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Book Project

A Comparative History of Feminism in Egypt and Turkey, 1880-1935:

Dialogue and Difference 

A Comparative History of Feminism in Egypt and Turkey, 1880-1935: Dialogue and Difference investigates the interaction between organized women’s movements in Turkey and Egypt, and their relation with global women’s activism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

Based on two years of archival research in Turkey, Egypt, and the United Kingdom, my project establishes a dialogue between Egyptian and Turkish feminisms, investigates both the secular and Islamic trends within them, and takes stock of their interactions with and resistances to western feminisms. By bringing the evolution of the feminist discourse in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in conversation with the secular and religious reform traditions in both countries in a comparative perspective, my work seeks to encourage a broader and more in-depth understanding of feminism in the Middle East, stripped from the dominant, nationalist narrative of its evolution.

With the project, I make two interventions in the existing scholarship. The interventions combine “comparative” and “integrative” approaches to study two major Middle Eastern feminist movements, which are still understood and studied in isolation from each other. First, I examine how Egyptian and Turkish feminists engaged with Islam, secularism, and modernity, by comparatively analyzing the patterns and distinct phases which defined their engagements. I argue that in societies with a strong heritage of secular liberal reform, wherein progressive tradition is engineered by intellectual and official cadres, such as in the Ottoman core regions of the Balkans and Anatolia and later in the Turkish Republic, feminism becomes a state-centric political project and an intellectual exercise in which more conservative manifestations of feminism were side-lined for the sake of a swift rate of progress. By contrast, in societies with a strong heritage of Islamically grounded modernization and social advances, such as in Egypt, feminism was rooted in, nourished by, and highly responsive to social, cultural, and religious norms, fostering social mobilization at a broader stratum, yet at a much slower, or more gradual, rate of progress. Secondly, my work maps how feminists in Egypt and Turkey drew from one another’s networks, languages, and ideas to navigate the headwinds of very different societies. I examine the regional interaction between the Egyptian and Ottoman (later Turkish) feminism, and the cross-fertilization of feminist agendas in Istanbul and Cairo, the centers of Turkish and Arabic-language cultural production,respectively. I discuss these two interventions in more detail in my article, “Comparative and Integration History in Ottoman and Turkish Women’s and Gender Studies,” published in the Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies, JMEWS.

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