How 20th Century Egyptian and American Societies Empower or Enfeeble Its Citizens

How 20th Century Egyptian and American Societies Empower or Enfeeble Its Citizens


– I would like to
welcome all of you to the Presidential, Fall
Presidential Lecture Series. I was looking at the, the, the number, and it’s been quite a bit. For those of you who are
new to the experience, let me indicate to you that the Presidential Lecture Series
was something that emanated from a very dedicated committee
of faculty at the college. And we were trying, this
started in the year 2000, we were trying to find
a way in which we could not only showcase the fact that we are part of the CUNY family, but also that we could
showcase the faculty from CUNY and the faculty from our college. So, the theory is that we have a luminary from CUNY,
not from our college, in the Fall Lecture Series, and a luminary from Queensborough in the Spring Lecture Series. We have had a number of them. We started in the spring of 2001 with Tony Pipolo and, was one
of ours and since retired, and we’ve had a number
of individuals from, as you have in your
program, from Billy Collins, the Poet Laureate for the United States to our own Louise Mirrer as
Executive Vice Chancellor, and now, the Executive Vice
Chancellor Selma Botman. First of all I’d like to
really express my appreciation to Selma Botman for spending
some time with us today. This is an incredibly busy lady. If you think that it’s hard
to get an appointment with me, try to get an appointment with her. Probably the next available
time is April of 2008. But in her responsibilities
Executive Vice Chancellor and for Academic Affairs
for the University, she’s basically responsible
for all of the curriculum in the City University of New York. And as you very well know, the University is very much interested
in raising standards in tiering the University
and in providing a wonderful network of community
colleges that can serve as portals of entry into
this very fine University. And it’s through her work that we have had some major successes, from the Teachers Academy to a very important program
that exists right now, the Black Male Initiative that is, has been very
successful within the University. She’s a strong supporter
of existing programs such as College Now, has
been a tremendous success, and this, I’m using CUNY jargon. So, let me explain that to the members of the community at large. The CUNY, the College Now is a dual enrollment program
with the local high schools, that has been very successful
for the University. So, Selma Botman clearly
is a member of the team that has transformed the University, we like to call it a renaissance, but she’s also scholar and she, she say. I didn’t ask her what year
she graduated from Harvard, but I was going to embarrass Dr. Tai who’s also graduated from the Harvard, got her PhD in ’96 in
History, and so similar– – [Woman] Many, many years before that. – So, we have a historian here, and if you ever want a job
as a part-time faculty member at Queensborough in
the History Department, Dr. Visoni, are you here? I won’t speak for him, but I am certain that he
would consider your resume. – [Woman] Thank you. (laughing) – As is stated in your program, Dr. Botman is gonna be
talking about citizenship. She’s gonna be talking
about the contrast between the concept of citizenship in the Middle East and
in the United States. I look forward to the lecture. I know, I have heard her speak. She is a wonderful speaker, and she’s truly a scholar of merit. So, it is with great pleasure
that I introduce to you the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the
University Dr. Selma Botman. – Thank you, President Marti. I am delighted to be here at Queensborough Community College, and I am truly honored that
President Marti invited me to participate in his
Presidential Lecture Series. And, thank all of you for coming out this afternoon to join us. I want to talk today about opening doors. Doors to educational opportunity, doors to community action,
and doors to authority. In a very real sense, the work that goes on
every day of the week here at Queensborough Community College, and indeed across the
City University system, is guided by the passionate belief that doors should be open to people of all backgrounds, of all races, of both genders, and we passionately believe in the purpose and the utility of education. In many countries of the world, education is viewed as a
portal to effective citizenship and as a platform for
strengthening democratic society. Where democracy is absent, and where education is underfunded, then education is not perceived as a basis for the
functioning of civil society. Significantly, we also
find in such societies narrow definitions of citizenship. In these societies where
citizenship is contracted, we find that doors are often closed in the educational sphere, in the political and economic sphere to women, to the poor, and to people who are
in minority communities. Their citizenship is
limited, and as a result, their contributions to
society are also constrained. Today I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts on
how doors can be opened and citizenship can be constructed. First I’d like to offer some ideas gleaned from studies of 20th
Century history in Egypt, a century that produced
grassroots movements of a political and social
nature worthy of comment. And then I will bring the
discussion home, so to speak, addressing the role of education, especially higher education in the United States and even at City University of New York. What I hope to demonstrate in the end is the power of opening doors through expansive legal rights, as well as through education in shaping an empowered citizenry as well as a more peaceful
