REMAKING WOMEN

FEMINISM AND MODERNITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 1998 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-05792-7

Contents

Preface..............................................................................................................................................................vii
Note on Transliterations.............................................................................................................................................xi
Introduction  Feminist Longings and Postcolonial Conditions  Lila Abu-Lughod.........................................................................................3
PART ONE: REWRITING FEMINIST BEGINNINGS: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY......................................................................................................33
Chapter 1  Women, Medicine, and Power in Nineteenth-Century Egypt  Khaled Fahmy......................................................................................35
Chapter 2  'A'isha Taymur's Tears and the Critique of the Modernist and the Feminist Discourses on Nineteenth-Century Egypt  Mervat Hatem............................73
PART TWO: MOTHERS, WIVES, AND CITIZENS: THE TURN OF THE CENTURY......................................................................................................89
Chapter 3  Crafting an Educated Housewife in Iran  Afsaneh Najmabadi.................................................................................................91
Chapter 4  Schooled Mothers and Structured Play: Child Rearing in Turn-of-the-Century Egypt  Omnia Shakry............................................................126
Chapter 5  The Egyptian Lives of Jeanne d'Arc  Marilyn Booth.........................................................................................................171
PART THREE: ISLAMISM, MODERNISM, AND FEMINISMS: THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY...........................................................................................213
Chapter 6  Eluding the Feminist, Overthrowing the Modern? Transformations in Twentieth-Century Iran  Zohreh T. Sullivan..............................................215
Chapter 7  The Marriage of Feminism and Islamism in Egypt: Selective Repudiation as a Dynamic of Postcolonial Cultural Politics  Lila Abu-Lughod.....................243
Afterword  Some Awkward Questions on Women and Modernity in Turkey  Deniz Kandiyoti..................................................................................270
Contributors.........................................................................................................................................................289
Index................................................................................................................................................................291


Chapter One

Women, Medicine, and Power in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

KHALED FAHMY

IN 1825 a certain Dr. Antoine-Barthélemy Clot, a French doctor from Marseilles, arrived in Cairo answering a request from Mehmed Ali Pasha, the governor of Egypt, to organize the country's medical system. Two years later Dr. Clot succeeded in founding a modern medical school attached to an impressive new hospital that he also founded in Abu Za'bal at the northern outskirts of Cairo and which by the late 1830s had managed to produce 420 medical doctors for the pasha's large army and navy. The hospital, which was later called Qasr al-'Aini (after its new location southwest of Cairo), was mainly aimed at treating the soldiers of the rapidly expanding army of the pasha; the civilian population, on the other hand, was mostly treated in the Civilian Hospital founded in 1837 and located in the elite quarter of Azbakiyya in northwestern Cairo. In Alexandria the Mahmudiyya Hospital that was founded in 1827 admitted naval soldiers, workers in the Alexandria Arsenal, and their families. In addition to founding hospitals and opening what was by all accounts an impressive medical school, the pasha and his chief medical adviser also instituted a nationwide vaccination program against smallpox, introduced free medical care for the urban population, and, by founding a modern press, undertook an ambitious project of translating more than fifty medical titles from various European languages into Arabic.

One of the most interesting of the numerous medical institutions that Egypt witnessed in the first half of the nineteenth century was a School of Midwives. Established in 1832, it was intended to teach young women some basics of modern medicine. During their six years of study the first two focused on Arabic literacy, followed by four years of special training in the following fields: obstetrics, pre- and postnatal care, dressing wounds, cauterization, vaccination, scarification, cupping, and the application of leeches, in addition to identification and preparation of the most common medicines. Thus these girls were educated not only in midwifery and obstetrics but also in basic knowledge of modern medicine. This was a good enough reason for LaVerne Kuhnke, the leading historian of the subject, to refer to them not as dayas, the name reserved for the traditional midwives, but as hakimas, that is, female doctors. Kuhnke goes on to argue that the school was remarkable for being "the first government educational institution for women in the Middle East." Moreover, if one looks at the contemporary European scene, the school compares very favorably. At a time when medical men in Europe (especially in England and France) were gradually replacing women in the medical profession on the grounds that the latter were weak, unfit for public service, or, with regard to midwives in particular, forming an inferior class of practitioners, the Egyptian School of Midwives was offering women the opportunity to receive modern education in medical science and to be part of the state-sponsored medical system.

