Family in the Middle East: Ideational Change in Egypt, Iran and Tunisia (Routledge Advances in Middle East and Islamic Studies)

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Family in the Middle East: Ideational Change in Egypt, Iran and Tunisia (Routledge Advances in Middle East and Islamic Studies)

Family in the Middle East Family in the Middle East explores, from a historical comparative perspective, the globalizat

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Family in the Middle East

Family in the Middle East explores, from a historical comparative perspective, the globalization of dominant myths of “modern” family and society, and their effects on families in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia. For Western social scientists from the 1700s through the mid-1900s, the dominant model for understanding societal and family change was the “developmental paradigm.” Accordingly, the “most advanced” societies were those in northwestern Europe and its diasporas, other societies occupied “less advanced” positions, and societies “progressed” through the same stages of “development.” Scholars since have challenged many of these early assertions, but a persistent belief in the developmental paradigm has had two potential consequences. First, it may have stalled the growth of new theory about the actual triggers of family change. Second, it may have produced a set of “myths” or “ideals” about family and family change that, according to other scholars, have influenced families around the world. The volume’s rich presentation of ethnographic and survey data reveals how ordinary people in three distinct settings have understood dominant icons of “modern family” and have appropriated them to forge their own idiomatic modernities. To date, no edited volume has explored “developmental myths” as forces of family change in the Middle East. As a result, the volume fills a major gap in critical family studies in and on the Middle East by offering a new, empirically grounded framework about the “modern family” icon as a force of family change. In so doing, this volume contributes uniquely to sociological debates about globalization. Dr Kathryn M. Yount is an Associate Professor of Global Health and Sociology at Emory University and has conducted research on gender and the family in Egypt and the Middle East since 1995. Dr Hoda Rashad is Director and Research Professor of the Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo and has conducted a large body of research on development issues. Member of the Senate (El Shoura Council), she also serves on the National Council for Women, which reports to the President of Egypt.

Routledge advances in Middle East and Islamic studies

1 Iraqi Kurdistan Political development and emergent democracy Gareth R. V. Stansfield 2 Egypt in the Twenty-first Century Challenges for development Edited by M. Riad El-Ghonemy 3 The Christian–Muslim Frontier A zone of contact, conflict or cooperation Mario Apostolov 4 The Islamic World-System A study in polity–market interaction Masudul Alam Choudhury 5 Regional Security in the Middle East A critical perspective Pinar Bilgin 6 Political Thought in Islam A study in intellectual boundaries Nelly Lahoud 7 Turkey’s Kurds A theoretical analysis of the PKK and Abdullah Ocalan Ali Kemal Özcan 8 Beyond the Arab Disease New perspectives in politics and culture Riad Nourallah

9 The Arab Diaspora Voices of an anguished scream Zahia Smail Salhi and Ian Richard Netton 10 Gender and Self in Islam Etin Anwar 11 Nietzsche and Islam Roy Jackson 12 The Baha’is of Iran Socio-historical studies Dominic Parvis Brookshaw and Seena B. Fazel 13 Egypt’s Culture Wars Politics and practice Samia Mehrez 14 Islam and Human Rights in Practice Perspectives across the Ummah Edited by Shahram Akbarzadeh and Benjamin MacQueen 15 Family in the Middle East Ideational change in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia Edited by Kathryn M. Yount and Hoda Rashad

Family in the Middle East Ideational change in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia

Edited by Kathryn M. Yount and Hoda Rashad

First published 2008 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2008. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to” © 2008 Selection and editorial matter, Kathryn M. Yount and Hoda Rashad; individual chapters, the contributors All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Family in the Middle East: ideational change in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia/edited by Kathryn M. Yount and Hoda Rashad. p. cm. – (Routledge advances in Middle East and Islamic studies; 15) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Family–Middle East. 2. Muslim families–Middle East. 3. Middle East–Social conditions. I. Yount, Kathryn M. II. Rashad, H. HQ663.3.F37 2008 306.850956–dc22 2008002329 ISBN10: 0-415-77486-1 (hbk) ISBN10: 0-203-89405-7 (ebk) ISBN13: 978-0-415-77486-4 (hbk) ISBN13: 978-0-203-89405-7 (ebk)

ISBN 0-203-89405-7 Master e-book ISBN


List of illustrations Author biographies Acknowledgments

ix xi xvi


Introduction Historical orientations to the study of family change: ideational forces considered





Transnationalism, nationalism, and new family ideals 1 Familism and critical Arab family studies

23 25


2 International feminism and the women’s movement in Egypt, 1904–1923: a reappraisal of categories and legacies



3 From birth control to family planning: population, gender, and the politics of reproduction in Egypt



4 Family law and family planning policy in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran



5 From nationalism to feminism: family law in Tunisia MOUNIRA M. CHARRAD





Continuity and change in daily family life 6 Why kin marriages? Rationales in rural Upper Egypt

137 139


7 Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt



8 Women’s family power and gender preference in Minya, Egypt



9 Divorce and the fate of the family in modern century Egypt



10 The family and social change in post-revolutionary Iran



11 From sexual submission to voluntary commitment: the transformation of family ties in contemporary Tunisia




Concluding remarks Family life and ideational change in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia – reconsidered




Glossary Index

260 263


Figure 9.1

Crude marriage and divorce rates in Egypt: 1935–2002


Tables 0.1 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 5.1 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.A 7.B 7.C 7.D 8.1

Demographic trends and changes in potential sources of developmental ideals 14 Population of Iran 81 Changes in the health profile of Iranians 84 Budget allocation of regime 85 Number of volunteers and the population under coverage 101 Share of different contraceptives since 1989 103 Annual rate of population growth in Iran 104 Official fertility estimates for Iran, 1976–1996 compared with 1998 and 2000 105 Shifts in national politics and gender policy 130 Percentage distribution of adolescents in the sample 157 Adolescents’ responses concerning the person identified as role model 158 Attitudes of never-married 16–19 year-olds living with both parents 160 Attitudes of adolescents regarding parameters of family formation and marriage relations 161 Odds-ratios of reporting or failure to identify role models 165 Multiple classification analysis: index of divergence from the average experience of the parent generation 166 Socialization style at home; odds-ratios of family integration and high-level intergenerational communication 167 Socialization style at home; odds-ratios of high exposure to the mass media and less restricted mobility 168 Variable descriptions and univariate statistics, married women aged 15–54 years with a school-aged child 180–181

x 8.2


Crude associations of score for gender preference, scores for influence in daily domestic and life-course decisions 184–185 8.3 Summary of ordinal and logistic regression analyses for variables 186–187 9.1 Crude marriage and divorce rates in Egypt 199 9.2 Average decennial ratio of divorces to marriages 201 9.3 Ratio of divorces to married women in census years, 1937–1996 202 10.1 Distribution of marriage and birth cohorts by province, IFTS 2002 219 10.2 Percentage distribution of marriage and birth cohorts by level of education and province, IFTS 2002 220 10.3 Characteristics of the women interviewed in the four provinces, IFTS 2002 222 10.4 Minimum and maximum mean age at marriage for boys and girls by marriage cohort, IFTS 2002 223 10.5 Female singulate mean age at marriage and percentage of women aged 20–24 never married, 1976 to 1996, Iran and selected provinces 224 10.6 Percentage distribution of marriage cohorts by their attitudes regarding relative marriage for boys and girls and province, IFTS 2002 225 10.7 Percentage distribution of marriage cohorts by relationship with husband and province, IFTS 2002 226 10.8 Percentage distribution of marriage cohorts by ideal number of children and province, IFTS 2002 227 10.9 Percentage of women agreeing with various statements on childbearing and value of children, IFTS 2002 229 10.10 Mean number of children ever born for marriage cohorts by province, IFTS 2002 230 10.11 Percentage of women agreeing with various statements about employment of women outside the home, IFTS 2002 231 10.12 Percentage of female labor-force participation in Iran during 1956–1996 232 11.1 Divorce rate in various countries 242 11.2 Reasons for divorce in Tunisia circa 1970 242 11.3 Increase of equipment in Tunisian households 243 11.4 The culture of shame 246

Author biographies

Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi received his Ph.D. in Demography from the Australian National University (ANU) in 1998. He is Associate Professor of the Department of Demography at the University of Tehran and Adjunct Fellow, Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute (ADSRI), ANU. Dr Abbasi is a member of the Council of the Population Association of Iran, and served as the Secretary General of the Association during 1998 and 2005. His main research has focused on Iran’s fertility transition but he has also worked on other areas including migration/ethnicity and fertility, family change, reproductive health, and Afghan refugees in Iran. Laura Bier received her Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies in 2006 from New York University. She is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Georgia Institute of Technology. A social and cultural historian with a specialty in post-colonial Egyptian history, her research interests include gender and decolonization, the history of sexuality and the family, feminist theory, and oral history. Dr Bier has been the recipient of a number of grants, including a Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays for her research on gender and state socialism in Egypt. Her work has appeared in the journal Gender and History, The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, and in edited collections on the family in the Middle East and on secularism and visual public spheres. Mounira M. Charrad earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and holds degrees from the École Pratique des Hautes Études and the Sorbonne in Paris. She is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas in Austin. With an interdisciplinary orientation, her research focuses on gender and women’s rights, political sociology, development, and comparative historical sociology. Dr Charrad serves on the boards of the Institute of Maghribi Studies and the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies. Her current research centers on two themes: the reforms of family law in Morocco in 2004; and the concept of modernity in the context of the Middle East. She is the award-winning author of States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postocolonial Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The book won the 2004 Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociological Association and the 2003 Best Book on Politics and History Greenstone Award from the American Political Science Association.


Author biographies

Kenneth M. Cuno received his Ph.D. in History from the University of California in 1985. He is Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches the modern history of the Middle East. He has written mainly on the social history of Egypt, eighteenth to twentieth centuries. His current research is on the history of the family in modern Egypt. His first book, The Pasha’s Peasants: Land, Society and Economy in Lower Egypt, 1740–1858, received honorable mention in the Middle East Studies Association’s Albert Hourani book prize competition, and was published in Arabic translation by the Supreme Council for Culture, Cairo, in 2000. Sahar El Tawila is a statistician and demographer. She is Associate Professor in the Department of Statistics, Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University and National Project Director of the Social Contract Centre, a joint project between UNDP and the Information and Decision Support Center, The Cabinet, Egypt. As Research Associate Professor at the Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo (1992–2001), she managed five national surveys in Egypt. Her research interests include development, poverty, and life opportunities for young people, with a particular focus on education Mary Ann Fay received her Ph.D. in the History of the Middle East from Georgetown University in 1993. She is an Associate Professor of History in the Department of History at Morgan State University. Previously she taught at the American University of Sharjah (U.A.E.) and was the Founding Director of the Arab Studies Program at American University (Washington, DC). She teaches courses on Islamic history, the modern Middle East, the social and cultural history of the region and women’s history. Her research and writing are focused on women in early modern Egypt and most recently, in the U.A.E. Her articles have appeared in journals such as the International Journal of Middle East History and the Journal of Women’s History as well as several collections on women and the family. She is the editor of Auto/Biography and the Construction of Identity and Community in the Middle East (Palgrave 2001) and is completing work on a monograph entitled, Unveiling the Harem: Elite Women and the Paradox of Seclusion in Eighteenth-Century Egypt. Homa Hoodfar received her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Kent in 1989. Dr Hoodfar has conducted field research on development and social change issues in Egypt and Iran, with an emphasis on gender, households, work, and international migration in the Middle East. Her key research areas are women and Islam, and codification of Muslim family laws in the Middle East; Muslim dress code in diaspora; and the impact of longterm forced migration on family structure and gender relations on Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. She also studies how masculine assumption of citizenship and the codification of Muslim laws have affected Iranian women. Meimanat Hossein-Chavoshi received her Ph.D. in Demography from the

Author biographies


Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute in 2007. She is a Senior Officer of the Population Division of the Ministry of Health. Dr Hossein-Chavoshi was involved in the implementation of the 2000 Iran Demographic and Health Survey and the Iran Fertility Transition Survey which will be used in this study. Barbara Ibrahim received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Indiana University in 1980. She is founding Director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, established in 2006 at the American University in Cairo. Dr Ibrahim is developing new programs to make universities more responsive to their communities, to strengthen institutional philanthropy, and to forge stronger links between research, activist, and policy communities. Her primary fields of interest are women’s employment, youth transitions to adulthood, gender and health, and Arab philanthropy. She previously served as the Middle East program officer for urban poverty and women’s studies programs for the Ford Foundation, Cairo. Dr Ibrahim received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies in 2003, and was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame (USA) in 1999. Suad Joseph received her Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1975 from Columbia University. She is Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, Davis and Director of the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program. She is General Editor of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures; founder and facilitator of the Arab Families Working Group, a group of 15 scholars undertaking comparative, interdisciplinary research on Arab families in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and the United States. Dr Joseph is also founder of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies and facilitator for the American University of Beirut, the American University in Cairo, the Lebanese American University, the University of California, and Bir Zeit University Consortium. Her current research is a long-term longitudinal study on how children in a village of Lebanon learn their notions of rights, responsibilities, and citizenship in the aftermath of the Civil War. Lilia Labidi received her Ph.D. in Psychology in 1978 and her Doctorat d’Etat in Anthropology in 1986, both from Paris VII. She is currently Professor of Anthropology and Clinical Psychology at the University of Tunis. Her primary fields of interest are anthropology of gender, public morality in developing countries, women’s history and rights, and psychology in the Arab world. She has won a number of international fellowships, has worked professionally in many different countries, organized national and international meetings on women’s health, and established a prize for the promotion and defense of women’s rights in Tunisia. Peter McDonald received his Ph.D. in Demography from the Australian National University. He is Professor of Demography and Director at the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute. He is Vice President


Author biographies

of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) for the years 2006-2009 and has been elected President of IUSSP for the period 2010-2013. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a Member of the College of Experts of the Australian Research Council. His recent work has focused on theory relating to low fertility, the implications of low fertility for population futures, and upon related policy options. More broadly, he is interested in social change and its theoretical explanations and the processes of adaptation of policy to social change. He is presently working on methods to evaluate the effectiveness of pronatalist policies and upon more precise measurement of cross-sectional fertility trends, and the projection of housing demand in regions of Australia and explanation of changing rates of home ownership in Australia. Throughout his career, he has been actively engaged in the teaching and promotion of demography as a discipline while applying interdisciplinary approaches in his research. Hoda Rashad received her Ph.D. in Population Studies in 1977 from the University of London. She is currently the Director and Research Professor of the Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo. Her current research interests include development studies, poverty alleviation, gender issues, reproductive health, demographic analysis, and evaluation of the impact of health interventions. She serves on many committees in Egypt, including the National Council for Women, which reports to the President of Egypt and is chaired by the First Lady. She is also a resource person and consultant to a number of regional and international organizations. Dr Rashad is currently a Vice-Chairman of the Dutch Development Assistance Research Council. In the past, she has served on the governing body of the Global Development Network, and as a member of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group of the UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction. Hania Sholkamy received her Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, University of London. She is currently Assistant Research Professor at the Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo (AUC) and is also affiliated with the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program of the university. Dr Sholkamy’s research interests and publications are mainly in the fields of health, particularly reproductive health, gender, population, and qualitative methods. She is a member of the executive committee of the Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies of the AUC, a fellow of the Economic Research Forum, a member of the Reproductive Health Working Group and the International Faculty of the Arab Gulf University in Bahrain. She is currently regional coordinator of the “Pathways to Women’s Empowerment Research Consortium” in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex, UK. Hind Wassef is involved in research on violence against women. Her interests include gender issues and education.

Author biographies


Kathryn M. Yount received her Ph.D. in Social Demography in 1999 from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is Associate Professor of Global Health and Sociology, Adjunct Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, and Core Faculty Fellow of the Center for Myth and Ritual in American Family Life (MARIAL) at Emory University. She has conducted research on gender and the family in Egypt and the Middle East since 1995. For this research, she has received grants from Emory, the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to the MARIAL Center, World Bank, and Andrew Mellon Foundation to Johns Hopkins University. She has received awards from Emory and the American Public Health Association for this work.


Earlier versions of many of the chapters in this volume were presented at a series of two workshops, which were entitled “Institutions, Ideologies, and Agency: Changing Family Life in the Middle East and Diaspora” and hosted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) during 1–3 April and 12–14 September of 2003. These workshops were made possible by a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to the Carolina Population Center and the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC-CH, and by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to the Center for Myth and Ritual in American Family Life (MARIAL) at Emory University. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr Nicolas Steiner and the staff of the Center for Global Initiatives for assistance with the organization of these workshops. Other chapters in this volume are based on earlier works that appeared in the Cairo Papers in Social Science (Nicholas S. Hopkins, ed. “The New Arab Family.” Cairo Papers in Social Science 24, no. 1/2. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2001), as well as in the following journals: Journal of Marriage and Family, Social Politics, and Studies in Family Planning. Please see the footnotes to each chapter for full acknowledgements of the prior work on which selected chapters are based. Finally, we gratefully acknowledge Professor Arland Thornton, whose research on ideational forces of family change was the intellectual impetus for this edited volume.

Part I


Historical orientations to the study of family change Ideational forces considered Kathryn M. Yount and Hoda Rashad

Have Western ways of understanding family ties and family change affected perceptions about these human ties in Middle Eastern populations? Have Western understandings of family also affected how people in Middle Eastern cultures understand themselves? The essays in this collection address questions like these, which academics have only recently begun to ask. Of course, the changing nature of family life has captured the interest of scholars for centuries. In the social sciences, some of the most studied features of family life around the world have included attitudes and behaviors related to childbearing and family size, the formation and dissolution of marriage, and the nature of gender relations within intimate unions, including the division of household and non-household labor. Other heavily studied features of family life around the world have included the structure and composition of households, and the relationships between parents and their children. Although most scholars have studied specific aspects of family change, the idea of a great “family transition” held sway at one time (Davis 1948). This “great transition” was believed to have consisted of several discrete changes in family life, including, for example, the shifts from early to late marriage, from arranged to companionate marriage, from extended to nuclear households, and from familistic to individualistic kinship relations. Historically, the most prominent explanation for this presumed transition was that industrialization – or the shift from hunting to herding, to agriculture, and then to manufacturing – drew people away from family production. This change lessened the control of patriarchs over the activities of other family members. With respect to the American family, for example, family sociologist Frank Furstenberg (1966, 326) has explained that: Analysts ... assumed and asserted that the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy is accompanied by the weakening of a family system characterized by low social and geographic mobility, high parental authority over children, marital harmony and stability, dominance of husband over wife, and close ties within the extended family. It is similarly assumed that the modern family possesses few of the characteristics of the pre-industrial family ... and that the modern family serves the needs of an industrial economy.


K.M. Yount and H. Rashad

Complementary explanations for similar changes in the family have included, but are not limited to, the process of urbanization, the expansion of education, the growth of state power, and the rise of democracy. For Western social scientists from the 1700s through the mid-1900s, the conceptual glue between these societal and family changes was the “developmental paradigm” (Thornton 2001, 2005). According to this paradigm, all societies have progressed at various paces through the same stages of development. Historically, scholars of mostly European descent believed that the “most advanced” societies were those in northwestern Europe and the northwestern European diasporas. By contrast, other societies occupied “less advanced” positions on a singular pathway of “development.” Based on observations of crosssectional variation in familial organization and demographic behavior in northwestern Europe and elsewhere, these scholars believed that they could infer the developmental trajectories of all societies and families over time. That is, at some time in the past, “developed” nations and “modern” families had been like their “less developed” and “traditional” contemporaries, and at some point in the future, the “least developed” nations and “most traditional” families would become like their “more advanced” neighbors (Thornton 2001, 2005). In the wake of this period, family sociologist William Goode (1963) proposed four revisions to theories about the causal role of industrialization in global family change: (1) there are indigenous sources of change in family systems before the advent of industrialization; (2) the relations between industrialization and family patterns are complex and not fully understood; (3) the family system itself may be an independent source of change facilitating the transition to industrialization; and (4) some apparently recent characteristics of the family may in fact be old social patterns. Since this seminal critique, many scholars have challenged the assertions about societal and familial change that earlier scholars made using the developmental paradigm and cross-sectional comparative methods (e.g., Camilleri 1967; Holmes-Eber 1997; Margavio and Mann 1989; Schnaiberg 1970a, 1970b). Despite these critiques, beliefs in developmental theories of societal and family change have persisted to this day, and the consequences of such beliefs are arguably twofold. First, adherence to such beliefs may have stalled the growth of new theory about the actual triggers of family change (Smith 1993). An over-emphasis on structural determinants, for example, may have marginalized the role of ideology in the process of family change. Indeed, some scholars have argued that the spread of values including secularism and materialism have been fundamental determinants of family change in Europe (e.g., Lesthague and Meekers 1987). A second consequence of (over-) attachment to the “developmental” paradigm is that its repeated use may have produced a set of dominant “myths” or “ideals” about family and family change. Here, we use the term “myth” or “ideal” in the same way that anthropologist Bradd Shore has done, to refer to “false beliefs . . . that are idealized or otherwise distorted for ideological ends.” Such myths use the “appearance of fact to mask a fiction.” Sociologist and demographer Arland Thornton (2001, 2005) has argued that

Historical orientations to family change


the spread of four specific developmental myths, which together he calls “developmental idealism,” have affected families around the world. According to Thornton (2001, 2005), the first of these myths is that “modern society” is good and attainable. Here, “modern society” refers to a setting that other scholars have labeled as “developed” because it is characterized by a high level of industrialization, urbanization, education, wealth, and gender equality in public life. The second myth is that “modern family” is good and attainable. “Modern” family here refers to a family that other scholars have called “non-traditional” because it is characterized by individualism, nuclear living arrangements, consensual marriage preceded by courtship, youthful autonomy, and a high valuation of women. The third myth is that “modern family” is a cause and an effect of “modern society,” and the fourth myth is that individuals are free and equal and social relationships are based on consent. Thornton (2001, 2005) has posited that these four propositions, regardless of their empirical merits or shortcomings, came to embody a powerful system of beliefs that were propagated widely in more and less coercive ways. Some mechanisms of dissemination, for example, included Western and European colonialism, revolutionary social movements, and international women’s movement(s). Other mechanisms included the establishment of schools in pre- and post-colonial societies, as well as the training of “non-Westerners” at institutions in northwestern Europe and its diasporas. Still other mechanisms included industries such as mass communications, transportation systems, and the media. And, finally, various governmental and non-governmental “development” projects, including in particular “modern” family planning programs, have propagated these myths about “modern” family and society. Lisa Pollard’s (2003) historical research on Egypt, for example, corroborates Thornton’s (2001, 2005) argument about the ideological role of colonialism and revolutionary social movements: In Egypt, as in India, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere, the family under British colonial occupation served as a symbol for those things about Egypt that were not Western, Christian, or modern – as the British defined them. The shape of the family was made synonymous with the ability of the nation to govern itself. The condition of the familial realm was used as a yardstick by which Egyptian backwardness (or, by contrast, progress) was measured, and by which further colonial tutelage was legitimated. Egyptian nationalists later took on British definitions for quite different ends – using the familial metaphor as a means of critiquing problems inherent to their own political system, or defining themselves as modern, and finally, of demonstrating to the West they there were ready for independence. (Pollard 2003, 37–38) In this vane, Thornton (2001, 2005) has argued that the endorsement of developmental idealism by key political actors likely led to the establishment of the institutions through which developmental ideals were spread. An important


K.M. Yount and H. Rashad

empirical question that this volume addresses is whether the co-dissemination of competing ideals of “modernity” enhanced or thwarted popular acceptance of the above “myths” of “developmental idealism” in the countries under study. This volume explores, from an historical comparative perspective, the globalization of developmental ideals about family and society, and the effects of these exposures on family life in three contexts in North Africa and the Middle East – Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia. These countries offer an outstanding set for analysis because their populations have varied widely in their receptivity to “Western” versus “Islamic” notions of “family” and “progress.” Sensitive to these historical and contextual contingencies, the contributors to this volume debate fundamental questions about the existence and content of global, developmental myths about family and nationhood, as well as the ways in which specific myths have been disseminated in these countries during the twentieth century. Collectively, the essays in this volume also reveal varied responses by ordinary people, including their acceptance, adaptation, and rejection of developmental myths about family and nationhood. The authors convincingly show that personal responses to encounters with developmental myths occur in the face of competing discourses about family and society, and within local opportunities and constraints to endorse competing typologies. To lay the groundwork for these debates, the remainder of this introduction first evaluates the empirical record regarding the existence and dissemination of “developmental ideals” about family and society, as proposed by Thornton (2001, 2005). Second, we discuss some of the motivations, emphases, and limitations of “family studies” in North Africa and the Middle East. Finally, we outline the main contributions of this volume to the study of family change in the region, by demonstrating the complexity, and explanatory power, of competing global ideologies about family life and nationhood.

“Developmental idealism” and the global empirical record In the empirical literature, schooling has been a major mechanism by which people have encountered the developmental ideals of “modern” family and “modern” society. Pollard (2003, 23), for example, has described early twentieth century ideals about the family, which the civil servants of British-occupied Egypt (effendiyya) linked to nationalist struggles for independence and disseminated through the textbooks used in public schools: Early 20th century textbooks were highly prescriptive about what kinds of family relations were proper and fitting to the national struggle. First, children were instructed that the proper home consisted of a father, mother, and their obedient children. Polygamy was very clearly discouraged, as was the habit of having extended family share the domicile. Thus, the family was redefined to fit the models of Victorian domesticity; Arabic readers often contained lessons . . . in which very precise definitions for household relationships were laid out. . . . Thus the process of liberating Egypt was cast as a family affair. . . .

Historical orientations to family change


To complement these macro-historical studies, population-based surveys have shown that schooling can be associated with accepting certain features of “modern family” life, including gender equality in public life, youthful autonomy, and consensual relations. In rural Bangladesh and Egypt, for example, women with more secular schooling have tended to favor activities measuring women’s autonomy (Balk 1994; Kishor 1994). In poor neighborhoods in Cuernavaca, Mexico, higher maternal schooling also has correlated with having higher professional aspirations for sons and daughters (Levine et al. 1991). In Canada, Australia, and Norway, men’s and women’s schooling have been positively associated with favoring gender equality in public and private life, as has women’s schooling in the United States and Sweden (Baxter and Kane 1995). These associations have been weaker among married men and women, however and, among Taiwanese university students and Egyptian adolescents, attitudes about gender roles have been more egalitarian among women than men (Chia et al. 1986; El Tawila et al. this volume). “Western” education has correlated with favoring gender equality among teenage males in Kano, Nigeria, whereas the number of years of religious schooling has been negatively associated with this value orientation (Armer and Youtz 1971). Compared to their less schooled peers, more schooled male workers in India, Israel, and Bangladesh have more often favored youthful autonomy, but have not more often favored women’s equality in public life (Miller 1984).1 Finally, parental education has been positively associated with the preference that young people select their own spouse in urban China and Shiraz City, Iran (Logan and Bian 1999; Mehryar and Tashakkori 1978). Thus, the ideational effects of schooling have to some extent been inconsistent. Scholars such as Ester Boserup (1989, 1990) have argued that the ideological content of schooling, especially concerning women’s social status, may explain such discrepancies. As a result of the rapid spread of education, age–power relations between women are changing. Illiterate mothers and mothers-in-law have less authority over literate daughters and daughters-in-law than they did over illiterate ones. But it is uncertain to what extent increasing school attendance of girls contributes to greater equality between the sexes. . . . It is tacitly assumed that school attendance helps to improve women’s status whatever the ideological content of the curriculum. But indoctrination in national culture is usually an important element in the curriculum . . . and if the principle of female inferiority is an important feature of the national culture, the influence of school attendance on the attitudes of boys and girls (1989, 57) [may operate by preparing women for roles as housewives rather than as coworkers of men in the public sector]. (1990, 138) In short, the ideals that are disseminated through schools may inculcate “dominant cultural values” that contradict “developmental idealism.” Indeed, less than


K.M. Yount and H. Rashad

half of ever-married women of reproductive age in Egypt agree that education should prepare women for work (El-Zanaty et al. 1996). Azhar religious schools also prevail in parts of Egypt (UNDP 2003), and Egyptian feminist scholars have argued that the Islamic character of some Egyptian schools has stymied women’s equal participation in public life (Shukrallah 1994). Thus, schools act as a means to disseminate various family myths and ideals about society, and those that are promoted may vary across contexts and over time. Compounding the effects of a person’s ideological exposures in school are his or her ideological exposures through the media and family planning programs. In early twentieth-century revolutionary Egypt, for example, effendi nationalists used the press to promote specific ideals about family, nationbuilding, and their causal linkages (Pollard 2003, 27): This equation between domestic behavior and the success of the nation appeared in the Egyptian press as well. . . . Marital practices and the habits of couples inside and outside of the home were common topics of discussion in the early nationalist press. Proper ages for marriages, the pros and cons of arranged marriages, choosing the “right” spouse, all found their way into the press. (24–25) . . . In both the classroom and the press, Egyptians were reminded that their bourgeois, modern behavior had political ramifications. . . . Several national surveys corroborate this historical account. First, women who have watched more hours of television in Egypt are more likely to favor women’s non-customary autonomy.2 Second, family planning in Indonesia has been marketed as a means of ensuring a “prosperous family” and of freeing women to work, to join organizations, and to socialize (Amal et al. 1998). Finally, the distribution of family planning through outreach workers in Bangladesh has reportedly diffused the idea that women can control their reproduction (Mita and Simmons 1995). Yet, the ideological content of other family planning programs has met with popular resistance. Late twentieth-century efforts to promote family planning in Egypt, for example, offer a relevant counter-case. According to anthropologist Kamran Ali (1997, 43), [t]he Egyptian state in collaboration with international donor agencies uses its family planning program as a tool to modernize its population. The state promotes distinctive political and social practices connected to modern ideas of physical and mental health. In this process, the normalization of conjugal marriage and the nuclear family helps to construct the modern categories of the “individual,” the “private,” and ultimately “modern citizens.” . . . In Egypt, however, these constructions rest on slippery terrain. . . . In intellectual circles as well as among the poor, questions are raised about the assumed “natural” linkage of economic development and population control. The increasing disparity in income levels that is quite independent of family size subjects the emphasis on family planning to criticism. . . .

Historical orientations to family change


Moreover, popular notions of the body, healing, fertility, and sexuality undermine the legitimacy of state-sponsored medical and social impositions. . . . Less is known regarding the sources of beliefs about “modern” societies and their causal links with “modern” families. Studies suggest, however, that such concepts and relationships are measurable across settings. Among adult Costa Ricans, for example, exposure to the mass media has been positively associated with the ranking of Costa Rica on a “ladder” of national conditions (Waisanen and Durlak 1967). In parts of Nepal and Argentina, moreover, most people are familiar with the propositions of developmental idealism,3 and most Nepalese have correctly reported that several family attributes are more common in Nepal than in the United States. These attributes include married sons living with their parents (74 percent), child marriage (84 percent), parental control over the earnings of adult children (59 percent), polygamous families (88 percent), activities organized around the family (92 percent), marriages arranged by parents (92 percent), and large families with many children (89 percent). Most of these Nepalese also correctly reported that the following family attributes are more common in the United States than in Nepal: people living in cities (86 percent), high incomes (90 percent), high levels of education (93 percent), work for pay (86 percent), women who never marry (69 percent), personal freedom (71 percent), equality (62 percent), and women having a high degree of respect (80 percent). Finally, correlations between UN rankings and average reported rankings for the level of “development” (an idealized comparison) and the level of education (a factual comparison) of England, the United States, Japan, Brazil, China, and India have exceeded 0.75 in parts of Nepal and Argentina.4 These findings suggest that even remote populations have considerable knowledge about the world. Also, these populations may be at least implicitly aware of some of the propositions of developmental idealism. Several scholars have studied the links between a person’s schooling, exposure to the media, and occupation with his or her adherence to the values of freedom and equality. Among selected men aged 18–32 years in Argentina, Chile, India, Israel, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, formal schooling has been strongly associated with an index of “individual modernity” (Inkeles 1975).5 Also important in all of these countries was the duration of a man’s factory experience (in months) and his exposure to the mass media. Among adults aged 18 years and older in London, England, schooling has been positively associated with favoring egalitarianism, and occupational status has been negatively associated with favoring this ideal (Robinson and Bell 1978). Schooling, however, has been negatively associated with egalitarianism in the United States (Ritzman and Tomaskovic-Devey 1992), and with self-efficacy and expectations about the success of capable youngsters in mainland China (Inkeles et al. 1995). At the same time, levels of reported internal control increased between 1977 and 1992 among university students in Taiwan and the United States (Chia et al. 1995),


K.M. Yount and H. Rashad

and schooling has been associated with “individualist values” across 40 countries in the World Values Survey (Weakliem 2002). In addition to proposing the sources of developmental idealism, Thornton (2001, 2005) has argued that a person’s acceptance (and/or rejection) of its various propositions can influence many aspects of family life. Such effects may pertain, for example, to the formation, type, and dissolution of marriage; the bearing and rearing of children; and gender and intergenerational relationships. In selected urban and semi-urban parts of Nigeria, men who favor male dominance in family decisions have had 0.26 more children, on average, than have men who favor female dominance (Isiugo-Abanihe 1994). Traditional–modern value orientations also have mediated the relationship between a husband’s occupation and education and the proportion of planned pregnancies among couples in Kentucky (Clifford 1972). Across various cultures, parental values about children have influenced parental investments in children (Buchman 2000; Davison and Kanuka 1992; Brinton 1993; Greenhalgh 1985), and investments in children have been associated with various dimensions of their well-being (Behrman 1988a, 1988b; Lee 2000; Simon et al. 2002; Thomas 1994; Yount 2003, 2004). In three districts in Kenya, a mother’s perception that the labor market is gender discriminatory has been negatively associated with school enrollment for girls (Mita and Simmons 1995), and maternal felt control has been positively associated with scores for children’s weight-for-height among selected villages in northwestern Mali (Inkeles et al. 1995). A mother’s coresidence with her in-laws, who express stronger preferences for sons, has been associated with lower relative odds of girls receiving private care in Minya, Egypt (Yount 2004). Finally, an index for the diffusion of values through the mass media has been negatively associated across 43 countries with the risks of infant and under-five mortality (Chia et al. 1995). Together, the available research suggests that a person’s acceptance, adaptation, or rejection of developmental ideals can have profound implications for personal behavior and family relations. The case studies in this volume also reveal that personal reactions to developmental ideals may depend on the salience of local competing ideals. Reactions to developmental ideals also may depend on the national and global political and economic contexts within which competing ideologies are spread, as well as the local opportunities and constraints confronting people in their daily lives. Elite or lay opposition to certain developmental ideals may provide clues about the resilient features of family life (Camilleri 1967; Malhotra and Tsui 1996; Schnaiberg 1970a).

