of preconceived ideas constraining her. "The prejudices! All the
past with its centuries of customs and beliefs, which one could not destroy
with a single gesture. The centuries were still there in the depths of my be-
So instead of returning to the pension in Auteuil, Doria took a taxi and
headed directly for the International House on 93 Boulevard St. Michel. She
knew about the International House as it bordered the Rue des Ecoles where
she used to take the Metro back to her apartment in the Bois de Boulogne, "an
address I uttered randomly without even knowing if they had a free room."
Counting her money, she realized she could live for a month-"on one meal a
day if I asked to pay the rent of the room at the end of the month. By then I
would find work."
Her material circumstances did not worry her because she felt liberated
from an oppressive atmosphere: "Through the window of the taxi taking me
to the Latin Quarter and the International House, I saw Paris as if for the first
time. A sensation of freedom, of quietude, however relative. My Egyptian
milieu, with its machinations and jealousies, had succeeded in making me as-
sociate the word Love with Terror I wrote the poet not to send me any more
poems, not to contact me and urged him to forget the whole affair. I had to."
She was starting a new page in her life, one that would bring her into con-
tact with women from all over the world-r-women who, like herself, were break-
ing out of traditional societies and seeking training and knowledge in fields
that were hitherto closed to them, women who wanted to be free to follow
their own destinies and for one reason or another were drawn to Paris. Her
entry into the International House was a mark of her bravado, because she
was not sure of retaining her scholarship and thus would have no immediate
means of support. Upon arriving at the reception desk, she asked to meet the
director, and within a few minutes she was in the presence of both the French
and the American directors: "They looked me over sympathetically when I
told them my nationality, the nature of my studies and that I wanted a room.
They asked if I was on a scholarship and since I had received no official state-
ment to the contrary I said 'Yes.' That was met with nodding approval but
when they said I would have to wait a year, I couldn't control my disappoint-
ment. Sensing my predicament they agreed to make immediate arrangements.
I had won the first round!"
Before being shown to her room, Doria was asked to fill out a question-
naire about her background, interests, and area of study, and she was shown
the rules of the house. When she read that "Girls returning to the house after
midnight will find the doors locked," she mused: "No mention of punishment.

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 47

Girls had only to come late if they wanted to stay out all night! What liberal-
Her room, with its rustic furniture and simple decor, attracted her immedi-
ately, and she pulled her books out of her suitcase and placed them in the

For the first time I saw all my philosophy books shelved together. In
spite of my worries I felt an inner calm. The order and elegance of the
room conveyed tranquillity. The murmuring of the traffic and the lights
dancing below the window on Boulevard St. Michel seemed to be wel-
coming me. The tears in my eyes were not of despair, but rather from a
sense of hope. I would postpone any worries about my future until I
knew the decision of the Egyptian Ministry of Education. I wrote a letter
to my father giving him my new address without mentioning any of the
recent events. And with a quiet soul I went to sleep.

Doria felt in her element at the International House, "surrounded by young
women from the four corners of the earth, each one with her own customs,
her own problems and despite our differences there was a synthesis, a basic
Her closest companions were three wonien from each continent of the world:
"a Martiniquian, a Moroccan and an Iranian," whom she met by chance dur-
ing her first meal in the International House:

By a sort of elective affinity I sat at a table where three came respectively
from Africa, Asia and Central America. Later they became my best friends.
Like me each of my companions had their problems-more or less com-
plicated. In this ensemble the life of the Americans seemed to glide along
an easy path. I did not envy them. Struggle had always seemed a neces-
sity for a person to approach her fullness of being. The Orientals were
always more tormented. The Iranian, my best friend, resourceful and
brilliant, did not know what she wanted. She was somehow lost between
the East where she was born and the West where she was raised; be-
tween the distant past from where she came and a present offering itself
to her in all its freshness but with which she could not come to grips
(oppressed by I do not know what invisible hand). The Martiniquian
(mulatto and beautiful) had only one dream, a veritable obsession: to
marry a "white"! The Moroccan was a woman with great energy and
adapted to everything but always with a look of anxiety in her eyes.
There were the others: the Georgian whose family had fled the Russian
revolution and who led her life "as the wind blows." She had too much
ability to adapt and she always kept life on the surface. The Romanian

48 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

who was simply wicked and the Greek who was born under a tragic star-
three times engaged and three times jilted. I realized that my country
was not the only place where women suffered.

What attracted Doria to these women was her awareness that they all shared
certain things in common:
we each had the experience of being misunderstood in our own coun-
tries, being intellectually more ambitious than our countrymen; we each
had our oriental nature emphasizing a poetic attitude toward life in this
very Americanized atmosphere of the International House; and we were
all very superstitious. I read Hafezo1 to know my fortune. We were seek-
ers of the Unknown. Apparently we had come in quest of diplomas but
in reality we had come in quest of the Absolute. Like me these girls had
left their homes, their country, their family, seeking to pass beyond fam-
ily and the fatherland!
Within a week of her flight from the Bois de Boulogne, Doria received news
that instead of her abrupt recall to Egypt, the director actually congratulated
her for "being in such good hands" and informed her that the authorities had
allowed her to retain her scholarship. She also received a letter from her fa-
ther "containing some reproaches but filled with great tenderness." Echoes of
her essay reverberated in Doria's mind: "To Want and To Dare! Never hesi-
tate to act when the feeling of injustice revolts us. To give one's measure with
all good faith, the rest will follow as a logical consequence."
Elated at her news, Doria reflected on her sensation of emancipation. She
was filled with confidence; she had tested her will and succeeded in imposing
it on the director of the office in Paris as well as on those from whom he
received his orders: "All this coming to me from an act of the faith I carried
within me through the centuries from the Levant. I was aware in my heart of
a new synthesis between the east and the west, between the past and the fu-
ture. A feeling, in which I could have no doubt, invaded me like a light. In this
atmosphere of confidence I set to work."
She realized, however, that victory had its price. She had to renounce her
Yes. I had won my fight, through my own will. But what had been the
price of such a victory? The price had been too high. My victory left me
hurt. As I had lost my mother's infinite love, I had lost again the genuine
love promised by the springtime of my existence. I had a growing aware-
ness of my desolation. I was feeling so terribly alone, drowned beneath
the indifference of Paris. Again I found an outlet to my distress in my
studies. I had two years ahead of me and I decided to make them ones of

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 49

hard work and to forget my suffering. I had to forget love, tenderness.
Sometimes when feeling this void in my life, I rewrote some of the po-
ems I had written and memorized before they were stolen.