The pioneering aspect of the school was a cause for amazement for all contemporary European travelers who not only did not find Egyptian women locked up in their harems but in fact saw them working in modern health establishments. One such traveler, a certain Dr. Wilde who was a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, was impressed by how Mehmed Ali, "mindful not only of the lives of his soldiers and subjects, but even of the lowest female in his dominions, ... has re-introduced the female midwives of Egypt." Another traveler was amazed to be admitted into the school and to find "an 'alim, a Muslim doctor, teaching women-this is truly a revolution. When one has seen this, it seems insignificant to add that the students ... were not embarrassed in the least to remain with their faces uncovered, even in the presence of Christians. Their head was simply surrounded by a veil of white gauze covering the chin and falling gracefully on the shoulder." One cannot fail to notice how the European traveler in this case was not appalled by the veil, one of two typical motifs constantly highlighted in the writings of European visitors to the Middle East in the nineteenth century (the other being the harem, of course). The argument implicitly put forward in this brief but telling description of the School of Midwives in the early 1840s runs as follows: As a result of the modern education that these women were receiving, they were being enlightened. The medieval institution of the veil that had secluded them and helped to put them in an inferior place could not stand the pressure of modern times: it was now "falling gracefully" and would soon be all but forgotten. Indeed, the veil appears here not as covering the face, blocking vision and light, but "surrounding" the head and sanctifying those graceful figures like the halo of angels and saints. The message is clear: Islam, superstition, and old customs could not be a match for the power and lure of modern science.

More recent historians, moreover, could not but feel impressed by the school. They hail it as "one of the most remarkable reforms of Muhammad Ali" and perceive it as an example of how enlightened the regime of Mehmed Ali was because of its "openness toward women's studying European subjects." Indeed, it is seen as decisively changing the position of Egyptian women in a way that made them more prepared than other women in the Middle East to ask for their liberation. "[W]as not this rapid incursion into domains beyond those traditionally closed for her [i.e., the Egyptian woman]," a modern scholar wonders about this particular experience, "a factor curbing her retreat into them? Did not the breaking of this weak link, connecting her briefly to life, leave behind a feeling of nostalgia which would explain why the Egyptian woman was the first in the Arab world to claim her right nearly half a century later to greater independence, to work, and to public and political life?"

This is how this particular institution has been viewed and studied: as an example of an enlightened project offered by a reforming government to its secluded female population. The metaphors of light, vision, and enlightenment associated with the introduction of modern science as contrasted with veiling, religion, and superstition abound in the literature on this school as indeed they do regarding all institutions introduced by the "enlightened" Mehmed Ali. In these pages I challenge this positive, modernist view that contemporary observers and later historians alike have commonly held regarding this school. Relying on the school's documents housed in the Egyptian National Archives in Cairo, I ask a set of questions concerning its daily functioning that, it is hoped, will enable us to come to a closer understanding of its nature and the purpose of its establishment, its impact on the students who attended it, and the effect it had on society at large. Specifically I raise the following questions. What were the conditions under which these girls were recruited to and educated in the school? Upon graduation, what problems did they encounter in assuming their new positions and performing their tasks? What was the reaction of their male colleagues to them? What did they themselves think of this whole "experiment" and their role in it? And, finally, what does this particular institution tell us about the introduction of modern "reforms" in a "traditional" society, reforms that were targeted at women and were aimed at "improving" their lot?

Rather than seeing this school only as an institution used by the state to spread modern education to Egyptian women or to improve their status in society, or, alternatively, arguing that it was yet another institution that the state used to spread its influence and control over the population, this paper demonstrates that the School of Midwives and indeed all health establishments were sites of contestation on which various battles about "modernity" and "science" were fought. It is in the context of the School of Midwives and its female students as much as in that of any other of Mehmed Ali's "modern" institutions that different ideas concerning "modernization," "reform," and "enlightenment" were contested and challenged; such issues were raised as the proper role of women, the views of religious scholars regarding changes that Egypt was witnessing, and the relative position of various social and ethnic groups within Egypt. By closely studying an institution that was at the forefront of the exciting process of "modernization" that nineteenth-century Egypt was witnessing, this paper shows how the people mostly concerned with this institution, the graduates of the School of Midwives, were not only objects of discipline and control by the state but also conscious subjects who benefited considerably from the chance that was offered to them to improve their position in society.

SCIENCE AND THE FOUNDING OF THE EGYPTIAN NATION

Before we look closely at the school and its everyday functioning, however, it might be useful to trace the origins of the conventional view of the School of Midwives. One source is, interestingly, the pronouncements of Mehmed Ali himself to his European visitors. These foreign travelers were often keen on adding more color to their already exotic Oriental tour by visiting "the old spider in his den," as one British traveler described the almost ritualized encounter with the pasha in his citadel in Cairo. On his part the pasha, desperate to influence public opinion in Europe and to improve his chances of forcing the Ottoman sultan to grant him hereditary rule of Egypt, used these travelers in his efforts to portray his regime as an enlightened, egalitarian one attempting to introduce modern ideas in his province at a time when the central lands of the Ottoman Empire were suffering from bigotry and superstition. Aware that he lacked the right to appoint political agents (ambassadors or consuls) in European capitals, since technically and legally he was only a governor of an Ottoman province, Mehmed Ali had few tools available for this project of influencing European public opinion. One strategy was to stage the visits of the European tourists and, in a sense, to condition what they would write about. The record these travelers left does suggest that he often succeeded in using them for that purpose. Consider, for example, the following account of an interview he once gave to Sir John Bowring, a British "adviser" whom Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary, had sent to Egypt to report on the pasha's finances and government, but who soon struck up a rather intimate friendship with the old pasha. "Do not judge me by the standard of your knowledge. Compare me with the ignorance that is around me.... I can find very few to understand me and do my bidding.... I have been almost alone for the greater part of my life." How can one remain unmoved by this canny announcement in which the pasha reveals himself as the great lonely reformer, little understood by his own people but determined, nevertheless, to push his country into "modernity?" Coming to the country when it was teetering on near collapse and misery, he uplifted it from the brink of total chaos and stoically and steadily attempted to modernize it. What is of relevance here is his allusion to modern science to justify his position in Egypt and to answer European criticism of his rule and his controversial rebellion against the Ottoman sultan.