Studies of family and social change in North Africa and the Middle East Despite evidence from around the world of the potential sources and effects of developmental myths, and despite considerable interest in “the family” among scholars of North Africa and the Middle East, little research has considered the nature and sources of myths about the family and their influence on family life

Historical orientations to family change


in this region. One reason for this gap may be that feminist scholars have conducted much of the regional research on families and have tended to view “family” as problematic for women (Hoodfar, personal communication, May 2004). As a result, these scholars have focused on describing women’s roles and positions within families of the region, as well as the forces that have affected women’s strategies for survival (e.g., Altorki 1977; Fernea 1985; Ghorayshi 1996; Hoodfar 1997; Ibrahim 1981; Moors 1995; Khater and Nelson 1988; Rugh 1984). Cross-sectional portrayals of family life in local context also have emphasized certain dyadic relationships within kinship networks, such as husband–wife, parent–child, and daughter-in-law–mother-in-law relations. This focus on selected dyads has consequently masked the wider network of relationships that historically has constituted kinship groups within the region (Joseph 2001; Charrad 2001). Political sociologist Mounira Charrad (2001) and anthropologist Suad Joseph (this volume) also have noted that, even with its limitations, much of the literature on family life in the region has flourished in the fields of history and anthropology. Even a cursory review of the Western sociological literature from the second half of the twentieth century reveals scant attention to the combined topics of “family” and “social change” in North Africa and the Middle East (for exceptions, see Holmes-Eber 1997; Moghadam 2004; Stevenson 1997; Eltigani 2000). Joseph (this volume) agrees that critical studies of the family have been lacking for this region, and she traces this gap to the historical connections between kinship networks and political, economic, and social institutions in countries throughout the region. This model of “the family” or kinship group as a sociopolitical and economic unit contrasts with Western models of “the family” as a social unit that, even if related to other social institutions, has distinct and identifiable boundaries. In the literature that has focused on family and social change in North Africa and the Middle East, much of this work has stressed the effects of structural change on family structure, domestic organization, and family formation and dissolution (Heaton 1996). Philippe Fargues (1997) and Onn Winckler (2005), for example, have attributed increases in the birth rate from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s in the non-oil-producing Arab countries to increasing standards of living, real wages, and remittances from migrant laborers in the Gulf. Fargues (1997) has acknowledged that male migrant workers may encounter “large family” ideals in the Gulf, and that such exposures could have reinforced a preexisting desire for large families. Yet, Fargues (1997) attributes declines in the birth rate in Egypt from the mid-1980s again to “structural” changes, including unfavorable economic conditions and especially increases in women’s literacy and education. Like other scholars of the family and social change, Fargues (1997) has interpreted increases in women’s schooling as an indicator of their changing social status rather than as a proxy for women’s exposure to developmental myths. A comparison of Thornton’s (2001, 2005) and Fargues’s (1997) conceptual frameworks reveals a basic conundrum of research on family change. That is, the identified causes of family change may operate in structural and ideational


K.M. Yount and H. Rashad

ways. “Schooling,” for example, may affect family change by changing the social and economic networks in which people live, and by exposing them to new ideologies about family and society. Some scholars have endorsed the simultaneous effects of material, structural, and ideational forces on family life in countries of the region (e.g., Ibrahim 1981). Yet, if ideational theories are to take a legitimate place in debates about the forces of family change, then a systematic comparison is needed of historical changes in dominant family myths, the mechanisms by which these myths have spread, and the emergence of new constellations of family myths in local context. Such efforts require a marriage of methods and of disciplines that each contributes answers to various aspects of these questions.

Purpose of this volume This volume fills major gaps in social theory and research on family life and ideational change in North Africa and the Middle East. First, it relies on the methods of history and social science to depict family life in each setting under study. Second, it brings to center stage the potential influence of ideational forces on historical family changes in each of the settings. Third, it highlights continuity in some aspects of family life while depicting dramatic changes in others. Evidence of a dynamic tension between family continuity and change refutes the idea that a “great family transition” is inevitable with macro-ideological and structural changes. Finally, this volume paves the way for new theorizing about family change, which accepts the potential relevance of structural and ideational influences. The contributors to this volume share common interests in the family, and in social change in North Africa and the Middle East. Their expertise also spans several disciplines, including anthropology, demography, history, and sociology. This combination of shared interest in the family, regional expertise, and disciplinary diversity permits a unique mixed-methods approach to exploring family change in the region. The countries of Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia were selected for comparison because of their varied (1) demographic, (2) institutional, and (3) ideational histories. First, all three countries have experienced dramatic but varied demographic changes, the most recent 20–30 years of which are well documented in national surveys and censuses (Table 0.1). In Iran, for example, the population more than doubled in size between 1975 and 2003, from an estimated 33.3 million people to just over 70 million people by 2006. Although the Tunisian and Egyptian populations did not double in size during this period, their growths were still marked (from approximately 5.7 to 9.9 million, and from 39.3 to 71.3 million, respectively). The percentages of all three populations that were living in urban areas also grew notably during this period, and urban living may be associated with exposure to various ideals about family and society (Yount, Chapter 8). Between 1970–1975 and 2000–2005, Iran and Tunisia both experienced marked declines in total rates of fertility, from over 6.0 children per

Historical orientations to family change


woman of reproductive age to approximately replacement levels (~2.0 children per woman of reproductive age). Declines in the rate of fertility in Egypt also occurred during this period, but they were less dramatic (from 5.7 to 3.3 children per woman of reproductive age). Changes in total fertility rates may have partly resulted from changes in the age at marriage, which increased at different paces in all countries with available data (ORC Macro 2005). Finally, life expectancies at birth improved markedly in all countries, in large part because of declining risks of under-five mortality. The demographic behavior of families in all three countries, thus, showed dramatic but varied changes over the latter part of the twentieth century. Together, these changes hint at important micro-level changes in both family structures and the relations of family members. Second, the institutions that could propagate developmental ideals about family and society expanded concurrently with these demographic changes. Between 1985 and 2003, for example, public expenditure on education as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased in Tunisia (from 5.5 percent to 6.4 percent) and Iran (from 3.7 percent to 4.9 percent). Although the Egyptian government’s expenditure on education was high in 1985 (5.5 percent of the country’s GDP), it fell to 4.7 percent of GDP by around 2003. Not surprisingly, then, rates of literacy among adults at least 15 years of age have increased most dramatically in Tunisia (52.6 percent to 73.2 percent) and Iran (55.9 percent to 77.1 percent). These increases in literacy alone are notable, but occurred alongside increasing access to the media and communications systems. Between 1990 and 2003, for example, the number of telephone lines per 1,000 population increased more than threefold in Tunisia (from 37 to 118), and even more so in Egypt (from 30 to 127) and Iran (from 40 to 220). Proportionate increases in the rates of cellular subscribers were even more dramatic during this period, and rates of internet use rose from essentially nil to more than 4 percent in all three countries. (The “modernizing” role of contemporary media in the Middle East – including film, television and soap operas, and the press – has been widely debated, however (Napoli 1996).) Finally, data on the distribution of men and women by occupation is not widely available. Figures for Egypt, however, suggest that the share of male workers who were employed in the service sector – a large portion of which consists of tourism – rose between 1990 and 2003. The share of women in the formal labor force also rose, albeit modestly, in all three countries during this period. Importantly, the figures presented here depict changes that occurred only during the last 20 to 30 years. These figures still suggest marked expansion of, diversification in, and accessibility to, the institutional sources of developmental ideals. Finally, to understand the national ideological context within which these changes occurred, some awareness of concurrent changes in family law, personal status codes, and family planning policies is useful. Tunisia stands out among the three countries in this volume as having implemented the most comprehensive and far-reaching legal reforms. The first substantial reforms to family law and the personal status codes occurred shortly after Tunisia’s independence in 1956, and reforms continued into the second half of the

Life expectancy at birtha

Telephone mainlines (per 1,000 pop)

Cellular subscribers (per 1,000 pop)

Mass communication Internet (per 1,000 pop)

5.7 6.4 6.2

3.3 2.1 2.0

19.5 – –










Industry Services ■ ■ 2000 1990 2000 1990 2000








% of females in labor force

18.5 – 21.1

69.6 70.2 73.1

’20, ’23, ’29, ’43, ’46, ’48, ’76, ’85, ’00 ’28–’35, ’82, ’79,

Dates of major reforms

52.1 55.2 55.6

5.7 3.7 5.5

4.7h 4.9 6.4 43.2 55.9 52.6

55.6i 77.1 73.2




Females permitted


Minimum age at marriage

42.2 66.6 63.7

Employment by economic activity (% of male labor force)

43.5 45.8 49.9 Notable features of family lawk

71.3 68.2 9.9

Occupational structurej

Egypt 39.3 Iran 33.3 Tunisia 5.7

127 220 118

84 51 197

verbal repudiaton judicial judicial



(.) 0 (.)


Temporary marriage

30 40 37

0 0 0

mother until boy 10, girl 12

Custody of child in case of divorce

44 72 64

■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ 1975 2003 1975 2003e 1970–5 2000–5f 1988 2000 1970–5 2000–5f 1985 2003 1985 2003 1990 2003 1990 2003 1990 2003

Median age at first marriage (women 25–49 y)b

Public Adult spending on (= 15 y) education as literacyg % of GDPg

Total fertility ratea

Total populationa

Urban populationa,d


Demographic changea

Table 0.1 Demographic trends and changes in potential sources of developmental ideals



’56, ’59, ’64, ’81, ’93







permitted, fixed time

verbal repudiation, judicial judicial

mother until boy 2, girl 7 judicial

Notes a Source: United Nations Development Program. (2005). Human Development Report 2005: International Cooperation at a Crossroads: AID, Trade, and Security in an Unequal World. New York, NY: United Nations Development Program. b Source: ORC Macro, 2005. MEASURE DHS STATcompiler., November 9 2005. c Source:, downloaded November 8, 2005. d Estimates are based on national definitions of what constitutes a city or metropolitan area, so cross-national comparisons should be made with caution. e Estimates refer to medium variant projections. f Data refer to estimates for the period specified. g Data for 2003 refer to the most recent available data within two years of the year indicated. h Figure refers to the year 1995. i Data refer to a year between 1995–9. j Source: The World Bank Group. downloaded November 8, 2005. k Source: An-Na-im, Abdullahi A. (ed.). 2002. Islamic Family Law in a Changing World: A Global Resource Book. London: Zed Books, Ltd.




K.M. Yount and H. Rashad

twentieth century. Among them were included higher legal ages at marriage for men (20 years) and women (17 years), the prohibition of polygamy, the prohibition of extra-judicial divorce practices (e.g., talaq, or a husband’s verbal repudiation of his wife), and the shift to judicial authority over child-custody decisions after divorce. A detailed comparison of reforms in Egypt and Iran would reveal many differences. However, in both countries, the legal age at marriage has been lower than in Tunisia; polygamy and “temporary” marriages are permitted under specified conditions (temporary marriage presumably was allowed and practiced in Ancient Egypt, as well; see Bardis 1966); talaq is permitted under specific conditions; and a divorced mother may lose custody of her sons and daughters at specific ages. Finally, unlike Iran and Egypt, the Tunisian government has provided consistent and direct support for improved access to contraceptive methods. The Tunisian government also has permitted abortion in various social, economic, and health-related circumstances (e.g., to save the woman’s life or to preserve her physical or mental health, in cases of rape/incest, fetal impairment, or for economic/social reasons, available upon request (Yount 2006)). Together, the set of family laws and population policies endorsed in Tunisia support the notion of individualism, as well as the shared responsibilities of men and women in marriage and parenting. In fact, Charrad (this volume) argues that the reforms to family law in Tunisia were consistent with – if not a direct promotion of – an egalitarian, nuclear family ideal. To expand on this introduction, the remaining chapters are organized in three parts. Part I extends Thornton’s (2001, 2005) framework of “developmental idealism” by comparing national sources of developmental myths during the twentieth century. For each country, specifically, the authors depict how states (Bier, Chapter 3; Charrad, Chapter 5; Hoodfar, Chapter 4), feminist organizations (Fay, Chapter 2), and/or religious groups (Hoodfar, Chapter 4; Charrad, Chapter 5) have promoted certain icons of and links between the “family” and “nation.” The examples presented are by no means exhaustive of the range of conduits and ideologies that characterized this period. Rather, the examples highlight for each country some of the influential twentieth-century sources of developmental myths. All of the authors in Part I underscore that the endorsement of certain myths about “modern” family and nationhood is historically contingent on national, and global, political economies. All of the case studies also reveal that key actors (e.g., states, religious groups, feminist organizations) have, to some extent, promoted competing myths about “modern” family and nationhood. As a result, these case studies illustrate the non-linear paths by which developmental ideals have been endorsed, challenged, rejected, re-affirmed, and reconstituted as a part of each country’s historical experience. The potential for key actors to promote competing developmental myths means that ordinary people, at any point in time, confront various prescriptions for family life. From this mosaic of valued modernities, individuals construct some dynamic synthesis (Bier 2004). Thus, in this most iterative and non-linear way, developmental ideals are endorsed, challenged, or rejected, only to be re-affirmed or reconstituted over time.

Historical orientations to family change


Using ethnographic and survey data from ordinary people in all three settings, the authors in Part II document various lay responses to promoted developmental myths. These chapters suggest that people may accept certain ideals of “modern family” life (El Tawila et al., Chapter 7; Labidi, Chapter 11), while rejecting or adapting others to suit their daily lives (Sholkamy, Chapter 6; Yount, Chapter 8; Cuno, Chapter 9; Abbasi et al., Chapter 10). Through this ongoing process of ideational exposure, conflict, and reconciliation, multiple typologies of modernity are spun. Importantly, each shared typology reflects the temporary, collective integration of ideals that lay people themselves define as “old” versus “new,” “modern” versus “traditional,” and “foreign” versus “homespun.” The chapters in this volume show that, although these dynamic typologies may not alone predict family change, they may play critical, independent roles in this process. For these reasons, the ideational forces of family change warrant more serious consideration in this region and elsewhere.

Notes 1 Other characteristics such as birthplace, parental schooling, work experiences, and economic circumstances are not consistently associated with favorable attitudes toward either value. 2 Working for cash also has been positively associated with women’s approval of activities measuring their customary autonomy. 3 Data from Nepal were part of an unpublished presentation, “Long Term Trends in Family Values,” given by Arland Thornton at the 40th Anniversary Conference of the Hungarian Demographic Institute. 4 Data from Nepal and Argentina were collected in 2003 and provided through personal communication with Arland Thornton. 5 This index captured beliefs favoring informed civic participation, a sense of personal efficacy, independence from familial influence in personal affairs, and open-mindedness.

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Heaton, Tim B. “Socioeconomic and Familial Status of Women Associated with Age at First Marriage in Three Islamic Societies.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 27, no. 1 (1996): 41–58. Holmes-Eber, Paula. “Migration, Urbanization, and Women’s Kin Networks in Tunis.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 28, no. 2 (1997): 54–72. Hoodfar, Homa. Between Marriage and Market: Intimate Politics and Survival in Cairo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Ibrahim, Barbara Lethem. “Family Strategies: A Perspective of Women’s Entry to the Labor Force in Egypt.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 11, no. 2 (1981): 235–249. Inkeles, Alex. “Becoming Modern: Individual Change in Six Developing Countries.” Ethos 3, no. 2 (1975): 323–342. Inkeles, Alex, C. Montgomery Broaded, and Zhongde Cao. “Causes and Consequences of Individual Modernity in Mainland China.” Paper presented to the American Sociological Association, 1995. Isiugo-Abanihe, Uche C. “Reproductive Motivation and Family Size Preferences among Nigerian Men.” Studies in Family Planning 25, no. 3 (1994): 149–161. Joseph, Suad. “Among Brothers: Patriarchal Connectivity and Brotherly Deference in Lebanon.” In The New Arab Family Cairo Papers in Social Science 24, no. 1/2, edited by Nicholas S. Hopkins, 165–179. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2001. Khater, Akram and Cynthia Nelson. “Al-Harakah al-Nissaiyah: The Women’s Movement and Political Participation in Modern Egypt.” Women’s Studies International Forum 11, no. 5 (1988): 465–483 Kishor, Sunita. “Autonomy and Egyptian Women: Findings from the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey.” Occasional Papers 2. Calverton, MD: Macro International, Inc., 1994. Lee, Matthew R. “Modernization, Gender Equality, and Mortality Rates in Less Developed Countries.” Sociological Spectrum 20, no. 2 (2000): 195–220. Lesthaeghue, Ron and Dominique Meekers. “Demografische verschuivingen en de evolutie van waardenpatronen in de europese gemeenschap.” Tijdschrift voor Sociologie, 8, no. 2–3 (1987): 131–200. Levine, Robert, Sarah E. Levine, Amy Richman, F. Medardo Tapia Uribe, Clara Sunderland Correa, and Patrice M. Miller. “Women’s Schooling and Child Care in the Demographic Transition: A Mexican Case Study.” Population and Development Review 17, no. 3 (1991): 459–496. Logan, John and Fuqin Bian. “Family Values and Coresidence with Married Children in Urban China.” Social Forces 77, no. 4 (1999): 1253–1282. Malhotra, Anju and Amy Ong Tsui. “Marriage Timing in Sri Lanka: The Role of Modern Norms and Ideals.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58, no. 2 (1996): 476–490. Margavio, A.V. and S.A. Mann. “Modernization and the Family: A Theoretical Analysis.” Sociological Perspectives 32, no. 1 (1989): 109–127. Mehryar, A.H. and G.A. Tashakkori. “Sex and Parental Education as Determinants of Marital Aspirations and Attitudes of a Group of Iranian Youth.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 49, no. 3 (1978): 629–637. Miller, Karen A. “The Effects of Industrialization on Men’s Attitudes toward the Extended Family and Women’s Rights: A Cross-National Study.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 46, no. 1 (1984): 153–160. Mita, Rezina and Ruth Simmons. “Diffusion of the Culture of Contraception: Program Effects on Young Women in Rural Bangladesh.” Studies in Family Planning 26, no. 1 (1995): 1–13.


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Moghadam, Valentine. “Patriarchy in Transition: Women and the Changing Family in the Middle East.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 35, no. 2 (2004): 137–162. Moors, Annelies. Women, Property, and Islam: Palestinian Experiences 1920–1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Napoli, James J. “Media, National Development, and the Middle East.” Journal of Communication 46, no. 4 (1996): 177–184. ORC Macro, 2005. MEASURE DHS STATcompiler., 9 November 2005. Pollard, Lisa. “The Promise of Things to Come: The Image of the Modern Family in State-Building, Colonial Occupation, and Revolution in Egypt, 1805–1922.” In Families of a New World: Gender, Politics, and State Development in a Global Context, edited by Lynne Haney and Lisa Pollard, 17–39. New York: Routledge, 2003. Ritzman, Rosemary L. and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey. “Life Chances and Support for Equality and Equity as Normative and Counternormative Distribution Rules.” Social Forces 70, no. 3 (1992): 745–763. Robinson, Robert V. and Wendell Bell. “Equality, Success, and Social Justice in England and the United States.” American Sociological Review 43, no. 2 (1978): 125–143. Rugh, Andrea B. Family in Contemporary Egypt. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1984. Schnaiberg, Allan. “Measuring Modernism: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations.” American Journal of Sociology 76, no. 3 (1970a): 399–425. Schnaiberg, Allan. “Rural–Urban Residence and Modernism: A Study of Ankara Province, Turkey.” Demography 7, no. 1 (1970b): 71–85. Shukrallah, Hala. “The Impact of the Islamic Movement in Egypt.” Feminist Review 47 (1994): 15–32. Simon, Dominique, Alayne M. Adams, and Sangeetha Madhavan. “Women’s Social Power, Child Nutrition and Poverty in Mali.” Journal of Biosocial Science 3, no. 2 (2002): 193–213. Smith, Daniel S. “The Curious History of Theorizing about the History of the Western Nuclear Family.” Social Science History 17, no. 3 (1993): 325–353. Stevenson, Thomas B. “Migration, Family, and Household in Highland Yemen: The Impact of Socio-Economic and Political Change and Cultural Ideals on Domestic Organization.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 28, no. 2 (1997): 14–53. Thomas, Duncan. “Like Father, Like Son, or Like Mother, Like Daughter: Parental Education and Child Health.” Journal of Human Resources 29, no. 4 (1994): 950–989. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. Thornton, Arland. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. United Nations Development Programme. Egypt Human Development Report 2003. Cairo: Institute of National Planning, 2003. Waisanen, F.B. and Jerome T. Durlak. “Mass Media Use, Information Source Evaluation, and Perception of Self and Nation.” Public Opinion Quarterly 31, no. 3 (1967): 399–406. Weakliem, David L. “The Effects of Education on Political Opinions: An International Study.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 14, no. 2 (2002): 141–157. Winckler, Onn. Arab Political Demography: Volume One: Population Growth and Natalist Policies. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2005.

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Yount, Kathryn M. “Gender Bias in the Allocation of Curative Care in Minia, Egypt.” Population Research and Policy Review 22, no. 3 (2003): 267–295. Yount, Kathryn M. “Maternal Resources, Proximity of Services, and the Curative Care of Boys and Girls in Minya, Egypt.” Population Studies 58, no. 3 (2004): 345–355. Yount, Kathryn M. “Health and Reproductive Health.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, edited by Suad Joseph 211–218. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006.

Part II

Transnationalism, nationalism, and new family ideals


Familism and critical Arab family studies Suad Joseph

The problem: the family and critical Arab family studies Critical family studies were central to Second Wave United States feminists invested in extending to women the liberalist (or “modernist”) project of producing autonomous, self-interested, contractual individuals who owned property in themselves. The assumption, in much of that literature, was that women had to be freed from the patriarchal family to benefit from the liberalist project, which fundamentally involved change in the “public sphere.” Despite the benefits accruing to women (and to minority and working-class men) from the liberalist project, in the United States and much of the West, it has had (perhaps at best) only mixed results discursively. Yet, the scrutiny to which Western feminists subjected “the” family, as a result of that project, has been searing. In Arab studies, with few exceptions (Sharabi 1988; Barakat 1993; Joseph 1999; Doumani 2003; Hopkins 2001; Charrad 2001) neither feminists nor non-feminists have subjected “the” family to such a searing critique. It is remarkable how little reference is made to Arab families in theoretical and empirical work on “the” family in Western scholarship. Undoubtedly, the nature and frequency of scholarly citation is imbued with politics. Still, it is important to query why Arab family studies have not had more of an impact on cross-cultural and theoretical studies of family. On the surface, the answer seems straightforward. Relatively little rigorous empirical research on Arab families exists, and where it does exist, it has produced relatively little theory. More often than not, family and families are referenced in studies of Arab societies. However, rarely is the family problematized. Relatively little of the work on Arab families is based on critical empirical research or offers critical theorization of family and families. Why are critical studies of Arab families, and of family change in Arab societies lacking? I argue that, in Arab societies in which states are perceived to be distant or oppressive, “the” Arab family has been insulated from critical study of the sort waged by Second Wave Western feminists on “the” United States family. Three factors explain this gap: first, the socio-political centrality of “the” Arab family; second, non-liberalist political projects of the self; and third, the priorities of Arab feminist movements, which have had to fight against colonial occupation,


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political repression, religious fundamentalism/sectarianism and class inequality. The paradox of the socio-political centrality and scholarly marginality of “the” Arab family coincides with another paradox – the flourishing of critical commentary on Arab families in Arab literature. In this chapter, I discuss why Arab families have been buffered from critical sociological studies. I also offer some tentative reflections about the flourishing of critical commentary on the Arab family in literary production.

Socio-political centrality as sociological marginality Like most societies in Arab societies, “family” as an idea and concept is relatively recent, and perhaps a product of state formation. As David M. Schneider (1984) has argued, pre-state societies did not specifically identify “family” as a unit, nor did they equate “family” with women and children. The notion that the “social,” “political,” and “economic” “public” are separate “spheres” from the “private” “family” is also a recent convention (Schneider 1984). If boundaries are invented, then the sociological question needs to be not why the boundaries between social activities are more fluid in some societies, but rather why and how such boundaries arose and became valued in other societies. That political and social theory has focused more attention on the absence or relative “weakness” of boundaries between social, political, economic, and kinship activities in Southern societies than it has on why and how they came to exist in Northern societies is itself an expression of the controlling power of boundaries and the controlling power of the states that advocate them. Western states have invested much institutional and legal capital creating boundaries, dividing social life into “spheres” of activity, which are differentiated from each other in cultural and legal symbols. Boundaries between the state, civil society, and kinship were historically invented, institutionalized, legalized, and with time, naturalized in Western states (Pateman 1988; Nedelsky 1990). Classical contract theory and the liberalist (or “modernist”) project were built on the foundation and walls of imagined boundaries between state, civil society, and kinship (Yuval-Davis 1997; Joseph 1997). And, like other aspects of this project, while the life force of these boundaries has ebbed and flowed across regimes and historical periods, both legal and cultural assumptions that boundaries are “good” have emerged in most Western states. Boundary-making is a form of social control that is constitutive of social relationships (Deleuze 1997). The creation of boundaries between kinship and politics in Western states was rooted in a political strategy of social control. It developed as part of a class-based agenda to invent a sphere of contractually organized relationships among social equals. In this liberalist project, the “family” represented a unit of non-contractual social relations which, being governed by “natural law,” was beyond the agenda for social change (Pateman 1988). Although Western states appeared to focus legislation on the “public sphere” of contractuality, they in fact also regulated the “private sphere” of kinship (Olsen 1985).

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The manner and degree to which the “family” is marked as a “separate sphere” is important to the development of critical family studies (Deleuze 1997). When the “family” exists, or is perceived to exist, as a “separate sphere,” it is more likely to be seen as the “cause” of the relationships therein. When the “family” is enmeshed with or perceived to be enmeshed with politics, economy, social organization, and religion, those “spheres” may be seen as the “causes” of family relationships. The reverse is also possible in these latter conditions – the family can be blamed for political, economic, and other social ills in shared “spheres” (Sharabi 1988; Barakat 1993). In most Western countries, states have achieved some (albeit contested) degree of consolidating the “family” as a social unit that is distinct from politics, economics, and other “spheres” of social activity. Western states have repeatedly challenged and have decreased the control that families have over their members, through legislation, the courts, policing functions, educational institutions, recreation, employment opportunities, and agencies of social welfare (see Thornton 2001, 2005; Yount and Rashad this volume). As Western states have offered alternative services and social mechanisms of control, they have, to some (again contested) degree displaced family functions, while simultaneously regulating the family (Olsen 1985). Indeed, a problem in United States family studies is often precisely that scholars at times appear to study the family as if it were autonomous of politics, economy, social organization, and religion. United States sociological studies of the family have often assumed a greater degree of separation between family and other social units than has been achieved materially. Thus, critical sociological (including feminist) studies of the family in the United States, ironically, have to remake the case that the family is not separate from politics, economics, social organization, or religion. The presumed firm boundaries between social “spheres” or “units” in the United States, therefore, constitute a “civic myth,” as is the assumption of no boundaries between social zones in Arab societies (Smith 1997; Joseph 1997). The boundaries between state, civil society, and kinship in Arab societies were imposed through colonialist and top-down state-building action. Not only are the boundaries more recent and more fluid than those in Western states, but their legal and cultural legitimacy is more tenuous. Most Arab states have allowed expansive space for families to occupy. They have subsidized the services that families provide to their members and the control that families have over their members. They have absorbed family relations, structures, moralities, and idioms into the body politic – including their own families (Joseph 2000a). This difference is important for understanding families and family relations in Arab societies, as well as perceptions about families and family relations. This difference is also important for understanding the possibilities for critical family studies in Arab societies. The centrality of families politically is legally recognized in many forms in Arab states, starting with state constitutions. Unlike in most Western states, the constitutions of most Arab states identify the basic unit of society as the family, rather than the individual. This fact implies that, in most Arab societies, a

28 S. Joseph person’s status as a family member qualifies them for citizenship (Joseph 2000a). The nesting of political status in familial status is critical for understanding the seams and apparent seamlessness of social “spheres” in Arab societies. Although Western states have promoted fraternal social contracts (societies of equally contracting brothers) based on fraternal patriarchy (Pateman 1988), in many Arab countries, states have built state/citizenry relations based on “kin contracts” (Joseph 2000b). The kin contract is a model of state/citizen relationships that guides understandings of societal relationships in many Arab countries. It is a model, not necessarily a description of real relationships; just as the fraternal contract or the social contract are models of relationships. The distinction between fraternal patriarchy and kin-based patriarchy is crucial for understanding the arrangement of social spaces in many Arab states and the impact of those arrangements on studies of family and family change. The development of Western states entailed a real, and an ideological, shift from status-based to contract-based political relationships (Turner 1993, 5). This shift required the “replacement of family by the “individual” as the fundamental ‘unit’ of society” (Pateman 1988, 9–10), the “possessive individual” (MacPherson 1962, 262). Western citizenship rejected the particularistic ties of family, village, or tribe (Turner 1993, 5) as an idealized model of social relations. The kin contract, as an alterative idealized model of social relations, has subsidized state/citizen relations in many Arab countries that have built political, economic, and social relations on particularistic ties, especially on the kin-based relations that in large measure organize Arab patriarchies. Patriarchy in Arab societies has been forceful, in part, because of its grounding in kinship – unlike Western patriarchy, which empowers men as men rather than as kinsmen (Pateman 1988). Kinship transcends “spheres” of social activity: private/public, state/civil society, religious/secular, legal/cultural. In so doing, it reinforces kinbased patriarchal ties across “spheres” to produce profoundly connective (though not seamless) societies in Arab states. Unlike the idealized liberalist or “modernist” social contract of Western societies (which assumes autonomous and gender-neutral “individuals” who willingly engage in the contract) and, unlike the fraternal sexual contract (which assumes that men, as brothers, are the contracting actors and that all subjects are gendered and partnered (Pateman 1988)), the kin contract assumes that subjects are gendered and aged and that all (male and female) subjects are familial subjects who commit to complementary rights and responsibilities in the kin group a priori to membership in the state. The kin unit, in the kin-contract model of social relations, is assumed not only to precede state entities, but also to preempt the state in specific rights over their members and in responsibilities that members have to their kin. In this model, the state defers certain authorities over its political subjects to kin units and uses these authorities to mediate its own relationships to its citizens. The kin contract is enforced through state laws, (especially family law), in the privileged relationships between religion and kin entities, and in the everyday practices of citizens and state agencies (Joseph 2000b).

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The endorsement of “family” over “individual” is especially forceful, given the absence of many Arab states in certain areas of social welfare and social action. States defer to kin certain activities that Western states assume. This reality means that family in many Arab countries cannot be studied apart from politics, law, economics, and religion. This reality also helps to explain the relative lack of sociological research and theory focusing on family structure and relationships, and changes therein. This embedding of family across “spheres” of social activity is an expression of, and a contributor to, a culturally specific political project of “the self.”

Political projects of “the self”: connectivity Political proponents of liberalism or “modernism” and of liberal feminism endorsed individualistic notions of the self and personal agency. “Liberation” came to be understood as liberation of “the individual” from oppressive relationships, especially oppressive family relationships. It is therefore no accident that feminist psychology and psychoanalysis took an early lead in theorizing Second Wave feminism in the West. Nor is it accidental that, from the earliest years of Second Wave feminist theory, feminist psychology deeply affected research in the feminist fields of scholarship within anthropology (Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974), political science (Hartsock 1983), sociology (Chodorow 1978), philosophy (Gilligan 1982) and science (Keller 1982). As in most countries, multiple notions of “self” are supported and contested in families in Arab societies. The Western idea of the self as a contractual, bounded, autonomous “individual” has certainly existed, through various forms of mass media and colonial educational systems in Arab societies (see Thornton 2001, 2005; Yount and Rashad, this volume). This idea, however, is neither legally nor socially hegemonic in most Arab societies. Rather, constructs of a relational or a connective self are especially common in many Arab countries and are often privileged, legally and socially. Connectivity is a culturally specific notion of the “relational self” that many feminists have theorized (Chodorow 1978; Gilligan 1982). With a few exceptions (Spelman 1988; Nedelsky 1989), however, connectivity is viewed as dysfunctional in most Western formulations (Joseph 1994b). The kin contract, by contrast, portrays a connective self as highly functional in many Arab societies (Joseph 1993, 1999). Relatedness, rather than autonomy, separateness, and difference are the primary features of “the connective self.” Mature connective selves aspire to live within complex webs of relationships, which are viewed as functional and necessary for a successful social existence in most Arab societies (Joseph 2000a). In Lebanon, where much of my fieldwork developing these notions has occurred, the model family system that results from the dual endorsement of connectivity and patriarchy is one that I have called “patriarchal connectivity” (Joseph 1993). This model, which is supported by a culture that privileges kin structures, morality, and idioms, endorses the production of relational selves that


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are organized for gendered (male/female hierarchy) and aged (elder/young) domination. In other words, patriarchal connectivity supports the production of selves who respond to the involvement of others in shaping the self (and vice versa) and privilege the involvement of others by gender and age. Women and juniors expect men and elders to have authority in their lives (even though women and juniors may contest that authority). Likewise, men and elders – given their authority – expect to have responsibilities toward women and juniors (although men and elders may not carry out those responsibilities). Notably, individualistic and other idealized notions of self, family, and patriarchy co-reside with notions of the connective self and patriarchal connectivity in Arab countries (including the notions of “self” and “family” as described by Thornton (2001, 2005) and Yount and Rashad (this volume)); however, connectivity and patriarchal connectivity are often supported and privileged. Indeed, although many women and men resist and even reject aspects of connectivity and patriarchal connectivity or invent or endorse other notions of self and self vis-à-vis family, belief in these connective notions of “self” and “patriarchy” is widespread. Their endorsement is not simply a cultural phenomenon, but a political one, emanating from and contributing to the pervasiveness of kinship in all areas of social activity. Kin are central to a person’s social, political, and religious identity; economic and political security; and emotional stability in much of the Arab world. The centrality of kin (and the kin contract) is grounded in a care/control paradigm (Joseph 2000b), in which kin care for each other, provide for each other, protect each other, and love each other. In return, members of the kin group are expected to privilege family and social relationships above the self, and embrace the authority of males and seniors. In the kin contract, one’s primary rights and responsibilities are in relation to kin (including extended kin). Thus, this relational notion of self includes a relational notion of rights and responsibilities (Joseph 1994a). A relational notion of rights and responsibilities, in contrast to an “individualistic” notion of rights and responsibilities, grounds a person’s sense of rights and responsibilities in reciprocal relations with specific significant others (rather than in the self). Brothers and sisters, for example, can claim specific rights and responsibilities between each other because of their relationship as siblings. Relational rights and responsibilities also transcend the particular statuses that a person occupies. If a brother, for example, takes a government position, he should act as a brother to his siblings, even in his official capacity (thus transcending mythical boundaries between kin and public zones). By extension to political practice, this idealized notion of relational rights and responsibilities assumes that citizens embed themselves in family and religious sects, ethnic and tribal groups. Rights and responsibilities devolve, in part, as a result of memberships in kin and community, though they are not synonymous with kin and community. The meshing of the patriarchy, connectivity, relational rights and responsibilities, and the kin contract in many Arab countries means that political relationships are mediated through kin and communities. Men and

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women, elders and juniors are linked in a pact of mutual support organized around gender and age hierarchical relations (the kin contract). The kin contract, while privileging men, also aims to discipline men and women. Unlike the fraternal sexual contract (Pateman 1988), the kin contract demands the satisfaction of obligations by men and women – including submitting to the authority of elders (who might include females). In what might be called the “pleasures of patriarchy,” women often find their needs better met within rather than outside the family (Altorki 2000), especially given the frequent absence of public systems of support and the common presence of repressive states. This expectation of fulfilling obligations to other family members, however, is an ideal that is not always practiced. These notions of the relational self, patriarchal connectivity, and relational rights and responsibilities are critical to the political workings of the kin contract. They link the family system to the state in many Arab countries. Numerous studies, including my own research, indicate that various forms of patriarchal connectivity and the kin contract are operative in many Arab countries, including Lebanon (Joseph 1999), Jordan (Amawi 2000), Saudi Arabia (Altorki 2000), and Morocco (Charrad 2000, 2001). The crucial point here for understanding the state of critical sociological family studies in Arab societies, is that political, religious, and economic leaders explicitly support specific idealized notions of family, which, except to some degree in states like Tunisia, Turkey, and Iraq, challenge Western liberal notions of family. Indeed, in many cases, the state both supports and helps to create and reproduce these family systems. Relational, or connective, notions of family are thus social inventions that discipline women’s and men’s behavior, while also romanticizing and sanctifying the grounds on which these constraints are built (Donzelot 1997). Such notions of “family” in the Arab world are often sanctified by religious institutions, which often hold special legal and constitutional statuses, and through social and political practices, are often enmeshed with state and civil society. Ethnic, tribal, and religious minorities also often sanctify these connective or relational notions of family. This special connection of families to communities, in part, explains why liberation movements in the Arab world often focus on community, nationalist, and religious movements in the Arab world, rather than individualist-based, emancipatory projects (which was at the heart of much of Second Wave feminism). The weaving of specific family structures, moralities, and idioms into religion, politics, law, civil society, economy, and different kinds of communities and societies is crucial to understanding the marginality of critical family studies. The support given to families – and especially to connective and patriarchal notions of family – in Arab societies reflects the enmeshing of the kin contract into the system of governance and the embedding of family structures into political and other areas of societal activity. As a result, the specific contributions of “the family unit” to societal structures and relations (and to changes therein) are


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blurred. And the ideological strength of indigenous notions of family is profound. Even though ordinary people often rebel, resist, and renegotiate these dominant notions about familial relations, the minimal scholarly “critique” of “the family” in Arab societies must arise from the socio-political centrality of these notions of “family” and the non-liberalist “self.” The relative absence of this critique must also be understood in the context of the priorities of feminist scholars and feminist movements in Arab societies.

