Naqib's Daughter

Naqib's Daughter
North Carolina,
November 11
Born and raised in Egypt, educated at London University, immigrated to the United States in the eighties. Author of two novels, The Cairo House, about growing up in a political family in Nasser's Egypt, and The Naqib's Daughter, about Bonaparte's occupation of Egypt in 1798. A collection of short stories, Love is Like Water, addresses in part Arab Americans post 9/11. Also published nonfiction on Islam, Egypt, women in Muslim societies, and terrorism. Have taught at university and in journalism. An editor of South Writ Large, an online magazine of stories, arts and ideas from the Global and US Souths.


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MARCH 8, 2012 12:59PM

Whither Egypt on International Women's Day?

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Today is International Women’s Day, and women in Egypt are uneasy about where they will be same time next year. “Iran,” gloomily prognosticates a friend as she dithers between chocolate soufflé and Om Ali from the dessert buffet at lunch in a private home. “Next year we will be Iran.” Another woman nods. “We will be Saudi Arabia without the oil,” she predicts. “Next summer at the beach, will any of us dare walk around in a swimsuit?”

 Several of the women present were preparing to march in today’s demonstration in Cairo, calling for a substantial representation of women on the constitutional council. Desperate measures are necessary after the near shut-out of women candidates from parliament following the recent elections. The women at the luncheon will shift from the worldly to the political as seamlessly as they slide directly from a visit of condolences to a baby shower: they dress in black and keep a bright jacket and colorful scarf in the car for a rapid change of look.

Women march in Egypt 

  On the surface, life carries on as usual in Egypt, but look closer, and the strains show. Anywhere around Cairo, on any day of the week, an unpredictable demonstration is apt to disrupt life in the city: it could be disaffected students besieging the Ministry of Culture on the Nile in Zamalek, or disgruntled workers of a medical supplies company blocking traffic in front of the makeshift headquarters of the Council of Ministers in Heliopolis. Increasingly, the demands focus on issues of livelihood. The acute crisis in unemployment is manifest in the hordes of work-visa applicants who camp out in front of the Arab embassies in the leafy embassy neighborhood of Zamalek.

  In the absence of police, the streets of many of the best neighborhoods in the city are turning into an unregulated parking lot, with cars double and triple parked on both sides of the street. On the highways and the October 6th overpasses, traffic is essentially self-regulated, and it is a miracle that it moves at all.

  People are noticeably short-tempered. To object to being cut off while driving on the highway; to criticize the performance of a waiter in a restaurant; to question the bill of a tradesperson, is to risk an unpleasant argument. The civility and camaraderie of the early days of Tahrir are a distant memory.

  The atmosphere of insecurity is maintained by the reports of incidents of kidnapping or robbery, infrequent, but enough to unnerve the residents of a city that was a byword for safety. But it is the uncertainty about the future that weighs even more heavily in the air. No one knows what the presidential elections will bring next June. The mother of a bride who is celebrating a lavish wedding at the Four Seasons today justifies the over-the-top event this way: “It might be the last of the big celebrations- perhaps even the last of the weddings where men and women aren’t segregated- so we might as well make the most of it!” In other words, today, eat, drink and be merry; tomorrow, we might be Iran. But there is always someone to rebut: “Fashar!” An untranslatable Arabic expression meaning; “Never!”


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Nice article. I hope Egypt can at least model itself more on Turkey or Indonesia than on Iran or Saudi Arabia. There is a lot of hard work that needs to be done to overcome the ancient cultural biases that favor a fearful insecure need for control over a relaxed tolerance of freedom and individual choice.

I've been to Egypt and I found Cairo to be quite accepting of a good deal of modernization. I arrived there after some hard travel in Africa, and I found McDonald's in Cairo to be strangely comforting so far from home. I found a beautiful English bookstore with stacks and shelves and ladders and I luxuriated in it's glorious food for the soul. I drank lots of delicious fresh orange juice at juice stands more ubiquitous than Starbucks and better. I was lucky enough to be there during Ramadan (Jan 1996), and I soaked up the festival atmosphere of the Eid evenings in the Khan el-Khalili, where families from the countryside camped out around the al-Hussein mosque, and I found great joy in hanging out in cafes, playing backgammon and smoking shisha while watching the throngs of shoppers excitedly buying gifts.

I suppose the multitudes in favor of submitting to politics inextricably yoked to religion are greater on the outskirts and in the countryside. I hope Egypt will find its way to a more enlightened and modern approach toward individual rights, and especially rights for women, Inshallah.
No one covers the facts on the ground as eloquently as you do.
I second old new lefty's comment, and Jeff J's hopes for the future. Thank you for posting!
Thank you for the encouragement, Lefty and Clay!
And thank you Jeff for reminding me how warm and welcoming the city of my birth was, and still is, and God willing, will always be.
Its a concern, as to the devil you knew versus the devil you don't know, probably made worse by the devil you knew in Mubarak doing like Sadat, and "humoring" Islamists in a way that could be blowing up right now, if there is clearly a large subset of Egyptian young who don't want that too.
Well articulated, but I wonder if you ever have been in Iran recently?