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Harem Years
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HUDA SHAARAWI (1879-1947) was among the last generation of Egyptian women to live in the segregated world of the harem. Her feminist activism grew out of her involvement in Egypt's nationalist struggle, and led to her founding of the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923.

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Harem Years

The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, 1879-1947
Huda Shaarawi

Translated by Margot Badran. Introduction by Margot Badran.

In this firsthand account of the private world of a harem in colonial Cairo, Shaarawi recalls her childhood and early adult life in the seclusion of an upper-class Egyptian household, including her marriage at age thirteen. Her subsequent separation from her husband gave her time for an extended formal education, as well as an unexpected taste of independence. Shaarawi's feminist activism grew, along with her involvement in Egypt's nationalist struggle, culminating in 1923 when she publicly removed her veil in a Cairo railroad station, a daring act of defiance.

"Through her careful translation and interpretation of the memoirs of Huda Shaarawi—Egypt's first and foremost feminist nationalist, born more than a hundred years ago—Margot Badran presents a complex picture of a fascinating reality. Born into an upper-class family, Huda Shaarawi tells of her bitter jealousy of the brother whom all favored over her, of the limits placed on the education she craved, and of her eventual triumph as a leader of other women. In the best tradition of feminist scholarship, Margot Badran contributes substantially to our understanding of both Egyptian history and the development in Egypt of a feminist movement with roots in the harem."

—Hanna Papanek, Center for Asian Development Studies, Boston University

"This is a moving evocation of a vanished world. Harem Years shows how a gifted and sensitive woman, brought up in seclusion but with a knowledge of French that opened a window onto European culture, gradually became aware of her own predicament and that of her sex and society. In Margot Badran's faithful and elegant translation, Huda Shaarawi's memoirs will have a permanent place in the literature of women's studies and of middle eastern history."

—Albert Hourani, Fellow of St. Anthony's College, Oxford University

"Harem Years is the first of its kind. The memoirs of the early Egyptian feminist Huda Shaarawi, the book is a touching, fascinating account of a woman’s struggle to assert herself in a segregated society.”

—Afaf Lutfy Al Sayyid Marsot, professor of history, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of California at Los Angeles

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