Feminist priorities and critical family studies The Arab women’s movement, from its inception, was embedded in nationalist struggles against colonialism and for nation-building (Badran 1995). Although many Arab women’s movements endorsed different and, at times, conflicting agendas (including issues such as sexuality (Accad 1990; Ghoussoub and Sinclair-Webb 2000; Khuri 2001)), these movements, in general, have prioritized struggles against colonial occupation, political repression, religious fundamentalism and sectarianism, class inequality, and even the right to survive as a people (Abdul-Hadi 1998; Hale 1996; Lazreg 1994; Jad et al. 2000; Peteet 1991; Al-Ali 2000; Kanaaneh 2002; Sayigh 1999). Many in the Arab world would agree with the words of Munira Fakhro (2003, 64), “The Arab women’s movement cannot be separated from political movements and social liberation movements.” In Algeria (Lazreg 2000; Charrad 2001), the Sudan (Hale 2000), Egypt (Karam 1998; Hatem 1994) and Saudi Arabia (Altorki 2000), for example, religious movements and establishments have targeted women in their battles for political control, forcing women’s movements to prioritize addressing fundamentalism and institutionalized religious elites in their political projects. In Lebanon, religious sectarianism has become a screen through which most feminist issues must be filtered (Joseph 2000b). Addressing Islam has been a central concern for Arab feminists in Morocco (Mernissi 1992), Algeria (Helie-Lucas 2001), the Sudan (Abdel Halim 2001), Egypt (Hafez 2003; Hatem 1994), and indeed, throughout the Arab region (Charrad this volume; Haddad and Esposito 1998, 2001; Cooke 2001). The struggle against political repression by their own states (Brand 1998; Charrad 2001) also has occupied women’s movements in many Arab states such as Egypt (Hatem 2000) and Iraq (Ismael and Ismael 2000). The struggle for freedom of speech in Jordan (Khadr 1998; Amawi 2000), Egypt (Hatem 2000), Saudi Arabia (Altorki 2000), and Kuwait (Al-Mughni 2001) is critical for the women’s movement. Women in Arab countries find they must focus considerable attention on the feminization of poverty, girl’s education, women’s health and economic emancipation, as the Arab Human Development Report and scholars have made clear (UNDP 2002, 2003; Naffa 2003; Moghadam 1993). Compared to other countries around the world, Arab countries have among the lowest rates of economic participation by women, among the highest birth rates, and among the highest rates of illiteracy among women (UNDP 2002, 2003). Of

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the 65 million illiterate adult Arabs, around two-thirds are women. Over half of Arab women are illiterate (UNDP 2002, 3). At 15 percent, Arab countries have among the highest unemployment rates in the world, and 20 percent of Arabs live on $2 a day (UNDP 2002, 5). Because unemployment disproportionately affects women in Arab countries, the feminization of unemployment fuels the feminization of poverty (UNDP 2002, 4). Finally, two-thirds of the Arab population is under 25 years old and, in highly ageist societies, young women experience the double discriminatory burden of sexism and ageism. Given these conditions in the Arab world, women’s movements have understandably not prioritized critical family studies or the freeing of women from patriarchal families. Although Arab women’s movements consist of a diversity of voices, the sentiments of Fatima Sadiqi (2003, 89) resonate for many (female and male) Arab feminists: “I think it is too early to focus the struggle on ‘women only’; focus needs to be put on women but not by excluding men because our societies are built on the family and not the individual.” Under such conditions, families are often seen as havens, albeit mixed havens, for many Arab women (Altorki 2000). And, to the degree that feminism is seen as an attack on families, many Arab women and men who work on behalf of women’s issues often reject or distance themselves from the “feminist” label (Al-Ali 2000).

Critical family studies in literary production In contrast to the paucity of critical scholarship on Arab families, Arab families have been the subject of searing literary criticism. Among the most prominent literary critics of Arab families is the Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz (1990, 1992), as well as Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad (1984), Ali Ghalem (1979), Driss Chraibi (1984), Qasim (1969), and Diyab (1971). As Al-Nowaihi (1999) and Altorki (1999) have noted, some of the most devastating literary critiques of Arab families and gender relations have come from male authors. Still, the novels and short stories of Etel Adnan (1982), Nawal El Saadawi (1983, 1985), Andre Chedid (1983), Alifa Rifaat (1983), Hanan Al-Shaykh (1989), Hala El Badry (2003), are among the many by Arab women writers who levy harsh indictments of relations within Arab families. As compilations of Arab women writers such as that by Margot Badran and Miriam Cooke (1990) reveal, Arab women writers have targeted the family in over a century of literary production. As a social scientist looking through a window of the house of literature, I find these critical literary assaults on Arab families to be both stunning and without parallel in the social sciences. The insights into family relations by the above writers are so rich as to merit status as near ethnographies. Indeed, in the absence of equivalently rich ethnographies, I have often used novels in courses on family relations (while reminding students that these are novels). Like social scientists, literary producers have also addressed issues of occupation, political repression, poverty, colonialism, and inequality, among others. But they seem to do so while keeping their critical sights on Arab family/families.


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Why have the writers of “fiction” produced such intense criticism of Arab family/families? I tentatively speculate that, however wrenching, literary criticism of the idea of family may appear to be less challenging than scientific criticism. This speculation is not to say that literature is uncensored or unregulated by the state and other agencies in the Arab world, as it in fact, sadly, has been. But the state and media censorship of literature appears to focus on criticisms of religion and the state, rather than on criticisms of the family/families. Also, given that rates of literacy in the Arab world have historically been low, and given that middle- and upper-class actors produce and read most literature, literary critiques of families can engage a more limited audience than sociological research, which can be captured and captioned in the wider media. Also, compared to social scientists, many literary authors may have endorsed more fully liberalist or “modernist” notions of the self.

Critical feminist family studies It was not accidental that the Second Wave of Western feminism so forcefully took on issues of family, family relationships, family power, and family dysfunctionality. Western (liberal) feminists had to target the family to make a case for the individualist and autonomous (female) self. Even Marxist feminists, who saw class as the center of social action, were compelled to address the issue of family in the early years of the Second Wave (Leacock 1972; Rubin 1975; Reiter 1978; Sacks 1975; Zaretsky 1976). The critical analysis of family converged from several theoretical fronts: psychodynamic, functionalist, symbolic theorists, structuralist, and Marxist. In a strategic theoretical move, feminists made their critique of family a political one. Specifically, Western feminist critiques of family situated family in relationship to the state (Reiter 1975), public and economic policy (Eisenstein 1979), the rise of capitalism (Zaretsky 1976), and so forth. Western feminism was at its best in its historical analysis of family systems and the transformations over time in family relations and dynamics. In documenting the connections between changes in political systems, economic formations, religious and cultural worldviews on the one hand, and family structures and dynamics on the other, Western feminists revealed the family to be a constructed, not natural, phenomenon which was as variable as other components of society. For Second Wave feminists in the United States and the West, the family was not primarily a mythical construct of power relations. Rather, it was a materialization of gendered power at the most immediate actionable level of “the self.” To free women to become “individuals,” Western Second Wave feminists had to undo the ideological and material binding of the gendered self to the patriarchal family. That Western liberal feminists endorsed the self-actuated, self-owning actor is historically coincident with social transformations in which families declined in size, scope and control over their members. Society in general, and the state in particular, absorbed roles previously performed by family members for each other. Texts such as Nelson’s (1997) on feminism and families, Donzelot’s

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(1997) on policing families or Elstain’s (1982) on family and political thought thus emerge from historically specific and socially situated political projects and so must be understood as sociological, political, historical, and cultural texts. In other words, theory and the capacity to think theoretically are products not only of intellectual training, but also of social, psychodynamic, and cultural training. If this is so, then it should not be surprising to find relatively few Arab feminist scholars whose primary passion is critical family studies, or more narrowly, critiques of family. In my discussions with Arab feminist scholars, I have found few who would relinquish their own families and relations for what they perceive to be the family system in the West. Most are highly invested in their families, even as they see and are concerned about the constraints that family systems impose on women. These investments in families are linked to the perceived and real net benefits of culturally specific notions of “self” and “family” – especially in the context of prevailing alternatives. Most Arab feminists also work in institutions with colleagues who are committed to family in principle and in practice. Most institutions also act (or are perceived as acting) in ways that support local family systems. The critique of family, thus, does not present itself as a litmus test issue for feminists or institutions in the same way that it did historically for Western feminist scholarship and movements. This unique positioning of sociological scholars in Arab countries is one from which many theoretical benefits may accrue. Arab feminism will take on critical analyses of “self” and “family,” but within the context of the issues as experienced locally. Arab feminism, for example, may not critique family from the perspective of its failure to produce the individualistic (female) self, as promised in liberalist or “modernist” political philosophy. Rather, Arab feminism may critique family for its failure to fulfill the promises of care, love, and connectivity – which succumb to the patriarchal power and control that also make up the kin contract. To be clear, this chapter is not a call for a liberalist agenda of differentiating social spaces or of endorsing the individualistic self in order to produce critical family studies. I have critiqued many of the intended and unintended consequences of such agendas (Joseph 1994a). The task here, rather, is to explore the status of critical family studies in Arab societies and the grounds on which Arab feminism is building its analyses of family/families. Critical family studies are and will continue to be important to feminist and other social critics in the Arab world. But critical family studies in Arab societies must be conceived of as parts of political projects, whose shapes corroborate the goals and agendas of local and regional feminist and social movements. And while Arab feminists share history with Western feminism and many issues, their projects and their futures may not.

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Abdul-Hadi, Rabab. “Palestinian Women’s Autonomous Movements: Emergence, Dynamics, Challenges.” Gender & Society 12, no. 6 (1998): 649–673. Accad, Evelyn. Sexuality and War: Literary Masks of the Middle East. New York: New York University Press, 1990. Adnan, Etel. Sitt Marie Rose: A Novel. Sausalito, CA: Post-Apollo Press, 1982. Al-Ali, Nadje Sadig. Secularism, Gender, and the State in the Middle East: The Egyptian Women’s Movement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Al-Mughni, Haya. “Women’s Organizations in Kuwait.” In Women and Power in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph and Susan Slyomovics, 176–182. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Al-Nowaihi, Madga M. “Constructions of Masculinity in Two Egyptian Novels.” In Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gender, Self, and Identity, edited by Suad Joseph, 235–266. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999. Al-Shaykh, Hanan. Women of Sand & Myrrh. London: Quartet Books, 1989. Altorki, Soraya. “Patriarchy and Imperialism: Father–Son and British–Egyptian Relations in Naguib Mahfouz’s Trilogy.” In Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gender, Self and Identity, edited by Suad Joseph, 214–234. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999. ——. “The Concept and Practice of Citizenship in Saudi Arabia.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 215–236. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Amawi, Abla. “Gender and Citizenship in Jordan.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 158–184. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Awwad, Tawfiq Yusuf. Death in Beirut. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1984. Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995. Badran, Margot and Miriam Cooke, eds. Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Barakat, Halim. The Arab World: Society, Culture and State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Brand, Laurie. Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Charrad, Mounira. “Becoming a Citizen: Lineage versus Individual in Tunisia and Morocco.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 70–87. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. ——. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Chedid, Andre. From Sleep Unbound. Athens: Swallow Press, 1983. Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Pyschoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Chraibi, Driss. Mother Comes of Age. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1984. Cooke, Miriam. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature. New York: Routledge, 2001. Deleuze, Gilles. Foreword to The Policing of Families, by Jacques Donzelot. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Diyab, Mahmud. Ahzan madina: Tifl fi al-hayy al-Arabi (A City’s Sorrow: A Child in the Arab Quarter). Cairo: Al-Haya al-Misriyya al-Amma lil-Kitab, 1971. Donzelot, Jacques. The Policing of Families. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

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Doumani, Beshara, ed. Family History in the Middle East: Household, Property, and Gender. New York: State University of New York Press, 2003. Eisenstein, Zillah, ed. Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist-Feminism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979. El Badry, Hala. A Certain Woman. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2003. El Saadawi, Nawal. Woman at Point Zero. London: Zed Press, 1983. ——. God Dies by the Nile. London: Zed Press, 1985. Elstain, Jean Bethke. The Family in Political Thought. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982. Fakhro, Munira. Interview by Rosemary Sayigh. Al-Raida, no. 100 (2003): 64–66. 2003. Ghalem, Ali. A Wife for My Son. Chicago, IL: Banner Press, 1979. Ghoussoub, Mai and Emma Sinclair-Webb, eds. Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity and Culture in the Middle East. London: Saqi Books, 2000. Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck and John L. Esposito, eds. Islam, Gender, and Social Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ——, eds. Daughters of Abraham: Feminist Thought in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2001. Hafez, Sherine. The Terms of Empowerment: Islamic Women Activists in Egypt. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2003. Hale, Sondra. Gendering Politics in Sudan: Islamism, Socialism and the State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996. ——. “The Islamic State and Gendered Citizenship in Sudan.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 88–106. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Hartsock, Nancy. Money, Sex and Power: Towards a Feminist Historical Materialism. New York: Longmans, 1983. Hatem, Mervat. “Egyptian Discourses on Gender and Political Liberalization: Do Secularist and Islamist Views Really Differ?” Middle East Journal 48, no. 4 (1994): 661–677. ——. “The Pitfalls of Nationalist Discourses on Citizenship in Egypt.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 58–69. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Helie-Lucas, Marie-Aimee. “What Is Your Tribe: Women’s Struggles and the Construction of Muslimness.” In Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women, edited by Courtney W. Howland, 21–32. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Hopkins, Nicholas S., ed. The New Arab Family. Cairo Papers in Social Science 24, no. 1/2. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2001. Ismael, Jacqueline S. and Shereen Ismael. “Gender and State in Iraq.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 185–211. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Jad, Islah, Penny Johnson, and Rita Giacaman. “Gender and Citizenship under the Palestinian Authority.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 137–157. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Joseph, Suad. “Gender and Civil Society: An Interview with Suad Joseph.” Interview by Joe Stork. Middle East Reports, no. 183 (1993): 22–26. ——. “Problematizing Gender and Relational Rights: Experiences from Lebanon.” Social Politics 1, no. 3 (1994a): 271–285.


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——. “Brother/Sister Relationships: Connectivity, Love and Power in the Reproduction of Arab Patriarchy.” American Ethnologist 21, no. 1 (1994b): 50–73. ——. “The Public/Private – The Imagined Boundary in the Imaged Nation/State/Community: The Lebanese Case.” Feminist Review 57, no. 1 (1997): 73–92. ——, ed. Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gender, Self and Identity. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999. ——. Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000a. ——. “Civic Myths, Citizenship, and Gender in Lebanon.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 107–136. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000b. Kanaaneh, Rhoda Ann. Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Karam, Azza. Women, Islamisms and the State: Contemporary Feminisms in Egypt. London: Macmillan, 1998. Keller, Evelyn Fox. “Science and Gender.” Signs 7 (1982): 589–602. Khadr, Asthma. The Law and Women’s Future (in Arabic). Jerusalem: Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 1998. Khuri, Fuad I. The Body in Islamic Culture. London: Saqi Books, 2001. Lazreg, Marnia. The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question. New York: Routledge, 1994. ——. Citizenship and Gender in Algeria. In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, edited by Suad Joseph, 58–69. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Leacock, Eleanor. Introduction to The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, by Friedrich Engels. New York: International Publishers, 1972. MacPherson, Crawford Brough. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. Mahfouz, Naguib. Palace Walk. New York: Anchor Books, 1990. ——. Palace of Desire. New York: Anchor Books, 1992. Mernissi, Fatima. Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World. Reading: AddisonWesley Publishing, 1992. Moghadam, Valentine. Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1993. Naffa, Emily. Interview by Rosemary Sayigh. In Al-Raida XX, no. 100 (2003): 84–86. Nedelsky, Jennifer. “Reconceiving Autonomy: Sources, Thoughts and Possibilities.” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 1, no. 7 (1989): 7–36. ——. “Law, Boundaries, and the Bounded Self.” Representations no. 30 (1990): 162–189. Nelson, Hilde Lindeman, ed. Feminism and Families. New York: Routledge, 1997. Olsen, Frances E. “The Myth of State Intervention in the Family.” Journal of Law Reform 18, no. 4 (1985): 835–864. Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988. Peteet, Julie M. Gender in Crisis: Women and the Palestinian Resistance Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Qasim, Abd al-Hakim. Ayyam al-insan al-saba (The Seven Ages of Man). Cairo: Dar al-Katib al-Arabi, 1969. Reiter, Rayna. “Men and Women in the South of France: Public and Private Domains.” In Toward an Anthropology of Women, edited by Rayna R. Reiter, 252–282. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975.

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——. “Family and Class in Contemporary America: Notes toward an Understanding of Ideology.” Science and Society 42, no. 3 (1978): 278–300. Rifaat, Alifa. A Distant View of a Minaret. London: Heinemann, 1983. Rosaldo, Michelle and Louise Lamphere, eds. Women, Culture and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974. Rubin, Gayle. “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” In Toward an Anthropology of Women, edited by Rayna R. Reiter, 157–210. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975. Sacks, Karen. “Engels Revisited: Women, the Organization of Production, and Private Property.” In Toward an Anthropology of Women, edited by Rayna R. Reiter, 211–234. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975. Sadiqi, Fatima. Interview by Rosemary Sayigh. In Al-Raida XX, no. 100 (2003): 89–90. Sayigh, Rosemary. “Gendering the “Nationalist Subject”: Palestinian Camp Women’s Life Stories.” Subaltern Studies 10. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999: 334–354. Schneider, David M. A Critique of the Study of Kinship. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. Sharabi, Hisham. Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Smith, Rogers M. Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in US History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. Sonbal, Amira, ed. Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996. Spelman, Elizabeth. Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1988. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. ——. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Tucker, Judith E. In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Turner, Bryan. “Contemporary Problems in the Theory of Citizenship.” In Citizenship and Social Theory, edited by Bryan Turner, 1–18. London: Sage, 1993. United Nations Development Programme and Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (UNDP). Arab Human Development Report 2002: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations. New York: United Nations, 2002. ——. Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society. New York: United Nations, 2003. Yuval-Davis, Nira. Women, Citizenship, and Difference. Feminist Review 57, no. 1 (1997): 4–27. Zaretsky, Eli. Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life. New York: Harper Colophon, 1976. Zuhur, Sherifa, ed. Images of Enchantment: Visual and Performing Arts of the Middle East. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1998.


International feminism and the women’s movement in Egypt, 1904–1923 A reappraisal of categories and legacies Mary Ann Fay Woman’s place is in the world; her sphere, the highest she can attain to. (The International Women’s Suffrage News, Jus Suffragi, January 1923)

Introduction The Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU) and its founder Huda Sharawi (1987) were among the vanguard who demanded changes in the structure and emotional life of the upper-class Egyptian family during the early nationalist period. The oldstyle eighteenth-century model of the elite family/household, which was characterized by polygamous unions, concubinage, and female seclusion, was rejected in favor of a nuclear family based on the monogamous, companionate union of spouses. These changes, which Sharawi demanded in her personal life and which the EFU sought to implement through legal reform, are in keeping with the desires of the Egyptian elite to appear “civilized” to the West (see Thornton, 2001, 2005; Yount and Rashad, this volume). These changes, however, should be considered in the context of the social, economic, and political changes of the time. Specifically, we should not take a teleological approach to this issue by assuming that the Western-style nuclear family was the natural outcome of the social and economic transformations that Egypt underwent during the nineteenth century (see also Fay 1998). Nor should we assume that the EFU and its leaders adopted a model of the “modern” family as part of a process of Westernization (e.g., Cole 1981). Rather, we should consider the importance of struggle and agency on the part of the women and men who advocated such a model of family life. And, consistent with Yount and Rashad’s argument about competing models of family life, this trend toward endorsing the ideals of nuclear family and monogamous, companionate marriage was only one in the discourse of nationalism and reform that emerged in opposition to the British occupation and that escalated after quasi-independence in 1922. It was uncertain in 1922 whether the EFU’s favored model of the family would emerge through legal reform as the dominant model. Among the demands that the EFU made in its founding year (1923), only two were granted expeditiously: raising the ages at marriage for boys and girls and extending the duration of women’s custody of

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children. Its other demands of restricting polygamy and curbing men’s easy access to divorce were not granted. Only in the late 1990s did legal reforms grant women easier access to divorce. During Egypt’s early nationalist period, no consensus existed on the appropriate role(s) for women in an independent nation state. Still, an important connection developed between the nationalist movement and what has been called the “woman question.” Many viewed the question of women’s role(s) in an independent and “modern” Egypt as crucial to the form that the Egyptian state would take (Kandiyoti 1991a, 1991b, 1994; Badran 1987; Baron 1994; Booth 1991, 1997, 2001). The definitions of “modern” and “state” apparently hinged on the public and private role(s) that women were expected to play. Some nationalists, including liberal nationalists such as Qasim Amin, for example, discouraged polygamy, favored women’s education, and supported a European notion of the secular nation state rather than a religious basis for community and national identity (Amin 1992, 1995). As “modernists,” they also tended to see practices such as veiling and female seclusion as “backward.” These nationalists thus linked the creation of a “modern” Egypt to ending such practices, to allowing women some education so that they could better educate their children, and to adopting the nuclear family as an ideal model for Egyptian families. Other nationalists, however, who were variously called traditionalists, organicists and eventually Islamicists, held different ideas, but all of them concerned the roles that women should play in the new nation state. Thus, changes in Egyptian family life and new models for the family emerged from the general nationalist discourse as well as from specific debates over the rights and roles of women. And, a rising Egyptian feminist movement during the early twentieth century contributed importantly to these debates. In this chapter, I situate the EFU in the context of the social, political, and economic changes that were underway in Egypt and the organization’s participation in the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). I argue that Western and Eastern women shared important aspirations and demands, which they expressed internationally through the IWSA and through their national associations, such as the EFU, the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS-Great Britain).1 This chapter has two specific aims. First, I critique prevailing paradigms for understanding Western and Eastern feminists, which tend to attach the label “Orientalist” to British and American feminists and to accuse feminists of the EFU of “Westernization.” Instead, I propose alternative models for understanding the agendas, actions, and interrelationships of Western and Eastern feminists during the early twentieth century. These alternative models underscore a critical tension between the ethnocentrism of Western feminists and their sincere commitment to international sisterhood. These models also credit the agency of Eastern feminists in the formation of their own political agenda and discourse, while acknowledging the influence of Western feminists’ ideas of progress and modernity. Second, I show how feminist goals for women, as articulated by their


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national associations, converged under the international umbrella of the IWSA and made international cooperation possible. The focus of this chapter is the 1923 meeting of the IWSA in Rome, which was the first conference that an Egyptian delegation headed by Sharawi attended. In the succeeding sections, I discuss the origins of the EFU to clarify how and why its agenda for women and the family arose and why the label “Westernized elite” inaccurately depicts its origins and goals. Then, I argue that the labels of “feminist Orientalist” and “Westernized elite” are misleading descriptions of Western feminists and the Egyptian women of the EFU, respectively. Finally, I demonstrate the basis for “international sisterhood” by showing how the EFU’s goals matched those of other feminist/suffrage organizations that allied with each other within the IWSA.

The EFU: origins and context There seems to be some agreement that the transition to “the modern” involved in part the construction of a domestic sphere for women along with a concept of domesticity that included such things as child-rearing, housework, and efficient household management. I propose that modernity for elite or ruling-class Egyptian women involved first, the demise of the household as a locus of power. It was not so much that a new domestic space was created or that a public patriarchy arose – women always were and continue to be subordinated in the public realm. Rather, political power was relocated from the household into institutions of the emerging modern state (Fay 2003). The transition from the eighteenthcentury household as the locus of political and military power to the centralized bureaucratic state took place in the nineteenth century, starting with the period of Muhammad Ali Pasha. Concomitant with the relocation of power into a newly demarcated public sphere was the rise of the “New Woman” icon, whose proper and natural role as wife and mother relegated her to the domestic realm (Russell 1997). In the twentieth century, when power was located in households of the Mamluk grandees, female members of those households had rank, high status, access to wealth and property, considerable influence, and even power (Fay 1996, 1997, 1998). The distinction between public and private/domestic was not as relevant to women’s status as was the extent to which power existed in a clearly demarcated public sphere from which women could be excluded. In the Egyptian case, once power was removed from the household, women were effectively stranded in a space that became almost purely domestic. When this relocation of power coincided with a demand that women have either no public role or only one that fit their primary domestic role of service to the family (however defined), then the options, autonomy and life choices of upper- and ruling-class women were diminished. Notably, Ahmed (1988) and others (Thornton 2001, 2005) have argued that equating modernity with an end to veiling, polygamy, female seclusion, and gender segregation resulted from Western influence on national reformers.

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Thornton (2001, 2005) has argued generally that key actors have historically disseminated specific developmental myths about “modern” family and society, and Ahmed (1988) has noted the particular influence of the Frenchwoman Eugenie Le Brun on Sharawi. Ahmed (1988, 154) accuses Le Brun of inducting young Muslim women “into the European understanding of the meaning of the veil and the need to cast it off as the first essential step in the struggle for female liberation.” Ahmed (1988, 54) also believes that Sharawi’s perspective was informed “by a Western affiliation and a westernizing outlook and apparently by a valorization of Western ways as more advanced and more civilized than native ways.” It would be pointless to argue that segments of the Egyptian upper class were immune to Western or European culture and ideas. However, the positions of Sharawi and other women should not be attributed solely or even predominantly to an appropriation of Western culture and norms. Rather, the experiences of upper-class women like Sharawi reflect the impact of changes in the twentieth century, which radically altered the terms of what Kandiyotti (1991a) has called the “patriarchal bargain:” women’s strategies of maneuver and resistance within systems of male dominance. Specifically, although polygamy, concubinage, seclusion, veiling, and restraints on women’s sexual autonomy characterized the eighteenth-century upper-class household, its female members also enjoyed rank and status, access to wealth, and considerable economic autonomy, influence, and power. The transformation of the warrior grandees of the eighteenth century into the Turco-Circassian ruling elite of the nineteenth entailed the relocation of power from the household to the institutions of the “modern,” centralizing state. This structural change had deleterious effects on the status of women. In effect, women were left to face polygamous unions, men’s easy access to divorce, and the inability to choose when, at what age, or even whether to marry without the compensating factors of life in the eighteenth-century household. Women also found that their agency – or ability to change or ameliorate the material conditions of their lives – was severely diminished. Thus, the reforms that Sharawi and the EFU promoted were not simply as a result of exposure to Western ideas about modernity (Thornton 2001, 2005), but were primarily an effort to rewrite the terms of the patriarchal bargain within the context of a new, emerging nation state in Egypt. Egypt’s nominal independence, which the British declared unilaterally in 1922, changed the terrain on which the struggles for women’s autonomy had to take place. Namely, the state defined the community in terms of Egyptian-ness rather than in religious terms and endowed only males with full rights to citizenship. As a result, women like Sharawi had to struggle for an expanded role for women in the public realm that included citizenship, with voting rights, and representation in emerging public institutions, such as the Parliament. In the context of the new nation state, this struggle for power could no longer take place within the household or the Islamic court system but had to be waged in the reconfigured public sphere, from which women were largely excluded. The EFU’s rejection of the private, domestic sphere as representing women’s


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only role, its insistence on women’s right to work and education, and its demand for suffrage to enact legal and constitutional reform to benefit women were common goals of feminist/suffrage organizations in which Great Britain and the United States shared (Flexner 1975; DuBois 1998; Purvis and Holton 2000; Marilley 1996; Wengender 1999; Harrison 2000). Feminists and suffragists clearly rejected the domesticated New Woman in favor of the autonomous woman with the right to enter the public world of work, education, and politics. In the literature relating to Sharawi and the EFU, scholars have debated whether the organization should be called “feminist” (Badran 1987). For some reasons, this label is appropriate. First, in her memoirs, Muthakirat raidat almara al-rabiyya al-haditha Huda Sharawi, the author devoted several sections to various aspects of the international meeting of the IWSA in Rome in 1923. In one section, she recounts how after the meeting, an association of Egyptian women was formed called Al-ittihad al-nisai al-misri (Sharawi 1981, 248–270). The contemporary debate over whether this organization was feminist has centered on how to translate the word nisai. The organization was admitted to the IWSA at the Rome meeting with its name translated into French as L’Union Feministe Egyptienne pour le Suffrage des Femmes.2 As we know from her memoirs, Sharawi spoke and read French and acknowledged that she wrote French much better than Arabic. French and English were the two languages of the EFU. Therefore, the official title of the organization apparently either was hers or was approved by her in a language that she read, wrote, and understood clearly. By the time of the 1923 Rome meeting, the terms “feminist” and “feminism” had been in use for several decades and their meanings were little disputed. Also, Sharawi offers no indication in her memoirs that she regarded the EFU and its goals for women as being incompatible with Islam. In her discussion of various aspects of the meeting in Rome, for example, Sharawi included a section entitled Hukuk al-mara fi al-Islam (The rights of women in Islam). This section shows that she did not believe that her activism violated Islamic norms.3

The EFU and international feminism Charles Lindholm (1995), in his review of six works in A New Middle Eastern Ethnography, criticized the ethnographers in question for focusing on personal and life histories at the expense of theory building and comparative work. Commenting on Lindholm’s critique, Nadje Al-Ali (2001) has noted the “disconcerting tendency” within scholarship on the Middle East to look beyond itself in terms of region and of theoretical and methodological fields of study. As scholars in Middle East studies, we know the challenges and potential pitfalls of comparative work, whether or not we have undertaken it. Historians encounter the challenge of attaining competency in the language needed to conduct research in the archives that suit the subject and region of study. Next comes mastering the secondary literature on the topic, a sometimes daunting task. Yet the theoretical challenges may be arguably greater than the methodo-

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logical ones, as has been my experience in analyzing the international feminism of the 1920s. Approaching the literature on the IWSA through studies of the organization by Indian or more recently Palestinian women scholars means viewing the organization and its leadership through an Orientalist prism. Charlotte Weber (2001), in “Unveiling Scheherazade: Feminist Orientalism in the International Alliance of Women, 1911–1950,” argues that the international feminists represented a feminist version of Orientalism. And Antionette Burton (1991), in her study of British feminists in India and the IWSA, has termed them “imperial feminists.” For several reasons, I argue that Orientalism – feminine, feminist, imperial or otherwise – is not a suitable paradigm to examine Western feminists’ interactions with Eastern or “Oriental” women through the IWSA. First, although the organization was founded by an American and had a EuroAmerican leadership, its membership included Latin American, African, Egyptian, and Asian members, all of whom shared a commitment to “international sisterhood,” or to the recognition of the self in the other. (Its Palestinian affiliate was composed of European Zionist women.) Undoubtedly, some members and leaders of the organization considered Western civilization and Christianity to be superior to other civilizations and religions, including Hinduism and Islam. Indeed, such views reflect one of the myths of “developmental idealism,” as outlined in this volume’s introduction, that “modern” societies are good and attainable (Thornton 2001, 2005). However, ethnocentrism should not be confused with Orientalism, which is based on a dichotomy of the positively evaluated “self” and the negatively evaluated “other” in which the self sees little or nothing of himself in the alien other (Derrida 1978; Said 1979; Yegenoglu 1998). Although Said (1979) conceptualized Orientalism as a binary structure in which the Western (male) self is superior to the Eastern (male) other, I argue that this binary structure has its origins in a prior discourse of gender in European society, which articulated the appropriate roles for men and women based in part on their different natures. Derrida’s notion of Orientalism does not apply to the IWSA or to its leaders, such as its president Carrie Chapman Catt or Aletta Jacobs, the Dutch physician and feminist who accompanied her on her around-the-world tour in 1911–1912 (Van Voris 1987). Rather, reports of the meetings of the associations, articles in Jus Suffragi, and the writings of its leading women demonstrate IWSA’s real commitment to “international sisterhood.” Still, the ethnocentrism of feminists like Carrie Chapman Catt and Aletta Jacobs was also real. The relationship between Western and Eastern women under the umbrella of the IWSA, thus, was a complex one in which ethnocentric attitudes about the superiority of Western civilization or Christianity coexisted with a commitment to universal female suffrage, expanded rights for women, and global sisterhood. Joyce Zonana (1993) has used the term “feminist Orientalist” to refer to a specific use of Orientalism by women writers including Charlotte Brontë and Mary Wollstonecraft. Using Brontë’s Jane Eyre as one example, Zonana (1993, 167) describes how Orientalism is put to the service of feminism: “By figuring objectionable aspects of life in the West as ‘Eastern,’ these Western feminist


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writers rhetorically define their project as the removal of Eastern elements from Western life.” These elements include polygamy, which was equated to sexual slavery, and the harem, which was considered inherently repressive and tantamount to imprisonment. (For those who may have forgotten the plot of the novel, the novel turns on Jane’s discovery that her employer and betrothed, Mr. Rochester, is already married to a mad woman kept a virtual prisoner in the attic with a round-the-clock caretaker.) Zonana explains that the Orient in the writings of Brontë and others functions a vehicle for Western criticism of itself and for Western self-redemption. However, this criticism cannot be stated directly, according to Zonana, because feminism poses a threat to the social order. But, by expressing it as a critique of Oriental behavior and customs such as polygyny, feminist demands can be made acceptable to an audience wishing to affirm its Western superiority. Thus, the feminist desire to change the status quo can be represented not as a radical attempt to restructure the West but as a conservative effort to make the West more like itself, that is, more Occidental and less Oriental, particularly in its treatment of women. As persuasive as Zonana’s critique is for women’s writings in the first half of the nineteenth century, this critique cannot be applied to the radical and militant feminist women and organizations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The feminism of Brontë and others that was expressed indirectly through Orientalism had given way to the direct expression of feminist goals to remake the social order through feminist actions and organizations committed to suffrage and women’s rights. The reluctant feminism of the early eighteenth century bears little resemblance to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), for example, which was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Sylvia and Christabel (JorgensenEarp 1997; E. Pankhurst 1970; S.E. Pankhurst 1970). The WSPU’s radicalism and militancy on behalf of women’s rights was expressed through acts of civil disobedience and hunger strikes when imprisoned. Antionette Burton, who has labeled British suffragists as “imperial feminists,” has taken a more nuanced approach to the actions and attitudes of British women in India. As Burton points out, British imperial feminism grew out of and in reaction to specific historical circumstances, including Britain’s colonization of India and the opposition to suffrage led by the arch-imperialists Lords Cromer and Curzon. In their anti-suffrage writings, Cromer and Curzon argued that suffrage would destroy the family and endanger the progress of the race. They insisted that separate spheres were divinely ordained and sanctioned by nature. They also justified their position by saying that “women were not fit to govern an empire which relied upon military might and masculine strength for its preservation” (Burton 1991, 56). In response, British bourgeois women in their writings labeled the anti-suffragists as Orientalists who wanted to reduce all women to the status of the “eastern harem slave” (Burton 1991, 56). Thus, suffragists developed the theme of imperialism in their discourse, establishing a male version based on power and contrasting this with their own female version, focused on improving the status of Indian women through education and health. Consistent with Thornton’s (2001, 2005) argument that certain developmental

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ideals pervaded the rhetoric of global feminist movements, Burton has noted that the relationship between British feminists and Indian women was not one of equals: Consciousness of Britain’s imperial status and Anglo-Saxon racial superiority led many prominent British feminists to view Indian women as lower on a scale of human development and, most significantly, as in need of salvation by their British feminist sisters. British feminists were thus both deeply committed to and deeply at odds with the notion of “global sisterhood.” (Burton 1991, 47–48) This tension between ethnocentrism and a commitment to global sisterhood is apparent in the writings and speeches of other American and European feminists. Generally, the focus has been on Catt because of her presidency of the IWSA and because of her around-the-world trip from 1911–1912 that took her to South Africa, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Ceylon, India, Burma, the East Indies, the Philippines, China, Korea, and Japan. The purpose of the trip was to investigate the condition of women wherever they traveled and to organize women to work for suffrage. During her trip, she wrote regular articles for the IWSA publication, Jus Suffragi, as well as the American suffragist publication, Women’s Journal. She reported on the trip and discussed her findings and observations in her presidential address at the 1913 meeting of the IWSA in Budapest. Less attention has been paid to the writings and letters of her companion on the trip, Aletta Jacobs, the first woman physician in the Netherlands and president of the National Suffrage Association of the Netherlands. This oversight occurred in part because Jacobs’s articles for an Amsterdam daily newspaper and her letters published in two volumes in Dutch have not been translated. In an article based on Jacobs’s travel writings, however, Harriet Feinberg has distinguished two modes of discourse and the tension between the two. One she calls “encouraging our peers,” which assumes some basic equality across cultural, national, and religious boundaries, and the second, “lifting up our native sisters,” which undercuts the first by assuming a basic cultural, racial or intellectual superiority on the part of the “helpers” (Feinberg 1990, 66). Jacobs’s letter from Cairo to her close friend and suffrage leader from Hungary, Rosika Schwimmer, describes her and Catt’s meeting with Egyptian women and sheds some light on how she and Catt interacted with the women they met on their journey. Jacobs described how their acquaintance with an Englishwoman living in Egyptian circles introduced them to many “native women” (Feinberg 1990, 69): Mrs. Catt and I are now trying to form a committee, a suffrage committee of these women, to affiliate at the International Alliance. These women can of course not work for suffrage in their own country, where the men have no rights, but they can do all kind of work and make themselves ready in a few years to take care that as soon as the men get their political rights, that they


M.A. Fay will not be forgotten. One of these ladies, a rich widow, very bright, will perhaps come to Budapest at the Congress. She has already taken an abonnement (subscription) for Jus Suffragi to remain in touch with the movement in other countries.