Paroles d'une Poupee de Sucre

C'est la fete
du Prophete
Moulid al-Nabi11
des milliers de poupees
de sucre
comme moi
le long des rues
couleur de vie...
Un enfant me regarded
ses copains
les yeux, la bouche, le coeur
de leurs
Mais lui
est pauvre
il ne peut payer ...
il ne veut point manger
II me regarded
Sans me flatter
je le crois
amoureux ...
Meme s'il pouvait payer
aux poupees
Je suis sire
qu'il prfeirerait
mon regard langoureux
a tous les mets
Se gardant bien
ma bouche
de la croquer
Sauvant ainsi les mots tries doux
que je dirai ..

Words of a Sugar Doll

It is the feast
of the Prophet
Moulid al-Nabi
thousands of
sugar dolls
like me
along the streets
all colors of life ...
A child looks at me
his pals
the eyes, the mouth, the heart
of their
But he
is too poor
he cannot pay ...
He'd rather not eat
But look at me instead
Without flattering myself
I believe he's
in Love...
Even if he could pay
enough for
the dolls
I am sure
he'd prefer
my languorous look
to all the food
Guarding so well
my mouth
to munch it
Thus preserving the very tender words
I would speak...

50 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

Quant a ma taille tries fine As for my waist so slender
pas question no question
de l'enlacer of clasping it
entire ses doigts between his fingers
je craquerais. I would crack to the touch.
En cela In this
voyez-vous don't you see
je resemble I resemble
au bonheur des humans the happiness of humanity
II s'evanouit As soon as
aussit8t one grasps it
qu'on le tient. it ceases to be.

During these two years at the International House, Doria led a rather soli-
tary existence: "At university I kept so much to myself that I earned the nick-
name of Sphinx. This feeling of being a stranger to life, not allowed to have
happiness like others remained with me. I had to construct my own path, so as
not to be drowned beneath the sense of fatality that had haunted me since
childhood. To construct this path, I needed a zone of solitude for thinking, for
preparing for my future, toward what I was not sure, only that I had a mis-
sion. So in spite of the friendships I formed during this time, I remained at a
distance from my surroundings, isolating my heart."
However, there were excursions planned by the International House. To
encourage the girls to work hard, the management arranged a month-long
stay in a rest house called Le Moulin, in the little village of Peyriou in the
southeastern region of Savoy near Aix les Bains. Doria's group-the Moroc-
can, Iranian, and Martiniquian-were among those chosen during her first
year there. Also with the group was a Greek girl who, according to Doria,
obviously disliked me. We were continually in each other's company.
Quite often I found myself near the Greek at table and noticed in her
black eyes a certain unhappiness. I learned from my friends that the
Greek had come from a very poor family, lost two sisters from tubercu-
losis and had been twice engaged only to have been jilted. I sensed her
inner sadness and began to sympathize with her. She turned to me and
said: "But you don't look as if you've suffered." I answered: "That is
because I never despair. But I do know what unhappiness is." I told her
about my mother's death when I was still a child, and suddenly there
was a bond between us. I noticed that she admired the yellow suit I was
wearing and without humiliating her I suggested that with her blonde
hair, the suit would look so much better on her. "Do you really think

To Want and to Dare (1928-1932) 51

so?" And I realized with pleasure that she had not been insulted and was
taking my hesitant offer as the sincere gift of a new friend. She became
firmly established in our group. I was happy. A year later she was en-
gaged and jilted anew. Only this time she was pregnant. One evening
she came to my room showing me a letter from her fiance who had left
France. "What can I do?" she repeated. "I can't even have an abortion. It
is too late." "Don't cry," I said. "You will have your baby and you will
never be alone!"

Doria convinced the directors of the International House to pay for the Greek
girl's stay in a maternity home until the birth of the baby. A few months later,
she obtained her diploma in medicine and in front of society described herself
as a divorced woman with a young child. Doria was elated to have helped her
solve her problem. Despite her sense of estrangement and isolation, Doria was
not without compassion or sensitivity to those around her, and she responded
particularly to the challenge of winning over those from whom she felt a cer-
tain hostility.
At the Sorbonne, Doria worked hard. She had chosen a difficult program
and had decided to sit the exams for two degrees, the Licence libre and the
Licence d'etat. For the Licence d'etat she needed to pass a Latin language ex-
amination, a well-nigh impossible task as she was almost totally ignorant of
this language. Her strategy for passing this exam displays a certain clever dis-
I knew that even if I studied Latin seriously and took extra lessons, I ran
the great risk of failing the exam. I knew what a tragedy it would be if I
failed. I would risk being sent back to Egypt without finishing my stud-
ies. So I compromised! I decided to take both the examinations for the
Licence d'etat and the Licence libre to make sure that I obtained at least
one degree. So I started studying Latin, but it was like moving moun-
tains. "You can't drink a language like a spoonful of soup," said my Ira-
nian friend. It was a challenge and made me more and more determined
to make the grade. I studied certain passages which had been given at
similar examinations in previous years. As luck would have it a passage
I had prepared was on the exam but to my dismay it contained an addi-
tional five lines that I had not prepared. These five lines would betray
me! I knew that if I tried to complete the passage, it would be obvious to
the examiner that something was wrong. So I decided to leave them out
altogether. It was the only way. The examiner, finding all but five lines,
very accurately translated, would no doubt think that I hadn't had time
to finish! The result came-I had passed with full credit!

52 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

Doria's gambit prevailed. She passed her exams with distinction and obtained
her Licence d'etat. This single-minded capacity to commit herself totally to
achieving her goals would prove to be both her great strength and her Achilles
heel. In her pursuit of knowledge, such determination and discipline were an
enormous asset. Within the domain of her public and political life/,such burn-
ing ambition could generate quite different consequences. But this was just
the beginning of her quest:
A dream began to take shape which would allow me to teach at the
Sorbonne itself. I would one day become a professor at the National
University of France. But I would have to renew my scholarship first
and that required that I return to Egypt. I was somewhat apprehensive
about this new contact with my country. Many events had created a
huge abyss between Egypt and me. The painful events which had dark-
ened my childhood had been exacerbated by the attitude toward me pf
my three compatriots in Paris. But when I saw my name in print de-
scribing the "great scholarly success of an Egyptian girl in Paris," I felt
triumphant. I made plans to return to Egypt, believing that the night-
mare would be over."

