Egyptian women under patriarchal mentality-4

Egyptian women during the Ottoman, French, and British occupation

Egyptian women during the Ottoman, French, and British occupation

News Center - The occupation years were the most severe periods for women because they suffered in terms of freedoms and responsibilities imposed on them, the Egyptian women chose to stand with men and participated in the revolution to end the occupation and defend their homeland.

Ottoman state

Sultan Salim seized Egypt from 1517 AD to 1798 AD, during that period Napoleon Bonaparte carried out the French campaign against the country.

The period when the Ottomans ruled Egypt and the various countries could be considered a period of distortion of the thought of women who depended on conspiracies to gain their aims.

In the time of the Ottomans, women described as they were cunning and plotters because women were made the conspiracies in the palaces of the sultans during the period of the Ottoman occupation.

During more than 300 years of the Ottomans' control of Egypt, the inferior view of women prevailed, especially after the spread of the “Harmelik” imported from Turkey, which prevented strict mixing with genders.

Polygamy and the slaves were spread widely in the palaces and siblings of the sultans and governors were many, so their wives and slaves plotted for their children to gain their inheritance that was funded and positions in the future.

The women of the princes in Egypt were absent from the outside world, so they were forbidden to leave the palace except by order of the prince, they went on picnics to the summer palaces, they were forbidden to mix with one, the high walls surrounding the palace was isolated from the outside perimeter, while women in general society enjoyed of more free to move.

The history of the Niqab was a pre-Islamic habit that existed in the Arabian Peninsula and then became an Islamic tradition, and spread widely in Arab countries during the period of the Ottoman occupation and obliged women to wear it.

Child marriage was present in the public and in the palace as well, political marriage and honor crimes were also present, nevertheless, the influence of the Mamluk state continued as women enjoyed some rights, including taking their opinion upon marriage, and they had the right to file a complaint against their husbands if their husbands beat or abandoned them, so they asked a divorce from their husband but the nature of women’s families didn’t accept that because many of them considered that it was shameful for a woman to file a complaint against her husband.

The Ottoman Empire did not criminalize the work of women in prostitution, on the condition of paying taxes.  

During the period of Sultan Salim (1512 - 1520), a law was issued stating that "if a female servant commits prostitution, she must pay the fine". In 1565, according to the documents of the Ottoman Empire, the women were exploited for prostitution informally registered as legitimate work, because Ottomans cared about collecting the money even if the woman became a tool to earn it.

Because of the spread of misery and poverty, women suffered greatly, so they worked in agriculture to collect wheat after harvesting crops to feed their children, but the Ottoman agents came to collect taxes and confiscate everything the family had, the Egyptian men and women were forced to work as service labor to harvest crops and cultivate the land without having pay.

The influence of the thought of the Ottoman Empire on the minorities in the state, including the Christian minority, was in control, and the documents indicate the existence of many divorces for the Copts of Egypt, which were supervised by Muslim judges, even though their divorce was restricted and it was not permissible except in the case of the adultery of one of the parties.

The Ottoman Empire worked to follow the Tatric policy in Egypt, and the Arabic language was banned, especially in the education fields that were limited to "katibis", and education in Al-Azhar was restricted to male children who only learned the Qur’an and its commentaries, the students were learning the Turkish language and history and some principles of mathematics and science.

The period of the Ottoman occupation of Egypt was a period of declining education, and illiteracy was widespread, as all that mattered to the Ottomans was the collection of taxes and royalties and the imposition of their language and culture.

The Egyptians were fed up with the practices of the Ottoman occupier, so they gathered in the Al-Azhar mosque and complained about their situation. And after Muhammad Ali refused to isolate the governor of Egypt Khurshid Pasha, who was appointed as governor for the city of Alexandria in 1804 AD, the Egyptians revolted and besieged the castle armed with sticks and batons, and in that way, they were able to isolate Khurshid and appoint Muhammad Ali instead of him, then they revolted against Muhammad Ali as a result of poor living conditions.

Between 1801 and 1805, women participated in the protest movements against the financial policy of the Ottoman pashas; they organized a huge demonstration to protest against the exaggeration of taxation.

Egyptian women had a great role in expelling the Ottoman occupier from the country; they participated in the Arab revolution against Khedive Tawfiq. Political leader and writer Mustafa Kamel called on women to take their role in defending the homeland and he said in his speech, "Bring up the boys and girls to love the homeland", from that time, the leaders began giving their speeches, ladies, and gentlemen, in honor and recognition of the presence of women on the battlefields.

The French occupation

The Ottoman Empire started to collapse, as a result of its practices against the Egyptians, so the ambitions of Western countries began to appear, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led a military campaign to occupy Egypt with goals related to its interests such as preventing England from reaching India and others.

Not much was changed in social life and the situation of women, during the French occupation of the country, but women emerged strongly in the revolutionary work, and the Egyptian women confronted and stood side by side with men.

When the masses of Egyptians gathered men and women carrying arms in the face of the French occupation, the first martyr was a woman in those events, even the French mentioned in their reports on the campaign that women were present strongly to confront their forces by carrying weapons or by chanting enthusiastic songs, and they were throwing dust and stones to French soldiers and worked to treat the wounded.

The French saw the great decline in culture and science, so they brought with them more than two thousand scientists, artists, painters, chemists, astronomers, doctors, and they presented their ideas about freedom, fraternity, and equality, but the Egyptians continued their struggle against them and against the British occupier after them.