Her pointed comment about men as well as women not having the right to vote in their own country is an implied criticism of the British occupation, and as such, would seem to exempt Jacobs at least from being labeled a “feminist Orientalist.” Her comment also reinforces Burton’s opinion that “the British feminist experience – not to mention the British imperial experience – were so unique that they precluded any kind of general conclusions about the so-called ‘imperialism’ of modern western feminisms” (Burton 1991, 68). Catt’s writings display the same sort of tension between ethnocentrism and global sisterhood. Although her travel diary reveals her to be an astute observer and a tireless traveler, it contains little information about her meetings with women or the state of suffrage activities in the areas she visited. She did write, however, about her travels for the Women’s Journal and Jus Suffragi, and she addressed these issues in various speeches and in her presidential address to the IWSA at Rome in 1923. For example, on a visit to London in 1911, she spoke at a banquet in her honor in which she stressed the importance of universal sisterhood linked through an organization comprised of women of all nationalities rather than nation-specific patriotism, which she considered a male phenomenon (Burton 1991, 62). Writing for the “Foreign Notes” column of the Women’s Journal in 1912, Catt admitted her admiration for Egyptian women who refused marriage and demanded education and other freedoms. At the same time, she argued that the influence of Great Britain had created a new Egypt and had laid the foundation for the rise of a women’s movement (Burton 1991, 62–63). In her speech at the Budapest conference, however, she stressed the indigenous roots of the strong women’s movement in Asia and the fact that “there has been rebellion in the hearts of women all down the centuries” (Whittick 1979, 57). Catt also thought that Eastern women could organize and direct their own movements with encouragement and practical advice from Western women: As to the effect upon the movement in the countries visited, we shall claim little more than that we have blazed a trail which we may point out to other women willing to carry the inspiration and sympathy of our movement to the women of Asia. They, knowing the way, will be able to accomplish much more than did we. It is our earnest hope that the other women, comprehending the unity of the women’s cause, will be led to carry our greetings to the women of Asia, who just now need the encouragement which Western women, emancipated from the most severe mandates of tradition, can give in practical advice to these women, who for many years must continue to struggle under conditions which obtained in our Western world some generations ago. (Whittick 1979, 55)

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As the letters, speeches and articles quoted above demonstrate, a tension existed in national and international women’s movements between what Thornton (2001, 2005) has called “developmental” ideas of Western superiority and a commitment to global sisterhood. Therefore, theoretical frameworks other than feminist or imperial Orientalism or “developmental idealism” in its purist form may be more suitable ones in which to consider international feminism. Such alternative frameworks may include the hybridity of post-structuralism, the concept of “difference” in feminist theory and Said’s post-Orientalist critique of essentialist thinking and essentialist cultural values in the East and the West (Said 1993).4 Said argues for an understanding of our shared history to counteract essentialism on both sides.

All roads lead to Rome In her opening address to the members of the IWSA in Rome, president Carrie Chapman Catt said, “We do not come to Rome in this year of 1923 to hold our ninth congress as timid supplicants for small favors.”5 Catt pointed out that the congress represented women of 40 nations at a time when there were only 60 nations in the world. The delegates of 25 of those nations were voters and three were members of Parliaments. By far the strongest link among the women and the organizations assembled at Rome and at previous meetings was the issue of suffrage and the commitment of the IWSA to attaining universal female suffrage. Once suffrage began to be granted to women, beginning with Finland, the IWSA declared that it would continue to work on behalf of women who had not yet received the vote. Commenting on the upcoming meeting in Rome, Jus Suffragi in its January 1923 edition said, “The Congress will make practical plans for giving help internationally to the women of the unenfranchised countries in their efforts to secure the vote.”6 Women in the United States had won the right to vote three years before the Rome meeting. However, the IWSA also had a feminist agenda that encompassed more than women’s voting rights. This agenda included the right to work with a fair wage and fair opportunity for responsible and skilled jobs, the right of a married woman to determine how best to adjust to the claims upon her of her humanity, womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood; the right to demand one standard of ethics and morals for both sexes, the right to protect her children, and the right to her own nationality.7 As Jus Suffragi reported in the May 1923 edition, containing the agenda for the Rome conference, “The vote is our first objective; but much remains to be done before, unhampered by shackling prejudice and sentimental taboos, women are really free to share equally with men in all spheres the responsibility of building a better world.”8 The agenda for the 1923 meeting included equal pay for equal work in all fields and the repeal of laws that prevent women from working in trade, the legal profession and the civil service; the right of married women to their own nationality and issues related to the maintenance of women and children. In her presidential address, Catt listed the rights that some women had achieved by the end of the nineteenth century: the


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right to education and professional careers, the right of married women to own property and to keep their wages, expanded custody rights and the right to unprecedented freedom of action as a result of changes in public opinion.9 In 1923, Huda Sharawi, Nabawiyah Musa, and Saiza Nabarawi attended the IWSA meeting in Rome. Catt acknowledged the women in her presidential address when she said, We are especially proud to welcome to this Congress delegates from that wonderland of Egypt! In ancient days there were Egyptian queens and women military leaders of great renown; why not heroines today bearing aloft the standard of civil and political equality for modern Egyptian women? Bravo, women of Egypt.10 The edition of Jus Suffragi following the Rome meeting describes the events that unfolded in Egypt upon the delegation’s return home.11 The report was written by Sharawi and is headlined, “First Deputies from Women to a Minister.”12 The article reported on the meeting of the EFU and Sharawi’s speech explaining the objects and demands of the EFU. The speech was read by Fakria Housni because of Sharawi’s “indisposition.” Musa read and explained the resolutions adopted by the Rome congress, and Mme. Gamila Atila spoke on women’s rights in marriage and divorce. The article states that the group passed two resolutions, which were presented to the president of the council of ministers, the first occasion in which “a group of ladies” officially approached a minister with claims for women. The president received the deputation with “friendly courtesy and promised to support their demands.” The article reported also that the Bourse Egyptienne commented on the meeting of the group by recalling the matriarchal position of women in Egypt in pre-Ptolemaic days and describing “how the women went out to work and the men minded the home and children; how the women courted the man and the man brought a dowry; and all that in Egypt’s greatest epoch.” The EFU demands of 1923 included the following: raising the legal ages of males and females at marriage to 18 and 16, respectively; extending women’s legal custody of children, regulating talaq (divorce) by permitting it only in serious cases and in the presence of a qadi who would oblige arbitration, restricting men’s practice of polygamy and abolishing bayt al-taa, which could force a woman to return to her husband. The EFU was also committed to women’s suffrage. The demands of British and American feminists in some ways differed from those of the women of the EFU. For example, polygamy and repudiation were not concerns for British and American feminists, whereas property rights and legal personhood were not concerns for Egyptian women. Islamic law guaranteed women property rights and a separate legal identity. However, there was broad agreement on other issues, such as suffrage, the right to education and work, women’s marital and custodial rights, and a repudiation of the confinement represented by the doctrine of separate spheres. Thus, Western and Egypt-

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ian women could unite on common issues and the need for legal and constitutional reform to achieve their aims. More generally, what united the (liberal) feminists of the IWSA was their demand for autonomy and equality guaranteed and protected by law.

Conclusion Seen from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, the EFU in 1923 appears to be standing at the critical intersection of past, present, and future. Elite women like Huda Sharawi emerged from households very much like those that existed a century and more before, characterized by polygamy, concubinage, and female seclusion. In Sharawi’s present, she and other women rejected the older form of the household/family and worked through the EFU to achieve goals that would transform family life, give women access to the public sphere of education, work, and politics, and grant women equal rights to citizenship in the Egyptian nation. Ultimately, the path taken by the EFU would lead to her future and our present, namely, the global feminisms of today. Indeed, international feminism has its roots in the IWSA and other international women’s movements both in an institutional sense and in terms of the movements’ leadership, direction, and ideology. Catt’s ethnocentric adherence to certain “developmental ideals” and the hegemonic position of Western women over the movement have been challenged by non-Western women and women of color in the West on a theoretical level as well as within the institutions of the international women’s movement, for example, in the organizing and meetings of the United Nations Decade of the Women, 1975–1985. At international meetings such as the ones in Nairobi and Beijing and in other venues, including academic journals, we have seen the transformation of “international sisterhood” into a movement of global feminisms. As for the EFU, it should be regarded as the originator not only of a modern feminist movement in the Arab world but also of the trend within feminist activism known as liberal feminism. A recent article by Valentine Moghadam (2002), “Islamic Feminism and Its Discontents,” argues that Iran’s Islamic feminists resemble the liberal feminists of the United States in that they accept the given political and legal systems and work within them for reforms aimed at improving women’s status. Although the EFU has been described and criticized as secular and Western-influenced, there are similarities between the Islamic feminism of post-Khomeini Iran and that of Sharawi and the EFU. The most important is that, in both cases, there is an acceptance of the prevailing political and legal systems and a reformist, rather than a revolutionary, ideology and course of action. And, in both cases, the “modern” nation state is the terrain on which the ideology is being expressed and where the struggles for improvements in women’s status are being fought. Labeling one movement “Islamic” and the other “secular” obfuscates what I believe are the more important similarities between the two that can call into question the validity and usefulness of the categories to which they have been assigned. The legacy of both the IWSA and the


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EFU is complex and disputed. However, each of them carried within them the seeds of modern feminism and of feminist internationalism.

Notes 1 For a history of the international women’s movement, see Rupp (1997). 2 Jus Suffragi, Mrs. Catt Addresses the Rome Congress, July 1923, 17(9): 148. 3 See the section on women’s rights in Islam in Mudhkirat raidat al-mara al-arabiyya al-haditha Huda Sharawi, pp. 266–270. 4 For a review essay on Said’s book and three others that explore the connections between Islamic and Western legal systems, see Collier (1994). 5 Jus Suffragi, untitled, July 1923, 17(9): 147. 6 Jus Suffragi, Woman’s Place Is the World; her sphere the highest she can attain, January 1923, 17(4): 50. 7 Jus Suffragi, untitled, May–June 1923, 17(8): 114. 8 Jus Suffragi, January 1923, Woman’s Place Is the World; her sphere the highest she can attain, 17(4): 50. 9 Jus Suffragi, Mrs. Catt Addresses the Rome Congress, July 1923, 17(9): 147. 10 Jus Suffragi, Mrs. Catt Addresses the Rome Congress, July 1923, 17(9): 148. 11 Jus Suffragi, Egypt – First Deputies from Women to Minister, August 1923, 17(10): 165. 12 Jus Suffragi, Egypt – First Deputies from Women to Minister, August 1923, 17(10): 165. The article is signed Huda Charoui.

References Ahmed, Leila. “Between Two Worlds: The Formation of a Turn-of-the-Century Egyptian Feminist.” In Life/Lines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988. Al-Ali, Nadje. “Between Political Epochs and Personal Lives: Formative Experiences of Egyptian Women Activists.” In Auto/Biography and the Construction of Identity and Community in the Middle East, edited by Mary Ann Fay, 155–176. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Amin, Qasim. The Liberation of Women: A Document in the History of Egyptian Feminism. Translated by Samiha S. Peterson. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1992. ——. The New Woman: A Document in the History of Egyptian Feminism. Translated by Samiha S. Peterson. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1995. Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987. Baron, Beth. The Women’s Awakening in Egypt: Culture, Society and the Press. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994. Booth, Marilyn. “Biography and Feminist Rhetoric in Early Twentieth-Century Egypt: Mayy Ziyada’s Studies of Three Women’s Lives.” Journal of Women’s History 3, no. 1 (1991): 38–64. ——. “ ‘May Her Likes Be Multiplied’: ‘Famous Women’ Biography and Gendered Prescription in Egypt 1892–1935.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22, no. 4 (1997): 827–890. ——. May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

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Burton, Antionette. “The Feminist Quest for Identity: Imperial Suffragism and “Global Sisterhood,” 1900–1915,” Journal of Women’s History 3, no. 2 (1991): 46–81. Cole, Juan Ricardo. “Feminism, Class and Islam in Turn-of-the-Century Egypt.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 13, no. 4 (1981): 387–407. Collier, Jane F. “Intertwined Histories: Islamic Law and Western Imperialism,” Law and Society Review 28, no. 2 (1994): 1. Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1978. DuBois, Ellen Carol. Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998. Fay, Mary Ann. “The Ties that Bound: Women and Households in Eighteenth-Century Egypt.” In Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History, edited by Amira Sonbol, 155–172. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996. ——. “Women and Waqf: Property, Power and the Domain of Gender in EighteenthCentury Egypt.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire, Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era, edited by Madeline Zilfi, 28–47. Leiden: Brill, 1997. ——. “From Concubines to Capitalists: Women, Property and Power in EighteenthCentury Cairo.” Journal of Women’s History 10, no. 3 (1998): 118–140. ——. “From Warrior Grandees to Domesticated Bourgeoisie: The Transformation of the Elite Egyptian Household into a Western-style Nuclear Family.” In Family History in the Middle East: Household, Property, Gender, edited by Beshara Doumani, 77–97. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003. Feinberg, Hariet. 1990. “A Pioneering Dutch Feminist Views Egypt: Aletta Jacobs Travel Letters,” Feminist Issues 10, no. 2 (1990): 65–79. Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975. Harrison, Patricia Greenwood. Connecting Links: The British and American Suffrage Movements 1900–1914. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. Jorgensen-Earp, Cheryl R. The Transfiguring Sword: The Just War of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997. Kandiyoti, Deniz, ed. Women, Islam and the State. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1991a. ——. “Islam and Patriarchy.” In Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender, edited by Nikki Keddie and Beth Baron, 23–44. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991b. ——. “Identity and Its Discontents: Women and the Nation.” In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, 376–391. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Lindholm, Charles. “The New Middle Eastern Ethnography.” Journal of the Anthropological Institute 1, no. 4 (1995): 805–820. Marilley, Suzanne M. Women Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the U.S. 1820–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Moghadam, Valentine. “Islamic Feminism and Its Discontents: Toward a Resolution of the Debate.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 4 (2002): 1135–1171. Pankhurst, Emmeline. My Own Story. New York: Source Books, 1970. Pankhurst, Sylvia E. The Suffragette: The History of the Women’s Militant Suffrage Movement 1905–1910. New York: Source Books, 1970. Purvis, June and Sandra Stanley Holton, eds. Votes for Women. New York: Routledge, 2000.


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Rupp, Leila. Worlds of Women: The Making of the International Women’s Movement Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997. Russell, Mona. “Creating the New Woman: Consumerism, Education and National Identity in Egypt, 1863–1922.” 2 vols. Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University, 1997. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. ——. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Sharawi, Huda. Mudhkirat raidat al-mara al-arabiyya al-haditha Huda Sharawi. Cairo: Dar al-Hilal, 1981. ——. Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist 1879–1924. Translated, edited, and introduced by Margot Badran. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. ——. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Van Voris, Jacqueline. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987. Weber, Charlotte. “Unveiling Scheherezade: Feminist Orientalism in the International Alliance of Women, 1911–1950.” Feminist Studies 27, no. 1 (2001): 125–157. Wengender, Sophie A. The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain 1866–1928. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1999. Whittick, Arnold. Women into Citizen. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1979. Yegenoglu, Meyda. Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Zonana, Joyce. “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18, no. 31 (1993): 165–190.


From birth control to family planning Population, gender, and the politics of reproduction in Egypt Laura Bier The lane was teeming with youngsters scattered like breadcrumbs . . . and getting in his way. They pulled at his shawl; knocked against him . . . all he could do was lash out at them, vituperating furiously against their fathers and forefathers, the rotten seed that gave them life, and the midwife who brought them into existence. Shaking with rage he cursed and swore and snorted and spat on the wretched town where brats sprouted out of the ground in greater numbers than the hairs on one’s head. (Idris 1978)

In his 1954 short story, “The Cheapest Nights,” Yusuf Idris tells the story of Abdel Karim, a peasant struggling to make ends meet in a small village in the Egyptian delta (Idris and Wassef 1954). The story revolves around Abdel Karim’s attempts to find a way to fill the hours of the evening after his work in the fields is done. With six children he can barely feed and no money, even the simplest evening amusements – drinking tea, smoking a water pipe, sitting in a coffee shop – are beyond his reach. “The Cheapest Nights” of the title are the long, winter nights of darkness when he turns to his wife for comfort with the inevitable result every year of another child he cannot support. The specter of the impoverished peasant couple, living in squalor with nothing to fill their leisure time except sexual intercourse, leading to pregnancy, more mouths to feed and a vicious, unending cycle of hunger and poverty was produced and reproduced in policy statements, public debates, the popular press, and literature throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It reflects what was a relatively new concern to Egyptians in the middle decades of the twentieth century, that of “overpopulation.” The identification of population as a problem had its roots in the 1930s, when social reformers began to link the issue of population quantity with that of population quality. Viewed as a site where the moral, spiritual, and material wellbeing of the nation resided, the state of the Egyptian family, and especially lower-class families, became central to debates over how best to ensure the (re)production of healthy, “modern” Egyptian citizens. The social ills that beset Egypt – poverty, disease, poor sanitation, and criminality –were increasingly


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linked to the elevated fertility rates of peasant and working-class families. The press, reformist treatises, literature, and political speeches articulated concerns about the unhealthy and degraded condition of lower-class Egyptian families and the lack of hygiene that characterized unreconstructed peasant and workingclass domestic spaces. These concerns also were foundational in the construction of overpopulation as a problem to be solved, first by reformers and later by the revolutionary state. This chapter looks at how “overpopulation” became a social, economic, and political problem in Egypt before and after the 1952 revolution. It also examines how discussions about overpopulation shaped the parameters of a contemporaneous debate over birth control, eventually resulting in the adoption of a national family planning policy. Established in 1966, Egypt’s national family planning program was a cornerstone of the Nasser regime’s state-building program and plan for the creation of an Arab socialist society. Its primary aim was to combat a perceived crisis of overpopulation caused by declining infant mortality and elevated fertility rates among rural and working-class urban women. The adoption of family planning as the major component of the regime’s population policy was the culmination of three decades of public debate over the ramifications of Egypt’s population growth, the relationship between fertility and socio-economic “development” and the proper role of the state in regulating the reproduction of Egyptian citizens. At issue was not only how (or if) the Egyptian government should attempt to curb population rates, but the limits of individual choice, proper religious practice, appropriate norms of masculinity and femininity, the emancipation of women, and “modern” domestic practices. (See Thornton (2001, 2005) for a theoretical overview of such debates.) As a contested site for the articulation of gendered subjectivities, a new revolutionary society, and the family models upon which society was to be built, the national family planning program in Egypt offers a way to consider the place of “the family” in Arab socialist ideology and the gendered politics of Nasserist rule.

Early debates about birth control and population Debates about birth control in Egypt have their roots in the 1930s, when concerns about population growth, the condition of the peasantry and the urban lower classes, the health of mothers and children, and the state of the Egyptian family converged to link issues of population quantity with the production of sound, healthy Egyptian citizens (that is, population quality).1 Wendell Cleland, an American professor at the American University in Cairo, is credited with having written the first comprehensive study of population issues in Egypt (Cleland 1936). In The Population Problem in Egypt and several of his other works, Cleland projected that Egypt’s high rate of fertility would double the population in 52 years (Cleland 1936, 1937, 1939). He further argued that Egypt’s natural resources and agricultural land were already insufficient to support its growing population, and tied rapid population growth to poverty and disease among the rural and urban lower classes. He argued that poor living con-

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ditions among the peasantry and urban poor produced a generation of “halfliving, listless people,” whose uncontrolled propensity to reproduce doomed future generations to abject misery (Cleland 1937, 85). Moreover, he wrote, the degraded condition of domestic space virtually ensured that birth rates would remain high. Cleland’s favored solution to the population problem was the establishment of a national birth control program, which would produce “an average family of from three to five children with intelligent, literate parents, living healthy lives in solid, clean houses, very simply furnished, which will belong to well ordered, sanitary communities” (Cleland 1937, 470–471). The issues raised in Cleland’s work – about the relationship between poverty, fertility, and the fitness of Egyptian citizens, as well as the use of birth control to produce particular family forms – were repeated and debated among Egyptian intellectuals in salons, public lectures, and conferences.2 One of the most important of these was a conference about birth control held by the Egyptian Medical Association in April 1937 (Journal of the Egyptian Medical Association 1937).3 This conference was not the first time that social reformers and policy makers expressly saw the Egyptian family as the key to strengthening the Egyptian nation (Pollard 1997). But it was one of the first times in which the nation’s strength became tied to limiting family size. Conference debates show how the issue of birth control became tied to discourses on women, family, and the lower classes, which were also part of a nationalist modernizing discourse (Shakry 2002). A shared point of departure for conference participants was the issue of improving the quality of offspring. Conference participants differed widely in their views about the religious permissibility and efficacy of birth control as a means to curb population growth, but all shared a concern about how best to ensure the production of healthy future generations of Egyptian citizens, especially among the peasantry and the urban lower classes. Speakers stressed that the purpose of birth control was not to ease the life of parents but to have “healthier and more useful mothers, and healthier, more vigorous and better trained children” (Annous 1937, 273). Notably absent from conference discussions about birth control was the role of women in reproductive decisions. The reduction of birth control to an issue of maternal and child health is emblematic of the ways in which conference speakers erased women as reproductive subjects. This erasure persisted in discussions about birth control in the pre- and early revolutionary periods, and in debates about the components of a national population policy during the 1950s.

Fertility and modernity Thornton (2001, 2005) points out that one debated and widely disseminated developmental myth was that “modern” (or low-fertility) families and “modern” societies were causally related (see Yount and Rashad, this volume). Indeed, one major source of disagreement among the participants of the 1937 conference centered on the relationship between fertility levels and the nation’s degree of


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“modernity.” Pointing out the history of European nations, some (e.g., Kemal El-Din Fahmy) held that “civilization” brought an increased acceptance of contraception by “backward” populations, which spurred declines in fertility. Others argued that fertility rates would decline as Egypt became more “modern” and “developed.” Dr Filip Shidyaq, for example, wrote that fertility declined as countries “advanced” and the status of women improved, and Hilmy Bey argued that the effects of “civilization” (e.g., more schooling and delays in marriage) would reduce fertility rates. Still other birth control advocates held that contraception was a means by which to achieve “civilization,” since high fertility remained a barrier to education and social reform. This debate reemerged 15 years later, as the new, post-revolutionary regime attempted to address the issue of overpopulation. Members of the revolutionary regime, state technocrats, opponents of birth control and others drew on post-World War II demographic theory that underscored the link between socio-economic transformation and population control. They argued that the main reason for Egypt’s low standard of living and the general misery among the lower classes was not unrestrained reproduction, but the maldistribution of wealth and lack of “development” (Crouchly 1939).4 “Modernization,” they argued, was the best remedy for elevated fertility rates. In his book Egypt’s Destiny, written in 1955, former president Mohammed Neguib described what was then the unofficial Egyptian government line on combating overpopulation as a sign of modernity:5 [B]irth control by means of contraception is hardly feasible in villages where homes lack running water, toilets and electric lights. A more effective means of controlling births, we feel, is to provide the villages with the rudiments of modern civilization. The mere introduction of electric lights in certain Indian villages has tended to reduce the rate of their increase in population. There is no reason to believe that the introduction of electric lights in Egyptian villages will not have the same effect. (Shanawany 1973, 196) Whereas proponents of birth control argued that the nation’s social and economic development required the use of contraception, others held to the “developmental paradigm” (Thornton 2001, 2005) – that declining fertility (whether through contraceptive use or other means) was a “natural” outcome of the historical process that all nations eventually underwent. Through the state’s provision of the basic accoutrements of “modern civilization” – running water, toilets, electric lights – the rate of Egyptian peasant reproduction was expected to drop, further improving standards of living and aiding Egypt’s “transition” from a “backward” agricultural economy to a “modern” industrialized one, as had happened in Europe 100 years earlier. The logic of transition, as it was understood and debated by academics and social reformers in Egypt, was not necessarily antithetical to pro-natalist arguments. Some contributors to the population debate, drawing on older, pre-

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colonial conceptions of people as the strength of a nation, argued that Egypt’s push to “modernize” and thus become “post-transitional” would require a large population of able-bodied men who could participate in the state-building process. Such arguments often invoked the specter of depopulation, a Manichean global order and racial domination to argue for population increases.6 Whereas the trajectory of development in the West had resulted in dangerously decreasing populations, pro-natalists outlined an alternative developmental trajectory for Egypt, in which industrialization and state-building projects would require a larger population and would mitigate against the negative effects of population growth.7 Arguments that tied pro-natalism to Egypt’s development imperatives were a common, if perhaps minority, component of population politics throughout the early 1950s. Such voices became more marginalized, however, as overpopulation was increasingly perceived as a problem requiring the intervention of the nation state. Although a socio-economic approach remained, at official levels throughout the 1950s, the preferred remedy for overpopulation, the early 1960s saw an abandonment of such macrostrategies in favor of a national family planning program.8 The increasing interest in birth control was influenced by both international and local changes, including the failure of the experiment in unification of Egypt and Syria and the release of the results of the 1960 census.

The international context During the period immediately following World War II, changes in demographic theory, which stressed birth control as a cure for overpopulation, gained strength in the global population debate. Influenced by the theoretical work of demographer Frank Notestein and his colleagues at Princeton’s Center for Population Research (e.g., Notestein 1945), other demographers had come, by the mid-1950s, to view high fertility as an impediment to “development.” This period also saw a proliferation of demographic studies about the “Third World,” which was used as a testing ground for the validity of Western demographic theories. Within the context of the emerging Cold War global order, the demographic community and American and European policy makers reviewed the results of these studies with alarm. Major studies undertaken in India, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, and China indicated that, despite improvements brought about by “modernization,” population growth rates continued to increase. Overpopulation was viewed in demographic and policy circles as threatening these nations, especially those that had recently gained independence from Western colonial control. Resource shortages, economic catastrophe, and social and political instability were seen to make such countries vulnerable to Communism.9 Tied up with changes in demographic theory and transformations in the postwar global order that underpinned them was the emergence of an international “population community” who were interested in curbing population growth in the “developing” world.10 Among this community’s most prominent members,


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the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Population Council were founded in 1952, and the Ford Foundation made its first population grant in this year.11 These organizations were founded at a time when technical aid to the “Third World” was being discussed in Washington and at the United Nations as a weapon in the fight against Communism. The disappearance of colonial regimes in countries that had been key case studies for demographers (e.g., India, Pakistan, Egypt, the Philippines, and Indonesia) represented an opportunity for Western “development” agencies and, as Western policy makers saw it, a potential threat to global security. Independent regimes in the formerly colonized world stressed their need for socio-economic “development” to repair the damage done by colonial rule, offering new opportunities for collaboration between Western “development” agencies and local governments. Most of Asia and Africa also remained unaligned in an increasingly bipolar world and were thus in danger of being brought into the Soviet orbit. Although the emergence of an international population community cannot be wholly reduced to such factors, they explain much about the timing of that emergence and the broad support that population organizations enjoyed from Western governments.12

The Egyptian connection In this international context, the Egyptian debate about birth control grew and, at official levels, began to shift in the middle and late 1950s. The international assessment of Egypt’s demographic situation was that the country was facing an unprecedented population crisis. Another Princeton demographer, Clyde Kiser, presented the findings of a study he had conducted on Egypt at the 1944 Milbank Memorial Fund annual conference. “Egypt,” Kiser concluded, “is in a demographic jam. With limited room for expansion and no early prospect for substantial decline in fertility, she faces mounting population pressure.” In spite of deplorable housing and sanitary conditions, he warned, Egypt’s population would reach 24 million in 1970 if its growth rates continued (cited in Caldwell and Caldwell 1986, 14).13 Egyptian policy makers were certainly cognizant of such assessments; there was an Egyptian delegation present at both the IPPF’s 1952 Bombay conference and its conference in Tokyo in 1955. Hana Rizk, a demographer and head of the Social Research Center at the American University in Cairo, pointed out at the IPPF Tokyo conference that it had taken Egypt only half a century to double its population size.14 If the current rate of national increase continued, he warned, it would take only another quarter century for Egypt to double its population size again. Policy makers and members of Egypt’s intelligentsia increasingly quoted such statistics in the Egyptian press. As Professor Salah Namiq noted, in an article that appeared in the Egyptian women’s magazine Hawa (1960), the “language of numbers” was becoming a common and persuasive argument for the need to make birth control more available in Egypt.15 The argument for birth control was couched not only in statistical terms but also in terms of the revolutionary regime’s commitment to social transformation.

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Rizk argued that a “laissez-faire” approach to social and economic problems in the pre-revolutionary period gave way to a revolutionary one that stressed “the welfare of the common man and the determination to build up an independent and powerful Egypt.” As a result, population issues were at the forefront of the regime’s state-building agenda. In a 1954 press conference, Hussein al-Shafai, the Minister of Social Affairs, came out in favor of a national birth control policy, stating: Not only do I believe in birth control, but I also believe that it has become a social necessity. Over-production in population, as well as in other fields, becomes waste. Human waste, which has resulted from unlimited reproduction, has created our complex social problems . . . if we continue to reproduce with the maximum biological impetus, without regard for the basic needs of its members; we shall have more weaklings, vagrants and beggars. (Rizk) Drawing on the revolutionary rhetoric of social justice, which stressed the “common welfare” and “basic needs” of Egypt’s citizens, some policy makers and government officials began to argue that birth control be given a place in an official national population policy. In 1953, a memo by then Minister of Social Affairs Abbas Ammar called for the formation of a population taskforce of government officials and academic experts. The National Commission for Population Affairs, formed in December 1953, received a broad mandate to study the “population problem” and to propose solutions that would form the basis of a national policy. While the commission stopped short of recommending a national family planning program, it took a more active role in experimentation with birth control.16

Early experiments with birth control Since the 1930s, medical practitioners, under the auspices of various voluntary organizations, carried out early experimentation with birth control.17 From the outset, family planning in Egypt targeted women’s bodies as the source of overpopulation. The existence of contraceptive methods for men is remarkable for its near absence in Egyptian contraceptive discourses and practice during this period.18 Although male contraceptives in Egypt pre-dated the birth control pill and IUDs by decades, neither voluntary organizations nor the state made any serious attempt to disseminate condoms or encourage their use. By 1955, the National Commission on Population Affairs was ready to experiment with the expanded provision of birth control.19 From the beginning, the effort depended on collaboration with women’s groups. In a joint effort with the Cairo branch of the Moslem Women’s Association, the Maadi Mother and Child Welfare Association and the Cairo and Alexandria branch of the Women’s Association for Health Improvement, organizations with long histories of providing community social services, the commission opened eight family planning


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clinics, four in Cairo and four in Alexandria. In 1956, clinics in Tanta, Assiyut, Mahalla, and Kafr el-Dawwar joined the original clinics. Family planning services thus were conceived as an addition to other social services to improve the condition of mothers and children, which women’s voluntary organizations had provided since the 1920s.20 By 1962, there were 28 clinics in rooms provided by voluntary organizations.21 Voluntary organizations were instructed to give contraceptive services only to married women who proved that they had at least three children, provided their husband’s written consent, and had strong health, social, or economic reasons for wanting to limit family size.22 Available methods included diaphragms, foam tablets, contraceptive jelly, and douches, and clinics provided treatment and counseling for infertility. Performing elective abortions, however, constituted a felony under Egyptian law and was condemned by the Egyptian religious establishment except in cases where the mother’s health was endangered. Although the number of clients at these clinics was limited, the increase in new clients during the initial years prompted policy makers, birth control advocates, and others involved in the clinics’ operations to declare these “field experiments” a success.23 The apparent success of these clinics, coupled with several local changes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, motivated the expansion of contraceptive services and an official announcement in 1962 that the regime would establish a national family planning program. One such local change was the 1961 dissolution of the union between Egypt and Syria.24 Another possible contributing factor was the state of Tahrir province, a desert reclamation project that acted as a showcase of the regime’s development scheme.25 But perhaps the strongest motivation for the regime’s adoption of a population policy based on birth control was the 1960 census. According to these figures, Egypt’s population had reached over 26 million and was growing at an annual rate of 2.3 percent. This increase was large compared to the 1.4 percent increase measured in the 1947 census. Not only was Egypt’s population size continuing to increase, but the rate of growth was the highest one ever recorded by the Egyptian census. Despite the popularity of socio-economic development as a strategy for combating population growth among the upper echelons of the military regime, the census gave birth control advocates ammunition to argue that, without the state’s intervention in the reproduction of Egyptian citizens, the regime’s nation-building goals would be jeopardized.

