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Full text of "The Egyptian Problem"

IX
SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS
167
her husband is substantially strengthened—a very important consideration in a country where, according to Mahomedan custom, he can divorce her by a mere word.
The proportion of illiteracy amongst the women of Egypt is still appalling. Not one per cent, yet know how to read or write. But the movement in favour of female education which started in the upper classes has begun to spread down to the humbler classes, and the old prejudice against it is dying out even in the rural districts. Amongst the Western-educated middle class especially there are many who feel the lack of intellectual fellowship in their own homes which must continue until their womenfolk have a larger share in the advantages of education. It was just at this stage of social and intellectual transition that political agitation suddenly opened to the women of Egypt an unexpected opportunity of emerging en masse from their seclusion. To those in whom an incipient spirit of revolt against the artificial life in which they had hitherto been cribbed, cabin'd and confined was already stirring, the cry for " complete independence " naturally made a strong appeal, for even if they knew little of the larger political issues which it raised, was it not enough that it generated ideas of freedom which could not possibly stop at the outer doors of the hareem ? Many of them, doubtless, were keen to ingratiate themselves with their lords and masters; others snatched greedily at new forms of excitement that broke the monotony of their lives. They all worked themselves up into a frenzy of patriotic indignation.
In the stormy days of March and April 1919 they descended in large bodies into the streets, those of the more respectable classes still veiled and shrouded in their loose black cloaks, whilst the courtesans from the lowest quarters of the city, who had also caught the contagion, disported themselves unveiled and arrayed in less discreet garments. In every turbulent demonstration women were well to the front. They marched in