and prosperous society. Through both my academic
and administrative work, I’ve thought a lot about
democratic movements, democratic societies both in
the United States and in Egypt where my research has focused
for the last 25 years. I’ve been especially interested in how societies become
fairer, more equal, and more satisfying for all
those who live within them. I’ve come to believe unalterably that education facilitates
not only human growth, but societal growth as well. Education enhances the
progress of democracy by offering all people,
regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic background, the chance to transform their own lives and to contribute to the
societies in which they live. By education, I mean that process by which we learn to understand and to respect, to teach tolerance of different people, of different ideas, of broadmindedness toward
controversial ideas and the recognition that
civility and equality are fundamental concepts
of any successful society. Openness in education must go hand in hand with civil and political
rights of all people, otherwise its effects are ephemeral. In my most recent book,
Engendering Citizenship in Egypt, I examined the meaning and
practice of citizenship for women in three
distinct political periods in 20th Century Egypt. I looked at women’s
struggle for inclusivity, the right to take their
place in their society. This struggle for civil
and political rights has been erratic, successful at some moments, and frustrating and
seemingly hopeless at others, but throughout the 20th Century in Egypt, women worked to transform the political, social, legal, economic and educational
conditions in the country. Their work continues today and their story is worth
telling, however briefly. What did it mean to be a
citizen in 20th Century Egypt? What forms of activity were considered worthy of citizenship? Who got to be a full
citizen, and on what basis? What was women’s role in the political, social, and economic life? These are some of the questions
that guided my research. While my operative assumption was that societies are
strengthened when all people, when all talent, when
all energy and brains belonging to both men
and women, young and old, members of all races,
religions, and upbringings, are marshaled in the
service of the nation. I tried to look at the country without any predetermined mindsets. I studied and tried to understand the traditions, the rituals, the practices and beliefs that provided people with opportunity and encouraged them to take action. What I learned was that the political structure
in 20th Century Egypt was applied selectively to critical groups depending on who was in power and how a given regime saw its political goals and objectives. During the first period I studied, the years between the 1920s and the 1950s, a semi-liberal democratic experiment was launched in Egypt and with it came the hallmarks
of an emergent democracy, a constitution, contested elections, diverse political parties,
and parliamentary sessions, but liberal democracy was undermined by an excessively powerful monarch, British colonial domination, and a culture that did not prize equality. From a gendered perspective, the basic principles of
liberty and individual rights were compromised when
Egyptian constitutionalism denied women the vote and
any public role in society. Despite the fact that women fought for national independence against British rule, they were denied any official public role outside nationalist
demonstrations and strikes. In peacetime, women were kept at home where their self-image and
society’s image of them depended exclusively on their performance as mothers and wives. Educational opportunity at this time was very limited to a tiny
slice of the Egyptian elite and women did not fit into
this characterization. Because women had no legal
role in public society, they could not transcend
their gender status and carry out the
obligations of citizenship. Gender therefore had a profound impact on public and private life in Egypt in the first half of the 20th Century. In essence, women were excluded
from citizenship rights and denied the vote, and denied the vote, and also denied a voice
in their own lives, in their children’s lives, and in the lives of their menfolk as well. During the second period I studied, the years of military
rule from 1952 to 1970, leaders invalidated the semi-liberal democratic
experiment that had existed and created in its place
a state-run society, which was devoid of even the most limited tolerance of independent activity, but and this is very important, citizenship in this period
evolved to include women. Women were granted the right to vote, they were encouraged to work, and further, equality was important in the minds of the rulers. Of the prime, they were
given opportunities to enter primary education, secondary education, and
even higher education, which previously had only been available to an exclusive small sector
of affluent men and boys. This was a period when
democratization was in, when education was in fact democratized and opened to all people
of all social classes. In this era with its emphasis on modernization and economic development, the military deemed
women’s brains and brawn necessary to the building
of the new society. So slowly and in small numbers, women entered politics, trade unions, and cultural life and
they became participants in a society, in a public way. Their citizenship
expanded during this time even though women
remained underrepresented in the highest levels of political life. To some observers, the period between 1952 and 1970 represented a golden era