Public bodies Population control approaches placed the rational individual at center stage as the prime determinant of fertility change. In population theory, the view of a cohesive unified “society” as the object of population policy was gradually replaced by that of a society made up of atomized individuals who made informed choices about contraception and reproduction in their own self-interest (Greenhalgh 1996, 40). Such a view presumes reproduction to be a natural

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process that unfolds in the privacy of the nuclear household, away from the public domain of politics and group affiliations. Such a view also presents fertility as the natural attribute of a biological body that can be controlled with scientific technology. Such understandings of fertility, as Kathryn Robinson (2001, 39) points out, do not engage with a body that is socially inscribed. Nor do they, I would add, engage with a body that is politically inscribed. The history of family planning in Egypt suggests that such a view of reproduction and contraception needs to be questioned. By the very way that the “population problem” was constituted and debated, the reproductive practices of Egyptians were a matter of public, political interest. “The family” during the Nasser period was seen as the site where not only children, but also a “modern” and “progressive” social and political system was born. As Hikmat Abu-Zeid, who became Minister of Social Affairs in 1964 put it: The family is not merely the first cell of society where the connection of the man to the woman occurs to realize the operation of the perpetuation of life and the multiplying of the human race, but it has become an institute (mahad) where the child learns the traditions of his people and their customs and their inclinations. . . . It is a factory in which the generations of the future are manufactured and through it the operation of social fusion of future generations begins. (Abu-Zeid 1964, 23) As these words suggest, the domestic sphere was the site where national subjects were produced. As an “institute” where the markers of national identity were inculcated and a “factory” for the manufacture of modern subject-citizens, the family was asserted, in popular and regime discourses, as a symbol and a source of the nation’s modernity and character. Thus the politics of the Egyptian family, including reproduction, were always already public politics. Late nineteenth/early twentieth-century nationalist and colonial discourses converged to target the Egyptian family as a locus of national backwardness and reform (see Yount and Rashad, this volume).26 “Reproduction,” in the context of nationalist discourses on women and motherhood, was associated largely with tarbiyya, the cultivation of “modern” female maternal subjects and the production of rational, “modern” citizens through pedagogy (Shakry 1998). As birth control challenged and eventually replaced socio-economic development as a solution to overpopulation, however, reproduction took on an added, gendered meaning. The desired outcome of solving the population problem, which emerged from the birth control debates of the period, was the bourgeois nuclear family. This idealized “modern” middle-class family embodied no more than two or three healthy, educated offspring, and a household vouchsaving the amenities, lifestyle, and division of space that signified modern living (see Thornton (2001, 2005) for a general discussion of the “modern family” myth). Creating such families and strengthening the nation came to mean not only rendering mothers


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fit to rear enlightened children through education, but also applying “modern” medical technology to lower-class female bodies (Ali 2003). By viewing reproduction as an historically specific social and political process, it becomes possible to see how solving the population problem entailed the production of new gendered subjectivities as well as the relegating of the management of reproduction to men as heads of household, policy makers, and state functionaries.

From tahdid al-nasl to tanzim al-usra The year 1962 was a watershed year for family planning in Egypt. In this year, birth control pills, imported from Germany and Great Britain, first underwent field testing in one of Cairo’s voluntary clinics.27 Also, the first Egyptian voluntary organization devoted entirely to family planning, the Alexandria Family Planning Association, was founded and the term “family planning” (tanzim alusra) appeared widely in public discourse. Before 1962, policy makers, social reformers, and the press favored the terms tahdid al-nasl (birth control) or tanzim al-nasl (which loosely translates as birth planning or spacing). Nasl refers both to birth and to issue or offspring. Tahdid in Arabic refers to the process of limiting, restricting, delineating, or curbing while tanzim carries the meaning of organizing or planning. The terms tanzim al-nasl and tanzim al-usra continued to be used interchangeably in the press, but the state’s official adoption of the former term in 1965 signaled its intention to consider the provision of birth control as one aspect of its wider program of family reform, which took as its end-point the creation of a socialist society based on rational scientific planning. Moreover, official use of the term tanzim as opposed to tahdid was likely calculated to quell potential religious opposition to the program and to allay public fears that birth control meant sterilization or forced abortion. In a 1959 fatwa, Mohammed Shaltout the Shaykh al-Azhar distinguished between tahdid al-nasl (birth control) and tanzim al-usra (family planning). The term birth control, he argued, implied an attempt by the state to legislatively restrict births to a certain number, which was “repugnant to the natural law of the universe.” It carried connotations of sterilization or the permanent medical removal of the capacity to reproduce, which the Egyptian religious establishment condemned as contrary to Islam. Family planning, on the other hand, he wrote, referred to the planning and regulating births for women who conceive quickly, who have hereditary illnesses and in such sporadic cases that cannot bear the responsibilities of children . . . [and] in this case is not unnatural. It is not disliked by the conscience of the nation and is not prohibited by religion.28 The use of the term “family planning” also suggests the regime’s promises to transform Egypt into a “modern,” industrialized state in the interests of social justice and the common good. In the 1962 National Charter, which laid out the Nasser regime’s emerging plan for the development of an Arab socialist society

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to the benefit of all Egyptian citizens, the state signaled its intention, for the first time, to develop a national family planning program. In the section that addressed scientific planning, the charter pointed out that population increase constituted: the most dangerous obstacle that faces the Egyptian people in their drive towards raising the standard of production in their country in an effective and efficient way. Attempts at family planning deserve the most sincere efforts by modern scientific methods. (Shanawany 1973, 202) As Hikmat Abu-Zeid (1964) pointed out, family planning meant much more than the planning of births. It also entailed “the material, moral and spiritual planning of life. . . . The family must become a ‘tool’ in the development of society. . . . Every individual in the family must be a ‘soldier in the public service’ ” (Abu-Zeid 1964, 34). Thus, the national family planning program was an attempt to transform Egyptian families into productive units made up of “modern” subjects who would help to transform Egypt from a “backward,” impoverished, corrupt society to a “modern,” industrialized nation state embodying the progressive principles of Arab socialism. As the Deputy Minister of Social Affairs, Ahmed Khalifa put it, it was the task of the state to turn “the wretched of the earth” into “free citizen laborers,” who could be mobilized in the service of national development.

Dutiful mothers, responsible fathers The assertion of family planning as a national duty signaled an important shift from pre-revolutionary discussions of birth control. Whereas social reformers had discussed women as objects of population policy, now policy planners, public figures, and the press spoke of gendered national subjects for whom the practice of birth control was a duty of citizenship. Using contraception, like maintaining a household budget, undergoing civil defense training, and working in the service of the republic, became a way for Egyptian women to demonstrate their worthiness for inclusion in the revolutionary project. The gendered subject of family planning in Egypt differed from her American and Western European counterparts. The subject of family planning in the West was sexually emancipated, and birth control was a way for women to take control over their bodies and sexuality. By contrast, the gendered subject of Egyptian family planning was a dutiful, exemplary maternal subject. Some opponents of the family planning program, however, saw the unrestricted availability of contraception as an incitement to immorality and to female promiscuity outside the bounds of marriage and family. Shaykh Abu Zahra, perhaps the major opponent to family planning in Egypt at that time, believed that contraception would undermine public morality and encourage promiscuity when sold without prescription from physicians. Akhbar al-Yawm columnist Sami Daoud


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called for the removal of the birth control pill from the market on the grounds that, in other countries, it protected unmarried girls from the consequences of moral lapses and that its main consumers were adolescents and unmarried women. Other common objections to family planning were that it undermined the purpose of marriage according to the Sunnah (Quran and Hadith) which was, in their argument, to raise children. Doctor and health writer Hamid al-Ghawabi, for example, argued that couples who practiced contraception undermined the socially binding basis of marriage, living for their own fun and pleasure (Sharabassy 1969).29 Supporters of family planning, both inside and outside the religious establishment, were quick to assert that family planning was not about selfish individualism or promoting sexual freedom but about ensuring the health and well-being of the family and nation. Amina Said, the editor of Hawa and an outspoken feminist, cited the threat of increasing population to public welfare and national development, calling family planning “among the most sacred of duties to ourselves . . . and the honor of our country.”30 Countering fears of female sexual promiscuity, she argued that “corrupt morals” came not from the presence of birth control, but from a particular culture and style of life. Unmarried European and American women used contraception because social mores made such a practice possible. Young Egyptian women, however, as members of an “Eastern” society respected the values of modesty and chastity out of religious faith and adherence to custom. Other birth control advocates refuted criticisms that the family planning program was anti-natalist and thus antithetical to social and religious mores. In an interview, Dr Mohammed Raziq, who had been prominent in family planning efforts since the 1930s, said: the basic goal of these units [which offer family planning services] is not to prevent pregnancy or to control births. Their goal is to encourage, secure and organize it and thus to guarantee the production of happy, stable families . . . which are in a position to conceive children who will grow up in complete health and will become, in the future, the youth of a healthy nation. (ummah)31 In his 1959 fatwa, the Shaykh al-Azhar Mohammed Shaltout argued that family planning was an “individual” temporary choice made by those suffering from physical or social “sicknesses,” such as maternal ill health from repeated childbearing or inability to provide economically for children. It was religiously permissible so that “a healthy generation may issue.” Likewise Shaykh Ahmed Sharabassy, a professor at al-Azhar, wrote in his 1965 book Islam and Family Planning, use of birth control “should be abandoned once the necessities are removed. It should be voluntary . . . and not achieved by compulsion. It is [entirely] a personal matter.” Despite their often radical differences on the permissibility and advisability

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of contraceptive use and provision by the state, most advocates and opponents of family planning shared a common normative conception of women’s bodies as relational and reproductive as opposed to individual and sexualized (Anandhi 2000, 139–166). Far from expressing contraceptive choice as an aspect of personal freedom and a right, birth control usage was always about familial and national duty. According to Sharabassy (1969) and others, “individual choice,” which was the basis for contraception’s sanction by Islam and by the national state, was to be exercised within the boundaries of marital, heterosexual relations and in the interest of the health and well-being of the family and the nation. Discussions about family planning and overpopulation also encompassed the features of appropriate masculinity.32 In contrast to old models of peasant masculinity and male dominance, where the production of many children was seen as the source of a family’s strength and the sign of a father’s masculine vigor, the responsible rab al usra (father of the house) was an enlightened patriarch, whose duty was to provide a reasonable standard of living for his wife and children. Thus, a persistent veneration of these old models of family presumably had the consequences of low contraceptive use and higher fertility. Many acknowledged that “traditional” structures of male dominance remained in the Egyptian countryside, where early marriage, polygamy, “tribal outlooks,” and the subjection of women to masculine control made the Egyptian peasant woman “the most fertile woman on earth.”33 Deputy Minister of Social Affairs Ahmed Khalifa wrote, for example, that among the fellahin, “fathers view their children as a wealth. Every child is dispatched to work in the fields . . . and every increase of [the family’s] numbers increases its standing and power.” In an interview with al-Mussawar, the Minister of Social Affairs Hikmat Abu-Zeid recommended that educational efforts about the benefits of the family planning program should target men because they were apt to divorce women who failed to produce more than three or four children in rapid succession. Such a practice, she argued, led to uncontrolled population growth and the dehumanization of women, who were forced to comply with the reproductive dictates of husbands and traditional social mores.34 The continued disempowerment of women within the family, especially in the countryside and working-class urban neighborhoods, was thus seen as a major source of Egypt’s population problem and an impediment to state programs that aimed to combat it (Hussein 2000). Of special issue to those who advocated women’s empowerment as a solution to the population problem were the laws and practices that governed marriage and divorce. An article that appeared on the women’s page of al-Ahram blamed population increases on the government’s failure to reform the personal status laws, which allowed men to divorce their wives without restrictions, permitted men to marry multiple wives, and encouraged early marriages.35 In effect, the personal status laws at that time in Egypt institutionalized a more “traditional” model of the family, which motivated women to produce children to ensure their security within the family and their marriage. Among Bedouin women in Marsa Matrouh in the Western Desert, for example, women who had no co-wives readily used family planning services, whereas those with co-wives would not

68 L. Bier because they felt competition and feared that their marital position would be jeopardized without children.36 Another common argument among advocates of women’s empowerment was that men prevented women from using contraception. An al-Ahram editorial argued that the government should provide contraceptive methods for free because the price of birth control exceeded the means of many peasant families and because many peasant women who used birth control secretly could not ask their husband for the money to purchase it.37 A cartoon that appeared in Ruz alYusuf satirically depicted a woman sleeping on a bed elevated to ceiling height with her husband looking grumpily up at her. The accompanying caption reads, “A new idea to prevent births!”38 On the one hand, this cartoon and others suggest that women should take more control of reproductive decisions in the family. On the other hand, they suggest that it is mainly through men’s control of reproduction that the goals of family planning will be met. In fact, attacks on the ideal of “peasant masculinity” were waged largely on the basis that “oldfashioned” male dominance threatened more “modern” forms of masculine control over the household. In this way, local family planning advocates constructed a model of the “modern family” that included fewer children and “modern” forms of patriarchal control, and a major rationale for instituting a national family planning program was that, without it, this new kind of male authority would be undermined.

Establishing and implementing a national program From the publication of the 1961 National Charter onward, family planning became a national priority.39 In 1966, after four years of intensive planning, Egypt’s National Family Planning Program was officially launched. The regulations concerning marital status that operated during the program’s experimental phase were lifted and 1,991 government clinics (575 in urban areas and 1,416 in the countryside) provided, three afternoons a week, contraception to Egyptian women on demand (Toppozada 1968). By April 1968, the number of clinics had grown to 2,631, offering contraception to over 230,000 women (Toppozada 1968). The doctors, hakimas, and hakimas’ assistants in these clinics were drawn mostly from the staff of the Ministry of Public Health.40 Every clinic also housed a social worker from the Ministry of Social Affairs who was responsible for counseling female clients about the benefits of family planning and for keeping statistics about the number and attributes of these clients. The most common method of contraception distributed to women in state-run family planning clinics, hospitals, and rural health units was the birth control pill. Since women had to return to refill their prescriptions every month, followup studies were possible, and plans had already been made to manufacture the pill locally. For ten piasters, clinic respondents would receive a monthly cycle of pills and a special “family planning stamp” in their national identification card. The national program also exploited various means to promote awareness about family planning and support for its goals. In 1964, the daily newspaper

From birth control to family planning in Egypt


Akhbar al-Yawm published a statement on Islam and birth control by the Grand Shaykh al-Azhar, Hassan Mamoun, in support of family planning as a means to ensure the health and prosperity of the Muslim family. Government officials at the district level instructed local religious leaders to promote family planning as Islamically permissible at Friday sermons in village and neighborhood mosques. The Population Council translated into Arabic a film produced by Walt Disney and supplied it to the Egyptian family planning program in 1968. The film, which featured Donald Duck introducing the concept of family planning, was shown throughout the Egyptian countryside in social centers, clinics, and mobile vans. It delivered the message that the ability to control reproduction separated man from animals (Population Council 1968). Pamphlets and posters used by the Cairo Family Planning Association to target men often contained a similar pitch: It is part of manliness to be concerned with the health of the family. Any creature can conceive. .... Humans alone are able to control The numbers of their children By means of Family Planning. (Waterbury 1972, 8) By 1967, discussions about the problems faced by large families appeared in textbooks at the elementary and intermediate levels of school. In The Student and His Local Environment, a 1967 social studies textbook for first-year intermediate school students, having “too many people in the family” was identified as the primary problem facing Egyptian families: “This problem appears clearly among the peasantry and many times among workers. Among the most important reasons for it is ignorance which makes the married couple unable to provide the money and effort required to care for children.”41 Program planners also deployed the idea of family planning as good parenting at public events celebrating the place of the family in Egyptian society. In 1965, the “Pick the Exemplary Mother” (um al-mithaliyya) contest run by the Ministry of Social Affairs in conjunction with al-Ahram newspaper (to mark the occasion of Mother’s Day) was incorporated into this campaign. The exemplary Egyptian mother, according to contest definition, was “a woman who has depended on herself in producing a generation which honors its nation.” Excluded from eligibility were women who were divorced and those who had more than three children.42

Negotiating reproduction: agency and alternatives By the early 1970s, the experiment in family planning that had been touted in the press and political speeches as a centerpiece of the regime’s state-building project was generally viewed among program observers to have failed. The


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fanfare surrounding the establishment of the family planning program and the almost weekly publication of newspaper articles chronicling the opening of another new clinic; the measures taken to bring family planning services to the most remote segments of the Egyptian population; and the photos in weekly magazines of women lined up to receive contraceptive services, belied the reality of poor program administration, poorly trained clinical staff, and a largely indifferent if not resistant target population.43 Countless studies, newspaper articles, and program assessments have delineated various reasons for the Egyptian family planning program’s quantitatively poor performance. These texts, however, tell us more about the producers of those texts than they do about the lives and choices of the people they claim to represent. Efforts to understand women’s and men’s reactions to the program and to family planning reveal how Egyptian citizens negotiated the revolutionary project in their daily lives. People’s experiences with the family planning program were filtered and processed through their positions within overlapping structures of class and gender and with their attendant notions of self and community. According to an article in Ruz al-Yusuf, messages intended to promote family planning and small family sizes often were interpreted by their target audiences in ways antithetical to the intentions of program planners. At a rural social center in Menoufiyya, for example, a poster featuring the “ideal” family of three children, contrasting this with a family of seven children in ragged clothing, was shown to local women during an outreach session on family planning. When asked for their interpretation of the picture, women pointed to the smaller family as the family that was muzluma (oppressed) and the larger family as the happy family.44 A film shown to a male audience at one village presented two families each with a monthly income of 40LE, one of which practiced family planning and the other of which did not. The film apparently met with great favor from the viewers, who joked that, if they earned 40LE a month, they too could afford to have ten children. These scenes and ones like them were repeated throughout the country.45 They suggest that family planning discourses, and the nationalist and state discourses on parenthood and domesticity that underlie them, were read and interpreted through multiple lenses and in contradictory ways. The social importance of childbearing for families and especially women is one of these lenses. For most Egyptian families, childbirth was, and is, a cherished event (Ali 2003, 382). Local social practice and nationalist assertions of the importance of motherhood fueled women’s desires to fulfill an idealized, normative feminine role. Social rituals of childbirth such as the sebou46 and the adoption by mothers and fathers of the name of their firstborn son (or daughter if they have no sons) are common among rural and working-class urban families and mark the production of children as a rite of passage for parents.47 Thus the family planning program’s promotion of birth control may have contradicted women’s views of childbirth as a blessing and infertility as a major social stigma (Inhorn 1994). Older, gendered forms of contraceptive knowledge and practice were another

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such lens. Most often, local methods were obtained through dayas (local midwives) or through knowledge passed on by neighbors and family members. Policy planners, medical personnel, and family planning advocates targeted these local methods of birth control as a source of gynecological pathology and increased maternal morbidity. Studies done on these balady48 methods of birth control, however, indicate that they were well known and commonly used, including by those most targeted by family planning policies – rural women and the urban poor.49 The safety and effectiveness of such methods is uncertain; yet, before the family planning program, women could and did actively determine their reproductive destinies. Finally, the physical experience of taking birth control, and its relation to gendered notions of self and the body, affected whether women adopted or continued family planning from the program. Side-effects were a common complaint of pill users and contributed to high rates of discontinuation.50 IUDs also could cause breakthrough bleeding and infections that produced vaginal discharges. Aside from these physical symptoms, such side-effects also impinged on a woman’s sense of self and bodily normalcy. In Assiyut, for example, reports of side-effects made some women reluctant to take contraceptive pills because they feared that using birth control would disrupt their natural bodily functions and thereby impair their ability to work and bring in income.51 Breakthrough bleeding also can hinder the performance of religious duties for Muslim women, who are not allowed to pray or fast during Ramadan while menstruating. Menstrual blood is widely connected among Egypt’s rural population to notions of pollution and bodily openness, which render women more vulnerable to affliction and ill health. The state of women’s bodies during periods of openness – childbirth, first intercourse, and certain periods of breastfeeding – were seen to be endangered by the presence of another “open,” menstruating, female body, which could inhibit fertility and lactation in new mothers (Ali 2003; Inhorn 1994). Such conceptions of health reveal gendered, relational, and social inscribed notions of the body (Ali, 2003), which contradict the individual, medically normalized body of the family planning program. These perceptions could have affected whether a woman chose to use birth control, or to discontinue contraception. Without oral histories or detailed studies of clinic attendees, it is difficult to ascertain clients’ motivations to practice birth control. The available evidence, however, suggests some reasons that women may have had for using contraception. First, patrons of family planning clinics appear to have been mostly lowerand lower middle-class women, whereas wealthier women tended to obtain contraception from family physicians or private pharmacies. Second, the women who were most likely to use family planning services were those who had already had several children and were at the middle or end of their reproductive lives. A magazine article printed interviews with women who attended a meeting about family planning services held at a governmental sugar-processing factory for its female workers and wives of workers. According to the article, all of these women were the mothers of five or six children.52 Another article


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presented an interview with Samira Mohammed Radwan, the wife of a farmer and mother of 12 sons and a daughter. According to Radwan, she and her husband did not consider family planning services until after they had already had a number of children.53 Fahima Ibrahim Gouda, who was interviewed at a family planning clinic in Minya, had been pregnant 12 times. When asked why she had come to the clinic, she replied that she wanted a rest from the “drudgery” of repeated pregnancies so that her husband, a farmer and milkman, could better support their existing children.54 These and other stories suggest that using birth control, for many women, was a strategic, often temporary decision motivated by particular health concerns or socio-economic needs rather than by agreement with the wider goals of the family planning program – to have smaller families.55 Still, women’s exposure to the discourse on Egyptian citizens’ social contract with the state influenced their motivations to use birth control. The importance of providing an education for children to ensure prosperity and upward mobility was one such motivation. Workers and workers’ wives who attended the family planning meeting at the government sugar factory mentioned above, for example, reportedly worried that the opportunity for education and, thus, a prosperous future, decreased with every child born. Reproducing the rhetoric of the revolutionary state, which held that universal public education was a key to national rejuvenation and a right held by all Egyptian citizens, one woman contrasted the Egyptian past with its present saying “Now it is necessary to educate children.” Such statements reveal some of the ways in which ordinary Egyptians understood and negotiated the complex web of rights and duties that underpinned the Nasser regime’s state-building project. It was every Egyptian’s right to have an education, to work and thus share in the benefits of the revolutionary project. Also, it was every parent’s duty to ensure that their children had access to the benefits and services that the state provided. Thus, some parents willingly invested in family planning, as one component of the state-building project, so that their children could reap the benefits of Egyptian citizenship. As stated by a 35-year-old mother of six who visited a family planning clinic in Menoufiyya, “We must plan our families so that our children can get work with the state.”

Conclusion In 1994, Egypt made international headlines as the host for the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development. Over 4,000 participants from 183 countries convened in Cairo to draw up an international plan of action on problems related to population. The agenda for discussion included, among other issues, reproductive health, birth control, poverty and “underdevelopment,” the welfare of the family, and the rights of individuals to control their own reproductive destinies. Cairo was in part chosen to host the conference because its own problems with overpopulation had made it a longstanding focus of interest in the international population community and because of the centrality of its family planning program to Egypt’s plan for economic growth.

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Speaking on the problem of overpopulation in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak stated: over-population stands in the way of development. It affects the standards of living for millions of Egyptian families and limits the government’s abilities to increase the services for its citizens. . . . A large family prevents parents from taking care of their children, so they remain illiterate, or become thieves or unhealthy members of society.”5 Mubarak, and other conference participants, praised the Cairo conference as an historic breakthrough for its unprecedented linkage of gender equality, population, and economic progress. At the same time, he joined with delegates from other Muslim countries and Latin America in cautioning that the rights of individuals to reproductive freedoms must be balanced with the welfare and preservation of the family as the guardian of national culture and social stability. In Egypt over the last three decades, the political terrain for debates about “development,” population, and family planning have changed radically. The centralized state socialism of the Nasser era has been dismantled in favor of a “development” plan that stresses privatization, foreign investment, and a retreat from the state’s provision of social services. The family planning program has gone from being almost exclusively the domain of domestic agencies to a program that takes much of its funding (and personnel) from Western donor agencies or donor-supported NGOs. Debates over family planning and population have shifted with the entrance of these donors and with the emergence of popular Islamist groups, some of whom contest family planning as a Western imposition on the Islamic world. The terms of these debates, however, have not radically changed, and center on several of Thornton’s (2001, 2005) proposed “myths” of “developmental idealism.” Specifically, the relationship between “development” and small families, population and the status of women, and family planning and particular definitions of gendered citizenship remain key sites for the negotiation of politics in Egypt. By looking at family planning in Egypt, this chapter has attempted to show how state policies and public debates reflect and (re)create notions about the family, gender, and modernity. In short, the family should be viewed as a political space and one where social, economic, and political hierarchies are produced and maintained. Such an approach challenges other work that has treated “the Arab family” as ahistorical, and permits comparisons with women, families, and state projects in other geographical and historical contexts.

Notes 1 Nascent concerns about Egypt’s population emerged in the late nineteenth century, when rural-to-urban migration, debates about social and political reform, ideas of nationhood, the ascendancy of a middle class and the application of new technologies produced a discourse on overpopulation (Mitchell 1988; Ali 2003; eShakry 2002). 2 Zahia Marzouk, who founded the Alexandria branch of the Egyptian Association for






L. Bier Family Planning, describes lecturing on the need for birth control in the 1930s and having tomatoes thrown at her (See Huston (1992)). The proceedings of the conference were published in the Journal of the Egyptian Medical Association in July 1937. The conference included in its public proceedings the first Egyptian fatwa on birth control in the twentieth century, which was handed down by the Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Abdel Majid Salam. Said al-Azmi, a statistician at the Ministry of Finance, argued in a lecture at the American University in Cairo in 1937 that, although Egypt had a high growth rate, industrialization would absorb the growing numbers. A.E. Crouchly, a professor at Fuad al-Awal University employed similar arguments in his own publications. In the 1940s Princeton demographers led by Frank Notestein (e.g., 1945) elaborated “demographic transition theory.” Taking the industrialized Western world as its norm, the theory placed all countries on a universal evolutionary scale from pre-industrial (“traditional”) to transitional to post-transitional (“modern”). It offered a general historical model that tied fertility decline to Western-style modernization and political liberalization, which included urbanization, industrialization, rising standards of living, education, and popular participation in political life. (See Susan Greenhalgh (1996).) El Sayed Abdel Hamid el-Daly, a professor from Cairo University’s faculty of Commerce, wrote in a 1953 issue of L’Egypte Contemporaine, The standard of living will not be raised by birth control but by quick economic progress. . . . Birth control is responsible for a catastrophic fall of fertility in Western countries which [arouses] the problem of fear from the decrease in population. . . . The large size of population is preferable in a world governed by the law of the forest. . . . Quality and quantity can be assured. (Abdel Hamid el-Daly 1953, 12)

7 Abdel Rahman Qadri, a professor of agriculture at Ain Shams University warned that, if a policy of limiting births was enacted, Egypt could eventually be forced, like some European countries, to import labor to meet its manpower needs. “Mushkila kabira fi nadwa kabira: tahdid al-nasl,” Hawa, 20 December 1958. 8 As late as 1959, President Gamal Abdel Nasser was advocating “development,” particularly desert reclamation, as the primary solution to curbing population growth. 9 According to Susan Greenhalgh (1996, 39–40), the shift in Notestein’s own thinking from development to family planning as a remedy for overpopulation could be traced to the situation of China, which altered the map of the post-war world, created a crisis in American foreign policy, and engendered fears that Communism would spread. 10 I take this term from Navasharan Singh (1998). 11 The Population Reference Bureau used this money to publish The Population Bulletin, in which articles about the latest in demographic theory and demographic studies on “developing” countries appeared. For a history of the Ford Foundation’s involvement in the population community, see Caldwell and Caldwell (1986). 12 In 1952, India was among the first post-colonial countries to institute a national birth control policy and as such, also captured international attention among the population community. 13 In 1947, Egypt’s population was a little over 19 million and was growing at an annual rate of 1.8 percent. 14 With Ford Foundation money, the Social Research Center was founded in 1953 to conduct demographic studies of Egypt. 15 Salah Namiq, “Hal nuhadid al-nasl?” Hawa, 24 January 1960. 16 This may be, in part, due to the objections voiced about birth control by some Christian and Muslim religious leaders (Shanawany 1973, 195). 17 Dr Mohammed Raziq, a gynecologist, conducted limited trials with the insertion of various IUDs at the Maadi Child Welfare Center in the 1930s.

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18 According to Kamran Ali (2003), more explicit efforts since the early 1980s have targeted males as a family planning constituency. 19 In 1957 the National Commission for Population Affairs became a non-governmental organization and was renamed the Egyptian Association for Population Studies. 20 Aziza Hussein. Interview by Laura Bier, tape recording, Cairo, Egypt, 20 March 2000. See also Khalifa (1974), al-Sobky (1984), Salem (1986), Baron (1994), Badran (1995), and Botman (2000). 21 These clinics opened their doors three days a week, in the evenings, so that husbands could join their wives after work. 22 By the late 1950s, female doctors often overlooked a lack of spousal consent. Hamdy Lutfy, “Marakiz tanzim al-usra tanqus al-tanzim,” al-Musawwar, 8 June 1962. 23 In the first year of their operation, clinics prescribed contraception to 424 women. By 1958, the average number of new clients annually had reached approximately 4,500. 24 In 1958, Egypt and Syria joined to form the United Arab Republic (UAR), and Nasser was elected the new polity’s president. The formation of the UAR relaxed concerns among the regime about Egypt’s population problem, because Syria’s land and resources could potentially support its growing population. When the union failed, that outlet was lost. 25 When inaugurated in 1953, Tahrir province was considered a model for the conversion of old lands to “modern” collective agriculture, which would increase the available land for cultivation. The project showed signs of failure in the early 1960s, but public criticism did not surface until 1965, when Nasser cited it in an interview as an example of muddled planning and confused thinking. 26 The literature on nationalism, domesticity, and motherhood is vast (e.g., Abugideiri (2001), Ahmed (1992), Baron (1991), Booth (2002), Chakravarti (1997), Koven and Michael (1993), Mitchell (1988), Najmabadi (1998), Pollard (1997), Russell (1997), Sen (1993), Yuval Davis (1997), Yuval Davis and Anthias (1989)). 27 Dr Khalil Mazhar tested Anoflar pills on 111 women aged 19–36 years. “ ‘Aqarat jadida ithbata mana’ al-haml wa la yuhdithan darar lil-umhaat,” al-Ahram (Cairo), 1 June 1962. Birth control pills had been available in private pharmacies since November 1959. 28 These terms are used interchangeably throughout reports and articles. 29 This work was first published in 1965 by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Sections of it were printed as pamphlets and distributed by hundreds of state and voluntary agencies as primers on Islam’s position on contraception. 30 Amina Said, “Tanzim al-usra wajib watani.” See also “Tanzim naslik asbaha wajiban wataniyan,” Hawa, 8 February, 1964, 36–37. 31 “Badaat tajarib tanzim al-usra,” Akhir Saa, 6 June 1962. 32 “Al-rifiyya al-misriyya akhsab imraa fil-alam,” al-Musawwar, 22 January 1965. 33 “Ayna takhtafy aqras mana al-haml,” al-Mussawar, 15 January 1965. 34 “Muwajiha al-waaqi fi mushkilat tanzim al-usra,” Al-Ahram (Cairo), 20 February 1965. 35 “Al-Zawja al-wahida intazamat wa al-darayir yatanafisna fi injaab,” al-Ahram (Cairo), 10 May 1966. 36 “Hal nabi wasail tanzim al-usra?” Al-Ahram (Cairo), 17 April 1966. 37 “Fikra jadida li mana al-haml,” Ruz al-Yusuf, 19 May 1969. 38 “Fellahat qariyya Menoufia yuqbilna ala marakiz tanzim al-usra,” Al-Ahram (Cairo), 12 February 1965; “Al-daya wa al-mazoun islaha jadida l-tahdid al-nasl,” Akhir Saa, 25 January 1963; “Al-Shab yunazim naslhum,” al-Mussawar, 6 December 1963; and “Hal nuhadid al-nasl?” Hawa, 24 January 1960. 39 Between 1962 and 1965, the state approved the establishment of 70 new family planning clinics, mostly run by voluntary organizations. In 1964, the Ministry of Social Affairs established a “Population and Family Planning” division to promote


40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49

50 51 52 53 54 55 56

L. Bier contraceptive services in combined health units, social centers, and government housing projects. The Ministry of Public Health, in 1965, began including family planning services in their Mother and Child Health Centers. At the end of the same year, a presidential decree established the Supreme Council for Family Planning, which was charged with drafting a total plan for nationalizing family planning services. According to John Waterbury (1972, 10), this practice contributed to a lack of commitment to the family planning program among its medical personnel. United Arab Republic, Ministry of Education, al-Tilmiz fi biatuhu al-mahaliyya (Cairo: Wizarat al-tarbiyya wa al-talim, 1967), 11. “Al-Dawa li tanzim al-nasl wa takrim al-usra,” al-Ahram (Cairo), 15 March 1965. The contest continues today with the same stipulations for eligibility. For critiques of the program, see Abdullah Imam Hassouna, “ ‘Ayub al-akhirin tamna tanzim al-usra,” Ruz al-Yusuf, 6 December 1965; “Tanzim al-usra fi haja ila tanzim!” Ruz al-Yusuf, 8 January 1968; Gadalla (1977); Ibrahim (1995). “ Ayub al-akhirin,” Ruz al-Yusuf. “Tanzim al-usra fi haja ila tanzim,” Ruz al-Yusuf. A ceremony held on the seventh day after a child’s birth. Mothers after the birth of a child may be referred to as Um (mother) of so and so and fathers as Abu of so and so. The term balady literally means “native or indigenous” as opposed to foreign. It also often signifies practices or ideas that are “traditional” as opposed to “modern.” (See Early (1993) and al-Messiri (1978a, 1978b).) A study in the late 1960s of families living in the working-class neighborhood of alLiban in Alexandria established that many women still used balady methods instead of or along with conventional methods. See “Tajriba raida bil-Iskandaria,” al-Ahram (Cairo), 28 February 1967. A study of pill use among 260 women in the Muharram Bey public housing project showed that 90.8 percent reported side-effects (Marzouk 1973). “Tajarab jadida li tanzim al-usra badaat fi Mostrad wa Assiyut,” al-Ahram (Cairo), 2 March 1967. ”Jamaiyya zaraiyya li tahdid al-nasl,” Ruz al-Yusuf, 17 February 1965. “Al-Said wa mushkilat tanzim al-usra,” Al-Ahram (Cairo), 10 January 1965. “Al-Daya wa al-mazun islaha jadida li tanzim al-usra,” Akhir Saa, 25 December 1963. This corroborates Kamran Ali’s (2003) findings from a study conducted in the 1990s. Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, al-Ahram (Cairo), 2 May 1991.

