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SHAFIQ, DURRIYAH (Doria Shafik; 14 December 1908 – 20 September 1975), Egyptian scholar, teacher, journalist, and feminist activist. The writings and activism of Durriyah Shafiq followed in the secular, democratic tradition of the Egyptian feminists Huda Sha’rawi and Aminah al-Said. Shafiq was educated in Western schools, first in a kindergarten run by Italian nuns and then at a French mission school. She was an admirer of Sha’rawi from youth, and it was with Sha’rawi’s assistance that Shafiq was able to attend the Sorbonne, where she received a doctorate in 1940.

Upon returning to Egypt Shafiq taught at Alexandria College for Girls and at the Sannia School; she then worked for the Ministry of Education as a Frenchlanguage inspector before beginning her career as a journalist and political activist. In 1945 she founded the magazine Majallat bint al-Nil (Daughter of the Nile Magazine), which included a segment devoted to promoting political rights for women called Bint al-Nil alsiydsiyah (Political Daughter of the Nile).

In 1948 Shafiq founded the Ittihad Bint al-Nil (Daughter of the Nile Union), a middle-class feminist association with branches in several provincial cities, dedicated to encouraging female literacy and full political rights for women. In a bid to gain international recognition for Egyptian feminism, Shafiq affiliated the Union with the International Council of Women under the name of the National Council for Egyptian Women. In 1951 a thousand members of Shafiq’s Union disrupted the Egyptian parliament in a demonstration calling for the vote and other political rights for women. The demonstration sparked a reaction on the part of religious conservatives, and the Union of Muslim Associations in Egypt, which included the Muslim Brotherhood, demanded that the king abolish all women’s organizations that called for participation in politics, that women be encouraged to stay at home, and that the use of the veil be enforced. Shafiq responded with a “White Paper on the Rights of Egyptian Women” (Alkitab al-abyad li-huquq al-mar ah al Misriyah), in which she argued in the reformist tradition of Muslim feminists that Islam speaks for the equality of women and requires neither the veil nor domesticity.

The following year political opposition groups conducted a series of strikes against foreign interests in a bid to undermine the British occupation, and the paramilitary arm of Shafiq’s Union joined in the strike by picketing Barclay’s Bank. After the Free Officers came to power in 1952, Shafiq continued to agitate for political rights for women. She founded a short-lived “Daughter of the Nile” political party, which was disbanded with all other political parties in 1953 by the revolutionary government. In 1954, when the constitutional assembly formed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser to adopt or reject a proposed new constitution included no women, Shafiq carried out a much-publicized hunger strike to demand political rights for women, in which she was joined by members of the Bint al-Nil Union in Cairo and Alexandria. Having sought and gained international recognition for her strike, Shafiq was rewarded when the governor of Cairo agreed to put in writing that the constitution would guarantee full political rights for women. The 1956 constitution did in fact grant women the right to vote, but only to those who formally applied for it, while for men the right to vote was automatic. Consequently, Shafiq filed a legal protest.

The following year marked Shafiq’s political undoing. She announced to Nasser and the press that she was going on a hunger strike to protest Nasser’s dictatorship, as well as the lingering Israeli occupation of the Sinai in the wake of the Suez invasion, which should have ended with the UN-ordered withdrawal. Shafiq’s colleagues at the Bint al-Nil Union not only failed to support her but asked her to resign, and, along with other women’s associations, they denounced her as a traitor. She was placed under house arrest, and the Bint al-Nil Union and magazine were closed down. In the following years Shafiq experienced repeated emotional breakdowns and eventually committed suicide in 1976. Shafiq, like her predecessor Huda Sha’rawi, had anticipated erroneously that women’s participation in the struggle for national liberation would engender popular support for feminist causes. Shafiq miscalculated on two counts-first on the strength of Islamic conservative reaction, and second on the charisma of Nasser, who in spite of his repression of democracy enjoyed great popularity for having initiated the final evacuation of the British from Egypt.

In addition to her political writings, Shafiq wrote Almar’ah al-Misriyah min al fara’inah ila al yawm (Egyptian Women from the Pharaohs until Today), and, with Ibrahim `Abduh, Tatawwur al-nahdah al-Misriyah, 1798-7957 (Development of the Women’s Renaissance in Egypt), as well as several books of poetry and prose published in France.

[See also Feminism; and the biography of Sha`rawi.]


Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven, 1992. Excellent discussion of the development of nineteenth- to twentieth-century feminism in the Middle East.

Badran, Margot, and Miriam Cooke, eds. Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing. Bloomington, 1990 Includes a sample of Shafiq’s political writing, “White Paper on the Rights of Egyptian Women” (pp. 352-356).

Sullivan, Earl L. Women in Egyptian Public Life. Syracuse, N.Y., 1986.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/shafiq-durriyah/

  • writerPosted On: July 27, 2017
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