Before leaving France, in July 1932, however, she wrote a letter to her heroine
and protectress, Huda Sha'rawi: "Excellence: I am incapable of showing you
my thankfulness for all your kindness on my behalf. I waited impatiently for
the moment of seeing you this year in Europe to convey to you, orally, my
profound gratitude. I hope to be able to do this soon in Cairo, because I have
made my request by cable this morning to the Ministry, to have the authori-
zation to pass my vacation in Egypt. Awaiting this happy moment, I kiss your
hands. Respectfully, Your devoted, D. Shafik."12
Despite her unqualified success and joyful anticipation of returning to her
family, Doria was very worried about what might be waiting for her:
I had the feeling that what I was leaving behind me, the International
House, the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne, was much closer to me than
what I was going to find at home. Although I wanted to return to Egypt
to see my family, whom I missed very much, it was nevertheless in Paris
that, for the first time, I had won out over the hostile world around me.
In spite of the isolation, the huge loveless emptiness and my feelings of
loneliness; in spite of the desolation, I felt a tremendous moral compen-
sation I had imposed my will and fulfilled my own dream: I had studied
philosophy and I had obtained my Licence d'6tat at the Sorbonne."


In Search of Love (1932-1936)

0, my homeland
Here I have returned
Will you welcome me
This time
A little more love?
A soul in agony because it thirsts for the Infinite. The Immensity. How
to grasp it? Forgetting time and everything that the measure beats, the
young woman wants to live in wholeness: a sympathy between herself
and the universe;-a genuine dream that seeks harmony between the storm
that overturns the self, and this other storm which never ceases to give
existence to the universe: a fight and always a fight. Between lived real-
ity and being: Love! A word that will never die away except with the
human being! But today love of whom and love of what?1
This passage-from the essay "Reverie d'une femme d'aujourd'hui," which
Doria wrote in 1932 on board ship while returning to Alexandria-seems al-
most clairvoyant in its anticipation of what she would experience on a per-
sonal level once back in her homeland. On the political level, however, she was
completely unaware of the growing forces that had begun to transform Egypt
into a different society than the one she had left four years ago. The worst
economic depression of modern times and its repercussions were being felt
throughout Egypt as the gulf between the palace and the politicians widened,
forcing the dispossessed to seek political power outside the normal channels.
The continuing challenge of Westernization to traditional Islamic values deep-
ened the crisis among Egyptian intellectuals. Religious reform had come to a
dead end as a rising nationalism coupled with a new radical conservatism be-
gan to take hold of society.

54 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

During the early thirties, new social groups, crystallizing around these dif-
ferent political moods, launched campaigns for the purification of Egyptian
social and political life from European culture and values. On the one hand
was the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, an elemen-
tary school teacher from Isma'iliyah. The Brotherhood began as a modest lay
Muslim moral and religious association, but as it became a powerful move-
ment to counter the spread of secularism and what was perceived as moral and
religious laxity resulting from the processes of modernization and the imita-
tion of foreign life-styles, it attracted hundreds of thousands of adherents from
both the dispossessed urban masses and the permanently poverty-stricken rural
population. Al-Banna and the Brotherhood had an unswerving faith that Is-
lam was perfect and provided all the answers to the problems of mankind and
a deep conviction that Islam was in mortal danger from the hostile machina-
tions of the British occupiers and the blind puppets, the Wafdist government.
In the words of al-Banna:
My Brothers: You are not a benevolent society, nor a political party, nor
a local organization having limited purposes. Rather, you are a new soul
in the heart of this nation to give it life by means of the Quran; you are
a new light which shines to destroy the darkness of materialism through
knowing God; and you are the strong voice which rises to recall the mes-
sage of the Prophet.... You should feel ourselves the bearers of the
burden which all others have refused. When asked what it is for which
you call, reply that it is Islam, the message of Muhammad, the religion
that contains within it government, and has as one of its obligations
freedom. If you are told you are political, answer that Islam admits no
such distinction. If you are accused of being revolutionaries, say "We are
voices for right and for peace which we dearly believe and of which we
are proud. If you rise against us or stand in the path of our message, then
we are permitted to defend ourselves against your injustice." If they
insist on pursuing their oppression, say to them, "Peace be upon you, we
will ignore the ignorant."2
On the other hand was the appearance of a new extremist nationalist asso-
ciation, Misr al-Fatah (Young Egypt), launched by Ahmad Husayn, a lawyer,
in 1933. Inspired by the discipline and self-esteem demonstrated by the fascist
states in Europe, this group attracted young students of secondary schools in
Cairo, Alexandria, and other major towns. These were organized into a para-
military youth movement, the Green Shirts, to demonstrate against the mani-
festations of adopted European civilization. Young Egypt emphasized the im-
portance of religious belief and its derivative, morality, and argued that women
should receive more education since they produce the future greatness of Egypt

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 55

and its heroes. They proclaimed that they were to be the new generation of
Egypt and demanded that they be given rein to eliminate foreign privileges in
the country and to nationalize foreign companies.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Young Egypt shared an opposition to
the manifestations in Egypt of adopted European civilization. Both agitated
against foreign schools and the activities of Christian missions, and both at-
tacked the work of European orientalists.3 It was also during this period that
the illegal Communist Party, outlawed as a political organization since its ap-
pearance in the 1920s, experienced a revival and a number of other minority
parties split off from the Wafd. All these groups, despite their ideological dif-
ferences, were united in their rejection of Wafdist style of "liberalism," which
was perceived as a form of appeasement to the British.
Doria returned to Egypt at a crucial period in the country's political evolu-
tion, when hope for the development in parliamentary government was per-
manently damaged. More important, this period laid the foundations for a
more violent political climate in Egypt as leaders became alienated from the
monarchy and the public alienated from all normal, orderly government. Ismail
Sidki (1875-1950) emerged as the "strong man" of Egyptian politics as he
headed the government from 1930 to 1933. Faced with managing the affairs
of the country at a time of worsening economic crisis, he dissolved parlia-
ment, abolished the Constitution of 1923, and promulgated a new constitu-
tion with stronger executive powers, through which he ruled Egypt with an
iron fist in what some have described as one of the harshest periods in Egypt's
modern political history. During this period of heightened nationalist fervor,
any suggestion of accommodation to European ways, let alone to British rule,
was tantamount to treason. Part of Sidki's unpopularity can also be attributed
to his firm conviction that Egypt should remain part of the Western world. He
was an evolutionist and a moderate who believed in hard negotiations, not
physical violence, as a mode of dealing with one's adversary. And he had the
reputation among the British of being a very tough negotiator. However, dur-
ing this period, elections were often accompanied by violence and bloodshed
as opposition to the government erupted across the country. This spate of dem-
onstrations drew a sharp British warning to both the government and the Wafd
about security conditions in the country, especially as their deterioration af-
fected the lives and property of foreign residents. In 1933, Sidki was ultimately
dismissed by the king, and Ali Mahir, as the king's man, was appointed prime
minister in his stead.
As Doria searched the quay for her waiting family, she saw her father "with
tears in his eyes, visibly and profoundly moved to see me again after so many
years, and my sisters were thrilled with my Parisian elegance." Doria moved
back into her father's home-which housed not only Soraya, her husband and