References Abdel Hamid el-Daly, El Sayed. “The Birth Rate and Fertility Trends in Egypt.” L’Egypte Contemporaine 44 (1953): 1–12. Abugideiri, Hibba. “Egyptian Women and the Science Question: Gender and the Making of Colonized Medicine, 1893–1929.” Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University, 2001. Abu-Zeid, Hikmat. “al-Dawla wa al-Usra Bayn ahadayn.” Proceedings of Mutamar alUsra. Cairo: Ministry of Social Affairs, 1964. Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992. Ali, Kamran Asdar. Planning the Family in Egypt. Austin: University of Texas, 2003. al-Messiri, Sawsan. Ibn al-Balad: A Concept of Egyptian Identity. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1978a. ——. “Self Images of Traditional Urban Women in Cairo.” In Women in the Muslim

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World, edited by Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie, 522–557. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978b. al-Sobky, Amal. al-haraka al-nisaiya fi Misr. Cairo: al-haya al-misriyya al-ama lilkitab, 1984. Anandhi, S. “Reproductive Bodies and Regulated Sexuality: Birth Control Debates in Early 20th Century Tamil Nadu.” In A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, edited by Janaki Nair and Mary Johns, 139–166. London: Zed Books, 2000. Annous, A.M. “The Dangers of Frequent Childbearing and Necessity of Birth Control.” Journal of the Egyptian Medical Association 20 (1937): 269–277. Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995. Baron, Beth. “Mothers, Morality, and Nationalism in Pre-1919 Egypt.” In The Origins of Arab Nationalism, edited by Rashid Khalidi, Lisa Anderson, Muhammad Muslih and Reeva Simon, 271–288. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. ——. The Women’s Awakening in Egypt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994. Booth, Marilyn. May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Botman, Selma. Engendering Citizenship in Egypt. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Caldwell, John C. and Pat Caldwell. Limiting Population Growth and the Ford Foundation Contribution. Dover, NH: F. Pinter, 1986. Chakravarti, Dipesh. “The Difference – Deferral of Colonial Modernity: Public Debates on Domesticity in Bengal.” In Tensions of Empire: Colonial Culture in a Bourgeois World, edited by Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, 373–405. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Cleland, Wendell. The Population Problem in Egypt. Lancaster: Science Press Printing Company, 1936. ——. “Egypt’s Population Problem.” L’Egypte Contemporaine 137 (1937): 67–87. ——. “A Population Plan for Egypt.” L’Egypte Contemporaine 195 (1939): 461–484. Crouchly, A.E. “A Century of Economic Development, 1837–1937,” L’Egypte Contemporaine (1939). Early, Evelyn. Baladi Women of Cairo: Playing with an Egg and a Stone. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 1993. Gadalla, Saad. Is There Hope? Fertility and Family Planning in a Rural Egyptian Community. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1977. Greenhalgh, Susan. “The Social Construction of Population Science: An Intellectual, Institutional and Political History of Twentieth Century Demography.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 38, no. 1 (1996): 26–66. Hussein, Aziza. “Status of Women and Family Planning in a Developing Country – Egypt.” In In Egypt: Population Problems and Prospects, edited by Abdel Omran, 181–186. Chapel Hill: Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, 1973. ——. Interviewed by author, Cairo, Egypt, 20 March 2000. Huston, Perdida. Motherhood by Choice: Pioneers in Women’s Health and Family Planning. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1992. Ibrahim, Saad Eddin. “State, Women and Civil Society: An Evaluation of Egypt’s Population Policy.” In Family, Gender and Population in the Middle East: Policies in Context, edited by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, 57–79. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1995.


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Idris, Yusef and Wadida Wassef. “The Cheapest Nights.” Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 1954. Inhorn, Marcia. The Quest for Conception. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. Khalifa, Ijlal. al-haraka al-nisaiyya al-haditha. Cairo: al-matbua al-arabiyya al-haditha, 1974. Koven, Seth and Sonya Michael, eds. Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States. London: Routledge, 1993. Marzouk, Zahia. “Social Studies on Fertility and Conception in Alexandria.” In Egypt: Population Problems and Prospects, edited by Abdel R. Omran, 381–386. Chapel Hill: Carolina Population Center, 1973. Mitchell, Timothy. Colonizing Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Crafting an Educated Housewife in Iran.” In Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, edited by Lila Abu-Lughod, 91–125. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998. Notestein, Frank. “Population: The Long View.” In Food for the World, edited by Theodore Schultz, 36–69. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1945. Pollard, Clarissa. “Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of the 1919 Revolution.” Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1997. Population Council. “The Disney Film on Family Planning.” Studies in Family Planning 1, no. 26 (January 1968): U1–U2. Robinson, Kathryn. “Government Agency, Women’s Agency: Feminism, Fertility and Population Control.” In Borders of Being: Citizenship, Fertility and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, edited by Margaret Jolly and Kalpana Ram, 36–57. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Russell, Mona. “Creating the New Woman: Consumerism, Education and National Identity.” Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University, 1997. Salem, Latifa. al-Mara al-misriyya wa al-taghayir al-ijtimai 1919–1945. Cairo: al-haya al-misriyya al-ama lil-kitab, 1986. Sen, Samita. “Motherhood and Mothercraft: Gender and Nationalism in Bengal.” Gender and History 5, no. 2 (1993): 231–243. Shakry, Omnia. “Schooled Mothers and Structured Play: Child Rearing in Turn-of-theCentury Egypt.” In Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, edited by Lila Abu-Lughod, 126–170. Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 1998. ——. “The Great Social Laboratory: Reformers and Utopians in Twentieth Century Egypt.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2002. Shanawany, Haifa. “Stages in the Development of a Population Policy.” In Egypt: Population Problems & Prospects, edited by Abdel Omran, 145–164. Chapel Hill: Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, 1973. Sharabassy, Ahmed. Islam and Family Planning. Translated by Sayed Ismael. Cairo: AlAhram Printing House, 1969. Singh, Navasharan. “Contesting Reproduction: Gender, the State and Reproductive Technologies in India.” Ph.D. diss., Carleton University, 1998. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. ——. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Toppozada, H.K. “Progress and Problems of Family Planning in the United Arab Republic.” Demography 5, no. 2 (1968): 590–597.

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Waterbury, John. “Manpower and Population Planning in the Arab Republic of Egypt.” Field Staff Reports, part 4, American Universities, 1972. Yuval Davis, Nira. Gender and Nation. London: Sage Press, 1997. Yuval Davis, Nira and Florya Anthias, eds. Woman-Nation-State. London: Macmillan, 1989.


Family law and family planning policy in pre- and postrevolutionary Iran1 Homa Hoodfar

The Islamic Republic of Iran presently houses one of the most successful family planning programs in the non-Western world. This success is all the more interesting for advocates of population programs, since the political ideologues of the Islamic regime were once among those who strongly opposed family planning. Indeed, after gaining power following the 1979 revolution, they were responsible for dismantling Iran’s then relatively new family planning program and introducing pronatalist policies. Despite warnings by “modernist” forces and criticisms from women intellectuals, the revolutionary Islamic regime also dismantled the family protection law, which had modestly improved the legal position of women vis-à-vis their husbands within marriage (Sanasarian 1982). Instead, the regime encouraged early marriage, polygamy, and temporary marriages to solve the ills of society and to promote a specific model of “the Islamic family.” These policies resulted in an increase in early and polygamous marriages, and in the population’s size to an extent that the regime reintroduced the family planning program in order to carry out its own strategies of “development” (Hoodfar 1996). This chapter examines the various phases of the population policy in Iran and the elements that led politico-religious ideologues to revise their views of family planning, and ultimately, to create a successful family planning program. This chapter also describes the mechanisms by which new Islamic ideals about family planning were disseminated widely, through for example, statements by key religious and political leaders, the press, and various family planning and health campaigns and personnel. Throughout this process, however, certain “traditional” views of the “Islamic family” held sway, in which husbands and fathers – according to Islamic family law – were to wield considerable power. The findings from interviews that the authors conducted in Iran with members of the above groups elucidate these various ideas. The success of the family planning program is especially notable because it received none of the financial support available to other poor countries that were executing population control policies. Even during the later years, when international agencies keenly supported Iran’s population policy initiative, external assistance accounted for less than 1 percent of the family planning budget. The Islamic Republic’s success highlights the importance of political will and

Family law and family planning policy in Iran


national autonomy in initiating national policies, as well as a willingness to harness “modern development” policies towards its own goals. Moreover, the population field has witnessed the rise and fall of numerous policies that have not lowered rates of fertility despite elaborate planning and often substantial international financial support. Therefore, in this recounting of the latest phase of Iranian family planning policy, this chapter examines the complex formal and informal strategies that the experts, the media, the religious authorities, and the government adopted to achieve this volte-face.2 In this process, they popularized a view of the “modern Islamic family,” which consisted of a husband, wife, and two children. Although some aspects of this model resembled the Western, nuclear-family ideal as described by Thornton (2001, 2005), support for the “modern Islamic family” hinged on finding its roots in Islamic text.

Introduction of the first family planning policy 1967–1979 Iran, despite its modernization policies under the Shah (1941–1979) and contrary to some of its regional counterparts (e.g., Turkey and Egypt), became concerned with population issues relatively late; the first official family planning policy was introduced in 1967. This inattention to family planning stemmed from a lack of appreciation of the importance of population issues rather than from any official desire for continued population growth. In fact, Iran had experienced a very rapid rate of population growth since the turn of the century (Table 4.1). The 1967 family planning program mainly targeted urban women, even though most “traditional” contraceptive methods were male-oriented (e.g., coitus interruptus). For this reason and because of a lack of technical and financial resources, oral contraceptives (OCs) eclipsed other contraceptive options, such as the intrauterine device (IUD), condoms, and vasectomy. OCs became the de facto official contraceptive method, and were distributed mainly through the network of Ministry of Health clinics and hospitals (Lieberman 1979; Aghajanian 1991a; Aghajanian and Mehryar 1999; Mossavar-Rahmani 1983). Despite its shortcomings, the short-lived program was successful. By 1976, it Table 4.1 Population of Iran Year

Population (million)

1900 1956 1966 1976 1986 1996 2001a

10.0 18.9 25.7 33.7 49.4 59.5 64.5

Source: Centre for Statistical Information, Iran. Note a World Bank Development data.


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covered 11 percent of women of childbearing age (Aghajanian 1991a, 708). This success stemmed in part from the large unmet demand for contraception among urban middle-class and more established working-class families, who disliked the customary methods of contraception and were eager to limit the size of their families, given the economic pressures of urban living (Hoodfar forthcoming). Some limited improvements in women’s legal status followed the family planning program’s initiation. The introduction of the Family Protection Law curbed men’s unilateral right to divorce at will and limited the practice of polygyny by requiring either the court’s authorization or the first wife’s permission (Sansarian 1982; Aghajanian 1991b, 1996). The custody of children after divorce also was to be decided in their best interest rather than by customary precedent, which denied custody (except of infants) to divorced mothers (MirHosseini 1993). This law marginally improved mothers’ chances of gaining custody. Moreover, both socially and legally, women were encouraged to take public employment. On the whole, these modest reforms presented the most significant improvements in the legal position of women in twentieth-century Iran, and further incensed many conservatives who had opposed the referendum giving women the right to vote in 1963 (Paidar 1995; Sanasarian 1982). Indeed, many conservatives and religious leaders (most notably Ayatollah Khomeini) criticized the family planning program and the reform of marriage and divorce laws (Algar 1981; Paidar 1995; Sanasarian 1982). Many religious leaders used their Friday sermons to condemn family planning as a Western imperialist plot to reduce the number of Muslims and to subjugate Muslim countries. Although historically Islam had permitted contraception, many religious leaders denounced it as haram (religiously not permitted) following the introduction of the Shah’s program.3 The success of the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic left the family planning program in disarray (Hoodfar 1996). The country’s new leaders continued to view the program as a Western imperialist tool for maintaining dominance over the “Third World,” and especially its Muslim populations. For a short period, some confusion persisted about whether drugstores could continue to sell contraceptive pills, since some religious leaders had pronounced them un-Islamic. This situation promoted the growth of a black market in contraceptives in major cities where demand remained relatively high. After some public debate, however, religious authorities conceded that there was no religious impediment to the use of contraceptives. Still, supplies continued to be erratic, and prices skyrocketed.4 The family planning board was dismantled, and employees of family planning clinics were transferred to other sectors, notably school health visits.

The Islamic Republic’s approach to “development” and the population issue The early years of the Islamic regime were consumed with establishing and stabilizing the new regime by eliminating oppositional groups and refining the

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regime’s ideological position on economic and social matters. This process was difficult, as the political leadership consisted mainly of independent religious leaders with little political experience or skill in running a populous country that was to be fully integrated into the world economy. The emerging consensus on approaches to “development” differed fundamentally from that of the Shah’s regime. The former essentially had followed the trickle-down theory and concentrated on building a stratum of urban middle class and expanding the urban economy through oil revenues. This approach prevailed despite the Shah’s introduction of a land reform program, which markedly altered rural structures and induced a rapid rate of urbanization (Halliday 1979; Looney 1982). In contrast, the Islamic Republic prioritized the population’s basic needs, and strove to secure support from the poor and less privileged, which constituted the regime’s major constituency. Also, conscious that the rural population was uneasy about the new government,5 the regime worked to secure their support. The Iran–Iraq war and its associated hardships rendered these tasks especially arduous. An overview of policies instituted after the revolution reveals three major channels through which the government has attempted to reach the less privileged: the provision of basic foodstuffs, the expansion of education, and the expansion of basic health care. First, the government developed an elaborate rationing system to ensure the affordability of minimum food and fuel requirements. They adopted this policy despite its short-term drain on the government’s budget (Amirahmadi 1990) and its long-term unsustainability. Second, the regime expanded access to Islamic education. The government viewed education as a vehicle to disseminate its ideology and to counteract the Westernized worldview that the previous regime had promoted. Thus, primaryschool manuals were quickly revised, and within a few months after the revolution, a substantial amount of religious material was added to the curricula, particularly those of primary schools. With the help of volunteers and committed personnel, new schools also were established in rural areas.6 Although there was some debate about gender-specific education for boys and girls, which caused critics to anticipate negative consequences for girls’ education, the Islamic regime has encouraged parents to send their daughters to school (Mehran 1991; UNICEF 1995). The content of educational material, however, continues to depict segregated and specific gender roles for men and women, although the nuclear family remains the primary form of family representation (Ferdows 1994; Higgins and Pirouz 1991; Mehran 1991). On the other hand, the Islamic appearance of education has disarmed many parents who previously opposed female education on religious grounds, and there is increased social pressure to educate daughters. A successful adult literacy campaign also was launched (Mehran 1991, 1992), of which a noteworthy aspect is that the classes have attracted proportionately more women than men.7 The net result has been a higher overall rate of female literacy, a higher rate of educational enrollment among children, and a reduction of the gender gap in enrolment rates (UNICEF 1995). These statistics have enabled the Islamic regime to refute accusations that


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women’s education would suffer while it has strengthened its religious and ideological hold on the nation and has reaffirmed its commitment to helping the less privileged. However, the rapidly growing school-age population has challenged the regime’s ability to provide – and much less improve – universal basic education. By the late 1980s, overcrowded classrooms, a deficit of textbooks, teacher shortages, and unsuitable buildings became topics of social debate, political jokes, and a legitimate vehicle of criticism of the Islamic regime, which remained intolerant of political criticism. These factors sensitized many religious leaders to the problems of a rapidly growing population. Improving universal access to basic health services has been a third avenue through which the regime has communicated its commitment to the less privileged of Iran. The government allocated a large segment of its budget to health and prioritized basic health care, common diseases, and mother-and-child health centers. The government also encouraged a young and loyal professional sector to implement an efficient, low-cost health system. Many of the new managers and medical personnel were from smaller towns or had lived outside the major centers, and some understood the needs of Iran’s diverse geographic areas and more than 40,000 rural villages. In this way, the Ministry of Health developed one of the most fascinating and cost-efficient health delivery networks in the “developing” world (Shadpour 1994). In addition to hospitals and community health centers in the towns and cities, the Ministry of Health established “health houses” in the larger villages, which provide basic health care for the surrounding population. The health houses keep records of all residents, giving special attention to pre- and post-natal care. Nurses give basic care, and a doctor visits each health house twice weekly to provide specialized care. The national achievements of this system have been commendable. The infant mortality rate dropped substantially (Table 4.2), as did maternal mortality. And, life expectancy increased, despite the devastating eight-year Iran–Iraq war (1981–1988), which consumed a considerable amount of the Health Ministry’s budget and personnel (Table 4.3). These trends demonstrate the importance of

Table 4.2 Changes in the health profile of Iranians

Infant mortality rate Maternal mortality ratea Life expectancy






91 – –

51 140a 67.5

45 91 67

34 40 –

– – 69.3

Source: Shadpour (1994), and World Bank Development Data for 2002. Note a The gap between rural and urban figures for 1974 is considerable. According to the Budget and Planning Organization, the MMR was 120 for urban and 370 for rural areas. Similarly in 1985, the estimates were 77 for urban and 223 for rural. These figures changed to 41 and 138 for 1988.

Family law and family planning policy in Iran


Table 4.3 Budget allocation of regime (%)

Education Ministry of Health Ministry of Defence






8.5 3.0 28.0

16.0 6.0 10.5a

17.6 7.5 13.0a

22.0 9.0 10.5

13.0 7.0 5.0

Source: Planning Organization. Note a The Iran–Iraq war was from 1981–1988.

political choices with respect to development priorities. Like the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health perceived that rapid population growth was placing increasing pressure on the system. Taking care of the health of oneself, one’s family, and especially young children, was preached as an important religious duty (Hoodfar 2001). Women in particular were implicated, as they are considered the primary caregivers for their families. Notably, these messages were addressed to mothers and the youths, rather than to grandmothers and elders, who were customarily the source of advice on health and herbal remedies. The new regime had not formulated a population program, and indeed pursued a series of pronatalist policies. Many political leaders viewed a large population as an indication of strength and a cause for celebration. The regime also encouraged early marriage, which it viewed as an important tool in its eradication of moral corruption. Thus, the legal age of marriage was reduced for males from 18 to 14 years, and for females from 16 to nine years; the law was later amended to require that spouses have reached the age of puberty, which usually is understood to occur at age 13 for women (Kar and Hoodfar 1996).8 Within two weeks of Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran, the Family Protection Law was effectively annulled (Kar and Hoodfar 1996; Mir-Hosseini 1993; Paidar 1995). Polygynous marriages, as well as temporary marriages, in which a man can concurrently marry an unlimited number of women for any length of time agreed upon in advance, were legalized and even encouraged (Haeri 1989).9 Temporary marriage was especially applauded as an indication that Islam is a timeless religion since it allows humans to satisfy their sexual needs within religiously sanctioned unions. In short, the state authority at this historical juncture viewed marriage and procreation as a means through which all social ills could be cured, while promoting “Islamic” culture by endorsing “the Muslim family.” Not surprisingly, the level of fertility increased rapidly following the revolution, despite such mitigating factors as the Iran–Iraq war, substantial outmigration, and economic uncertainty. Increased insecurity for women in marriage also played a major role in increasing fertility. For instance, when we were conducting interviews with women and gynecologists, they casually talked about women’s second sets of children. Specifically, many women who had had


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one or two children in the 1970s and had decided that was enough, started to have children again after the revolution. Thus, there was an age gap between the first and second sets of children. Some women justified this decision by saying that a larger family may be better or that “we felt our children needed more support in the future and siblings are the most secure source of support. . . .” Other women half-jokingly said that, if they did not have children for their husband, other women would. Still others told us, “have you not heard about all the temporary wives now getting themselves pregnant and taking over the long life wife?” Indeed, Iran did experience an increase in fertility among older women (Aghajanian and Mehryar 1999, 8). To portray itself as a government of the mostazefin (the oppressed and downtrodden), the regime had made promises, which were embedded in the constitution, to provide basic amenities such as health care, free education, and job opportunities. Certain domains of service were identified as major vehicles for the transformation of Iran into a just Islamic society in which all people would have fair – if not equal – opportunities. Moreover, the increase in an already high rate of urbanization and the creation of mega-cities during the first decade of the revolution, suggested that failure to deliver these promises would have severe political ramifications for the regime, because urban society has historically dominated Iranian politics. The more politically astute religious/political leaders were conscious of a potentially explosive dilemma, especially since many of the ulama, both inside and outside the government, continued to bolster a pronatalist worldview. Along with the political leaders, the Budget and Planning Organization, the Ministries of Health and Education, and nationalists and intellectuals within and outside the government were concerned by rapid population growth and its implications for development. They felt that it was their role to pave the road for a reassessment of pronatalist policies and the introduction of an effective population program. Yet they appreciated the delicacy of this subject, as many of the present leaders had been among the most outspoken enemies of the so-called “Shah’s population program.” The challenge was how to make this shift without undermining the regime and the credibility of the religious leaders.

Building the right political ambiance The 1986 national survey estimated that the population had reached nearly 50 million, an increase of just below 39 percent in a decade. Even more significant, 45 percent of Iran’s population was now under the age of 14 years. The urgency of population growth became even more apparent when the Budget and Planning Organization, in anticipation of the end of the Iran–Iraq war, was mandated to prepare a five-year “development” plan for the country. The question, then, was how to persuade the government’s religious and political ideologues, who actively encouraged pronatalist policies, not only to reconsider these policies but also to introduce and support population control. At this stage, a delicately

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planned mobilization of support for the idea was informally launched among the advocates of a population program. Their strategy was twofold. First, they generated public support for population control and the introduction of a family planning program. As the data from the national survey became available, experts and intellectuals (many of whom were affiliated with the Budget and Planning Organization or universities) initiated a public debate through newspapers and other media. Aware of the influence that public opinion had on the regime and religious leaders, they embarked on writing informative but also provocative articles for the national newspapers, pointing out the cost and implications of a growing and increasingly young population.10 During 1987 and 1988, many newspapers regularly published articles about the dangers of overpopulation for Third World countries (Hoodfar 1995). These articles were followed by specific discussions of issues surrounding population in Iran, and invitations to the public to participate in this debate.11 Missing in these early articles, however, were references to the role of women and family structure. The discussion primarily focused on the consequences for the government of a large young population. Only Zan-e-rouz, the state-sponsored women’s magazine, concerned itself with the cost of high fertility to women’s health. Some workers’ magazines also addressed the economic cost of too many children to average workers, all of whom were assumed to be male, since legally and religiously men are supposed to be the providers. The discussion of high fertility and family structure remained out of bounds for the public sphere. Clearly the propagators of the introduction of family planning knew that issues of family, women’s position, and marriage were political. Many religiously conservative political leaders were willing to support family planning, but they would not have been interested in re-examining marriage and the institution of the family. Many ministries, facing growing demand and shrinking budgets, understood the grave consequences of continued population growth for the country. Thus, they became willing agents for change and often provided articles for newspapers or gave interviews in which they described the implications of rapid population growth for their areas of responsibility, such as education, health, agriculture, food supply, housing, and municipal services. Ordinary people also expressed their views, usually in support of the introduction of a family planning policy. Many newspaper reporters conducted interviews in the streets of Tehran and other cities on the question of population and family planning issues. As one official put it, “[t]he goal was to make the population issue the talk of the town everywhere, in private and in public. Otherwise, without considerable public pressure, it would be impossible to bring the clergy into the population discussion.” An interesting aspect of this media debate was that individuals (including lay people, politicians, and intellectuals) who opposed any kind of population program had the opportunity to voice their opinions.12 Their letters to the newspaper often reminded readers that population programs have been – and continue to be – the child of imperialism. Advocates of population programs, critics said, must be reminded that the goal should be “development” and not


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population reduction, which was a misdirection of the nation’s efforts. The public was often invited to respond, and the responses of both experts and ordinary people were published. Women’s magazines also supported the campaign, and printed articles highlighting different sides of the debate, as well as the centrality of the social and economic position of women and balanced “development” programs. By 1988, substantial support for the introduction of an official family planning policy was apparent. In fact, some private citizens and independent experts expressed bewilderment at the government’s silence on the matter. This public debate served several purposes. On the one hand, the tolerance for criticism allowed the debates to assume a much more democratic form and reminded the public and the experts that population control should be a small part of the government plan. The major focus should be “development” and the improved delivery of services. On the other hand, discussion of the role of family, family law, and women’s rights was conspicuously absent during this period of public debate. No article referred to the problems of early marriage, polygamous marriage, and the relationship between women’s insecurity in marriage and their fertility. No talk arose of women’s labor market participation and population trends. The proponents of population policy understood that issues of family and family law were off limits. They also knew that, given the weight that all political and religious leaders had attached to the “Islamic family,” tackling the subject at this moment was strategically unwise because doing so would only fuel the opposition. Even during the 1990s and the height of popularity of the family planning program, officials were careful to portray a good mother and wife, to stress the complementarity of the husband’s and wife’s roles, and to stress that what is good for women is also good for the family. Women’s magazines, as few as they were, acted similarly. They supported the campaign for a family planning program and often printed articles highlighting various sides of the debate. They also brought women’s health and the impact of frequent births on them and their children into the equation. After the population policy was approved, however, the women’s print media focused on the social and economic position of women and on a gender-balanced “development” program (Hoodfar 1996). The second strategy that experts used to secure support from religious ideologues for a population policy was the education of top government ideologues on the importance of the population issue. The new leaders had no experience in government or in administrating a populous country with multifaceted needs. Moreover, Iran’s clergy had been alienated from formal power structures in the twentieth century, in the name of “scientific development” and modernization. This experience had made them wary of development theories/plans/policies, which many viewed as destructive of the country’s agricultural sector, religion, and ethics in favor of “non-Muslim”/Western ways, especially since such plans often emphasized technical measures rather than the ethical, moral, or spiritual needs of a society. The clergy, in the years before the revolution, had responded to its exclusion by withdrawing completely from contemporary science and thus had little appreciation of the tech-

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nical and theoretical advancement in the fields of development and social policy, a reality well understood by the experts. Several interviewees, who were population and development experts, mentioned that there had been attempts after 1979 to draw the political leadership’s attention to the population situation but that there had been little interest in the subject at that time. By the late 1980s, however, the situation had changed. Many ministers, experts, and policy makers held closed meetings with major religious leaders, especially those judged to be more politically astute, to inform them of the situation. According to several interviewees, these meetings were accompanied by facts and figures depicting the extent of the country’s resources, the possibility of increased economic growth, and the high cost of very rapid population growth. While the technical experts supplied the religious leaders with population and economic information, they reiterated that their responsibility was to inform the leaders regarding scientific questions, but that in terms of ethics and social morality, they looked to the religious leaders to provide guidance. Thus, barriers between the technical experts and the religious leaders diminished through the strategic recognition that many “development” issues, and especially population matters, have important moral and ethical dimensions beyond the expertise of population planners. This understanding, along with their common interest in the success of the Islamic government, formed the beginning of a long and successful collaboration in addressing population (Hoodfar 1997), and encouraged the clergy to re-examine its position from an Islamic perspective.

Engaging religious leaders in the public debate on population control Despite much private discussion between expert groups and religious leaders, the latter remained conspicuously absent from the early stages of public debate. Whereas it had been established in the early years of the revolution that there were no prohibitions in Islam against the use of contraception, the appropriateness of government leadership in population control was a qualitatively different – and still ambiguous – issue. However, as the public debate progressed and widespread support for the program became obvious, the necessity for even wary religious/political leaders to address the matter publicly became inevitable. In an unprecedented and bold move, some of the newspapers, notably Keyhan (but also Ettelaat), published a series of eight articles by different officials and scholars, outlining the different sides of the population debate. These newspapers then openly invited religious leaders to examine the ethical and religious dimensions of the issue. The scene was set. The pretext of the invitation was that, although scholars and professionals knew technical aspects of the population issue, ethical and religious aspects – which should be an integral part of the discussion – were not part of their expertise. Thus religious leaders were asked to clarify these aspects from their point of view, making the public debate


H. Hoodfar

more fruitful. After all, providing such guidance is the duty of the highest echelons of the religious hierarchy, including the major political leader. While some shied from the invitation, others – including such conservatives as Ayatollah Azari, Ayatollah Qomi, Hojatolislam Yazdi, Hojatolislam Moqtadari, and Hojatolislam Bayat – agreed to address the issue. Their views were published in eight of the 16 articles printed in January 1987 by Keyhan, the most widely distributed national newspaper, controlled by the conservatives since the revolution. Regardless of their views about the role of the state in promoting family planning, all religious leaders reiterated that nothing in Islam prohibited the use of contraception and a choice to have fewer children. Furthermore, since contextualization is an inherent part of ethical debate in Islam, they all found themselves having to contextualize the issue in view of the social and political agenda of the Islamic Republic. This series was followed by numerous articles and radio and television programs in which religious leaders participated directly in the population debate. These debates varied in their focus and solutions. The religious leaders focused on when, whether, and under what conditions a population policy would be permissible by an Islamic government. Others focused on the questions of delivery of services to the citizens, or the more general question of “development.” Some focused on population policy as a means of protecting the country’s newly found independence. Similar discussion emerged in the religious sermons of lower-ranking clerics and in the nationally televised, official Friday sermon, where the government’s political concerns and agendas are discussed each week. In this manner, scholars, policy makers, and religious leaders became partners in shaping the population policy debate. In 1988, Ayatollah Khamenei (who later succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini to become Iran’s official spiritual leader) discussed the necessity of introducing a family planning program. Shortly after, the Budget and Planning Organization organized a national conference on population policy in Mashhad, the most important religious city in Iran, inviting religious leaders, policy makers, scholars, ministers, and representatives from all national organizations. A national birth control program was designed following the conference; the program was ratified by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme religious/political leader, shortly before his death in 1989.

The making of the “Islamic” population policy The making of the Islamic Republic’s family planning program has been a prolonged and delicate process that has balanced various considerations.13 Clearly, religious/political leaders would not give their blessing to the program until it left no room for criticism from either religious or socio-economic points of view. Also, policy makers understood that the population program’s ratification was only a first step, and that the continued cooperation and support of the ulama was needed for the program’s success. As one official stated, You see, clearly they have a way with people. We can scientifically discuss the matter but they can relate this to every aspect of people’s lives, moral

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and material. That is an art that we, the so-called experts, do not usually possess. . . . The ulama were aware of the criticism that population programs of other Muslim countries received due to low levels of success, poor quality of services, and lack of respect for individual rights and communal ethical values. The ulama, therefore, would only cooperate if such a move would not undermine the public’s support. Policy makers also knew, as other studies have demonstrated, that the leadership’s commitment to a population program, especially in its infancy, would be essential for its success (Ibrahim 1995; Jain 1994). Knowing these realities, policy makers sought to carve out a well-conceived and practical program. Throughout the debates, discussions about population focused on imbalances between demand (population) and supply (national resources). The experts also worked to avoid creating the impression that the regime saw population control as a solution to its “development” problems. As a result, the government focused on other fronts to build a just Islamic society. Notably, the family planning program has been presented as crisis management, and not an inherent part of the regime’s “development” program. Religious leaders continue to insist that the intervention of an Islamic government in population control cannot be an unqualified one. Within an Islamic context, such a program can be justified only by social and economic reasons or another crisis situation. Thus, once the cause is removed, the justification for such a program and the intervention by an Islamic government is also to be annulled, even if people continue using contraceptives. Ironically, this insistence on the part of religious ideologues has created some tension, since program directors continuously have to justify the existence and relevance of the campaign for the nation’s well-being. However, as the success of family planning becomes increasingly clear, advocates of the program have begun to underscore the need not only to maintain fertility at present levels but also to design a comprehensive, long-term population program that will monitor the population pyramid and help to build a strong nation. Both camps, the religious leaders and the experts, were committed to a “family planning” program that addressed family planning in a real sense: the program should allow couples to decide how many children they desired, rather than serve as a disguised vehicle of population control. All parties agreed that an Islamic family planning program should offer services and remedies to couples who experience fertility problems, as well as to those who wish to limit their family size. Despite the high cost of some fertility technologies (including artificial insemination), the program has expanded its facilities in several cities across the country. This expansion, while falling short of actual demand, has been prominently discussed in the print media. Such media coverage prevents information and communicates that Iran’s population control program is unconventional. These facilities have generated new opportunities for the ulama to demonstrate the need for ethical guidance in an era of rapid technological change.14


H. Hoodfar

The major goal of the program was carefully defined as the prevention of unwanted pregnancies so as to make it possible for families to improve their physical and social health. This goal would be achieved by creating a suitable space between consecutive pregnancies; preventing the transmission of genetic diseases; preventing the negative effects of frequent births on the health of mothers and their children; curing infertility; and expanding research in health and social work to facilitate the more effective delivery of services. At this stage, family enters into the discussion, but as a known, unproblematic institution that need not be defined (see Joseph, this volume). Despite a lack of discussion of the family and the position of women within the family and society, the improvement of women’s position within the family and society was identified as a vehicle to promote the success of the family planning program (Hoodfar 1995; Malek Afzali 1992). This goal emerged out of a critical literature on population programs, which encouraged policy makers to be sensitive to an array of criticisms – including feminist concerns – directed at such programs. References to the improvement of women’s position, however, have remained theoretical. None of the directors of the program interviewed has ever referred to the power imbalances within the family, despite evidence of their important implications for fertility patterns (Balchin et al. 1995; Hoodfar 1996). Neither have program directors adopted policies or engaged in public discussion addressing the need for women’s employment or other forms of economic security within marriage, even though these matters are debated routinely in the print media, and women activists have attempted to link the position of women and their fertility behavior (Hoodfar 1996). For instance, several articles in the Zan-e-Rouz, the major women’s magazine at the time, discussed the lack of economic security and women’s higher fertility. The only point on which program directors have expressed an intention to improve women’s status and thereby encourage them to limit family size has been on increasing the legal age of marriage, thus far only partially successful since legally, based on sharia, women’s age of majority is nine years while for men it is 14 years. Still, the explicit recognition of the importance of improving women’s position makes it possible to address the subject later. The program has managed to keep its democratic nature and, despite much emphasis on “two-child families” (often by stressing the equal value of boys and girls), the government has insisted that the final choice belongs to parents. To coordinate government policies and remove pronatalist structural tendencies, however, the government introduced a bill in 1993 that suspended maternity privileges and child benefits for government and para-government employees having fourth or additional children. The bill had little practical effect because child benefits in Iran are negligible even for poor families, but its symbolic power generated a flurry of criticism. The government was accused of deploying a cheap tactic and interfering with a private domain of families. Many physicians and others who supported the population program objected to this measure, stating that such policies would punish the child rather than mitigate the problem. Although the law remains on the books, its application is erratic because of such opposition.

