Middle Eastern Feminisms in Conversation: The Turkish & Egyptian Experiences, 1900 – 1935


9 November 2021, Tuesday, 20.00

This lecture examines the regional interaction between the Egyptian and Ottoman (later Turkish) feminism during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, and maps how feminists in Egypt and Turkey drew from one another’s networks, languages, and ideas to navigate the headwinds of very different societies. As the modern period began, what are now Turkey and Egypt were still parts of the multiethnic Ottoman Empire. The main center of Turkish-language cultural production was Istanbul, and the main center of Arabic-language cultural production was Cairo. The feminist movements of the region developed accordingly. This lecture elucidates the connections between these two cultural centers. It reveals that the discourses of the Turkophone and Arabophone women’s movements did not develop in isolation from each other but were created mutually and as a result of a cross-fertilization of feminist agendas. I suggest that an adequate analysis of Egyptian feminism must be grounded in the broader Ottoman world and in a detailed examination of Ottoman and Turkish feminism’s role as a trailblazer for Egyptian feminism. Telling the history of Egyptian feminism in dialogue with Ottoman (and later Turkish) feminism, and examining the feminist debates in Cairo and Alexandria in conjunction with those in Istanbul, creates a more complete picture of feminism in its proper sociocultural and historical context, and, moreover, allows for deeper analysis of the Ottoman heritage of Egypt as well as a better sense of Turkey’s continued influence over the intellectual climate of post-Ottoman Egypt.