56 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

young son, but also Layla and her two brothers. Since her father traveled fre-
quently, working on engineering jobs that took him away from Alexandria for
long periods, Doria was more in the company of her brothers and sisters, who
naturally assumed she had come home to stay. She deferred any discussion
about her future ambition to return to the Sorbonne, "as I didn't want to rush
things." Much to her astonishment, she found that a prospective husband had
been picked out for her and was awaiting her return from Paris: "But where
has he seen me?" she asked her father. "He's seen your picture in the newspa-
pers. He's quite rich, from a good family and well educated," he answered.
"What more could a girl ask for?" commented Soraya.
Doria was in a quandary. Although this process of marriage brokerage did
not at all correspond to her own ideas about personal freedom to choose a
husband, "which I thought should be based on genuine love," she was not
altogether prepared to dismiss the idea outright. Given the society's tremen-
dous emphasis on arranged marriages, the family pressure and cultural expec-
tation of filial obedience to male authority, Doria rationalized that "perhaps
accepting my family's choice would be one way of breaking down the wall
that I had built around myself to avoid being hurt again. And evenif I wasn't
expecting true happiness anymore following the events surrounding the French
poet, this proposal opened up a possible reconciliation between me and the life
around me."
A meeting was arranged between Doria and the young man, an engineer
and an acquaintance of her brother's, who also seemed to get along very well
with her father. One senses that Doria was torn between her sense of loyalty
to her father and the desire to please him, and her own inner feeling that
something was amiss about the whole process: "It was like being in the suq
[market], bargaining around the very essence of my life." Also she did not
find her suitor particularly attractive. "But with your vivid imagination you
can imagine him handsome," comforted her brother, Gamal. "Marriage is a
matter of habit," proclaimed Ali. "After two or three months it would be the
same, handsome or not handsome." "Better an ugly face than a slim pocket-
book," added Soraya.
Doria struggled to reach some emotional detente in her life: "I wanted to
relax the too rigid directives on my life, to set my heart free from the isolation
that I felt." So she thought seriously about the situation. "I couldn't dismiss
the young man immediately as he did have some fine qualities." But what did
she really want from marriage?
Happiness? I had renounced that since my disillusionment in Paris. Per-
haps I was expecting only a reconciliation with life, a reconciliation al-
lowing me to free my own heart from solitude. And if that was the only
thing I was expecting from marriage, there was no reason in the world to

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 57

refuse this man. Perhaps it would be an opportunity to adapt myself to
my country and to live the normal life of other girls of my age. This
would be a way of entering the conventional life of Egypt and cease be-
ing considered as someone out of the ordinary. I had suffered a great
deal from being looked upon as different from others. I wanted to put an
end to the many questions and discussions by people around me as to
why I should study? Why should I want a job? Why didn't I want to stay
at home and get married! ? Only girls from very poor families ever had
to work; and girls of a higher class who studied at university were those
who were too ugly to find a husband! I was an enigma to my surround-
ings. Nobody was able to pigeonhole me into a specific category. One
way to solve this problem was to get married and thus enter into the
definite category, "married woman." It would be the common denomi-
nator between me and my fellow countrywomen.
Passively, and contrary to her very nature, Doria acquiesced and accepted
the proposal of marriage, but with great ambivalence: "I thought of accepting
the idea of just being engaged, but to delay the actual marriage until my re-
turn at the end of my studies." She let the young engineer know, through her
brother, that she had agreed to the marriage, and he immediately began show-
ering her with an enormous diamond ring and other jewels "in order to seal
my word." When she saw these gifts, she had the unpleasant impression that
"I had, in effect, sold myself by agreeing to marry without love," and she
began to feel some remorse for having given a promise to the young man,
particularly since he seemed to be "much more enamored as the weeks went
by. I tried to fall in love with him but I couldn't."
Doria felt more and more that she had entered into a relationship that would
only lead to disaster if she did not act swiftly and decisively to put an end to
the whole charade: "The suffering that my fiance would endure would be less
than a marriage without love on my part." Her father was extremely disap-
pointed when she told him she wanted to return the jewels and put an end to
the engagement: "But he didn't try to dissuade me. He knew that when I came
to a decision it was after serious thought and that I never changed my mind
afterwards. On the other hand he had great respect for other people's free-
dom, never interfering in their own wishes or decisions." Finally it was her
brother-in-law who took charge of the affair and officially broke off the en-
gagement, leaving Doria with "a feeling of liberation." Once again, when a
choice had to be made between her sense of freedom and conforming to ex-
pectation, Doria chose her independence, refusing to be defined and manipu-
lated by the expectations of the cultural traditions dictating what a woman
should or should not be and do.
It was during this time that she met Ceza Nabaraoui, who had arranged an

58 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

interview for an article for L'Egyptienne. In a letter from Ceza to Huda Sha'rawi,
we learn how very much Doria was still the focus of their interest: "Doria
Shafik is at this moment in Egypt. I had an appointment with her the other
day at the seaside. She is always the same: simple and charming. She asked me
if you had received her telegram of thanks. Not knowing what to report to
you, she is going to send me an article that she wrote for L'Egyptienne during
the crossing. I am going to see her again and do an interview. She has obtained
the authorization from the ministry to return to France to prepare her doctor-
ate, but her family are trying to dissuade her from leaving."4
It is in this context that Doria's "Reverie d'une femme d'aujourd'hui" can
best be understood. Writing the essay during a period of emotional ambiva-
lence, Doria describes the quandary of the modern woman, and it is no acci-
dent that her titles reminiscent of "my master, Rousseau," to whom she pays
homage.5 In a vein similar to her earlier essay in which she conversed with the
Sphinx, Doria repeats her question "Qui es tu?" As she formulates an answer,
she describes the young woman's inner struggle to maintain a sense of au-
tonomy. Through her metaphors, we grasp something of the "true meaning of
my own life":
A young heart thinking only of the true, the tragic, the sublime. Youth-
ful and old at the same time, a human being who questions '"who are
you"? To myself I am an unknown: the one who would know herself
would no longer be a human! What can I grasp of myself outside this
material and social crust? If one could transpose the formula of Descartes
into the order of life and say: "I Fight Therefore I Am," then every act
would perhaps have a meaning. In this fight, our dreamer is engaged:
reverie, yes, but a living reverie, because the ideas that manipulate her
are experienced ideas! It is always the same problem, a solution forcibly
suspended, a relentless fight that dies and is reborn: There lies human-
ity. There is the woman of today.6

