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Women and the press 2: The right to a voice

In the early 20th century, Egypt's women had a prominent place in publications, pioneering women's issues and rights in print

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 23 Mar 2016
Al-Hessan
Music Diva at the time, Mounira Al-Mahdeia on the cover of Al-Hessan
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Since 1892, when the world was still debating women's rights, Egyptian women's voice was loud, clear, popular and in print.

The first Egyptian women magazine was created in 1892 by a Syrian girl.

"In 1892-1894, Hend Nofal established the first successful yet short lived attempt to Egypt's first women's magazine in Egypt. Al-Fatah (The Girl) was the first women magazine run and owned by Nofal, whose Syrian family, like many families, fled Ottoman rule in Syria for a better, liberal and cultural realm in Egypt," explained Hoda El-Sadda, director of the Women and Memory Forum, in the introduction to a republication of the magazine.

Nofal's father, a writer, helped her in the management and sustainability of the magazine. Mariam El-Nahas, Nofal's mother, had a great impact on Nofal since she was a published writer at the time of the book Maarad Al-Hasnaa fi Taragem Mashaheer El-Nesaa (Hasnaa's Exhibition of Famous Women).

el hessan
One of Al-Hessan's early issues with the picture of a woman who chose not to share her name with her picture

Though shortlived, the magazine was the first cornerstone to encourage women to engage in journalism and writing, borrowing from the model of successful women in the West. Though focused on women's grand role in the home, the magazine also celebrated women who excelled outside the comfort of their family life, such as physicians of the time, explained El-Sadda, adding that the magazine witnessed the fresh beginnings of women and the press.

Another reason for the greatness of the magazine is the fact that it was launched at the time when Abdallah Al-Nadim, national figure and spokesperson of Orabi's revolution, launched his first social magazine, titled Al-Ostaz (The Master). A lot of interesting conversations were had between these magazines and their readers regarding women's rights and equality. Sadly — and not a little ironically — Al-Fatah soon came to an end by way of the marriage of Nofal, as she explained in the last issue of the magazine.

However, her impact remained and lots of women magazines started to flourish: Anis Al-Galis (Keeping One Company, 1898-1907), Magalet Al-Sayedat (Women's Magazine, 1903-1930), Fatat Al-Sharq (Girl of the Orient, 1906-1922), El-Gens Al-Latif (The Better Half, 1908-1925) and Al-Nahda Al Nesaeia (Women Renaissance, 1921-1939)

Following the same line came Farida Fawzi and her women's magazine Al-Hissan (Belle, 1925-1929). The cover of the third issue of this magazine reveals an interesting fact on the duel personality of Egyptians, with a portrait of an elderly woman, the photocaption explaining that she is the widow of a famous minister who refused to state her name. And yet her photograph is printed on the cover. 

The magazine was focused in women's rights and dedicated a special section to the same, as a constant reminder to its readers. Music diva Munira El-Mahdia appeared on one of its covers. 

The magazine also focused on publishing and translating international novels, as well as The Arabian Nights, along with pictures of aspiring young ladies, such as Siza Nabarawi, the secretary of the Society of the Renaissance of the Egyptian Woman, and Hoda Shaarawi, an icon of the Egyptian feminist movement. 

El-Hessan
Portrait of the owner of Egyptian Woman Magazine, published by Al-Hessan Magazine

El-Hessan
Al-Hessan poster of feminist icon Siza El-Nabarawi

El-Hessan
Music Diva at the time, Mounira Al-Mahdeia on the cover of Al-Hessan


Egypt's Woman magazine (1921-1939) was created and managed by Balsam Abdel Masih. It sustained the line of thought of the previous magazines, but depended on drawings and illustrations rather than pictures. 

In parallel to it was Fatat Misr El-Fatat (Girls of Young Egypt) magazine in 1921 founded by Emily Abdel Massih, and Fatat Masr (Egypt's Girls) owned and directed by Hanem Mohamed El-Askalani, the principal of an elementary and vocational school teaching girls tapestry.

In 1930, Omahat El-Mostaqbal (Future Mothers, 1930-1932) was launched by Tafida Allam, along with many other successful publications.

Al-Hayat Al-Gadida

Al-Hayat Al-Gadida
The magazine focused on Arts and culture figures in Egyptian Society at the time

Al-Hayat Al-Gadida

Al-Hayat Al-Gadida

All publications reviewed are courtesy of the Library and Documentation Centre at the Women and Memory Forum

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