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Full text of "The Egyptian Problem"

SOCIAL CHABACTEEISTICS
165
until Egyptian women have been released from the seclusion in which ancient traditions and superstitions thrive. There are signs, however, that these barriers are gradually breaking down, and one of the most striking features in the political turmoil of the last twelvemonth has been the conspicuous part played by the women of Egypt.
In Egypt, as in most Oriental countries whose domestic institutions have brought about the seclusion of women, the influence she nevertheless wields behind the sheltered walls of the hareem is apt to be often underrated. Polygamy in Egypt is rare, and generally regarded with disfavour, except perhaps as a luxury for the rich. In her own home the Egyptian woman, in spite of the proverbial contempt in which the superior sex holds her, is not infrequently a very despotic mistress, both as wife and as mother, and her counsels and commands go abroad with husband and sons after they have crossed the threshold of their house into the outside world which is supposed to ignore her very existence. Until recently the Egyptian lady of the upper classes knew no society outside her home except that of her own sex, but the collective influence exercised through hareem society on the habits and opinions of male society was, and is, an important factor. In the old days of the Khedive Ismail, the Princess Mother, who had a vast establishment of her own, was a power in the land, and an almost greater power was the chief eunuch of her palace, a pure negro from the Sudan, who was her trusted and extremely unscrupulous confidant. Even in much later days the source of many political intrigues could be traced to the recesses of some great personage's hareem. Native wit and feminine charms went a long way to make up for lack of education. For a good many years past, however, many Egyptians of position have begun to give their daughters a semi-European education, sometimes even having European governesses to reside in their houses, and there are to-day a certain number of Egyptian ladies who are as well, from which it can hardly emancipate itselfs,