To the more conservative forces within her society, such philosophical
musings were often perceived as egocentric, and later, during her confronta-
tions with the voices of reaction, Doria Shafik would be criticized for her West-
ern, self-centered exhibitionism. Such reactionary voices, coming not only from
the Muslim Brothers but also from the conservative Islamic clergy and the
government, were condemning the appearance of young Egyptian women on
the beaches of Alexandria. In response to these criticisms, Ceza Nabaraoui
wrote: "Great changes have taken place within Egyptian customs and mores
during the space of these past ten years. And simultaneously a great press
campaign has been mounted by certain elements in society to represent our
beaches as places of perdition from which our young women must be turned

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 59

away. What a chasm for those who have known women of another time jeal-
ously hidden in the shadow of the harems, to see the young women of today
playing in the full light of the benefits of the fresh air of liberty."7
Arguing that the gambling casinos and houses of prostitution patronized
by young men from high society, which neither the government nor the clergy
attempted to close down, were a greater threat to public morality than the
young women enjoying the healthy sun and sea of the beaches of Alexandria,
Nabaraoui maintained:

Aided by this spirit of regression which has reigned in official circles for
some time now, we read in the press the most absurd articles on the
utility of the veil, the dangers of higher education for women and the
mixing of the sexes which are leading women to licentiousness and in
-turning them away from their mission. One could say that the authors
of these writings knowingly want to ignore the irresistible power of
modern ideas particularly that of the emancipation of women. But what
serious arguments can they oppose to this movement when, in their
academic achievements, these young women have distinguished them-
selves by their brilliant talents, their application and their model con-

And who did Nabaraoui select as a symbol to counteract reactionary senti-
ments and provide evidence that the young women students sent on mission
to Europe "represent our highest hopes for the future of Egypt?" He contin-

I found among them on the beach of Stanley Bay, Mlle. Doria Shafik
who so brilliantly gained her license to teach at the Sorbonne, and Karima
al-Said who obtained a diploma of honor in history from Westfield Col-
lege. While chatting with Mlle. Doria Shafik, she explained to me her
reasons for preferring philosophy to any other field of study. "It is be-
cause," she told me, "this study opens our intellectual horizons to more
extensive views. It also forms our character and enriches us through
accurate knowledge." According to Doria "the higher instruction of young
girls would permit the education of a new generation of women, more
conscious of their responsibility and the duties that proceed from it."
The moral crisis that the young woman is passing through today as a
result of these modernistic currents does not seem to frighten her too
much. She sincerely believes that "the woman, solidly instructed, could
master these modern currents by fighting the materialistic tendencies of
our day with her idealistic faith."8

60 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

By mid-October, 1932, Doria had returned to Paris to resume her studies.
In a letter to Huda Sha'rawi written from the International House, she ex-
pressed her delight at having been able-to see her before leaving Egypt. She
went on: "I resume my studies more seriously then ever, taking as guide the
example of courage that you never cease to give us in order to raise up the
Egyptian woman. I have read with a Very great joy the articles concerning the
'Last Harems,' because through them I became aware of all that you have
been able to do for the woman of our epoch. I end in kissing your hands re-
spectfully and sending you from here my grateful souvenir. Your devoted,
D. Shafik."9 In another letter written two years later, we learn that Huda
Sha'rawi had visited Doria in Paris: "Excellence, Thank you again for the very
agreeable evening yesterday. I was happy to have seen you and to see Egypt
represented in your person. I would dearly love to see you again before
your departure but knowing that your spare time is limited, I do not dare to
bother you. Allow, Excellence, that I respectfully kiss your hands. Your de-
voted, D. Shafik."10

Doria's summer holidays were usually spent in Alexandria, which by the mid-
thirties had become the playground not only for affluent Cairene families es-
caping the summer heat, but also for the wealthy European tourists who were
pouring into Egypt. In the summer of 1935, a beauty pageant to select the
young woman who would represent Egypt in the international competition
for Miss Universe was held in Alexandria. Never before had an Egyptian Mus-
lim woman entered this contest, and Doria decided to compete without in-
forming or requesting the consent of her father. For Doria, this decision was
consistent with the image of the New Woman she had developed in her essay
"Does a Woman Have the Right to Philosophize?" The New Woman repre-
sented the unity of beauty (the feminine) and intellect (the masculine) within
one single being. And life itself was to be a work of art: "In Paris I had asserted
myself in the intellectual sphere. Now I wanted to assert myself in the femi-
nine sphere. It was as if nature, in a sort of immanent justice, having deprived
me of the power of class, status and wealth had compensated me with these
The Miss Egypt beauty pageant was a golden opportunity for Doria to put
her ideas to the test. But to enter such a contest was not an easy decision for
her. She realized that as a Muslim woman from a provincial and conservative
background, she "was risking my reputation" by doing so. Arid she realized
that the whole adventure might seem frivolous from an outsider's point of
view. But when she set the matter within the context of her own arguments,
she saw that there was nothing flighty in it, and she decided to enter the com-

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 61

petition: "I knew that my father would be against my entering such an exhi-
bition and that it might hurt him to know of my action. I resolved not to tell
him and since he was out of town at the time it wasn't necessary. If I won he
would be proud and if I failed he would never know anything about it."
According to an article published at the time, "there were fifty contestants
on that Saturday evening, August 15, 1935, who filed in front of the jury for
ten to twelve hours, anid the refrain was always the same: walk slowly; pass
again; show your legs; next! It is 1:00 a.m. in the morning. It is very warm
and we are all perspiring. The jury retires to make its choice. Miss Egypt and
her three Maids of Honor are elected."11 Doria as the first Maid of Honor
placed second to the winner, Charlotte Wassef, who subsequently went on to
Paris to win the Miss Universe Pageant of 1935. However, it was as much for
her beauty as the fact that Doriawas the first and only young Muslim woman
ever to participate that created a stir among the journalists.
The French magazine La Reforme Illustree published an interview that gives
us a glance not only at Doria Shafik's public image but at her self-image as
A dark-complexioned young woman of tall and slender stature, who gives
one the impression of a calm, reflective person with a resolute will, spiced
by a touch of audacity, Mademoiselle Doria as a Muslim has great merit
to have entered in a beauty contest. She confided to me that she entered
without the knowledge of her family. "What motivated you to take part
in this pageant?" Mlle. Shafik answered me betraying by her voice and
gesture that she had known how it would all turn out. "I wanted to amuse
myself a little, to see the people, to feel the commotion around me, to
deviate from the commonplace for an evening. Moreover the contest
was serious. When my family learned that I had not been elected Miss
Egypt they congratulated me, realizing that my father would never have
let me go to Europe to participate in the world contest. I am also happy
not to have to regret a beautiful voyage!" Mile. Shafik leaves one with
the strong, clear impression of a very cultivated young woman. Conver-
sation with her easily takes a philosophic turn. When I asked her to de-
fine for me her ideal, her ambition, she answered me with this sibylline
phrase: "It is for those things that I do not have and I desire; if I had
them, I would consider that my ideal had been attained!" And with a
touch of irony, she adds, "Glissez mortels."12