for women’s rights in Egypt. Women became a truly significant presence at Cairo University, the main National
University in the country. They worked outside the home, they stood for political
office, they cast votes. At the same time, however, women remained the primary
caretakers of their children and family life remained traditional. So while public life changed
for women in this period, private life remained exactly the same as it had been in the era before. Women lacked independent
status once they were married and continued to be subordinated to the personal power of
their husbands while at home. Because the regime was not prepared to connect reforms in the public domain with changes in the
structure of home life, traditional definitions of gender were reformulated, but not abandoned. Women’s citizenship therefore progressed only to the extent that
the regime required for the modernization and
development of the country. In the third period I looked at, the period from the 1970s onward, I noticed that Egypt moved
away from state socialism, away from military rule, and toward a more liberal
capitalist philosophy. The government at that
time strengthened its bonds with the United States and Western Europe and created new alliances
in the Middle East as well. Yet freedom and economic
development remained elusive. With too many Egyptians still suffering from limited civil and political rights, from educational deficiencies
and economic distress, women who were the beneficiaries of expanded education
and career opportunities under Nasser in the previous period, now experience a new conflict
with regard to citizenship. In essence, while the state
cautiously forwards the idea of the inclusivity of women in political and economic arenas, conservative organizations
and movements in the country vigorously promote an alternative view. They venerate women who stay at home to care for the family and want to limit women’s activity in the labor force and
in the public arena. They in fact subscribe to
the view that men and women should be separated in the public arena in order to preserve personal integrity and they espouse an ideological structure that privileges men. In the last 25 years then, two conflicting trends have emerged. On the one hand, there
are those who approve women’s participation in politics, in the marketplace, and in education. On the other hand, there are those including, even at institutions
of higher education like Cairo University, there
are those who represent more culturally conservative views about what is permissible
behavior for women. Ultimately in Egypt today, we see that citizenship rights have been regulated by those who control the political economic culture
and religious discourse, the result of which is a restrictive view of rights and responsibilities. The recent social history of Egypt, which I have all too briefly
tried to summarize for you, suggests to me that it will take men and women’s
work to accomplish reform, to unite the public
and the private domains and to harmonize the
definition of citizenship. The democratization of
all levels of society, the family, the workplace,
schools and universities, the community and the
state are the best hope for the emergence of a
vibrant civil society. If we shift our view to the United States, we have, we too have witnessed our struggles for equality
on our own shores. Women now obviously have the vote, but that right was secured, as in Egypt, only after great effort. It took the United States until 1920 to pass the 19th amendment giving women the right to the ballot box. I see women’s suffrage as emblematic of a larger struggle prevailing in the annals
of American history, the struggle to open doors to citizenship and to true democracy and that includes opening
the doors to higher education to women and to men of all races and social and economic backgrounds. It is an inclusive definition
of civility, of eligibility, in order to ensure the viability of a democratic civil society. Things in my background have taught me that history can be studied
through multiple lenses. My work on Egypt provides me one approach, but here’s another. The history of, of the American nation can be studied through the
changing configurations of the American College and in particular, the
changing configuration of who has been allowed
to enter and succeed within higher education
in the United States. From the outset, American higher education was seen as supporting the
building of the nation, but our early leaders had
a very particular vision of how this nation should be built. Because America’s first colleges were created with religious affiliations and because young men were groomed for leadership
within their denominations, these institutions of higher education schooled men for the clergy. Significantly and typically, women were not part of
this early equation. As we all know, in higher education today, this has radically changed
where women outnumber men on most colleges across the country and certainly at City
University of New York. If the addition of women
to a campus population is understood as an early
example of providing educational access to a
more diverse population, the concept of diversity has itself continued to expand over time. The decades following World War II offer an excellent example
of exactly this development. At that time, the size and
quality of public universities grew in the United States and the community college system developed to afford educational opportunity to millions of first-generation
college students. The government spearheaded these changes to effect a new and more skilled society. At CUNY, we are built on the premise that a quality education
