Walking a Tightrope: Women Between Marxist/Socialist Thought and Radical Islam During the Nasser Era in Egypt 1952-1971
Marxist/Socialist ideology as well as radical Islam emerged on the Egyptian scene as two opposing forces that attracted considerable following by young Egyptian intellectuals from as far back as the 1930s and 1940s, and even earlier. During this period, Egyptian frustration at colonial domination expressed itself ideologically in the attempts of Egyptian intellectuals to dissociate themselves from the dominant ideology of the British colonial power. This was achieved either through the adoption of a new and modernized, but extremist, version of Islam that reasserted an independent identity from Western patterns, or by embracing the increasingly popular and attractive ideology of the Left. The young Egyptian intellectuals of the time found themselves compelled to choose between socialism and fundamental Islam, two poles that are in many ways diametrically opposed. The decision to follow one rather than the other was by no means an easy choice for young intellectuals. Fundamentalist Islam seemed to offer a very attractive possibility and relatively little deviation from socially acceptable norms, since religious sentiments have traditionally been fairly strong in the Egyptian character. Other young people, however, saw in Islamic ideology a stumbling block to development and opted, therefore, for socialism. The July 1952 revolution embarked on the ambitious project of establishing a new secular and egalitarian regime that was based loosely on what came to be termed Arab Socialism, a brand of Marxism that was watered down and particularly adapted to suit the religious tendencies of the population. The regime sat uncomfortably between the two opposing poles, and eventually cracked down on both parties, putting members of both the Muslim Brothers and the Communists in prison. This paper is an attempt to map out the territory occupied by the women intellectuals of this period and the stands they adopted regarding the Marxist/Islamist opposition as they appear in their literary productions. Reference will be made to the writings of such prominent figures as Zeinab Al-Ghazali, the vocal advocate of the establishment of an Islamic state, on the one hand, and the left-wing intellectual, Latifa Al-Zayyat, on the other, with the aim of investigating the often perilous journey that landed both of them in prison, and the tight rope they walked between their convictions and the demands of the state.
Keywords: Arab Women, Marxism, Islam, Gender Issues in Egypt, religion
Prof. Amira Hassan Nowaira
Professor of English, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University