Mona Eltahawy

"A Woman who writes has power. A woman with power is feared. In the eyes of the world this makes us dangerous beasts." Gloria Anzaldua.

Feb. 19, 1951: Doria Shafik and the Storming of the Egyptian Parliament


(Doria Shafik with members of the executive council of Bint el-Nil Union during a planning session for the march on parliament, February 1951)

"Nothing that Doria had attempted would take her society by surprise, catch the imagination of both the national and international press, and intensify the hostility of her enemies as greatly as the carefully constructed and successfully executed plan to storm the Egyptian parliament on the afternoon of February 19, 1951. With nearly fifteen hundred women at her side, Doria left Ewart Memorial Hall of the American University in Cairo, marched the few blocks south along the main street of Kasr al-Aini, forced her way through the gates of parliament, and orchestrated four hours of boisterous demonstrations before finally being received in the office of the vice president of the chamber of deputies and extracting from the president of the senate a verbal promise that parliament would immediately take up the women’s demands.

That such a daring act of public defiance against the bastion of male authority could actually be organized and executed was a tribute to the strategy of secrecy and surprise followed by Doria and her small circle of coconspirators, who had sworn a solemn oath on the Quran not to divulge their plans to anyone, not even to their husbands.

(Those demands were women’s right to vote and to run for office, as promised by then Prime Minister Mustafa al-Nahhas the previous summer)

One week after the assault on parliament, a draft bill, amending the electoral law granting women the right to vote as well as run for parliament, was formally submitted to the president of the chamber of deputies.

The New York Times ran a five column feature on the event… The headline read “Rising Feminism Bewilders Egypt: Muslim Conservatives Shocked by Suffragettes’ Behavior in Invading Parliament.

Doria was summoned to appear in court on March 6 to hear the public prosecutor’s formal accusations: “I assume full responsibility for everything that has happened and I am even ready to go to jail!” she declared.” Because of the extraordinary nature of the case, a number of lawyers, particularly women, volunteered to defend her.

As a symbolic gesture of solidarity, four female Egyptian university students submitted a petition written in their own blood to King Faruq, demanding equal rights for women.

Two days later , the council of administration of the Association of Sunnites submitted an anti-feminist petition signed by the chairman… requesting the king to “Keep the Women Within Bounds!”

"The feminist movement is a plot organized by the enemies of Islam and the bolshevik-atheists, with the object of abolishing the remaining Muslim traditions in the country… Your majesty, protect the orient and Islam."

The king who was not at all amused by all this feminist fuss in the wake of Doria’s assault on parliament, told her husband, whom he frequently met at the Automobile Club, “Let your wife know that as long as I am king, women will not have political rights.”“

(Doria appeared before the tribunal and her case was postponed indefinitely. Although Egyptian women’s suffrage would not come until the 1956 constitution, Doria Shafik’s storming of parliament was undoubtedly a contributing factor to those rights).

 - From “Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist: A Woman Apart by Cynthia Nelson

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