The Egyptian Arabic press was much more critical of Doria's participation
in this pageant, and her name "was splashed all over the newspapers." As a
result, she received letters from her previous teachers from the Mission schools
in Tanta and Alexandria, "criticizing me for acting in a way not proper to my

62 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

upbringing." There was a virulent campaign against her; the strongest criti-
cism was that "I was a Muslim girl who had acted against Islam!" This par-
ticular accusation upset her for the pain she felt it would cause her father:
"But I discovered his great moral integrity and noble spirit when he came to
my defense, assuring me that the slanderous campaign had nothing to do with
Islam. He explained that the true spirit of Islam was liberal and tolerant; that
Islam was not against beauty adding, with a quote from the Quran, that the
Prophet himself was described as the most beautiful of God's creatures."
But out of this uproar and notoriety, Doria found herself enmeshed in
yet another proposal of marriage, which in her memoirs she describes as a
version of Sartre's La Nausee! It appears that Doria perhaps fell victim to
her own idealism. The young man who appeared on the scene and offered
himself as Doria's ardent suitor was none other than the popular Ahmad al-
Sawi Muhammad, founder and owner of one of Egypt's favorite social maga-
zines of the period, Magalati (My review). Al-Sawi was also a gifted journal-
ist known for his enlightened and progressive articles in defense of the cause
of women. He had studied journalism in Paris before entering the Sorbonne,
where he received a diploma in social studies in 1927. He was also among that
group of young intellectuals (those who had traveled to France for higher stud-
ies) who formed a coterie around Huda Sha'rawi. Doria met al-Sawi in the
context of the Miss Universe pageant, and shortly thereafter, their engage-
ment was announced. She bitterly recalls this experience:
In the uproar of the polemic around me an Egyptian journalist who was
then owner of a successful magazine came to worm his way into my life.
Though ugly as sin, he was most charming and I shut my eyes to his
ugliness imagining him under the mask of a Cyrano de Bergerac. Our
house was literally invaded with red flowers, He spoke to me of Paris
and I thought I found in him the soul of a poet. I was taken up in a sort
of whirlwind. Everything happened so quickly. There was no question of
my reflecting before entering into this new adventure. With dizzying
speed we had signed the marriage contract.
So sensational was this engagement that for the first time in Egypt, the
photograph of a bride and groom appeared on the front pages of the Egyptian
press. As Mustapha Amin recounts:13
One morning al-Ahram newspaper came out with two large pictures in
four columns on the front page with the caption "A Happy Union." The
readers were quite surprised for this was the first time that al-Ahram
had published a picture of a bride and groom on the first page. Even the
news of the marriage of King Fuad to Queen Nazli, when Fuad was the
ruler, was published by the dignified al-Ahram newspaper on the page

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 63

of local news on the inside, not on the front page. The readers were even
more surprised when they read that the groom was the beloved young
writer, Ahmad al-Sawi Muhammad, who wrote the column, "Brief and
To the Point" on the front page of al-Ahram. Al-Sawi was not hand-
some but his writing about love and passion and beauty made his image
in the minds of the young female readers appear as their dream or Romeo
or Valentino, or Clark Gable, or Robert Taylor. The bride on the other
hand was Miss Doria Shafik who had a degree in literature and who had
got a diploma at the Sorbonne in Paris and about whose beauty and bril-
liance all society was talking. The readers were even more astonished
when they read that the wedding party had taken place at the Alexandria
summer mansion of Mme. Huda Sha'rawi, the leader of the women's
movement in Egypt, and the value of the'mahr had been twenty-five
piasters only.'4 This was the marriage of the season especially since the
two protagonists were supporters of the demand for the rights of women.
Signing the contract took place in complete secrecy and no word leaked
out, no rumors to any newspaper or magazine and al-Ahram got the
exclusive story.15

Photographs of Doria and Ahmad appear next to those of Huda Sha'rawi's
young cousin, Hurria Idris, and her groom in the September issue of
L'Egyptienne, under the caption "a modern couple." What is of particular in-
terest in this account is the emphasis on the attitude of the modern couple as a
new example of the equal status of man and woman. Instead of the hundreds
or thousands of pounds that would have been expected from a man marrying
the cousin of Huda Sha'rawi, the bride agreed to accept, as a point of honor,
only twenty-five piasters as dowry (mahr) (worth about fifty cents at that
time), which is the minimum required by law in a contract of marriage. In
order that this concession not be considered an easy way of dissolving the
marriage, the remainder of the dowry payable to the wife in case of divorce
(muta'akhkhir) hadbeen fixed, by the groom himself, at 300 Egyptian pounds.
The following principle is established in this contractual arrangement: the bride,
by accepting a small amount of money as mahr, facilitates the marriage; the
groom, by contracting to pay a substantial muta'akhkhir, imposes a certain
barrier to seeking an easy divorce. Occurring in a highly publicized marriage
blessed by Huda Sha'rawi, this example of a more egalitarian marriage con-
tract sent out a clear message to Egyptian society.
However, something went wrong between Doria and Ahmad almost im-
mediately. As Amin related:

But the marriage which produced such a great storm didn't last. In fact
the divorce happened before the wedding procession. Ahmad al-Sawi