must be accessible to members of our community. The students of this great University come from nearly 200 countries. They speak 120 languages. More than two fifths of
our student population was born outside the United States. As a social scientist, I find these and the many
other cultural layers inherent in the, in the CUNY community utterly compelling. They need to be reckoned
with and respected as we ask the big questions about how best to educate our
students in this new century and ensure the survival of our democracy. In Egypt, democracy has withered, because true citizenship has been restricted to a chosen few. The society’s ability
to function and prosper in this competitive
global economy is hindered by the dysfunction of its civil society and by the weakness of its
educational institutions. We in the United States are privileged to embrace full citizenship
rights for all our citizens regardless of race,
ethnicity, religion or gender and we acknowledge the
power of higher education and particularly public higher education, which we insist on being
available to all who seek it. I became a professor and later
an academic administrator, because I believed in the power of colleges and universities as sites where important work takes place. I believe it is where
democratic society is deepened, where life’s lessons are
learned and carried out and where equality and civility prevail. I feel lucky to be part of
this world of higher education and I know all of those at City
University share this view. I only hope that Egypt’s institutions aspire to the kind of work
that we are so proud of at this University and in this country. And so, again I thank President Marti for inviting me here today for offering to you
some comments and ideas about citizenship in Egypt, about education in the United States and I am pleased to respond to any questions that you have. Thank you very much. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much, Dr. Botman. Wonderful presentation. And I can attest, and I think
we can all attest to the fact that CUNY’s in good hands, I can see that. I can see that from the
reaction of the audience. Thank you very much–
– My pleasure. – For being willing to take some questions and now let me open the floor to anyone, any
questions, any comments? – Women who hold places of leadership. In America, we are finding pockets of people who
are askance at a woman actually running for the
President of the United States. I wonder if you’d comment on that? – Yeah, I agree with the sentiments that, that you’ve expressed. I think there is a sense
in the United States that we are the most progressive
country in the world. If you look at countries in South Asia, you will find women Prime Ministers. If you look at European countries, you will find female Prime Ministers. And yet in the United States, women have had a very difficult time actually breaking through
the grass ceiling, the glass ceiling of electoral politics. And you know, I think it is, you know, it may change. We have a female candidate
who stands the chance of becoming elected to the
highest office in this land. But as you rightly suggest her gender will cause
some degree of skepticism among some voters, men and women. And it is, it is, I think, a mark of a society still in need of some self-reflection
about what makes a leader. What are the characteristics that we want our leaders to have? Not what anatomy we want
our leaders to have, but what kind of
leadership characteristics we want them to have. We may not be there yet. – Citizenship concepts of
Egypt, of course we fail. (speaking faintly off mic) And the concepts within Islamic law about diverse fears and the
role that women can play. And I’m thinking about
some of the material that I go over with my students when I teach the history of women and we read Huda Sharawi’s memoirs and she talks about, you know, this connection that she
very clearly perceives between her limited
educational opportunities and the constricted role that she plays in the
Egyptian nationalist forum. So I’m wondering, when you
talk about these concepts of citizenship, are you, are you thinking about
it very specifically as being affected in
any way by Islamic law? Is there a sense that some
kind of authentic citizenship as it’s perceived in Egypt has to be male, because of the connection
to Islamic traditions? – I will begin by saying
that there are feminists in the Middle East and
across the United States, both Muslim feminists and
non-Muslim feminists, who argue that Islam in fact, and Islamic law, Sharia law, is not inherently misogynist. That in fact it is the uses
to which law have been put that have restricted women’s ability to behave in public society. I do think, in contrast
to Western society, I do think one of the
characteristics in Muslim society is the the sharp separation between the public and
the private spheres. And you know, I thought a lot about this in connection with citizenship because, and this is actually in my view also transparent in the United
States as well, or any society, that you can make all the
reforms you would like in the workplace, in the
political world as well, in the marketplace, in education, but if there is no democracy, if there is no equality in the family, then women will be restricted. So without democracy in the family, I do not believe there
will be true democracy in the society, in public life. I think it is, you know,
some people will argue that religious law is confining. Other people will take issue with that. I would take issue with that myself. And Huda Sharawi, who is the writer you mentioned was, is a very interesting
