Rediscovering Egypt’s forgotten suffragette

Doria Shafik (1908-1975) by Van Leo from the AUC digital archive

The very fair lady you see in this portrait is Egypt’s leading suffragette who, following multiple struggles and activism in the 40’s and 50’s, brought Egypt’s women the right to vote. Only to be shunned from public life and any facit of collective memory at the directive of president Nasser following her hunger strike against his dictatorial rule.

After she was dismissed from the feminist union she founded and led for many years, and after her magazine along with any public appearance were banned by a political order, Shafik entered a period of seclusion for 18 years. This eventually resulted in her suicide from her Zamalek apartment in 1975 leaving behind a plethora of unpublished memoirs and a whole history of proud activism that waited to be resurrected once again.

The only biographical study of her life was admirably conducted by AUC anthropology professor Cynthia Nelson and was published in 1996.

The biography is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of Egypt’s women movement and such a crucial part of Egypt’s modern history.

Here are some of her quotes

“No one will deliver freedom to the woman, except the woman herself. I decided to fight till the last drop of blood to break the chains shackling the women of my country in the invisible prison in which they continued to live; a prison, which being invisible, was all the more oppressive”


“They are assembled a few steps away from us. I propose we go there, strong in the knowledge of our rights, and tell the deputies and senators that their assemblies are illegal so long as our representatives are excluded, that the Egyptian parliament cannot be a true reflection of the entire nation until women are admitted. Let’s go and give it to them straight. Let’s go and demand our rights. Forward to the parliament ! “- Shortly before she led over 1000 women to storm the Egyptian parliament demanding political rights for women


“I’m calling upon the women of Egypt to fall into the line of battle and to carry guns in order to save their nation from its enemies… turn the wheel of history, and take your place at the head of the troops doing your utmost for the sake of Egypt” – from her article in Bent Al Nil magazine agitating against the British occupation


Comments ( 6 )
  • christine aziz says:

    Dear Mohamed,
    Thank you so much for drawing my attention to Doria. I had never heard of her and was very sad to read of her tragic end. What an amazing women, and such a shame she is not here now. Her voice is badly needed…which is why bringing her out from the shadows is important. I hope she inspires Egyptian women now to follow her example. Thank you for this.

    • Mohamed Abdelfattah says:

      Thanks for reading this Christine. She is truly an inspiring woman. You’ll be moved even more by her biography. Indeed such role models should be revived. Particularly when we learn that Doria was deliberately removed from our national memory by a dictatorial order.

  • Aziza Ragai Ellozy says:

    Mohamed, my sister, Jehane Ragai and I, are grateful in your efforts to revive the memory of our mother, Doria Shafik.
    Her voice and struggle are truly needed in today’s Egypt and I hope many other young Egyptian women will make sure that what we gained is not lost.

    • Mohamed Abdelfattah says:

      I’m absolutely grateful and moved by your comment. The legacy of Doria Shafik must be revived and presented in the best possible and effective way to our generation.

      She is not only the suffragette who should be celebrated for the historic act she did, but she is a role model of will power and persistence that fuels us to keep going at moments of skepticism and despair.

    • Sohad says:

      Hi. I am really honored to get to know that you are her daughters. I am writing a book where Dr. Doria Shafik will be one of my characters and will present her history through it with lots of women in our society who has changed in the Egyptian Society . I was looking more about her and about her death, her books too. I know that she has not committed suicide and I feel there is something behind it . I think you could help me in this and tell the world what really happened. I also wish to get her books to know more about her and to present her through her books too. If you would like to contact me, please send to my email : I am going to write the book in both in English and Arabic.
      Looking forward to be hearing from you.

  • Sohad says:

    I am writing a book about Egyptian Women and I was looking for all who has changed in our history, to teach our women nowadays that our role does not only revolves around our work which they do it as a routine without trying really to make something our of it or at home, where lots of mothers now do not have time to give to their children or really teach them something that will help them improve their country with when they grow up. I wished to bring back to live all those great women from them Doria Shafik, Monira Thabet and many others , to show the world what could Egyptian Women could do and how they could change in history , if they really wanted to. Thank you for your sharing and I really wish to be able to know more about Doria Shafik and all who lived from the 20s till our current time. If you could help me in this, I will be grateful and I really wish to reach their articles and books they wrote. Thank you again.

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