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Gendered Citizenship: Discourses on Domesticity in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

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The first years of the 21st century in Egypt saw a marked movement by women activists and groups in Egypt to lobby for appointing women judges. The debate around the issue included arguments about women's "natural" roles, about their lesser abilities, and about the necessity of maintaining their place in the home to safeguard Arab cultural identity. In general, these debates posited domesticity as a marker of Arab identity and cultural specificity. I argue that domesticity is a modernist ideology that was transfigured into a representation of an essential Arab cultural identity which needed to be guarded and preserved. I also emphasize that discourses on domesticity were not the only existing discourses propagated in the nineteenth century. Zeinab Fawwaz's journey through history in search for women's participation in the public sphere can be interpreted as a clear challenge to the modernist binary opposition between a backward past and a modern, enlightened present. At the same time, it constituted a subversive narrative to the dominant narrative on domesticity. Similarly, Aisha Taymur's project did not dismiss tradition but sought to engage with it on its own premises in an attempt to argue for women's right.


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