character in Egyptian history. She is the daughter of a very wealthy man whose, whose mother was a concubine. Okay, the father had more than one wife, which is admissible in Islamic law. And she grew up, she grew
up herself in a harem. Harem life has disappeared in Egypt and no longer, you know, most societies, most people in society
would not have the resources to run a harem, that is, a
restricted place for women and a separate place for men. So she writes in the early 20th Century about an era that’s long gone, but, and her situation
was different as well, because she straddled two camps, the very conservative camp of, of upper-class Egyptian society. Her mother wasn’t even
Egyptian, she was a Circassian. And this whole new world of oppositional nationalist politics, which she was trying to
step into and to affect. So she’s a beloved figure in 20th Century Egyptian history, but she’s not a typical Egyptian woman. But I’m so delighted to hear that you’ve introduced
your students to her. Did you read the Harem
Years, is that what? (woman speaking faintly off mic) The other interesting
point about Huda Sharawi, and this has an impact
on citizenship is that she was one of the first women who threw off the veil in public and she was able to do
this and get away with it because she was a member of the elite. You know, the security officers actually, she was coming back from
an international conference in Italy and she was at the
train station in Alexandria and she had a small
group of women with her and they removed the veil and the security forces
immediately sort of pounced on them and then they realized it was Huda Sharawi and you know, they, they, you know, carted the little,
this little group off, but nothing, nothing, you know, there were no charges
brought against them. But that was social class that was, that was, you
know, important at the time. – In your presentation, you identified as conservative organizations, but you didn’t give us specifics,
their continuing influence even unto the campus at Cairo University. People like to talk about the brilliance of the American democratic experiment and how fortunate we were at the founders coming upon certain principles
that have served us so well. Early on, it was recognized that we needed that First Amendment, and
so, we have the benefit of a notion about separation
of church from state, which plays out in our
institutions of public, in education through academic freedom intended in part to
keep other organizations from influencing what goes
on inside the Academy. To what degree do you
contribute those notions, attribute those notions to serving the kind of movement toward equality that we have experienced in this country, particularly as you notice, most of the students at
our University are female. The fact that public
education has in part, you know, led to that, that this is the one of
the liberating institutions for our democratic order? – You know, it is almost impossible to talk
about academic freedom in a society that itself is not free. And so, while students may feel able to converse with one another in this period, in this period today, which is different from a generation ago where students like
other members of society were always looking over their shoulder for a security agent to
whisk them away into jail, students may feel free to
speak with one another, but academic freedom requires an infrastructure of
social, societal freedom and that really doesn’t exist now. So I don’t think, I don’t
think you will, you know, you would be, you know,
you would be sanguine about the intellectual climate that
exists at the University. As for the organizations,
you know, I was deliberately, I was deliberately evasive about them, because I don’t want to characterize them in any narrow sense to
be misunderstood frankly. But those conservative organizations that are in ascendancy in the country do in my view, you know, threaten all of the advances that women have achieved over
the course of this century. Did that answer your question? – I understand that people are sometimes prone to a simple-minded equation, that if you were to say Islamic, they think that is the core
of Islam, that’s all Islam. But I think it kind of
weakens our efforts to work against those forces to
not identify them sometimes. You can’t deny that there
is that element therein. But you did answer the question. – Yeah, but I want to be clear here, Phil. You know, I think that there are conservative movements in the country that have no connection with religion. So it is not exclusively
a religious movement, although there is a basis
of that, to be sure. You know, were this an entirely, you know, progressive political society in Egypt, that still might not guarantee the role of women in the society. It might be progressive in terms of its, you know, its economic ideology or its educational ideology, but still with limitations for certain segments of society. – I’m very intrigued by your statement of family and government. I mean, Nasser, socialist. Extreme ties to the Soviet Union. Equalization of women in government was very similar to what happened in my own country with Fidel Castro. From one moment to the next. (knocking drowns out speaker) Yet, in reality, the societal subjugation of women based on family. And I wonder if, I have not
been in Cuba for seven years, so I cannot attest (mumbles). And I would love to go if
anybody wants to organize a trip. But it would be interesting to understand if that in fact has taken place or has a long period of socialist rule in a country like Cuba very much like the