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Debates and policies on contraceptive methods Program directors were aware that their success hinged on building trust between service providers and clients. They adopted a policy of trying to supply high-quality products, even if these cost more and would somewhat retard the expansion of the program. Program directors also worked to maintain abundant supplies of contraceptives, such as pills, IUDs, and condoms, and to start a simple and cost-efficient distribution system in the cities and rural areas. Initially, controversial methods such as Norplant were not approved for distribution through the public family planning program, although they were available privately. Later, these methods were approved for public distribution on a limited scale and only in major centers where trained physicians were available to provide adequate follow-up. Gradually, the use of these alternative methods was permitted on a larger scale. The program directors also endorsed “putting the truth on the table,” as one of them put it. Side-effects of different methods, particularly the pill and IUD, were discussed openly in the print media and also on radio and television, especially during the early years of the program. Women were advised to find what was best for them, and the staff of clinics and health houses encouraged this approach. The campaign emphasized that, although the health network would try to provide the best information available, women (as most “modern” contraceptive methods are directed to them) should make their own decisions. This open approach and recognition of the agency of women/families have created considerable goodwill and trust between citizens and the health authorities, especially in the area of family planning. In interviews with low-income women in Tehran, Hoodfar found that many who had tried private family planning services eventually turned to public clinics, stating that the public services were as good or better than those in the private sector, and that they could not justify spending their limited resources on contraceptives. The authorities also addressed other considerations in choosing the contraceptive methods that they advocated as part of the public program. According to religious authorities, safe temporary measures met the Islamic standard, whereas tubal ligation and vasectomy were problematic. Methods that permanently injure or harm a person were deemed Islamically unacceptable because they would render individuals aghim (unable to have children). Yet, others argued that if the people concerned already had children, such methods could not be considered aghim, whereas if they did not yet have children, they should not choose this method. Furthermore, some of the experts as well as religious groups argued that increasingly these methods (especially vasectomy) are potentially reversible. These debates occurred in public and in private, and culminated in the informal consensus to offer these methods only to couples who have three children and/or are over 30 years of age. Moreover, the program directors made a commitment to increase research and training for the surgical reversal of vasectomy and tubal ligation. The leadership also agreed to allocate more funds to training doctors in this field. Priority was given to training female doctors in


H. Hoodfar

these specialties, since, according to the Islamic ideologues (and supported by many women), women in an Islamic society should ideally visit female doctors, especially for gynecological care. Vasectomy has remained less popular than other methods although, with new initiatives to provide physicians on site, tubal ligation and to a lesser extent vasectomy are becoming more popular in rural areas. Abortion has been the most controversial issue in the population debate worldwide. Most ulama agree that, under some conditions and before ensoulment, abortion is permissible.15 Still, abortion has remained illegal in Iran, except when the pregnancy is judged to be detrimental to the psychological and physical health of the mother, whose health and well-being have priority over the continued development of the fetus.16 Aware of the controversy surrounding abortion, advocates of the population program and the program directors (mostly physicians) acknowledged the importance of the abortion issue but resisted being drawn into the debate by announcing that abortion was a health matter and not a family planning matter. Abortion, therefore, was outside the scope of the program. This strategy had two effects. First, the regime was able to distinguish its Islamic family planning from other, non-Islamic ones. Second, the regime prevented those who opposed the program from using abortion as a platform for attack.17

Packaging Islamic family planning A sensitive and cautiously implemented family planning policy and reliable services are only some of the factors influencing the success of such a program. In a democratic society, the most significant elements for success are public awareness and participation. Thus, experts and religious authorities encouraged ordinary people to see that the very private decision to have children affects not only their own lives but also the nation’s life. Thus, the government had to convince the population and women to accept and to participate in limiting the size of their families, and the campaign for promotion of family planning had to continue for some time. Given the Iranian context, the primary constituencies of the family planning program were low-income and rural households. Yet these were precisely the segments of the population that the educated and technocratic elite found difficult to reach. Instead, low-ranking religious leaders played a decisive role in popularizing the population issue. By profession, they are skilled speakers who tend to adopt a vernacular style, and they have intimate familiarity with the religious and cultural practices of their local communities. These attributes made them indispensable to the consensus-building process, and physicians, nurses, and others who were working in low-income neighborhoods often recognized the significance of their role. A female staff member at one clinic said, It is not very often that I have good things to say about mullahs who have historically been responsible for much of women’s misery. But in this case, credit should go to the religious authorities of the country and not just the

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most prominent ones, but those working in different areas who then took the messages from the high ranking leaders and put this into the context of the daily life of the local people and communicated the debates and information to the people around them. . . . Besides their access to the media, religious leaders also have a network of tens of thousands of local mosques, most of which are patronized by members of the less privileged social groups in urban and rural areas. The participation of religious leaders in the debate was also self-serving. First, it allowed them to explain to the public their change of heart on the population question while avoiding accusations of exploiting Islam and religion for their own political goals. Second, they had a chance to distinguish an “Islamic family planning program” from one that “imperialists” imposed on the nation. They emphasized that in Islamic family planning, as much care will be put into helping those couples who may have medical problems to conceive as in helping those who need contraception to control their fertility – because their program is family planning and not population control. Third, by participating in these debates, they could show that the religious leaders are not arch-conservatives, but can be forerunners for “modernity” and scientific knowledge when these issues can help to build a strong, healthy Islamic society. The religious authorities saw their first task as dispelling the myth that the population debate originated in “modern,” Western societies. Reviewing debates on the permissibility of population control and sponsoring research and the republication of medieval Islamic works on population and contraception, they established that concern over population had preoccupied Muslim scholars long before it was discussed in the West.18 This work gave the religious authorities a chance to celebrate Iran’s Islamic heritage, to promote family planning, and to reinforce their independence from Western imperialism. In this way, several elements of Thornton’s (2001, 2005) concepts of “modern family” and “modern society” were identified as having Islamic rather than Western roots, and this heritage helped to popularize the idea of family planning at all levels of Iranian society. Another task of the religious authorities was to justify the role of the Islamic government in promoting and sponsoring family planning. They justified the intervention as an attempt to resolve the dilemma of a government of the mostazefin in balancing its constitutional commitment to provide services to its population within the constraints of limited resources. The population question became a concern of the Islamic government out of necessity. After all, how can Iran move toward a just, fair, Islamic society and cherish its independence if it cannot educate its children, or find jobs for its youth? Worse yet, how can the nation be independent and champion the cause of the oppressed if it must beg for its food from the same imperialists that Iranians fight to resist? As an example, they frequently gave data from other Muslim nations such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Religious leaders concluded that the Muslim world should no longer be concerned with increasing the number of Muslims but rather with


H. Hoodfar

producing healthy, intelligent, well-trained, and moral Muslims who would be able to fight their oppressors and ensure the predominance of societies that are worthy of being called the ummah of Prophet Muhammad. Although a Muslim government would not institute a draconian program like China’s one-child policy, individuals must make their family-building choices with the public interest in mind. At the individual level, much attention was paid to the impact of frequent births on the health of women and their children. Equally, attention was given to the psychological trauma of children who receive little love and attention from their parents, especially from mothers, who are too busy dealing with other siblings. Religious leaders also told stories of fathers’ desperation at being unable to provide their children with food and schooling, or of a father of four or five children who once again failed to pay the rent on his single room. These anecdote showed that suffering in this way is un-Islamic, and that having smaller families is less burdensome and allows parents to enjoy their children. Although the intensity of these sermons greatly diminished as the family planning program and its religious acceptability crystallized, local religious speakers continue to remind families of the importance of family planning.

Strategies for keeping the print media interested Journalism in Iran, even for national or semi-national high-circulation newspapers and magazines, is not the glorified and well-paid profession that it often appears in other countries.19 Censorship and government ties to national newspapers often discourage journalists from critical discussion of social and political issues. That said, newspapers and mass media often do not dwell on a topic after it loses its sensational aura. Thus, sustaining the interest and involvement of journalists in family planning and population control required a fresh outlook from the program management. The management adopted a strategy of contacting not only the senior newspaper editors but also capable, energetic, often young journalists, whom they invited to seminars and meetings where they were encouraged to cover population issues. Program directors arranged interviews for reporters with key officials and experts who supported the idea of family planning. Each time an article on population or family planning appeared, program managers wrote or telephoned the managing editor and the journalist responsible for the articles. As one program director explained in an interview: The reality is that journalists are often not appreciated for their work, nor do they get raises or praise. Moreover, like other government and public employees, they have to engage in a second job to compensate for their low pay. Journalists at small papers usually work out of interest and are rarely paid at all. Thus to keep them interested and involved, we tried to make sure that they realized their efforts were appreciated. While there were few cash resources to remunerate their efforts, the short thank-you notes signed by

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deputy ministers, and personal invitations to official and semi-official events can do wonders. You see, maybe in the West it is different, but in Iran personal relationships are still highly valued. Many people, including journalists and key government officials, also had to be educated or at least encouraged to look seriously at population. Thus, many key personnel on the board of the family planning program used their personal friendships to encourage ministers, key organizational leaders, intellectuals, and experts to write informative articles, or respond to some of the points raised by those who disagreed with population control. As one executive member of the board explained in an interview: The key to keeping the debates alive was expanding the pool of people who were interested in participating in the debate and not making the discussion a specific responsibility of the Board of Family Planning. This meant that sometimes we had to intervene and try to arrange interviews between journalists and different officials, or to pursue those who had committed themselves to write articles for journals and direct programs at the radio and television to keep to the promises that were sometimes made at informal dinners in a moment of enthusiasm. These public relation jobs had to be a priority for all senior members if the program was to be successful. Many officials were also quick to mention that, since personal relationships are by definition reciprocal, this often placed extreme demands on the time of the personnel, and sometimes strained inter-ministerial politics.

Building and promoting alliances across government organizations Population programs cut across many governmental organizations, from education to housing and transport, for example. The directors of the program, although mainly physicians, understood this interconnection and tried to involve the religious leaders and as many governmental agencies as possible. Their ultimate goal was that all governmental agencies should see the population program as theirs, or at the very least compatible with their goals. Creating such coordination has been challenging, however, because there were few precedents for this kind of cooperative initiative within Iranian public-sector culture. The situation was made more difficult by considerable competition between different ministries seeking a larger share of the shrinking government budget. As one official of the Budget and Planning Organization who had been involved with the family planning program said, It is unrealistic to expect to simply issue a government decree urging officials in diverse ministries whose goals and priorities may have been defined differently to cooperate and coordinate their activities with those of the


H. Hoodfar family planning board. These officials, like the general public, have to be convinced of the cost of rapid population growth to their own needs. Unless they can clearly see they have a vested interest, they are not going to invest time and effort in the birth control program.

The program directors astutely found ways to involve the ministers and their top deputies in promoting the population awareness campaign before and after the introduction of the program. The first step was to make them aware of the implications of rapid population growth for their own ministries. Ministers and other high officials were invited to the first population conference in Mashhad, which had received much publicity. Furthermore, each was asked to present a paper outlining the major cost of rapid population increase from their ministry’s vantage point. Thus, program directors encouraged key leaders to describe the adverse consequences of high fertility and population growth on various aspects of societal “development” (see Thornton’s (2001, 2005) discussion of the role of key actors in disseminating developmental ideals). These papers and speeches later formed the basis of many articles and interviews printed in national newspapers. The housing department, for example, furnished information about their resources and abilities to provide low-income housing, and compared the figure to the actual and projected needs of the nation. The Ministry of Agriculture discussed the limited land available and maximum food production under the current system, concluding that, with improved techniques and the best possible growing conditions, Iran would not have enough land and resources for the current population. The mayors of major cities also discussed how population adversely affects traffic and pollution in the larger cities. Officials from the Ministry of Education discussed the problem of providing schooling and good education for the young generation, viewed as the real capital of Iranians’ Islamic nation. The advocates of population control frequently pointed out that intense competition for the limited resources could seriously challenge the possibility of building a just Islamic society and tear the nation apart. These analyses formed the basis of the massive campaign during 1987 and 1991, in which the media, especially radio and television, encouraged a public debate that included even the less educated and less literate. The program management commendably recognized and credited, both publicly and privately, support from individuals and institutions. In my field contacts between 1992 and 1995, I observed that family planning officials often spontaneously explained that population control, even if the program is housed in the Health Ministry, is a broad national issue whose implementation cuts across many organizations. Many noted that the program’s success owes much to a shared responsibility by the different organizations. In the process of educating the public, officials also educated each other about the consequences of population growth. The process encouraged each ministry to see their own reasons for participating actively in the promotion of the family planning program. Moreover, these debates, articles, briefs, and radio

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and television programs provided knowledge and information in this field for the religious leaders and local speakers who were generally new to the subject.20 These accounts should not imply, however, that there was no tension in the process. Radio and television directors, for example, felt that the media should reflect a broad spectrum of opinion on the population question. And, although many actively supported the goal of family planning, members of the media, especially during the early years, said that they should be responsive to the needs and perspectives of other sectors of their audience. The media at times rejected the formal and informal pressure that the family program management exerted in its attempts to publicize its point of view in diverse programs. For members of the media, this situation reflected their loss of autonomy within the structure of the government.21 Occasionally, these tensions would find their way to the public arena.

Working with the Education Ministry The Ministry of Education was another major player in disseminating favorable images of the small family and the importance of a small family for Iranian society (see Thornton (2001, 2005) for a theoretical discussion of the importance of key actors in the dissemination of new ideals about family). Given the young population of Iran, the Ministry of Education has had a special interest in the family planning program and has cooperated with program directors. One of the major common interests of the two ministries has been to enhance young peoples’ understanding of the implications of population. The Ministry of Education has reworked its social science program to incorporate population issues, as well as the idea that a smaller family size is important for Iran at this point in its history. Also, since many women marry very young, girls completing their secondary education receive information about family planning, the cost of which is covered by the family planning program. One program executive explained: It would not be realistic to expect the Ministry of Education to add an additional financial commitment to its already over-stretched budget. By providing a budget for these initiatives, we, as family planning directors, ensured that the enthusiasm of the education ministry would translate into action. They are also aware that in the long run such a program is also in the service of the Ministry of Education as well as the nation. After all it is the Ministry of Education that has to take care of the education of future generations. Other discussions have focused on the extension of family planning education, especially for women. This issue became controversial, however, because of cultural inhibitions in discussing sexual matters and reproductive activities with young people, and especially with young women. Some conservative groups used this opportunity to attack the program. They objected to what they


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interpreted to be “sex education” in school, suggesting that this program perhaps represented an attempt to import some of the immoralities of Western society into Iran’s Islamic culture. Thus, certain elements of what Thornton (2001, 2005) describes as the “modern family” ideal were seen as un-Islamic. Still, some officials tried to justify their plan by seeking another name for the program. In 1995, however, at a national conference on education and family planning, Dr Marandi, then Minister of Health, confronted the critics. He noted first that many Iranian girls marry very young and that young women have to learn somewhere about sexual life and family planning. While perhaps ideally mothers should educate their daughters regarding issues of family planning, such familybased education faces two major obstacles. First, most older women in Iranian society lack the information to transmit. Second, cultural norms and the etiquette of respect between younger and older generations would prevent them from discussing such matters openly. The results can be disastrous for young women and their families. He concluded that, although Islam is one of the few religions that has recognized the importance of a healthy sexual life, the importance of such education for the younger generation is not yet recognized. Such knowledge in a moral and ethical society will not lead to the consequences feared by some of our elders. Dr Marandi concluded that those who refer to this important marital information as “sex education” are trying to sabotage an initiative that is in the service of the people. His frank and unexpected statement ended, to a large extent, open criticism of the educational initiative of the family planning program.22 The preparation of suitable teaching material has remained slow, however. Plans also have existed to incorporate discussion of population issues, individual and social advantages of smaller families, and information about family planning and health into adult literacy materials. Should this plan finally be realized, it will become an important channel for transmitting information, as the post-revolution literacy programs have attracted many young married women who are at the height of their family building cycle (Mehran 1991, 1992).

Other outreach initiatives After the initial phase of organizing the family planning network, program directors turned their attention to supplying reliable information to their major target, the low-income population of the major urban centres.23 One major initiative was providing family planning services for men and women at the workplace. The campaign also organized lunch-break talks that addressed family planning issues. Informative material on contraceptives, general health issues, and vaccinations written in a simple but engaging manner was published in widely distributed workers’ newsletters. Beautiful posters with clear messages were distributed among the public, and larger posters and banners were hung in the major squares and along the main roads all over the country, especially in towns and cities. Special information videos and kits were prepared for young couples. The kits are now distributed through the offices of marriage registrars. Since young

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couples are expected to have blood tests before their marriage is registered, the Ministry of Health has used this opportunity to show the information video at the blood analysis labs. There are separate areas for men and women to view the video. Although this initiative exists only in urban areas, the Ministry of Health hopes to expand these efforts to rural areas.

Female volunteer community health workers The primary concern of the family planning program has been to reach rural and low-income urban populations, who form the majority of the nation. Despite numerous facilities in urban areas, however, it has been harder for clinics and health centers to penetrate the densely populated low-income and newly urbanized neighborhoods. For this reason, the Ministry of Health has created an organization of volunteer women health workers to act as contacts between the clinics and their neighbourhoods.24 These volunteers are usually married women in their reproductive years with several children. They are expected to be sociable, and to have some primary education and leadership qualities, as well as contacts in their immediate neighborhoods.25 They receive basic training through participatory weekly sessions. Health volunteers cover post-natal care, vaccinations, and family planning, and are expected to convey the needs of the community to the clinic. Each volunteer also keeps records of approximately 50 households in her immediate neighborhood. This organization has been unexpectedly successful, and the volunteer women have welcomed the opportunity to play a public role (Hoodfar 1998). They have become a major channel of information and communication between the community and the local clinic. The volunteers gain respect and increase their network within the community. Although the organization started with a pilot project of only 200 women in 1991, by 1996 the organization included 20,000 women who worked with 600 health centers in major cities of Iran (Table 4.4). More recent statistics suggest that 41,000 volunteers cover some 12 million low-income urban people countrywide (Malek Afzali 1999). The organization’s success has attracted funding from major international organizations, such as UNICEF and the World Bank, despite initially apprehensive assessments of the project (Bulatao and Richardson 1994). Table 4.4 Number of volunteers and the population under coverage Year

Population under coverage

Number of VHW

Number of urban health centers involved

1994 1995 1996

1,500,000 4,218,000 6,000,000

5,700 13,400 20,000

150 417 600

Note In recent years, many officials have talked about volunteer women as being 60,000 strong. However, I have not come across a survey to confirm the number.


H. Hoodfar

Improving the management of rural services Much of the success of family planning in Iran has been a result of the improvement and expansion of rural heath services (Shadpour 1994), though by 1997 the services covered only 85 percent of rural areas through the extensive network of rural health houses. Sensitivity to, and respect for, local cultures and local knowledge as well as the practicality of maintaining trained persons locally culminated in the training and employment of local personnel to staff the rural health houses. The staff is thus able to cultivate extensive face-to-face relationships with the local people. As a result, the use of modern contraceptives in rural areas is equivalent to that in urban areas (close to 55 percent, see Table 4.5). Besides the establishment of health houses in the villages, two other initiatives have contributed to this high rate of success. One was the introduction of family planning mobile teams. Each includes a highly trained physician who sees patients but also performs procedures such as tubal ligation, vasectomy, and frequently provides various injectables. The young medical students who assist the surgeons are an integral part of this effort. While they serve as competent assistants, the underlying intention is to introduce these mostly urban middleclass youths to the economic and cultural diversity of the nation. The village nurses screen for and make a list of clients who have signaled their interest in seeing the family planning team. Clients must be 35 or over and have two or more children.26 Through financial and other rewards from the Health Ministry, mobile teams and nurses are encouraged to promote not just contraceptive use, but good health.27 A second initiative has been the training of thousands of local midwives, who continue to be the major birth attendants in rural areas. They also have been introduced to family planning issues and new contraceptive methods and are encouraged to work with the family planning program and health centers. This program has been less successful, however, because the birth attendants are increasingly seeking employment elsewhere as the birth rate (e.g., their source of income) has declined. Many women also prefer to deliver at a hospital or with a medically trained health worker.

The past and future of family planning in Iran This chapter has described the evolution of population policy in Iran as a means to understand how ideals about the “Islamic family” have evolved and become popularized. A common assumption in some quarters is that religion, and especially Islam, is a major barrier to family planning and to population control (Obermeyer 1995). However, the Islamic Republic of Iran has demonstrated an adaptability and resilience to changing social and economic realities by revising its ideological positions towards family planning. The directors of the family planning program admit that its greatest achievement has been the creation of a popular appreciation of population issues, especially in low-income rural and urban areas. Much of the credit for this achievement arguably goes to the


29.8 12.5 9.4 – – – – 51.6 42.2 6.2 100.0


Pill Condom IUD Tubectomy Vasectomy Injection Norplant All Modern Traditional Other Total

54.8 9.7 3.2 – – – – 67.7 25.8 6.4 100.0

Rural 27.1 10.8 13.5 10.4 1.7 – – 63.6 36.4 – 100.0



50.7 8.1 6.0 14.4 0.6 – – 79.8 20.3 – 100.0

Rural 24.6 10.4 13.7 14.6 2.2 0.5 – 66.1 32.3 1.4 100.0



43.7 7.9 6.6 17.9 0.8 1.0 – 77.9 17.2 4.9 100.0


Note Percentages do not total exactly 100 due to rounding.

Source: Mehryar et al. (2001, 30), Reproductive Information, Health Survey Research Project (1996, 24).



23.5 8.2 13.6 17.8 2.7 1.5 – 67.4 30.0 2.6 100.0



36.8 6.1 6.7 22.4 1.1 6.0 – 79.2 13.7 7.1 100.0


Table 4.5 Share of different contraceptives of total contraceptive users in selected national surveys taken since 1989

21.3 9.3 13.2 20.8 4.5 1.7 0.4 71.3 28.0 0.6 100.0



32.6 5.4 7.9 28.1 1.9 8.2 1.0 85.1 14.4 0.4 100.0



H. Hoodfar

religious/political leaders who educated themselves, changed their position on population issues, and mobilized thousands of local low-ranking clerics to gain support for these issues within their communities. This aspect of the program distinguishes it from the Shah’s family planning policy, and from most other family planning programs in other countries. The success of the family planning program also has clearly depended on the existence of a workable basic health network in the cities and in the rural areas. Using conventional criteria, Iran’s family planning program has been one of the most successful. The program has achieved a high level of contraceptive use (Table 4.5), a considerable decline in population growth (Table 4.6), and a decline in overall fertility (2.00, in 2000; see Table 4.7; and Abbasi-Shavazi et al. 2003). One of the directors of Iran’s Statistics Institute and critic of the Ministry of Health’s statistics said, “Although I am critical of their optimistic figures . . . what has happened in the area of family planning and population growth is little short of miraculous.”28 These trends in family planning and education are continuing (Table 4.7); however, those under 18 years make up 45 percent of Iran’s total population, and so the government must continue to monitor population growth for some decades to come before the population structure becomes more balanced. This process is slower than reducing the rate of population growth. Directors of the family planning boards and many experts worry that, after the initial success, the government and the Ministry of Health, though still committed to the family planning program, are placing less emphasis on family planning and that this trend may alter the program’s continued impact. This change may result from focusing on family planning in response to a crisis, rather than adopting a longterm population policy based on the country’s resources and economic, political, and ideological goals. Other issues also must be considered if the trend to control/plan the popu-

Table 4.6 Annual rate of population growth in Irana Year


Annual rate of growth (%)

1966 1976 1986 1996 2001

25.7 million 33.7 million 49.4 million 60.1 million 64.5 million

3.1 2.7 3.4b 1.5 1.3

Sources: 1966–1976 United Nations Demographic Yearbooks (United Nations, New York), 1986–1996, Iran’s Centre for Statistical Information. 2001, World Bank development data. Notes a There has been much controversy over the 1986 population figure. Initially, the Centre for Statistical Information had made a higher population estimate which was later reassessed and the present figure was officially announced. b This figure excludes a net influx of approximately two million refugees from Afghanistan; the overall rate of population growth for this year should really read as 3.8%.

Family law and family planning policy in Iran


Table 4.7 Official fertility estimates for Iran, 1976–1996 compared with more recent data collected in 1998 and 2000 Date


Crude birth rate

General fertility rate

Total fertility rate

Gross reproduction rate


Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural

42.90 31.80 50.10 49.60 38.00 51.20 31.60 27.90 34.10 20.50 18.70 23.40 16.3 15.6 17.6 16.3 15.2 18.4

200.00 140.00 240.00 204.00 169.00 257.00 140.00 121.70 166.90 84.00 74.00 117.00 63.32 57.94 72.64 61.0 54.7 72.6

6.6 4.50 8.10 7.10 5.90 9.00 4.90 4.30 5.80 2.96 2.60 4.10 2.05 1.88 2.38 2.00 1.79 2.39

na na na na na na 2.40 2.10 2.90 1.44 1.27 2.00 na na na na na na

1986 1991 1996 1998


Source: Mehryar et al. (2001, 42).

lation is to continue. The role of women and the nature of family have to become an integral part of the program and government policies. Controlling for education, smaller families with two children as an ideal, have increased in urban and rural areas (Mehryar et al. 2002; Abbasi-Shavazi et al. 2003 and this volume). This change, along with the increasing prevalence of nuclear families as the norm and the ideal, women’s formal education, and the commercialization of more aspects of the family, suggest that major changes in family life are yet to emerge. Ladier-Fouladi (2004) suggests that the family in Iran has become less patriarchal and more democratic, with children and wives gaining more space and autonomy. These findings contradict family law in Iran. Despite some success among women intellectuals and women’s organizations in reforming family law, women and children (especially daughters) remain under the control of the father/husband. The ideologues of the regime continue to portray women mainly as mothers and yet tell them to have only one or two children. Mounting criticism from women has done little to increase women’s employment opportunities, although a higher percentage of women than men pursue higher education. These contradictions between the Islamic regime’s efforts in family planning and its unwillingness to diverge from a “traditional” vision of the Islamic family – with men having a unilateral right to divorce, guardianship of the children, and polygamy – is creating its own complexities that remain to be studied.


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Notes 1 An earlier version of this chapter was published in Studies in Family Planning 31, no. 1 (2000): 19–33. 2 The data presented here form part of a larger study looking at the impact of codification of “Islamic law” on women in family and society. The study was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation under the auspices of the Law and Policy Program of Colombia University and Women Living under Muslim Laws Network. The field research was carried out during 1993–1996, and subsequent visits in 1997, 1998, and 1999. The data were gathered through informal interviews with over 500 women and men as well as many officials, medical personnel, family planning clients, religious leaders (especially local), and experts who had contributed to the population debate. I thank Dr Assadpour, who generously shared with me some of his experiences as an advisor to the Deputy Minister of the Health, Population and Family Planning Program, from the inception of the program and was helpful in providing an update on changes taking place in 1999. 3 This is despite the fact that there had been some formal attempt by the government to have religious authorities in Qum pronounce that the use of contraception was permissible. 4 Although the Ministry of Health distributed many contraceptive pills to low-income women who requested them, Hoodfar’s fieldwork (1993–1996) indicated that high market prices encouraged women to re-sell their oral contraceptives and other medications to supplement their incomes. Still, such findings indicate that demand remained high during these years (Ladier-Fouladi 1996). 5 The religious authorities owned or controlled more than one-fifth of the best arable land in Iran, and had opposed the Shah’s land reform policies (1963), which represented all that the peasantry had gained during the Pahlavi era. 6 During the early years of the revolution, many young men and women worked in the poorer districts as teachers or nurses for little or no pay, under the auspices of Basiaj (mobilization). 7 As Hoodfar’s research (1993–1996) indicates, the flexible hours especially in rural areas, and the chance for women without childcare to bring their children with them, encouraged women to participate in the classes. 8 But marriages where the bride is only nine are still not considered illegal. 9 By launching, for example, a campaign through the mass media, pointing out the contradictions in the West between monogamous marriage, equality of the sexes, and the common practices of having affairs and mistresses. The increased number of teenage pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births, and more recently, the AIDS epidemic are other bases for arguing in favor of Islamic marriage patterns. 10 Contrary to its image as a dictatorial regime in the West and among Iranian dissidents abroad, the Islamic Republic gains much of its legitimacy through public support and is thus responsive to public opinion. 11 Hoodfar (forthcoming) in a cursory survey of popular newspapers and magazines, counted more then 128 articles and interviews related to the population question from 1987 to 1992. 12 See the many interviews with Ayatollah Haj Said Muhammad Hussein Husseini-eTehrani, who published a book (1415/1993) reiterating his opposition. 13 Although agreement grew on the need for an Iranian family planning program, a policy to create a balanced population that could facilitate socio-economic “development” has not been conceptualized. Iran thus has a good family planning program but lacks a long-term population vision. 14 Ethical debates over the limits of an Islamic ethic related to tubal ligation, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination by anonymous donors, and surrogate motherhood have appeared in the print media in Iran. Thus far, artificial insemination of a woman is permissible only with her husband’s sperm.

Family law and family planning policy in Iran


15 It is believed that the soul enters the fetus 120 days after conception. Ironically, Ayatollah Beheshti, an important conservative ideologue of the regime, who was assassinated in the early years of the revolution, outlined a theological approach to abortion allowing its liberalization under the Shah in 1973. 16 Importantly, in many European and North American societies, too, the legalization of abortion took the same route. 17 The Ministry of Health recognizes the issue of illegal abortion as one of the major causes of maternal health complications and death, but the matter has not been discussed publicly. Still, the authorities are determined to address abortion-related concerns within the general health agenda, not as a family planning issue. 18 To this end, the University of Tehran and the Health Ministry have sponsored several publications. 19 In Iran, especially since the revolution, the state controls the most popular newspapers and magazines. The print media are not directly government-run, but the government and the spiritual leader of the nation often appoint and/or approve the general editors. This tie denies the independence that these media enjoy in a democratic society, but allows them to raise many issues (as long as they avoid direct attacks on religious leaders or major government figures) that independent (often smaller) publishing houses cannot afford to cover. 20 Based on the published work of religious leaders on the population question, their sources of information are newspaper articles or ministerial documents that aimed to demonstrate the implications of population growth for their achievements. See Hojatolismal Ahamd Sadeghi Ardestani, in Zan-e-Rouz, 1335 (pp. 10–14), 1337 (pp. 12–13, 48–59), 1339 (pp. 14–15 and 48–49). 21 The Minister of Radio and Television is appointed under the direct approval of Iran’s spiritual leader, and is effectively outside the president’s jurisdiction. 22 Dr Marandi’s prestige and familial religious background as well as long years at the service of the Islamic regime afforded him such a bold position. 23 A considerable number of these urban people are first- and second-generation rural–urban migrants. 24 Although the government refers to the organization as “non-governmental,” it was conceived and founded by the Ministry of Health (Hoodfar 1998). 25 Potential volunteers are identified during annual door-to-door fertility surveys. These women are later invited by their local community clinic to join the volunteer group and receive basic training. 26 Younger candidates are advised to use other forms of contraception. After 35, doctors recommend that couples have no more children because of the child’s increased risk of having a chromosomal disorder. 27 Teams receive a fixed sum for every successful tubal ligation, vasectomy, or Norplant injection. Clients choose among different options in consultation with the nurse. Although the demand for surgical contraception outweighs its availability, the program does seem to lack procedures to safeguard against the infringement of individual rights. 28 In the past, there have been considerable differences in the projections of Iran’s three major statistical offices (Iran’s Centre for Statistics and Information, the Ministry of Health, and the Civil Registration Organization) and much controversy over the 1986 population figure.

References Abbasi-Shavazi, Mohammad Jalal, Peter McDonald, and Meimanat Hosseini Chavoshi. “Changes in Family, Fertility Behavior and Attitudes in Iran.” Working Paper in Demography, no. 88, Sociology and Demography Program, Australian National University, Canberra, 2003.


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Aghajanian, Akbar. “Population Change in Iran: 1966–86: A Stalled Demographic Transition?” Population and Development Review 17, no. 4 (1991a): 703–715. ——. “Socioeconomic Modernization, Status of Women and Fertility Decline in Iran.” In Essays on Population Economics, edited by Giuseppe Gaburro and Dudley L. Poston, 331–351. Milan: CEDAM, 1991b. ——. “The Status of Women and Female Children in Iran: An Update from the 1986 Census.” In In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran, edited by Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl, 40–60. London: I.B. Tauris, 1996. Aghajanian, Akbar and Amir H. Mehryar. “Fertility Transition in the Islamic Republic of Iran: 1976–1996.” Asia-Pacific Population Journal 14, no. 1 (1999): 21–42. Algar, Hamid. Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1981. Amirahmadi, Hushang. Revolution and Economic Transition, the Iranian Experience. New York: State University of New York Press, 1990. Balchin, Cassandra, Khawar Mumtaz, and Farida Shaheed. The Woman Not the Womb: Population Control vs. Women’s Reproductive Rights. Grabels: Women Living Under Muslim Laws, 1995. Bulatao, Rodolfo and Gail Richardson. Fertility and Family Planning in Iran. New York: World Bank, 1994. Ferdows, Adele. “Gender Roles in Iranian School Textbooks.” In Iran: Political Culture in Islamic Republic, edited by Samith K. Farson and Mehrdad Mashayekhi, 325–336. New York: Routledge, 1994. Haeri, Shahla. Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shii Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989. Halliday, Fred. Iran: Dictatorship and Development. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979. Higgins, Patricia J. and Pirouz, Shoar-Ghaffari. “Sex-Role Socialization in Iranian Text Books.” NWSA Journal 3, no. 2 (1991): 213–232. Hoodfar, Homa. “Population Policy and Gender Equity in Post-Revolutionary Iran.” In Family, Gender, and Population in the Middle East: Policy in Context, edited by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, 105–135. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1995. ——. “Bargaining with Fundamentalism: Women and the Politics of Population Control in Iran.” Reproductive Health Matters 8 (1996): 30–41. ——. “Devices and Desires: Population Policy and Gender Roles in the Islamic Republic.” In Political Islam: Essay from Middle East Report, edited by Joel Beinin and Joe Stork, 220–233. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. ——. “Volunteer Health Workers in Iran as Social Activists: Can ‘Governmental NonGovernmental Organizations’ Be Agents of Democratisation?” Occasional Papers no. 10. London: Women Living under Muslim Laws, 1998. ——. “Muslim Women Mullahs as Volunteer Reproductive Health Workers.” In Cultural Perspective on Reproductive Health, edited by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, 153–174. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ——. Gender Equality and Population Policy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming. Husseini-e-Tehrani, Haj Said Muhammad Hussein. Kahesh-e jameit: Zarbeh-e sahmgien bar paykar muslemin (Reduction of Population: An Attack on the Muslims). Tehran: Dar-e ulom ve maref-e Islam, 1993. Ibrahim, Saad Eddin. “State, Women, and Civil Society: An Evaluation of Egypt’s Population Policy.” In Family, Gender, and Population in the Middle East: Policy in

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Context, edited by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, 57–79. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1995. Jain, Anrudh. “A Note for NGO Forum, Cairo.” Unpublished memo. Cairo: Population Council, 1994. Kar, Mehranguiz and Homa Hoodfar. “Personal Status Law as Defined by the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In Shiefting Boundire in Marriage and Divorce in Muslim Communities. Special Dossier: Women Living under Muslim Laws, 1996. Ladier-Fouladi, Marie. “La Transition de la Fecondité en Iran” Population 51 (1996): 1101–1128. ——. “Socio-Demographic Change of Family and Its Effect on Youth Social Behaviour.” Paper presented at Population Issues with Emphasis on Youth in Iran, Second Conference of the Population Association of Iran, Shiraz, May 2004. Lieberman, Samuel S. “Prospects for Development and Population Growth in Iran.” Population and Development Review 5, no. 2 (1979): 293–317. Looney, Robert. The Economic Origin of the Iranian Revolution. New York: Pergamon Press, 1982. Malek Afzali, Hossein. Vaziet-e salamat-e madaran va kudakan dar jumhuriyyeh islamiyyeh iran (The Health Status of Mothers and Children in the Islamic Republic of Iran). Tehran: Ministry of Public Health, Health Education Division, 1992. ——. “Report on Women Volunteer Health Workers Program.” Tehran: Association of Family Planning, Islamic Republic of Iran, 1999. Mehran, Golnar. “Socialization of School Children in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Iranian Studies 22 (1989): 35–50. ——. “The Creation of the New Muslim Woman: Female Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Convergence 24, no. 4 (1991): 42–52. ——. “Social Implication of Literacy in Iran.” Comparative Education Review 35, no. 2 (1992): 194–210. Mehryar, Amir H., B. Delavar, G.A. Farjadi, M. Hossein-Chavoshi, M. Naghavi, and M. Tabibibian. “Iranian Miracle: How to Raise Contraceptive Prevalence Rate above 70 percent and Cut TFR by Two-Thirds in Less than a Decade.” Tehran: Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, Population Studies and Research Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Working Paper no. 2, 2001. Mehryar, Amir Hooshang, Akabr Aghajanian, Sherine Ahmadnia, and F. Tajdini. “Women’s Education and Labour Force Participation and Fertility Decline in Iran.” Tehran: Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, Population Studies and Research Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Working Paper no. 5, 2002. Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law. London: I.B. Tauris, 1993. Mossavar-Rahmani, Yasmin L. “Family Planning in Post-Revolutionary Iran.” In Women and Revolution in Iran, edited by Guity Nashat, 108–128. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983. Obermeyer, Carla Makhlouf. “Reproductive Rights in the West and in the Middle East: A Cross-Cultural Perspective.” In Family, Gender, and Population in the Middle East: Policy in Context, edited by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, 16–35. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1995. Paidar, Parvin. Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Sanasarian, Eliz. The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran: Mutiny, Appeasement and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini. New York: Praeger, 1982.