64 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

was a European on the outside andca sa'idi16 on the inside. He was born
in Aswan and educated in Paris. He was liberated in what he wrote and
conservative in his house. Doria Shafik was influenced by her studies at
the Sorbonne and demanded for the Egyptian woman all the rights of
the French woman. She wanted her to be someone who voted and could
act as a representative and a minister. Al-Sawi had no objections to any
woman in Egypt being a minister or an ambassador except his own wife.
Her place was in the house so the divorce was inevitable. Doria Shafik
took the shock of the divorce with remarkable courage and she said to
me at the time that "this is the smallest sacrifice that I make to enable
me to keep to my principles."17
Doria's reconstruction of those events as written in her memoirs conveys a
feeling of her having been profoundly deceived:
We had a huge engagement party and I was so happy to see Mme. Huda
Sha'rawi again. Everyone thought it was a successful union: a true merger
of modern minds. I had a strange presentiment of something wrong in
the whole affair but tried to convince myself that I was mistaken. Since
my fiance had failed to offer me an engagement ring, which was cus-
tomary between couples at that time, my father gave me the money to
purchase one, something my fiance was aware of. One day he came to
visit me with a small packet in his hand. Thinking it was a gift, I was
astonished when I opened it to find a photograph of myself taken during
the pageant when I was wearing a strapless evening dress. The way the
photo had been faked it looked as if I were not wearing a dress at all! I
could not understand the meaning of this. He turned to me and said: "If
I do not receive the money" (alluding to what my father had given me)
"then this photo will be published in all the newspapers and you will not
be able to show your face or walk in the street. Your reputation will be
lost for good!" Then he waited for an answer. It was as if someone had
plunged a knife into my heart. My mind played for time and I told him
I would have to go to the bank. "Then I shall return tomorrow." He
picked up the photograph and left.
It is difficult to understand why al-Sawi wanted to blackmail Doria in this
way, and her memoirs do not give us much of a clue. Mustapha Amin ob-
served that al-Sawi was "French on the outside but a sa'idi in his heart." When
it came to his own wife, all al-Sawi's liberal beliefs about the freedom of women
went out the window. Realizing that Doria had a mind of her own and was not
about to shut herself up in his upper Egyptian household, he perhaps thought
he could threaten her into submission. Shocked by "a terrible sense of oppres-

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 65

sion-again at the edge of the abyss," Doria despaired: "how shall I escape
from this nightmare?"
Although the katb-il-kitab had taken place, the marriage had not been con-
summated. Doria was nevertheless considered "married" in front of society.
But unlike her mother a generation before, who acceded to the pressures of
society's view about divorce, Doria set about to see if she could get this mar-
riage annulled. The word "divorce" troubled her father deeply, for he believed
her reputation would be greatly affected, and he advised his daughter "to handle
the situation amiably. Two engagements and two ruptures (one in a divorce)
in less than two months would be shattering!" But Doria was "terrified by the
horror of what had happened and wanted a divorce at any price." The situa-
tion was complicated, since according to Islamic law, there can be no divorce if
the husband refuses-unless the woman, during the signature of the mar-
riage contract, has stipulated that she has the right to divorce:
I went to Tante Aziza, whose husband was a very well known and pow-
erful lawyer who assured me not to worry. And indeed within twenty-
four hours, the "blackmailing fiance" evidently was afraid and accepted
the divorce. This liberation in extremis left me with a bitter taste, a sort
of nausea. I had the sensation that something was wrong in my country
in which the bondage which women suffered was only one manifesta-
tion. I didn't try to analyze this sensation as I was concentrating all my
efforts on bearing up under the weight of this latest wound, without
As Doria was recovering from her personal catastrophe in 1936, the six-
teen-year-old Faruq succeeded to the throne of Egypt, following the death of
his father, King Fuad I. Ali Mahir, strong man of Egyptian politics and close to
the palace, returned from England with Faruq, who had been sent by his fa-
ther to Sandhurst for study. Faruq, young and inexperienced, was surrounded
by many who sought to maneuver themselves into advantageous positions
within palace politics. Because of his close palace connections, Ali Mahir was
appointed prime minister. According to Doria, "Nazli, the Queen Mother, feel-
ing the sense of liberation from a tyrannical and oppressive husband, decided
to take her revenge on life." By this, Doria meant that Nazli began to assert
her newfound power as mother to Faruq and surrounded herself with persons
she felt would support her goals. Specifically she empowered the young Ahmad
Hassanayn, who, as the favorite former tutor to the young king, was believed
to have a strong influence over his pupil. Others around the king took um-
brage at Hassanayn's advantage, and the intrigues within the palace flour-

66 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

It was during this period that Doria, without then being aware or conscious
of what exactly was going on, first became entangled with the palace and its
It had been decided that the queen-mother should henceforth have a
social activity and it was therefore necessary for her to have an educated,
person work closely with her. The choice fell upon me. My nomination
to the post was nearly official when, suddenly, the whole affair fell
through. How had it begun and how had it ended? My name had been
suggested by Murad Muhsin, chief of the royal treasury, who had great
influence at the palace. His wife had known my mother (and admired
her) and had seen me as an infant in Mansura. Within the palace I was
therefore completely identified as being on the side of Murad Muhsin
since I had obtained this post through his mediation. My appointment
would aid him a great deal (seeing the influence I would have with the
queen-mother) in his fight against Ahmad Hassanayn whose increasing
power was disturbing him. But the latter had foreseen this maneuver
and had thwarted it. I had no idea about all this when an appointment
was made for me to meet the queen-mother. From the first moment that
I entered the salon of the palace where I waited for her majesty to enter,
I had the impression of suffocation. There was an oppressive atmosphere
and I had the crazy desire to slam the doors and leave. Patience! Finally
a lady in waiting arrived and in confused and confusing language inter-
viewed me for an hour. Immediately I sensed an intrigue. But what?
Finally after allusions and innuendoes she hinted I was too young! I
started to leave and she did not restrain me.
It seemed that everywhere Doria turned or every time she tried to become
reconciled with her surroundings, her effort ended in her being hurt or wounded
by some scheme that she perceived as not of her own making: "What had
happened to me with al-Sawi could not be the result of pure chance or an
inability to adapt on my part. A profound sickness was eating away at my
country, advancing at a steady pace even within the depths of our social struc-
ture. I could not know its nature but I felt it; I could foretell it. I had to leave."
So once again Doria decided to return to that haven where she had always
found sustenance and strength to face the hurt and wounds of her social exist-
ence-back to the world of the intellect, the world of the Sorbonne and the
pursuit of philosophy. But this time, "my departure is not a running away or
an escape but a quest-a conquest, an acquisition of knowledge! I would leave
again for Paris! I would have the highest degree in the world. I would arm
myself to the teeth, with all the powerful weapons of knowledge! Then and
only then would I be able to find the way to freedom."