In terms of girls ’education, Muhammad Ali established the first girls’ school in the name of “Mawlidat”, but it attracted only a few girls, as a result of the societal view that refused to teach girls and send them to schools, but he issued a decree requiring soldiers under his command to send their daughters to school.

In 1860, with the cooperation of the Coptic Assembly, the Copts established a school for girls, and before the establishment of the schools, the people from wealthy classes and the elders brought teachers from abroad to teach their daughters and the religious lessons were given by the sheiks.

The French occupation of Egypt coincided with the Ottoman occupation, and that took a large part of the life of the Egyptian women during the two occupations, but during the rule of Khedive Ismail, who opened the first government school for girls called "Sunni", in Egypt and the Middle East in 1873, the school received 286 female students when it opened, and in the same year, the charity founded the Women's Vigilance School and included 200 female students and 100 foreign students. But the French occupation continued its violations against the Egyptian people, and against women, as well as imposing taxes without mercy.

British occupation

The French occupation increased the ambitions of other countries and empires. The awareness of the Egyptians led to the people unite and refused the occupation and its ambitions.

The British occupation of Egypt continued for 54 years and it was ended in 1882 AD, and the treaty of Britain and Egypt was signed at the end of August 1936 AD, because of the popular rejection of the occupation, but the real emancipation from the occupation did not happen until after 74 years.

 Initially, the British imposed a land and sea blockade on the French in Egypt, and that was not only affected the occupation forces but also the country’s economy, especially the civilians who were the biggest victims during that period.

Judith Tucker, a Professor’s History at Georgetown University’s College in Qatar, published a book entitled “Egypt Women in the Nineteenth Century”, which focused on the lives of women from the popular class and marginalized groups and the impact of political and security conditions on their lives. The influence of Muhammad Ali’s decision to compel men into military service affected the lives of women and they assumed many responsibilities and became the mothers, fathers, and the only breadwinners of the family.

Women were forced to work in service labor, even pregnant women had to work many women lost their property, and others were denied the right to inherit.

The English orientalist Sophia Lynn Paul shed light on the different habits of the people of Egypt from one region to another and of course the different lifestyles of women, in her trip to Alexandria, she saw poor women washing clothes on the beach and filling jars with water and carrying them on their heads, and in the oldest quarters of Cairo, Al-Bulaq the women wearing the Niqab and Abaya.

The rights of women declined greatly, arbitrary divorce, polygamy did not end, as well as a violation against women and children, such as beating them with a stick and whip, the Harmelik and the slaves still existed, the child marriage, and mixing gender in the upper classes was much more difficult than in the popular.

Respect for the mothers was one of the basic principles of society. A woman had many powers in her home she had prestige when she became older, and learning for girls and women was restricted to handicrafts such as sewing and embroidery.

The health sector was very deteriorating, women and their children die in or after childbirth, but people attributed that to envy because the ignorance was widespread.

Free education was canceled, so it was restricted to the children of the rich, which led to an increase in the illiteracy rate among females reached to 98%, and slightly less than that among males, education became a luxury.

 Qasim Amin wrote in his book called The Liberation of Women, talked about the consequences of depriving girls of education at that time, Amin saw that the decline in the cultural and educational level, as well as the confinement of women in homes, led to their transformation into consumers, and it had a great impact on the men, they increased the burdens and responsibilities incumbent on them, in return the men robbed the entire rights of women, the women became just domestic workers, and a childbearing machine, in addition, the women did not have any opinion and were not entitled to interfere with anything.

Women of different social classes were equal in ignorance, rich women who owned real estate, and lands, were entrusted to manage by a man from the family or relatives, so the women were highly vulnerable to fraud.

Women continued to go to Revolution Square. We remember the participation of women in the revolution of 1919, the first woman martyr in the revolution, Hamida Khalil. The enemy's bullets ended her life on March 16, but that bullet fired the spark of the revolution when a mass funeral was organized for her, and then a demonstration followed and 300 women joined it, they presented a paper protesting to British officials about the violence that greeted the peaceful demonstrations. In her honor, Egypt set the date of her martyrdom as the day for Egyptian women to celebrate every year.

The women boycotted the "Milner Committee" formed by the British occupation to know the causes of the revolution, and they contributed to the campaign to boycott foreign goods, through that prominent role, the women were restored to their natural position in Egyptian society after years of decline.

Over the years of the British occupation of Egypt, women among the Guerrillas carried the concerns of the people who aspire to freedom from the occupation on their shoulders; they participated in the protests as resistance fighters and paramedics, in camps as well as in demonstrations and strikes.

Even women who worked as a "dancers" had an active role in the Egyptian revolt against the occupier, they worked as a secret agent with the resistance, including, Carioca, who was a volunteer along with the guerrillas and was on the mission of transferring weapons to the Ismailia governorate,  and Hikmat Fahmy, who worked as an informant between the Egyptian army officers and the British authorities, but she paid the price of her resistance after the occupation discovered her work by imprisoning her for three years.

In the fall of the British occupation of Egypt, in the last years in the country, women formed the first women battalion called "Bint El Nile Brigades", founded by Dorya Shafiq who was the pioneer of the women's liberation movement in Egypt and the author of the Egyptian women's book.

That battalion participated in fighting that the "Monday" magazine talked about them and said, “those who see the face of Egyptian girls while the carrying the weapons with their hands can see a strong will and determination that reflects the desires of the whole Nile valley".

Popular resistance continued and Egypt regained its true sovereignty in 1956.  

Tomorrow: Modern Egypt ... laws for women