Doria Shafik

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Doria Shafiq
درية شفيق
Doria Shafik.jpg
Born14 December 1908
Died20 September 1975(1975-09-20) (aged 66)
Occupationauthor, feminist, revolutionary

Doria Shafik (Arabic: درية شفيق‎‎; 14 December 1908 – 20 September 1975) was an Egyptian feminist, poet and editor, and one of the principal leaders of the women's liberation movement in Egypt in the mid-1940s.[1] As a direct result of her efforts, Egyptian women were granted the right to vote by the Egyptian constitution.

Early life and career[edit]

Shafik was born in Tanta, in the Nile Delta of Northern Egypt and studied in a French mission school. At the age of 16 she became the youngest Egyptian to earn the French Baccalaureate degree. At 19 she was awarded a scholarship by the Egyptian Ministry of Education to study at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She also studied for a PhD in philosophy at the Sorbonne.[2] She wrote two thesis, one refuting the merely utilitarian ends generally associated with Ancient Egyptian art, and the second, arguing that Islam amply recognised women's equal rights. She was awarded her PhD (Doctorat d'Etat) with high qualifications (Mention très honorable).

While in Paris, Shafik married Nour Al Din Ragai, a law student who was also on scholarship and working on his PhD.

Upon her return from France to Egypt in 1940, Shafik hoped to contribute to the education of her country's youth, but the dean of the Faculty of Literature of Cairo University denied her a teaching position on the pretext that she was "too modern."[2]

In 1945, Princess Chevicar, the first wife of Egypt's then former King Fuad I, offered Shafik the position of editor-in-chief of La Femme Nouvelle, a French cultural and literary magazine addressing the country's elite. Shafik accepted the position, and with Chevicar's death in 1947, took complete responsibility for the magazine, including its financing. Under her direction La Femme Nouvelle gained regional status. Also in 1945, Shafik decided to publish an Arabic magazine, Bint Al Nil (Daughter of The Nile), intended to educate Egyptian women and to help them to have the most effective role possible within their family and their society.[3][4] The first issue came out in November 1945 and was almost immediately sold out.

In 1948 Shafik created the Bint Al Nil Union, to help solve women's primary social problems and to ensure their inclusion in their country's policies.[5] The union also worked to eradicate illiteracy by setting up centres for that purpose throughout the country, set up an employment office and a cafeteria for working women.

Storming Parliament[edit]

In February 1951, she managed to secretly bring together 1500 women from Egypt's two leading feminist groupings (Bint Al-Nil and the Egyptian Feminist Union). She organized a march that interrupted parliament for four hours after they gathered there with a series of demands mainly related to women's socioeconomic rights. Mufidah Abdul Rahman was chosen to defend Shafik in court in regards to this.[6][7] When the case went to trial, many Bint al-Nil supporters attended the courtroom, and the judge adjourned the hearing indefinitely.[8]

However, in spite of receiving promises from the President of the Senate, women's rights experienced no improvements.[7]

Struggle against occupation[edit]

In 1951, Shafik decided to contribute to efforts towards ridding Egypt from British occupation by creating the first female military unit, which brought together 2000 women, prepared them for the front and to carry out essential nursing activities.

Bint Al-Nil Party[edit]

After the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, Shafik requested government recognition of Bint Al-Nil as a political party, with Shafik herself as its president, which the government accepted to grant.

First hunger strike[edit]

On 12 March 1954, Shafik undertook an eight-day hunger strike at the press syndicate, in protest at the creation of a constitutional committee with no women on it.[9] She ended her strike upon receiving a written statement that President Naguib was committed to a constitution that respected the rights of women.

Trip around the world[edit]

As a result of the interest sparked by her hunger strike, Shafik was invited to lecture in Asia, Europe and the United States about Egyptian women. She travelled to Italy, England, France, the United States, Japan, India, Ceylon and Pakistan.

Right to vote[edit]

As a result of Shafik's efforts women were granted the right to vote under the constitution of 1956, with the proviso, however, that they be literate, which was not a prerequisite for male voting.

Second hunger strike[edit]

In 1957 Shafik undertook a second hunger strike in the Indian embassy, in protest over President Gamal Abdel Nasser's dictatorial regime. As a result, she was put under house arrest by Nasser, her name was banned from the press and her magazines from circulation.[7]

Literary work[edit]

In addition to her magazines, Shafik wrote a novel, L'Esclave Sultane,[10] several volumes of poetry published by Pierre Fanlac, her own memoirs, and translated the Quran into English and French.

Seclusion and death[edit]

Following her house arrest Shafik led a solitary life, even when her movement was no longer restricted. She spent her last years reading, writing and mainly in the company of her daughters and grandchildren. She came to her death by suicide after falling from her balcony in 1975.[4] The New York Times regretted not printing her obituary and finally printed one in 2018.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Shafik married Nour Al-Din Ragai in Paris in 1937. He would go on to become a prominent lawyer in Egypt and to support all of her efforts. They were together for 31 years (till 1968 when they divorced) and had two daughters, Aziza and Jehane. She was survived by them and by her four grandchildren.


On December 14, 2016, Google dedicated a Doodle to the writer for the 108th anniversary of her birth. The Doodle reached all the countries of the Arab World.[11] In 2018, the New York Times published a belated obituary for her.[7]


  1. ^ Judith E. Tucker (2008). "Shafiq, Durriya (1908-1975)". In Bonnie G. Smith. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Volume 4: Seton-Zia. Oxford University Press. pp. 27–8. ISBN 978-0-19-514890-9.
  2. ^ a b Cynthia Nelson (Fall 1986). "The Voices of Doria Shafik: Feminist Consciousness in Egypt, 1940-1960". Feminist Issues. 6 (2): 15–31. doi:10.1007/BF02685640.
  3. ^ "Bint al-Nil Journal". Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b Kheir, Mohammed (8 March 2012). "Durriya Shafiq: Rebellious Daughter of the Nile". Al-Akhbar. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  5. ^ Nadje S. Al Ali. "Women's Movements in the Middle East: Case Studies of Egypt and Turkey" (Report). SOAS. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  6. ^ Cynthia Nelson (1996). Doria Shafik Egyptian Feminist : A Woman apart. American Univ in Cairo Press. pp. 169–176–. ISBN 978-977-424-413-1.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Overlooked No More: Doria Shafik, Who Led Egypt's Women's Liberation Movement". Retrieved 2018-08-26.
  8. ^ Anne Commire; Deborah Klezmer (2002). Women in World History: Schu-Sui. Yorkin Publications. ISBN 978-0-7876-4073-6.
  9. ^ Tadros, Mariz (March 1999). "Unity in Diversity". Al-Ahram. Archived from the original on 30 May 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  10. ^ Doria Shafik (1952). L'esclave Sultane. Nouvelles Editions Latines. GGKEY:8KTWB8112X2.
  11. ^ "Doria Shafik's 108th Birthday". 14 December 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  • Asunción Oliva Portoles, Recuperación de una voz olvidada, Madrid: Huerga y Fierro editores, 2010. ISBN 9788483748237
  • Cynthia Nelson, Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist: A woman Apart, Gainesville: University Press of Florida (EE.UU.), 1996. ISBN 9780813014555

External links[edit]