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 67

She had no difficulty obtaining a new scholarship to prepare for the Doctorat
d'6tat in philosophy at the Sorbonne. She felt optimistic that she was on her
way toward the fulfillment of an ardent dream. But at the same time, she
realized there was "a gigantic abyss separating me from my country. I had
done my best to reconcile myself to Egypt and I had failed. I thought that the
reason for this had been, perhaps, the great distance between my idealistic
illusions on the one hand and Egypt's effective reality on the other. And I
asked myself: How can I draw my country nearer to me?" Doria asked herself
the question in stilted English, and later in her memoirs she provided an an-
swer: "If I had failed to, adapt my own "dimensions" to those of my country,
wouldn't it be possible to do the opposite-to adapt my country's 'dimen-
sions' to my own?" Were Doria's words arrogant, or did they reveal a pre-
scient conviction that she was destined to carry out some "mission" in the life
of her country? "I had the persistent presentiment," Doria says, "that some
day-later-I would achieve some great deed for my country. But at the same
time I was conscious of immense difficulties hindering the adaptation of those
high principles to life's realities."
The dominant theme coming across the pages of Doria's memoirs as she
recalled these moments is her realization that life, although endowing her with
great possibilities, was also going to exact a great price. As if to draw a parallel
between herself and the poet's suffering in the midst of his earthbound life,
she quotes Baudelaire's poem "The Albatross":

Le Poete est sembable au prince des nuees
Qui hante la tempete et se rit de l'archer;
Exile sur le sol au milieu des huees
Ses ailes de geant l'empechent de marcher.

The Poet is like the Prince of the clouds;
Who haunts the storm and laughs at the archer;
Exiled on earth amidst the hoots of the crowd
His giant's wings prevent him from walking.

To be endowed with great potential meant at the same time to be exposed to
great suffering: "For the rule of Great Nature makes us understand," Doria
concluded, "that we can have nothing without paying the price, and that the
higher the goal, the higher must be its price."
Like the albatross, Doria was on a quest, the exact nature of which was still
unclear to her, "except that it was a human mission, in the profound sense of
that term, meaning the very essence of man. I had to begin my preparation
for it at once. I knew I must devote myself to attaining the highest knowledge;

68 Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist

but at the same time subject myself to the strongest discipline." Doria was
thinking more of her future than her past "I hadn't time to lick my wounds.
My heart was obsessed with the idea of returning to Paris, the Sorbonne and
becoming one of the most educated woman in the world-only then would I
be liberated from the past and myself." And in August of 1936, at the age of
twenty-seven, Doria once more set sail for France, feeling "there is a sort of
immanent justice, facilitating certain things in compensation for others."

As Doria was leaving in quest of her own liberation from her opprpSsive past,
a naive and inexperienced sixteen-year-old boy had just ascended the throne
of Egypt, opening the way for the never-ending machinations and struggles
for power among himself, the British, and the Wafd.18 The mounting Axis
threat in Europe, underscored by Italy's invasion and subsequent annexation
of Ethiopia and the intensification of fascist propaganda in Egypt, motivated
the British to respond more flexibly to Egyptian efforts to eradicate the ves-
tiges of colonial occupation. Combined with the fact that Mustapha al-Nahas-
who had succeeded to the leadership of the Wafd party following Zaghlul's
death in 1927-had been constitutionally elected back into power, the appro-
priate circumstances were created to bring about the signing of the Anglo-
Egyptian treaty in August 1936. The specific conditions of this treaty included:
that Great Britain would recognize Egypt's complete sovereignty (except for a
clause allowing Britain to maintain a military presence on the Suez Canal for
twenty years); that the Sudan would continue to be administered by both Egypt
and Great Britain; and that foreigners and minorities would henceforth be the
responsibility of the Egyptian government.
The outbreak of the Palestinian Revolt (1936-1939) brought the Palestin-
ian Question into prominence and gave added impetus to the conservative
religious reaction against Europe. During this period in Palestine, there were
400,000 Jews-out of a total population of approximately 1,400,000. Over the
course of the Arab revolt, 5,000 Arabs and Jews died, and over 15,000 were
wounded. The British put down the revolt, exiled its leadership, disarmed the
Palestinians, and armed the Jews. A torrent of immigrants flooded into Pales-
tine from Europe. By 1939, the battle cry "Go to Palestine!" had raised the
number of Jews coming into Palestine to nearly 15,000 a year.19 Both the
Muslim Brothers and Young Egypt called for closer cooperation with the Ar-
abs struggling against Zionism in Palestine. Huda Sha'rawi, who was to de-
vote the rest of her life to the Palestinian cause, held the first Pan Arab Women's
Congress on the Palestine Question in 1939.
While the British were negotiating with the Zionists to make Palestine a
"national home" for the Jews of the world, they were successfully concluding

In Search of Love (1932-1936) 69

the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which allowed the English to station troops on the
Suez Canal. Although the treaty was accepted by a wide range of the public,
there was intense opposition to it among the groups outside the political main-
stream (that is, the Communists on the left and the Fascists on the right).
Over time, the treaty became the symbol for popular resistance to the hated
British occupation as nationalist feelings for independence erupted through-
out Egypt over the next two decades. Ahmad Husayn modeled his Young Egypt
organization after the, fascist structures in Europe and attracted many young
Egyptians. Communist groups had begun to organize clandestinely, while
Hasan al-Banna's Muslim Brothers became stronger and more militant.
Because she was abroad during most of these years, Doria did not under-
stand "the full meaning of these disorders around me in this prewar period,
except for the feeling of impending chaos."


Return to the City of Light (1936-1939)

J'ai souvent eu faim
dans la ville de Paris.
J'y cherchais
J"y apprenais
la philosophies.
J'aspirais ai la vie
dans le sens absolu,
degagee, purified
de ce qui l'avilit.
J'ai longtemps quete
Et je demeure
"Chercheuse d'Absolu"
Comme autrefois
dans la ville
de Paris.

I have often been hungry
in the city of Paris.
There I searched for
knowledge and
I longed for a life
in the absolute sense,
released, purified
from that which debased it.
For a long time I have
searched for Infinity.
And still I remain
"Seeker of the Absolute"
as in the past
in the city
of Paris.1

Genuinely relieved and happy to be back in the city where she felt "all the
hidden forces gathering in my heart, calling me irresistibly toward a new aware-
ness and outlook on life," Doria looked upon Paris as if she were "awakening
from the nightmare of the previous events." Believing that marriage was syn-
onymous with pain and deception, she pledged herself to celibacy and vowed
to dedicate herself completely to "the pursuit of the intellect wherein I could
please myself." The quest for the Absolute became her dominant obsession as
she sought to rediscover and seize the quintessence of her City of Light. For
the next three years, she would savor the Parisian milieu-think, speak, and
write in the French language, study the heritage of western European philoso-