It is also significant that in his attempts to influence (and even condition) the views of these foreign visitors and thus what they ultimately wrote about, Mehmed Ali and his top employees often went out of their way to present in the best possible way the various establishments that these visitors were checking, much as is true of "unexpected" visits by modern-day Egyptian officials. For example, in a letter from the Health Council (termed in Arabic Shura al-Atibba; hereafter the Shura for short) to the Department of War (Diwan al-Jihadiyya, hereafter the Jihadiyya for short), which technically supervised its activities, the Shura writes, "One-quarter of the Qasr al-'Aini Hospital is [currently] under construction. This section is reserved for the hospital pharmacy and its lab. What we have now is a temporary building that functions as a lab; it has no ceiling and is so inadequate that we do not dare show it to tourists." In another letter the Cairo Department of Health Inspection (Diwan Taftish Sihhat al-Mahrusa, hereafter Taftish) wrote to the Cairo Police Department (Zabtiyyat Masr, hereafter Zabtiyya) telling them that on touring the streets of Azbakiyya quarter, they found the streets filthy and the garbage uncollected. "This is unacceptable," they explained, "especially since your headquarters are located there and the quarter is where most of the European [residents] and the [European] consuls live.... We request that you be diligent in supervising the health and hygiene of the quarter, especially since all tourists constantly go there, and if they find it in this condition, they might assume that all other quarters in Cairo are equally dirty, which is something you certainly would not be pleased by." In yet another letter the Shura wrote to the Schools Department (Diwan Madaris, hereafter Madaris) backing the request of one of the teachers in the School of Midwives for some crucial equipment that had been lacking. In its letter the Shura said that this equipment was necessary "to improve the performance of the school, which besides benefiting the students there, is also important for its image especially since all important tourists go there to inspect it."

These preparations must have been very effective, since the archival record shows that there were constant complaints about the actual performance of the various medical establishments, yet the contemporary European writers described the hospitals as without deficiencies. Consider, for example, the following description of Qasr al-'Aini Hospital by Dr. Wilde, whom we have already come across being mesmerized by the pasha's efforts to educate "the lowest females in his dominions." His visit to the hospital was made on January 27, 1838. "Having a letter of introduction to the chief medical attendant, Dr. Pruner, I this morning visited the military hospital and medical college in Casr-el-Ein [sic].... This splendid establishment, decidedly the best constituted, and the one which reflects most credit on the humanity and liberality of the Basha of many of the recent improvements in Egypt is situated in the midst of the most charming parks, ... and I am bound to say that a cleaner, better regulated, and better conducted medical establishment I never visited." I quote Wilde here and juxtapose his version of what he saw with letters by health officials that hint at the possibility that his visit might have been staged to caution against the uncritical use of travelers' accounts as we formulate our views about the School of Midwives. More generally, though, it is to point out that our view of the great pasha has been considerably shaped by the pasha himself. It is as if the pasha had succeeded in dictating his own biography from beyond the grave. Again it was "science" to which he resorted in order to affect how his European visitors saw and judged his reign. These European interlocutors have left us many "eyewitness" accounts of the pasha and his enlightened reign, accounts that we should read with care, rather than uncritically accept as do a number of his biographers.

Another important source for this vision of the pasha's enlightenment can be traced to the writings of his own Egyptian contemporaries, especially those students whom he had sent to "see with their own eyes ... how and why [the West] is superior to us." Over three hundred students were dispatched during his reign to study in various countries in Europe, but mostly to France. Around fifty of them were sent to study medicine, and on returning a number of these students set about translating books from European languages and spreading the knowledge they had received in Europe among fellow Egyptians who were now educated in the enlarged Qasr al-'Aini Hospital. These young doctors, who were handpicked by the pasha, had no doubt that it was Mehmed Ali who was to be thanked for introducing modern medicine to Egypt. If the pasha wanted to portray himself as an enlightened despot, the students he sent to Europe preferred to see him more as a prophet who through his vision and determination eagerly improved the lot of his people. Consider, for example, the writings of one such student, Ahmad al-Rashidi, who was sent to France in 1832, after having finished his studies in Qasr al-'Aini, and who on returning to Egypt wrote: "Medical science had all but disappeared from Egypt ... and was practiced by all kinds of quacks who ... did not understand anything about medicine, its rules or its foundations.... [This continued to be the case] until God sent us the greatest reformer on earth ... Mehmed Ali ... who was determined to resurrect this science by opening medical schools." Eventually the same doctor took it upon himself to translate a book on childbearing and child delivery "to be used by the midwives of the [newly founded] School of Midwives, in the hope that they find it useful."

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