Obituary: Amina al-Said - People - News - The Independent

Obituary: Amina al-Said

Amina al-Said, the first woman magazine editor in the Middle East, was the last of a generation of feminists who, as suffrage campaigners, political dissidents, trade unionists and human rights campaigners, picked up the torch from their 19th-century forebears.

Born in Cairo in 1914 to a middle-class family, Amina moved with her physician father Dr Ahmed al-Said to the county of Asuit, known for its harsh traditions and ill-treatment of women, which proved an eye-opener for her on inequality.

Her childhood witnessed a turning-point in the feminist calendar when women in their thousands, led by legendary feminists like Huda Sharawi, took to the streets during the 1919 revolution. Al-Said witnessed Egyptian feminists taking their crusade out of the usual arenas of intellectual debate and newspaper columns into the streets, schools and workplace, in a far-reaching movement which went beyond Egypt into the rest of the Middle East and many Muslim nations.

At the age of 14, al-Said joined the youth section of the first explicitly feminist organisation, al-Ittihad al-Nisa'ei al-Mauri (the Egyptian Feminist Union) - she later said the term "feminist" ("Nisa'ei") rather than the term `women" ("Mara'a") appealed to her "progressive spirit".

Al-Said was among the first three women to invade the exclusivity of the all-male Faculty of Arts at King Fuad University in 1931. While a student she worked as a part-time sub-editor and researcher on Kawkab el-Shark and the weekly Akher Sa'a, and on graduation in 1935 she was snapped up by the influential Cairo journal Al-Moussawar. Although she was married to a millionaire member of the semi-feudal aristocracy, Professor Abdallah Zein el-Abedine, she insisted on giving him half her monthly salary towards running the home, since their marriage contract was based on equality.

In 1946 al-Said joined her mentor Sharawi when the latter threatened the playboy King Farouk I with a press campaign unless he changed his ways, "which women found offensive". When King Farouk divorced his popular first wife Queen Farida, the two feminists led a procession to congratulate Farida on her "liberation". This unprecedented event, in a country where the majority are Muslim, was not frowned upon and met no serious challenge, since Muslim fundamentalists were kept at bay, not by force of the state, but by the enlightened social trends contributed to by the women's movements.

This was a point al-Said brought up more recently as she scolded younger women for not advancing the cause and for being cowed by the intimidation of Islamic Fundamentalists. "Contemporary [Egyptian] women have no stomach for a fight," she said in an interview three days before her death.

In 1954 al-Said founded Egypt's first magazine for women, Hawaa-Eve, which became the model for respected women's magazines in other Arabic- speaking countries. In 1956, she was elected to the executive committee of the Press Syndicate after supporting Duriyya Shafiq's sit-in and hunger strike as an objection to censorship by Col Nasser.

When Col Nasser later forced the Feminist Union to shrink into a non- political and charitable organisation, al-Said turned her most popular column, "Isalouni" ("Ask me") from an agony-aunt column into an arena of political debate.

In 1962 al-Said used her column in Al-Moussawar to pen a savage attack on Col Nasser's government for allowing developers to tear down Huda Sharawi's house to build a luxury hotel. The attack raised some eyebrows and earned her the title "She who knew no fear" among Egyptian journalists, since many writers and journalists were thrown into desert camps and jails for daring to criticise Nasser's dictatorship. But a year later the dictator shook her hand in respect when he handed her the First State Recognition Award - his successor President Anwar al- Sadat awarded her the First Order of the Republic in 1975 and the Universal Star in 1979, and President Hosni Mubarak the National Arts Award in 1982.

Unlike her predecessors al-Said never turned into a mouthpiece for the regime. When she became the editor of Al-Moussawar in 1973, and became the chairperson of the whole Dar el-Hillel publishing group which produced it in 1976, she became even more vigorous in her defence of women's rights, as the 1970s saw the beginning of the Islamic Fundamentalist tide.

After her "official" retirement in 1985, al-Said continued to write her weekly column until stopped by illness in May. Up until the last few hours of her five-year battle with cancer, she was advising representatives of non-governmental women's organisations on the best strategy for participating in the UN World Conference on Women in Peking.

Amina al-Said, journalist, writer: born Cairo 20 January 1914; Editor, Hawaa 1954-69; Secretary-General, Pan-Arab League Women's Union 1958-69; Vice-President, Egyptian Union of Journalists 1959-70; Editor, Al-Moussawar 1973-76; Chairperson, Dar el-Hillel 1976-85; married Abdallah Zein el- Abedine (two sons, one daughter); died Cairo 13 August 1995.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week