Latifa Al-Zayyat, a writer and intellectual whose work inspired and revolutionised Islam feminism in Egypt’s modern history. Her writing intertwined personal and political tragedies standing as a new model for Arab womanhood.
Six things about Al-Zayyat which is a must to know:
- A Literary figure: As director of the Egyptian Academy of Arts, Latifa al-Zayyat mentored her student writers who describe her as a rigorous teacher. She was an active member at the International Peace Council and the Union of Palestinian Writers. Inspiration to several women writers, she represented Egypt at the United nations women’s conferences ,union of Arab writers and the Palestine National Council. Most of her writing were based on a central theme of liberalisation from institutional and personal oppression.
- Troubled Past : Latifa was 11 when she saw an anti British demonstration where fourteen people were killed by the police which she recalls as a blood stained day. Traumatised she decided to let go off her innocence and embrace the fiery woman in her. She then took to the streets herself to demonstrate against the British as a secondary school-student and was later elected secretary of The Students’ and Workers’ National Committee, which fought for Egypt’s independence. Soon she evolved as a fighter and decided to join the national struggle.
- Nationalist: Through fiery speeches she evolved as a strong leader among her contemporaries. In her struggle for independence, she was imprisoned twice at the age of 26 and was sentenced to jail for three years. In her entire political life, as the head of the Committee for the Defence of National Culture she works toward averting any possibility of normalisation of cultural relation with Israel. When in prison she evolved as a writer and wrote a memoir.
- Writer/ Novelist: Her writings were modern and plotted around women liberalisation and shared a common language and vision with the audience. Through her writings she expressed the need for a revolution in Arab feminism with spurred huge debate during that time. Her novel ‘The Open Door’ revolves around young men and women who look forward for a future in the post revolutionary period. She focused on the interdependency of nationalism and feminism in her novel. The novel was later adapted into a movie which was a commercial failure.
- Feminist: Latifa, the writer was lost for a brief period during her thirteen years of unhappy marriage, However, she rejuvenated her writings and emerged as a strong feminist writer and contributed to a women column in ‘Hawa’ magazine and wrote a act play on the line of love versus possession. Her book “Images of Women in the Arabic Novel” (1989) and “Naguib Mahfouz: the Image and the Ideal” (1989) was published in Arabic. Her criticism in literature was greatly influenced by the New Criticism movement and Marxist literary theories
- Revolutionary: She was awarded the highest literary award in Arab Literature Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her novel ‘The Open Door’. It is to felicitate the revolutionary creativity of the Egyptians during the uprising period. Latifa’s writing had strong feminist character set amidst the background of the political oppression and tension during the independence struggle of Egypt.
Her achievements in Arab literature and feminism is exemplary. She is an inspiration for women to rise and fight against their difficult life journey.
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