The Intersection of the Personal and the Political: Huda Shaarawi's Harem Years and Leila Ahmed's A Border Passage
The IUP Journal of English Studies, Vol. VII, No. 2, pp. 31-38, June 2012
Posted: 5 Nov 2012
Date Written: November 1, 2012
Drawing on Nawar al-Hassan Golley’s thesis that women’s autobiographies and memoirs feature a social rather than an individualistic self, this paper examines the memoirs of two prominent Egyptian women, Huda Shaarawi and Leila Ahmed. Born 61 years apart, both grew up in Egypt under British occupation, the former when the nationalist movement was at its height and the latter in the years of the forging of the national identity of Egypt. The turbulent political climate of their time had its impact on the shaping of their personal identity. Not surprisingly, the personal and the political lie enmeshed in their memoirs. Huda Shaarawi’s memoir Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1987) is a living testimony of the struggles and ordeals the women of her generation had to undergo and the deep-seated social conventions and prejudices they had to battle in their championing of nationalist and feminist causes. Shaarawi’s unproblematic conceptualization of identity, reflective of her moorings in religion and tradition, gives way in Leila Ahmed’s memoir A Border Passage: From Cairo to America – A Woman’s Journey (1999) to a fractured consciousness of self, one that grapples with questions of truth, identity, politics and religion. The paper also shows how the memoirs demystify orientalist stereotyping of Muslim women’s life in the harem.
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