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THE EGYPT OF MY LIFE


Yet another progressive Arab country bounces back to restore back it’s lost glory.

Indeed, none other than Egypt and the way it is adjacent to Tunisia, it looks like a domino effect has started not just in the metaphorical but the literal sense.
But to say that Egypt bounces back because of a common border with the Tunisia would a shameful underestimation of Egypt’s potential.

Along with Tunisia, it is one of the few Arab countires with a strong, ancient history and a history of cultural and liberal values far detached from the religious tag . Yes,  Egypt probabaly would stand even ahead of Tunisia  in that respect.
The situatuion gives me jitters and also butterflies in the stomach.  Not because I have this appetite for international politics but because I have a special attachment to Egypt.

After India, Egypt has been living in my life, even more than Pakistan. Strangely though I have never lived in Egypt except for two visits for a fortnight each.

I woke up to this world with a name given to me by my Dad after being inspired by Egyptian names. His special love for Egypt was still fresh and alive in him when I was born. Just a couple of years ago had he returned from Egypt, after earning a PhD in Egyptian Liberal Nationalism and with Jamal Abdul Nasser his hero.

I grew up hearing his stories about Jamal Abdul Nasser, Egypt ‘s rich culture, their progressive intelligentsia,  their sense of humour,  the plays and most of all their music which was represented by none other than Umm Kulthum.

My dad who went to Egypt in the early sixties for a Phd, had gone there as a son of a maulvi (though he had been a rebellious communist too, in his early student life), but returned back some years later as a very progressive man with a wide horizon. He was in love with this place till the last moment of his life.

However when he returned to Egypt once again, in late eighties two things disappointed him terribly. He did get connected with all his old friends some of whom had gone ‘BIG’ in Egypt by then, one of them being the ex Secretay General of UN Boutros Boutros Ghali and Amr Moussa,  the foreign Minister then. They all gathered together bringing back the youthful memories.  Despite the 60’s era, he used  to tell us that, he had a couple of girls too in his group of friends who hung around  in the university together.

One of the two things that had disappointed him was the rise of Radicalism and that there were so many women now sporting Hijab and Niqab in the Cairo University. Though in the early sixties they could hardly see any.

And the second , which was no less disappointing to him, was that one of his extremely petite and pretty girl friends from the old group at that time, who was now the Head of the Political Science Department in the University, had gone at least four times as fat. They all joked about her and she too joined the hearty laugh without getting offended.

He was a very hurt man.

Egyptians have a terrific sense of humour, and if they don’t have any joke on politics, they laugh on themselves. But they make it a point to crack one joke a day –calling it a NUKTA. If anything it was their sense of humour my Dad carried back along with him on his return.

Anyhow coming to the point I wish to tell here that women have alwasy been very liberated and strong in Egypt since long. Not just in the few centuries but in the ancient Egypt 3000 years ago, too.       The woman, in the pharoanic times some 2000-3000 years ago, was far more liberated than many women in the current world in 2011.

While most women, in the ancient Egypt, played traditional roles of wife and homemaker, they had many liberties and freedoms that were denied to women of other cultures in the ancient world. Married women were the complete governors of their household, husband seldom interfered in the domestic matters. Though they did all the domestic chores themselves.
Legally too they were equal to men in terms of rights and could take a loan of her own, ask for divorce, buy property in her name and even free slaves at her will. She was given third of her husband’s property on his demise. And could even remarry without any stigma. Divorce was not seen as stigma either.

There are records of women holding positions of  Ministers to Pharoahs.  Out of many, one most important name is Queen Hatshepsut :18th dynasty1473-1458 BC . She ruled in the early part of the ‘golden age of Egypt’ which includes other Pharoahs like Tutankhamoun, Nefertiti , Akhenton.

Needless to mention Queen Cleopatra and her stories of power not only on her Kingdom but also her control on her sweetheart–Mark Antonius was also an Egyptian Queen. Narrating about their story would need several blogs.

Women in ancient Egypt, rightly or wrongly, took great pains to ensure their physical attractiveness and even women among the poorer classes relied heavily on cosmetics and lotions to retain their youth and beauty.

After all this glory of women did spill over in the contemporary world too. Although the impact of religion did lead to segregation in schools. veiling etc.  And with rise of Radicalism in the eighties it has gone worse.

I am not an expert on religion but have been told by my Egyptian friends that The MALKI SCHOOL which the Egyptian Muslims follow is pretty liberal. And they are far more progressive towards giving rights to women.The 1956 Constitution of Egypt was one of the most liberal on women’s right among the Arab and the Muslim World.

To be continued in next blog…..

Pardon me–got to leave.

Ilmana Fasih.

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