description we have (mumbles). And Nasser being in power longer. – Nasser was not a feminist. He was not an anti-feminist. His, the question he was
trying to answer was, how do we elevate the society through economic development and what do we need as a society
to accomplish development, which was absent in the previous Liberal Democratic phase? And he made a calculation that he needed everyone in society. And I presume that’s the
Castro model as well. It is much more radical and
much more transformative to really look at what happens in a family as opposed to simply what
goes on in the marketplace or what goes on in a classroom. And you know, and I think
that in this country, we’re still, this is still
an evolutionary process and I’m, you know, I’m not talking about the elimination of gender or, you know, anything, you know, of this nature. I’m talking about democracy, civility, and respect
in all our institutions. And I consider the family
one of those institutions that needs to be transformed for, for people’s, for people’s aspirations to really be rewarded. So you know, I think, I don’t think Nasser thought about the issues in gender terms. He only thought in economic terms and it was the feminists themselves, women who were taking steps toward their own, their own liberation who were raising these
questions, in you know, in what, at that time, you know, appear to be very controversial ways. But you know, I think in
Egypt, this is a real, this remains a real issue,
what happens in the family. And I think this is an
international issue, actually. It’s not Western, it’s not Muslim, it’s not Middle Eastern,
it’s an international issue. And you know, where it’s a
work in progress, I think. Well I had, I spent a
year and a half in Egypt doing research over the
course of a period of time and I had a wonderful experience because Egyptians are amongst the most gracious, welcoming people I know. And people are guests in
their country and treat them, and are treated so. You know, and so I when
I went to do my research the first time when I was
working on my dissertation, I was working on a political
movement, not on women, I was working on something
completely different. I was working on the communist
movement in Egypt actually, and communism was illegal,
remains illegal in Egypt. So how as a researcher do you access documents and political court cases and information on a movement that people don’t have the First Amendment
rights to talk about? So that was a challenge for me. And you know, I used the
archives that were there, I used libraries that were there. And just one anecdote about the archive will give you a sense of how demanding it was to do
research at this time. When I went into the archive, there was a very nice man, archivist, who asked me what I wanted to see. And I was interested in looking at the political history of Egypt from about 1920 to about 1960. And I wanted to understand the role of the communist movement at that time. I couldn’t tell him I
wanted to study communists, because he wouldn’t have
shown me any documents. So he said, sit down and talk to me. So I sat down, and for weeks and weeks, I sat down and talked to him, and drank tea and drank coffee, and we got to know each other. And he said, you wear a wedding ring. Where’s your husband? And I said, my husband’s in America, and I’m all by myself here doing research and I need you to help me, but he, he, over time got to know me and began to give me documents. And at one point he came, you know, we worked at open tables, and he came to my table and he said, you really are interested
in whether Anwar Sadat, who was president at that
time when I was in Egypt, you really are interested in whether Anwar Sadat was a collaborator
with the Nazis, aren’t you? And I said, no not at all. I mean, not at all. I’m interested in grassroots movements and I went on and on and on. So he developed in his mind some completely alternative picture of what I was trying to accomplish. But he did over time bring me boxes of materials that I looked at and I spent about six
months, you know, off and on, going to the archive sitting
with him drinking tea, trying to get documents, but what, I also went to libraries and read all the
newspapers from the period and those were open and available. I was able to do interviews
with former communists who put me in touch with the lawyers who actually defended the
communists in prison, and, you know, was enormously lucky that they gave me access to
the political court cases, which was a treasure trove of information, because at that time, the authorities wrote
into the court record pamphlets and political materials from that period that
were lost to history. So I photocopied all the materials I got, and gave one copy to people in Egypt, and took one copy back home. So my contribution for, you know, all these wonderful people helping me write my first book was that I then got access to information
that they didn’t have, and, and left it with with people in Egypt. So you know, it was, it was hard work, it was very hard work, but, because people helped
me I was able to do it. With regard to the veil,
it’s a huge controversy. There are some people who say that the veil inhibits
women’s role in society, because it makes them invisible. There is another school of thought that says women are able
to navigate public space when they’re covered and
they are desexualized. So there are these two competing views. I’m not an advocate of the veil myself, but you know, I share
with you these two views, because you have progressive people on both sides of the argument and it’s not so, so it’s not as simple as we think it is, just
looking at covered people.

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