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Secularism, Gender and the State in the Middle East - The Egyptian Women’s Movement

Wednesday 10 January 2018, by siawi3


Secularism, Gender and the State in the Middle East - The Egyptian Women’s Movement

by Nadje Al-Ali

A considerable literature has been devoted to the study of activism
amongst Islamist groups. By contrast, Nadje Al-Ali’s book explores the
anthropological and political signicance of secular-oriented women’s
activism by focusing on the women’s movement in modern Egypt. In so
doing it challenges stereotypical images of Arab women as passive
victims and demonstrates how they fought for their rights and confront
conservative forces.
The argument is constructed around interviews with some eighty women activists, who offer fascinating insights into the history of the women’s movement in Egypt, the goals and priorities of different groups and individual activists, and how the Egyptian state and Islamist constituencies have impacted on women’s activism generally. In this way, the author defines one of the central themes of the book, the reconceptualization of secularism in the Middle East and Muslim world.

Another significant contribution of this book is its challenge of
prevailing dichotomous constructions of ‘the West’ versus ‘the East’.
Here the author proposes to transcend notions of cultures being
bounded entities and to acknowledge the entanglements and creative
encounters between and within cultures. Throughout the book, the
balance between the empirical and conceptual material is adeptly
handled. The author frames her work in the context of current theoreti-
cal debates in Middle Eastern and post-colonial scholarship and, while
some of the ideas are complex, her lucid and engaging style means they
are always comprehensible. The book will therefore appeal to students,
as well as to scholars in the Weld.


Nadje Al-Ali is a lecturer in social anthropology at the Institute of Arabic
and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter.


Cambridge Middle East Studies



Acknowledgements p x
Note on transliteration p xii
List of groups,networks and organizations p xiii
List of abbreviations p xv

Introduction p 1

Up against conceptual frameworks:post-orientalism, occidentalism and presentations of the self p 19
Contextualizing the Egyptian women’s movement p 51
Self and generation:formative experiences of Egyptian women activists p 86
Secularism: challenging neo-orientalism and ‘his-stories’ p 128
From words to deeds: priorities and projects of contemporary activists p 149
A mirror of political culture in Egypt: divisions and debates among women activists p 185

Conclusion:‘standing on shifting ground’ p 216

Bibliography p 233
Index p 253

The book can be accessed online here