Contesting Imperial Feminisms: The Life of an Early Twentieth Century Egyptian Activist


  • Bella Ruhl Freie Universität Berlin



In “Contesting Imperial Feminisms: The Life of an Early Twentieth Century Egyptian Activist,” I make the argument that first-wave Egyptian feminism was inextricably bound to nationalist discourses, and was both produced whole-cloth and adapted from European models by Egyptian activists in response to changing economic and political conditions. Using the life and political work of Huda Sha'arawi, a women’s rights activist and nationalist who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I complicate the euro-centric view that feminism in Egypt was the result of western intervention and was uncritically adopted by colonized women. Instead I try to draw attention to the ways in which Sha'arawi and her comrades formulated a feminism predicated on decolonial liberation and indigenous values, while navigating the political realities of British colonialism and industrialized modernity. A microhistorical study with far-reaching implications, this article analyzes Sha'arawi’s rhetoric and actions, including her performative political unveiling, to gain a deeper understanding of the political contributions of early twentieth century Egyptian feminism. My objective is to return some agency to intersectional actors whose politics have been unjustly framed within the historiography as derivative of (white, European) feminist and (patriarchal) nationalist frameworks.

Author Biography

Bella Ruhl, Freie Universität Berlin

Bella is a second-year masters student in the MA Global History at Freie Universität