Sunday, March 22, 2015

When The Daughters of the Nile Decided to strike in 1954

From 51 years ago Egyptian feminist and political activist Doria Shafik ended her 8- days hunger strike and sit-in along other ladies at the Journalists syndicate in Cairo after taking a promise from General Mohamed Naguib , Egypt’s President then in a written statement that Egyptian women’s political rights above them the suffrage right in Constitution in the what can be considered one of the most important feminist and civil rights victories in the 1950s.
Suffrage protests after 1952 , you can see Doria Shafik in the middle
wearing black ensemble "Dutch National Archives"
I remembered that strike through rare photos I found at the Dutch National Archives and I wondered why nobody remembered that important event let alone Doria Shafik properly as political figure more than the same old paragraph in the newspapers about that Middle class elegant feminist in March, the women’s month. 
The 1954 women’s strike at the journalists syndicate was an important Chronicle in our modern history. 
Doria Shafik , a long time feminist in Egypt was furious that the Constituent assembly did not include women’s political rights in the draft constitution of the First Republic. It seemed that the members of assembly broker their promises earlier to her to include those rights.
Ladies protested for their  political
right in early 1950s "Dutch National Archives" 

{Ladies support the Women's party's demands}
as written on the banner
One cover from her weekly newspaper “The Daughter of the Nile-The politician” shows an Op-Ed attacking PM Ali Maher then from not including the right of women to run for political positions in Egypt in the draft Constitution despite his early promises.
The daughter of the Nile-The politician
" Bibliotheca Alexandria" 
On 14 March 1954 she started a hunger strike and a sit-in at the journalists syndicate in Cairo.
She was not alone as there were other 8 ladies from her party “Bent Al-Nil” or “The daughter of the Nile ”.

The other ladies were leading feminist figure Mounria Thabet who had called for the suffrage rights since 1923 , Fathia El-Falky , Bahiga El-Bakry , Amany Farid, Hayam Abdel Azizi and Mounira Hosny, Ragia Hamza and two other ladies I could not find their names.
The ladies examined by a doctor during the sit in
"Dutch National Archives" 
The sources I found about that sit-in says that feminist Amnia Shoukry and other ladies also held a similar strike in Alexandria.

After few days of those ladies’ strike , they were joined by American Journalist Charlotte Weller , the Chicago News Reporter and the wife of renowned journalist George Weller. The Wellers were visiting Egypt when they decided to participate in the sit-in. Charlotte Weller participated in the sit-in and became the tenth protester while her husband covered that unique sit-in from Cairo in time that there was no twitter or Facebook.
Charlotte Weller and Doria Shafik 
The ladies were wearing fancy pajamas and robe de chambre. They looked tired in the few photos I found online for that interesting sit-in. Two of the original nine ladies who started the strike were transferred to the hospital after health problems from the hunger strike.
One the ladies transferred to the hospital
"The Dutch National Archives" 
Not less than 120 AUC students then signed petition in solidarity with those ladies
The Wellers’ coverage and participation attracted the American media to cover what is happening in Cairo Of course Doria Shafik’s fame brought European media to cover her bold move along with the other ladies in her party. Here is a very rare footage showing the strike filmed by Italian News reel.
The daughters of the Nile’s sit in
Amazingly I have not found anything accusing Shafik of being an U.S spy who was trying to destabilize the democratic process with her strike because of the Wellers.
No thugs attacked the strikers. All What I found that famous politicians tried to convince Doria and her sisters to stop the strike for the sake of their health in fatherly way as “George Weller” described it in his reports about the strike.
A copy from Weller's report about the sit in
"Doria Shafik : Egyptian Feminist , a woman apart"
Of course there were voices against the political rights of the women in the Constitution including the Free Officers themselves , the original Junta of 52. I was surprised to know among the opponent voices against those rights were none other than Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat !!
Oh yes He wrote Op-ed in  “Sawt El-Tahrir” which represented voice of the Free officers that the woman’s true place was in her house serving her husband like his grandmother who raised him !!
In the end the first woman party leader in the history of modern Egypt got a promise from General Naguib , Egypt’s first president in written statement to include women’s rights above them suffrage rights in the draft constitution.
Shafik and Naguib in August 1952 "Bibliotheca Alexandria" 
Ironically we never applied 1954 constitution in the first place. Nevertheless the Egyptian women was granted the right to vote in the 1956 Constitution. Historically we owe to Doria Shafik and those ladies who were on a hunger strike wearing fancy robe de chambre at the Old journalists syndicate.

Doria Shafik did another sit-in but it did not attract attention and it was rather the end of her political career during the time of president Nasser. She started a sit-in at the Indian embassy in 1957 against Nasser’s dictatorship as she saw the wrong path he was leading Egypt to politically.
Shafik with some Indian lady in 1950s  (Dutch National archives 
She chose the Indian embassy because she was a personal friend of Indira Ghandi already.
Nevertheless She was alone and lost the fight against Nasser.

The original Military president put her under house arrest banning her from writing in the newspapers and magazines. It was the end of her political career and the end of an era.

Doria Shafik stayed at her home till her enigmatic death in the 1975. She fell from her balcony. The mainstream story says that she committed suicide but you know political as well prominent figures in Egypt got that thing with balconies. 

If you want to know more about Doria Shafik then I recommend you to visit her official website set by her daughters.
I look to those pages from our political history in 1954 and I wonder how we ended up to that situation we got in 2015.


  1. Dear Freedom Fighter,
    Thank you for this enchanting and empowering Research. Your Struggle is very much appreciated.
    Concerning your last Question: “I wonder how we ended up to that situation we got in 2015.”
    Egypt is destined to battle on two Fronts:
    1- To harness the damaging social/political Incursions of political Islam.
    2- To terminate the suffocating Hegemony of the Military over the Nation.
    For the love of Egypt, share it around.
    Abdou Aboyoussef.

    1. Military: Suffocating to you. Exhilarating and liberating to the rest of all of us.

      Tahya Masr


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