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Shadpour, Kamel. The PHC Experience in Iran. Tehran: United Nations Children’s Fund, 1994. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. ——. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. United Nations. Demographic Yearbooks. New York: United Nations, 1966–1976. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “The Profile of Girl Child in Islamic Republic of Iran.” Tehran: United Nations Children’s Fund, 1995.


From nationalism to feminism1 Family law in Tunisia Mounira M. Charrad

In Tunisia, as elsewhere in the Islamic Middle East, women’s rights have been grounded primarily in family law. These laws have undergone dramatic reform, and even reversal, during key periods of Tunisian history. In 1929, the prominent nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba urged Tunisian women to wear a veil. In 1957, Bourguiba, then President of Tunisia, called the veil “an odious rag” and asked Tunisian women to drop it. His government also promulgated radical family-law reforms that abolished some extreme aspects of women’s subordination and promoted new legal rights for women. The Tunisian government throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, retrenched on gender issues by reminding women that their proper place was in the home. In still another shift, in 1993, a new government promulgated laws that expanded women’s rights in family matters beyond those of the 1950s. Thus, the Tunisian political leadership since around 1930 has fluctuated between promoting policies expanding women’s rights and others emphasizing a more “traditional” ideal of gender roles in the family. This chapter analyzes shifts in the family-law policies of the Tunisian state, and their implications for ideals about gender relations and family structure. Using a comparative-historical methodology and a theoretical approach grounded in the sociology of the state, I show how the shifts in Tunisian state policy on family law and women’s rights have resulted from struggles among social and political groups over state power. Family-law policy has been the byproduct, and sometimes, a tool of such struggles, as each group has sought to consolidate resources and the social bases of its political support. Shifts in state policy from the 1930s to the 1990s were not solely a function of these struggles over state power; however, they often had less to do with a commitment to Islam or feminism on the part of the leadership, and more to do with the political struggles for state power dominating the national scene at various historical moments. The shifts were distinguished, until the early 1990s, by the absence of women’s agency as a political force. Throughout the twentieth century, family law and the status of women in Tunisia have been entangled in political wars fought largely over other issues such as colonialism, nationalism, modernity, and Islamic cultural authenticity. Often, women have been absent from the debates, and their concerns have been


M.M. Charrad

secondary to the causes of those who have promoted and opposed expanding women’s rights. Only in the last decade or so has women’s agency played an important role. Then, an independent movement appeared, for which women’s rights were the main event. During most of Tunisian history from the 1930s to the early 1990s, however, shifts in family-law policy reflected evolving alliances and conflicts among key (male) political actors, who held different ideals about gender roles and the family, and who used them mainly to undermine other contenders for state power. These political struggles over state power, the resulting shifts in family-law policies, and their implied ideals about family and gender relations are classified into four periods of the twentieth century: the 1930s to the early 1950s; the mid-1950s; the 1970s to the 1980s; and the early 1990s. Each period represents a critical political configuration. These are, respectively: the nationalist struggle over colonialism; the formation of the sovereign national state; the period of consolidation of the state; and the era of Islamic fundamentalist challenges coupled with the emergence of feminism as a social force. Depending on the political struggles in which it was involved, the Tunisian political leadership defined women alternatively as repositories of cultural identity, potential supporters in the quest for modernity, voices to be silenced, or allies against militant Islamic extremism. Similarly, the Tunisian state treated Islamic family law in different ways, depending on whether political leaders were trying to end colonization, ward off secularist challenges, and appease or oppose Islamic fundamentalists. First, during the nationalist struggle against French colonial rule, from the 1930s until the early 1950s, the nationalist movement affirmed “traditional” Islamic restrictions on women’s roles and family matters. It sacrificed the “woman’s question” to the “national question” as it sought to maintain cohesion among competing nationalist groups in the struggle to end colonization. Second, in the mid-1950s and in the absence of a feminist movement, a new national state expanded women’s rights by making the first and most critical family-law reforms. These reforms, which reflected a nuclear ideal of the family, resulted from the victorious leadership’s efforts to undermine its political rivals among Islamic clerics and patriarchally organized kinship groupings in rural areas. In the third period, during the 1970s and 1980s, the same regime sidelined issues of gender and family law, while consolidating its power and warding off an ascending left. To respond to this threat, the regime allied with Islamic forces and stressed “traditional” gender roles and family forms. In the fourth period, in the 1990s after the ousting of Bourguiba, a new regime faced the challenges of Islamic fundamentalism and an emergent feminism. After a period of uncertainty, the new male-dominated state elite allied with women’s rights advocates against Islamic fundamentalism and further endorsed notions of gender equality by expanding reforms to family law.

From nationalism to feminism


Gender and family-law policy in Tunisia: a definition Gender and family-law policy in the context of Tunisia relates to statepromulgated laws that expand or restrict women’s rights in family law (also called the law of personal status). The central issues of gender policy vary around the world because states and women in different countries have different agendas (Tilly and Gurin 1990; Margolis 1993; Andersen 1991). In Tunisia, as in other Islamic countries, issues of family law have dominated the political discourse on gender. At stake is the set of legal rights and responsibilities that men and women have in marriage, the family, and by extension, the larger society. At issue is whether Islamic family law, the Sharia, which is considered by some as the cornerstone of Islamic identity, will prevail in its more conservative form, or whether legal reforms will alter the balance of power between men and women. The crux of the matter is legal personhood and involves the conditions of and procedures for marriage, polygamy, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance (Chamari 1991; Charrad 2001, 2007). A serious reform of family law in an Islamic country redefines the concepts of legal personhood by reducing the power of husbands and male kin and granting women greater individual rights. For this reason, feminists fight for such reforms throughout the Islamic world. To what extent women avail themselves of the legal rights offered by these reforms is a related but separate question, and the implications of family-law reforms for women’s lives in Tunisia are examined elsewhere (Charrad 1994, 1998; Bourqia et al. 1996). Here, I focus on the conditions that led sometimes to reforms and at other times to retrenchment, and on the implications of these shifts for publicly promoted ideals about family.

Theoretical model The main theoretical focus here is the autonomy of state actors from, versus their alliance with, social groups that desire to protect Islamic family law and sustain historical restrictions on women. “Autonomy” means that state elites do not seek political support from the social groups in question, but find their support in other sectors of society. The most important groups that have had the highest stakes in protecting Islamic family law in Tunisian history are the Islamic establishment (religious scholars and judges), patriarchal kinship groups, and Islamic fundamentalist movements. Family-law policy has varied in Tunisia as a function of the changing relationship between the state and one or more of the above groups. When state actors have been relatively autonomous, they have tended to reform family law and expand women’s rights. When they have been less autonomous from such groups, state actors have tended to pursue policies that increased restrictions on women. At times, the state’s interest in reforming family law has coincided with pressures from below, such as in the early 1990s when women participated in the shaping of family-law reforms. Although this model of state policy acknowledges the importance of the


M.M. Charrad

patriarchal state and Islam in outlining gender policy, it also raises questions about these concepts. The concept of the patriarchal state, as developed by theorists to explain state policies on gender in capitalist Western democracies (MacKinnon 1989; Connell 1990; Walby 1990; Hartman 1979), is insufficient to analyze variations in state policy on gender in Tunisia. The Tunisian state has been patriarchal, and Tunisian power-holders have been men all along. Nor does Islam (Ahmed 1992; Bernal 1994; Charrad 2001; Hatem 1987, 1994; Tucker 1993; Joseph 1991; Mernissi 1991) or orthodox Islamic doctrine account for shifts in state policies, as the Tunisian state has also operated in a country permeated by Islamic culture during its entire history. It is, instead, the conflicts and alliances in struggles for state power that help to explain why the family-law policy of the Tunisian state has fluctuated over time. This emphasis on “politics” underscores the state as a political actor seeking to consolidate its power and state “autonomy” as a central concept. Conflicts among state actors pursuing divergent interests, or between state actors and political competitors, shape and limit policy outcomes under different historical circumstances (Weber 1922; Skocpol 1992, 1979; Orloff and Skocpol 1984; Orloff 1993a, 1993b; Tilly 1975; Block 1987; Anderson 1986; Weiss 1993; Evans et al. 1985). Theda Skocpol (1992) and Ann Orloff (1993a, 1993b) have provided a gendered and polity-centered analysis of social provision in Western welfare states, in which the state’s autonomy from social class is considered a central factor. Work by the present author has examined state autonomy from kin groupings in societies and periods in which kin-based groups have influenced the process of state formation and gender policy in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (Charrad 1996, 2001). In the analysis that follows, I explore, in the context of Tunisia between the 1930s and the 1990s, state autonomy from several social groups – including the Islamic establishment and Islamic fundamentalism, and the implications for publicly promoted ideals about gender and family.

Nationalist struggle against colonialism: the 1930s–1950s During colonization, the French colonial state and the Tunisian nationalist movement were the key political actors in national politics. The colonial state was represented by French officials in the colonial administration that covered the Tunisian territory. The nationalist movement, united by the fight against colonialism, included, among others, liberal Tunisian professionals and members of the religious establishment such as Islamic scholars and judges. The colonial state and the nationalist party each favored keeping Islamic family law, but they did so for different reasons. The French colonized Tunisia from 1881 until 1956 and left Islamic family law intact throughout the period for the Tunisian population, partly because they could exert their rule without changing family law.2 Furthermore, they knew that a family-law reform could be politically explosive. Nationalist leaders also wanted to keep Islamic family law, viewing it as a valued symbol of cultural identity in the fight against

From nationalism to feminism


colonization. Tunisian nationalists treated gender as a resource for power in the nationalist struggle and “The Woman” as a sacred repository of national values. Family law and the colonial state The family law that applied to the Tunisian population in the 1930s was essentially the Sharia, as it had evolved in the Maghreb and with all its restrictions on women.3 There was no minimum age for marriage, except for the stipulation that marriage should take place after puberty. In the ceremony that established the marriage contract, the father or the woman’s (male) guardian, not the bride, uttered consent to the marriage. Divorce was essentially a private matter in that the husband had a unilateral right to terminate the marriage by repudiating his wife, without a court’s decision. Polygamy was allowed, and a man could have as many as four wives. These regulations enshrined male privilege and an extended family system that gave power to kin over individuals and especially over women. Islam came into being in a society where kin groups functioned as corporate units whose male members had control over women. This situation generated a distinct form of women’s subordination. The Sharia reflects that form. It gives power over women not only to husbands, but also to male members of the kin group. It also sanctions a special bond among male members of the extended kin group (Charrad 1990). In some instances, as in marriage and inheritance, male kin have considerable prerogatives. Strict rules of inheritance designate the heirs and specify their shares. One principle holds in all cases: A woman inherits half the share that would go to a man in the same kinship relation to the deceased. Inheritance rules also favor distant male kin over close female kin. The combined power of husbands and male kin over women’s lives represents the form of patriarchy that primarily concerns women’s rights advocates in the Middle East. I refer to it as kin-based patriarchy.4 French colonial officials refrained from interfering with Islamic family law in Tunisia, although they changed other laws, such as property or contract law, for economic and political reasons. French interest in economic exploitation required changes in commercial law. Large industrial and commercial interests prevailed in the colonization of Tunisia. The French colonial state could protect those interests without immediate concern for the family law and family life of Tunisians. The French also realized that interference with Islamic family law could provoke a violent response among Tunisians. In Tunisia, as in their other colonies, the French wished that they could have turned everyone into a French man or woman. Colonial domination by its nature threatens culture and cultural identity. To most Tunisians under colonial rule, Tunisian identity as distinct from the French included allegiance to Islam and Islamic family law, and many Tunisians experienced family life as the last refuge against colonial encroachment. Aware of this, French colonial officials avoided confrontation on a point that they could accept without undue hardship anyway. Islamic family law, thus,

116 M.M. Charrad was left intact and served as a point of distinction between colonizer and colonized (Borrmans 1977). Nationalist leadership Besides the French, the other key political actor in the colonial period was the nationalist movement, which defended Islamic family law for its own reasons. Organized as a mass party and avoiding ideological divisions during most of the colonial period, the nationalist movement welcomed those committed to lifting the colonial yoke. The nationalist leadership joined a modernizing liberal elite with members such as Habib Bourguiba and Tahar Haddad and conservative forces such as Islamic judges and scholars committed to defend what they saw as “tradition.” The nationalist movement also rallied other social bases, such as the labor union, urban populations, and rural patriarchal kinship groups. The nationalist party acted as the only legitimate political organization speaking in the name of Tunisians. Striving for state power in a future sovereign Tunisia, it subsumed all questions to the objective of national liberation. Throughout the colonial period, nationalist leaders took a conservative stand on the “woman’s question,” as gender issues were usually referred to in the period. Bourguiba, who later became president of Tunisia, voiced the position of the leadership in 1929. He declared in discussing the veil and other issues: Is it in our interest to hasten the disappearance of our ways of life and customs . . . that constitute our identity? Given the special circumstances in which we live, my answer is categorical: No . . . Tunisians must safeguard their traditions, which are the sign of their distinctiveness, and therefore the last defense of a national identity in danger. (Bourguiba 1929, 1) Although no organized women’s movement existed at the time, some individual women took a position on gender issues, and specifically on the veil in the late 1920s. Some Tunisian women dropped it in their daily private activities. One woman named Habiba Menchari made a public appearance without a veil. Her act provoked unanimous criticism from the nationalist leadership (Bourguiba 1929, 1), who urged Tunisian women to wear a veil. As sociologists of culture have shown, cultural schemes can be part of macro-level structures of power in that they reinforce boundaries between groups (Lamont 1992; Beisel 1993; Swidler 1986). In making women invisible, the veil served as the most visible divide between colonizer and colonized. The “woman’s question” became central in the nationalist debate in Tunisia in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and reflected a broader intellectual confrontation between East and West. A reformist movement, which touched most of the Middle East, questioned women’s condition in the context of a general critique of society. Disturbed by the military and technological superiority of Europe in

From nationalism to feminism


the period, some Tunisian thinkers attributed the stagnation of their own society to women’s condition and the need for broader social reforms. Tahar Haddad, a nationalist intellectual who was part of the general reformist movement, for example, made a clear call for reforms in his polemical book, Women in Law and Society (Haddad 1930). Haddad described the position of women in Tunisian society at the time as a social plague in which women were treated no better than dogs. Outlining the negative effects that this treatment had on women and on society, he called for reforms to marriage and divorce laws. The Islamic religious establishment, which the French had left in place, vehemently opposed Haddad. One of its members responded with a devastating critique in a pamphlet entitled The Shroud of Mourning Thrown on al-Haddad’s Woman (Ben Mrad n.d.). Other religious figures condemned the book as an attack on religion, morality, and law. For having spoken in support of women, Haddad finished his life in public disgrace. The nationalist leadership abstained from defending him, thus de facto siding with the religious establishment. Although this debate did not become public until years later, it was an important one among the nationalists, and its outcome shaped the discourse of the movement. In sum, from the 1930s until the achievement of national sovereignty in 1956, the Tunisian nationalists gave priority to national liberation and treated other issues as means to that end. The movement encompassed various positions on the desirability of social reforms (Chater 1978), but two major objectives shaped their unanimous position on the “woman’s question.” First, they wanted to present a unified front to the colonizer. Second, in reaction to Western cultural encroachment (Thornton 2001, 2005), they strove to retain symbols of Islamic identity and Tunisian separateness from the French. Accordingly, nationalists avoided divisive issues that could weaken the anticolonial consensus underlying the movement. They also defended Islamic family law and called upon women to remain veiled. The nationalist leadership, in effect, asked women to act as the embodiment of Tunisian identity for the duration of the colonial period.

The national state in formation: the mid-1950s The alliance between the leading factions of the nationalist movement ruptured as the French were pushed out of Tunisia in the mid-1950s. Instead, an all-out confrontation for control of the nascent sovereign state erupted, with each faction vying for power and seeking to destroy the other. Upon winning, the modernizing faction promulgated a reform of family law that reflected its vision for Tunisia and that was likely to weaken its now-defeated rival, whose power was anchored in kin groupings and the Islamic establishment. A conflict opposed the two major nationalist factions, the “modernizing” and the “traditional,” on the eve of independence from French colonial rule (Anderson 1986). The outcome of the conflict does much to explain the gender and family-law policy of the Tunisian state after independence. Not only did the two factions relate differently to the Islamic establishment and kin-based corporate


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communities. They also had different projects for the society as a whole. In 1954–1955, in addition to the bloodshed caused by the struggle against the French, the two nationalist factions faced each other in a bloody confrontation, with ambushes and physical attacks on members and locales of each faction. Bourguiba’s faction, which ultimately prevailed, drew its support mostly from urban areas and unions. The competing faction, under Ben Youssef, found greater support among kin-based communities in rural areas and members of the religious establishment. A lawyer educated partly in French universities, Bourguiba spoke of reason and moderation. An Islamic scholar with connections to Egypt and the Islamic Middle East, Ben Youssef made inflamed speeches on Islam. Whatever their ideological preferences at the start of the conflict, the two men sharpened their positions as the conflict intensified. Bourguiba convinced the French to help him, which they agreed to do because, once the end of colonial rule appeared unavoidable, the French preferred a sovereign Tunisia under a leader like Bourguiba rather than Ben Youssef. Helped by French military troops, Bourguiba’s forces decimated the foot soldiers and resources of the rival faction. Ben Youssef himself escaped by taking refuge abroad (Hermassi 1972). The victorious faction under Bourguiba quickly weakened the bases of the Ben Youssef faction. First, his government established state agencies and programs that intervened in the life of previously more autonomous kin-based communities in rural areas. Second, it deprived the religious establishment of most of its privileges by eliminating religious landholdings and dismantling the institutions of religious education. By 1956, Bourguiba and his faction had decimated the fighting force of the Ben Youssef faction, silenced its leader, and weakened its social base. They were unchallenged in that period. Family-law reform of 1956 In 1956, only a few months after the achievement of national sovereignty, the new government gave a blow to legally sanctioned kin-based patriarchy, as embodied in conservative interpretations of the Sharia. It promulgated the Code of Personal Status (CPS) (Republique Tunisienne 1991, first published in 1956), a unique set of laws in the Arab Islamic world.5 The CPS reformed marriage, divorce, custody, and to some extent inheritance. On all of these dimensions, it expanded women’s rights by eradicating some of the most patriarchal arrangements. It abolished polygamy, eliminated the husband’s right to repudiate his wife, allowed women to file for divorce, and increased women’s custody rights. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the government further amended the initial CPS. The reforms of this period were progressive in many ways, but were not “feminist” in origin for two reasons. First, a feminist movement did not exist in Tunisia in the 1950s, and feminism did not enter the political discourse and struggles of that era. Second, the major thrust of these reforms was not gender equality. True, the CPS reformulated power relations between men and women by reassigning rights and duties within the family.6 The new inheritance laws, for

From nationalism to feminism


example, increased the rights of daughters over those of distant male relatives. At the same time, the CPS openly maintained important aspects of gender inequality. The wife, for example, was still expected to obey her husband (Republique Tunisienne 1991, 9), women were still to inherit only half as much as did men, and fathers held privileges over mothers with respect to children’s legal guardianship. Thus, to understand the CPS requires that we consider it in terms of the family ideal that it sanctions. In short, the CPS dropped the “traditional” or Sharia model of the family as an extended kinship group built on strong ties between male relatives (Charrad 1990). Instead, it promoted both individual rights and a model of the nuclear family in which spousal and parent–child ties were prominent. In this way, the family-law reform of 1956 challenged the model of kin-based patriarchy that was inherent in the Sharia by promoting a new, nuclear model. Bourguiba and his government were important conduits for the dissemination of this new model of the family. Bourguiba made frequent speeches to the nation, and his government organized public campaigns to disseminate information about the CPS, which they presented as a move towards “modernity.” Using developmental language similar to that described by Thornton (2001, 2005), Bourguiba is cited as saying that these legal changes were important for national “development:” this change [in the law] represented in our minds a choice in favor of progress . . . the end of a barbaric age and the beginning of an era of social equilibrium and civilization . . . [we must] fight anachronistic traditions and backward mentalities. (quoted in Charrad 2001, 220) Bourguiba also promoted a “modern family” ideal consisting of weak kin power, a stronger conjugal bond, and individual autonomy in the selection of one’s spouse: [i]t is inadmissible, I am sorry to say, that parents constrain their son to marry a young woman chosen for their own convenience. We have in this respect strange practices. Let’s leave the decision to those that the marriage concerns first: the husband and wife to be. (quoted in Charrad 2001, 221) Outcome of political struggles and projects An overall project of nation building, reinforced by political interest, drove family-law reform in the mid-1950s.7 The CPS represented an aggressive reform from above. The executive branch of government, under Bourguiba, initiated it immediately after independence, when electoral politics did not exist, and then presented it for ratification to a national assembly that was staffed by members of the winning Bourguiba faction. Thus, the CPS was the victory of a


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government that, at least temporarily, was strong enough to place a claim on Islam and to enforce a reformist interpretation of the Islamic tradition. Like other world religions, Islam offers many interpretations and systems of meaning (Geertz 1971). One can find in Islamic texts arguments for and against legal innovation. Members of the 1956 government introduced the CPS as a new phase in Islamic innovation. Rejecting dogmatism, they emphasized the vitality of Islam and its adaptability to the contemporary world. The leadership combined its considerable power with a specific project for Tunisian society. Calling on all Tunisians to join in a collective effort, Bourguiba declared in a famous 1960 speech “another form of holy war is the war against underdevelopment . . .” (Bourguiba 1978). The CPS was part of this war, which also included the elimination of perceived impediments to a “modern” state. Such impediments included kin-based corporate communities and patriarchal arrangements that conservative interpretations of the Sharia permitted. In a statement indicating his awareness of the tensions between kin-based solidarities in politics and the power of central states, Bourguiba declared I disagree with those who defend the old traditional principle according to which some freedoms predate the state and take precedence over it. . . . These freedoms must be banished if they jeopardize the collectivity and risk to cause the state to unravel. (quoted in Charrad 2001) Reasons of political interest coalesced with the government’s vision of the future Tunisia, motivating it to intervene promptly in the area of family law. The rural areas where kinship organization most closely followed traditional Islamic family law had supported the losing Ben Youssef faction. The CPS family-law reform confronted these areas with a cultural model that contradicted their practices and made them feel excluded from the new social order. Reforms also undermined the influence of the religious establishment, the other potential challenger with a vested interest in keeping the Sharia unchanged. Individual members of the religious establishment reacted to the CPS by resigning in protest, but the religious establishment as a group was powerless. In sum, the CPS was both part and by-product of an overall project of “modern” state building (Charrad 2001). In the mid-1950s, the Tunisian state was autonomous from kin-based communities and the Islamic establishment, which had supported the rival contender for state power. In promulgating the CPS, the government of the mid-1950s implemented a vision of future Tunisia in which these social forces were further marginalized. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, state officials worked to enforce these policy decisions, and they could do so because no challenger was strong enough to obstruct its application. In my visits to Tunisia, people spoke of the police arresting men who practiced polygamy by claiming that they had married one wife according to the new law (which required a marriage certificate) and another wife according to the old law (which did not require a written certificate). Family lawyers also commented

From nationalism to feminism


that, in that period, the government instructed judges to apply the new laws strictly. An anti-veil campaign on the part of officials simultaneously cultivated a stigma against the veil. Public figures, for example, publicly encouraged women to drop the veil, and some school administrators required students to come to school unveiled. Legal reforms continued at a sustained rhythm, with several amendments clarifying or amplifying the initial text of the reform (Republique Tunisienne 1991; Chamari 1991). Gender policy appeared to be set on a progressive course. In the following decades, however, the tide would turn with a change in national politics.

The state in consolidation: the 1970s Starting in the 1970s, the interplay of state power, culture, family, and gender took new forms, when a new social movement challenged the state modernizing elite. This leftist movement was rooted among intellectuals, university students, and a wing of the trade union movement that had expanded in urban areas, as commerce and industry spread after independence. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the left was the most serious threat to the existing regime, with Marxist and socialist associations and networks mostly operating underground in the context of a single-party system. Although present in Tunisia, Islamic fundamentalism appeared to be more of a cultural movement in the mid-1970s, than a threat to state power. The Tunisian state under Bourguiba thus leaned increasingly on Islam for its political legitimacy and realigned with the much-weakened Islamic establishment. Several governmental actions reinforced this rapprochement. First, the government emphasized policies that reaffirmed Islamic values. The Ministry of Education, for example, transformed educational programs such as the teaching of philosophy in secondary schools.8 It changed the language of instruction from French to Arabic and shifted the substantive focus from European to Islamic philosophers. These changes brought the Islamic intellectual tradition to the center of national culture and eliminated a range of critical philosophy, which could have sown seeds of radical thinking in young minds. The changes also reinforced different ideals about the individual, the family, and society, away from the individualism of European philosophy toward the solidarity of extended kinship, which is at the core of the Islamic legal tradition. Thus, these courses became the conduits for “traditional” Islamic ideals of the family instead of those that were perceived as foreign (see Thornton (2001, 2005)). Second, the government sponsored the creation of the “Association for the Safeguard of the Koran” in 1970 (Bessis and Belhassen 1992, 148), as both an antidote to the Marxist left and an affirmation of Islamic identity. At the first, government-organized Tunisian book fair in 1973, the government helped to distribute the writings of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhoods, which seemed less dangerous than radical socialist literature (Bessis and Belhassen 1992, 148). Ahmida Enneifer, a leader of the emerging Islamic fundamentalist


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movement, described the political climate of the period, “At that time, we had no problem with the government” (Bessis and Belhassen 1992, 149). Third, the state, during the 1970s and 1980s, initiated fewer actions, and oscillated between mild reforms and outright retrenchment, with respect to women’s rights and family law. The legislation passed earlier remained in place. In 1973, a government decree on marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man ordered public authorities to refrain from performing and registering such marriages in order to protect Tunisian cultural identity from Western influences (Chamari 1991, 43). The political discourse of the period also stressed that women’s primary place was in the home. In a speech during that period, for example, Bourguiba reminded Tunisian women of their responsibilities “as wives, mothers and homemakers” and that “their . . . public life might sometimes occupy a secondary role” (Bourguiba 1981, 238). The government supported and passed a new law on divorce in 1981, which modified alimony and child custody in positive ways for women (Charrad 1994). The same government, however, abandoned a project to reform inheritance laws in favor of women in fear that such an action might incite the opposition of the Islamic establishment and others. Thus, instead of being autonomous from social groups with a vested interest in Islamic law as embodied in the Sharia, the state of the 1970s and early 1980s allied with the Islamic establishment and strengthened symbols of Islamic identity. Accordingly, it pursued a relatively conservative gender and family-law policy. This path continued until feminism and a militant, political Islamic fundamentalism emerged as social forces.

The state challenged by feminism and Islamic fundamentalism: the 1990s In 1987, Tunisia experienced a change of regime with the peaceful, nonviolent dismissal of Bourguiba, who had been president for three decades.9 By then, the voices defending Islam had grown louder. Nevertheless, in 1992–1993, the government passed new reforms of family law that expanded women’s rights. An examination of alliances and conflicts among key political actors in national politics during the late 1980s and early 1990s sheds some light on the reforms. During this period, the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism intensified, and Islamic fundamentalists unambiguously coveted state power in Tunisia. Emerging in earnest, feminism captured a political space for the first time. Women met in their own associations and participated in the debates on family law. After trying a carrot-and-stick strategy for some time, the current regime attacked the fundamentalists directly in the 1990s and invited women to align in the fight against fundamentalism. In 1991, for example, the governmentsponsored National Union of Tunisian Women appealed to all citizens and especially to women “to mobilize themselves even more around our President” after the discovery of a fundamentalist plot against the government (Riza 1991, 4). In making new reforms of family law in 1993, the state responded to pressures

From nationalism to feminism


from women’s rights advocates and solidified its alliance with them against the common danger of Islamic fundamentalism. Feminism By the emergence of Tunisian feminism, I mean the development of a collective voice defending women’s interests and arguing for women’s rights, without implying a specific organizational format. Feminist scholars have noted that women’s movements fashion their organizational form to meet their situation in different places and times (Margolis 1993). Tunisian intellectuals use the French term mouvance rather than the word movement to refer to feminism in Tunisia. A mouvance, for which no English equivalent exists, is less structured than a movement, yet more organized than a current. The major family-law reform of the 1950s and the changes in women’s expectations that followed in its wake provided a foundation for the women’s mouvance in the 1980s and 1990s. This foundation was reinforced by social structural changes, such as increases in women’s literacy, education, and labor-force participation. The rate of female literacy, for example, rose from 4 percent in 1956 to 52 percent in 1989 (CREDIF 1994a, 75).10 Changes in educational policies starting in 1956 resulted in near universal rates of primaryschool enrollment for girls (94 percent) and boys (97 percent) in 1992–1993. The share of women in the secondary-school population also rose from about 22 percent in 1955–1956 to 47 percent in 1992–1993, and in higher education, this share rose from 16 percent in 1955–1956 to 40 percent in 1991–1992 (CREDIF 1994a, 64–68). Although considerable gender inequality persisted in paid employment, women’s participation rose from 7 percent in 1966 to 24 percent in 1989 (CREDIF 1994a, 134; United Nations Development Programme 1995, 176). Professional women such as those in academia, medicine, law, and journalism played a major role in women’s associations and public debate on family law. The proportion of women in the professions grew over time, thus increasing the pool of potentially politically active women. In college and university teaching, for example, women occupied about 17 percent of the positions in 1982–1983 and 22 percent in 1991–1992, although (as in other countries) women occupied the lower levels of the academic profession. They occupied only 5 percent of the chaired positions and 7 percent of the full professor positions in 1987 (CREDIF 1994a, 198). Women represented 10 percent of the lawyers in 1990 (CREDIF 1994a, 210). They fared best in the health professions, representing 33 percent of the physicians, 57 percent of the dentists, 65 percent of the pharmacists, and 18 percent of the veterinarians and biologists in 1992–1993 (CREDIF 1994b, 2). Tunisian feminism of the 1980s and early 1990s exhibited a broad range of what Clemens (1993) calls “organizational repertoires.” Like marginalized groups elsewhere, Tunisian women developed alternative models of organization by bringing politics to previously nonpolitical structures. Women’s rights


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advocates organized associations, study groups, research units, semi-informal networks, and women’s sections of trade unions. Their organizational repertoire included, for example, the Club Tahar Haddad, a forum for lectures and discussions named after the reformist of the 1930s. Some feminists also formed close ties with human-rights advocates. In 1985, a women’s commission constituted itself within the Tunisian League for Human Rights. The union of Tunisian workers, or UGTT, created a women’s commission in the early 1980s. The Association of Women Democrats, an outspoken group, formed in the mid-1980s. Some women’s rights advocates operated in state-sponsored institutions such as the National Union of Tunisian Women or in internationally sponsored agencies, where they voiced feminist concerns. The Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche et le Developpement 1992) held writing workshops that focused on women’s issues and generated intense energy and solidarity. A member of the Tunisian Association of Women Democrats described her organization and its activities in the following terms: It is a diverse organization which brings together women of different political tendencies. We are all united in striving for the improvement of women’s status and fighting against fundamentalism and all forms of extremism . . . we organize conferences and talks, we show films, we distribute leaflets and we organize street demonstrations when necessary. . . . (Chater 1992, 220) On rare occasions, women’s rights advocates took to the streets, as in 1989 when a few hundred women gathered to protest a speech against the CPS made by an Islamic fundamentalist leader, and to demand that the CPS be safeguarded (Bessis and Belhassen 1992, 243). The feminist agenda included first and foremost the defense of the rights that Tunisian women already had in regard to family law (Charrad 1994). Feminists realized that the CPS could be in jeopardy if Islamic fundamentalism gained strength. Although the concerns of the feminists centered more directly on the protection of women’s rights than on ideals about family forms, they nevertheless touched on family matters such as marriage and divorce by implication. They feared that the state might sacrifice the rights that women had gained in family law as a way to appease fundamentalists. For example, a woman active in the labor union said: Nothing is guaranteed forever and, therefore, the CPS is not protected from all threats. The danger of losing the gains embodied in the CPS exists because the demands of the Islamic fundamentalists can always be raised a notch. We could witness a move backwards with respect to women’s rights in Tunisia. (Chater 1992, 267)

From nationalism to feminism


Similarly, a member of the executive committee of the National Union of Tunisian Women remarked, We know that the gains made by women are defended by the highest authorities of the country and, at present, there is no reason to fear that things will change. However, the CPS would certainly be in danger if power fell in the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists. (Chater 1992, 276–277) Beyond safeguarding women’s interests in the application of the CPS, from the late 1980s on, feminists also began to demand further legal reforms to address some of the gender inequalities built into the CPS of 1956. Most Tunisian feminists located themselves within the framework of an “enlightened Islamic tradition.” Taking a secular position, a few argued for universal entitlement to individual rights, regardless of religion. Generally, however, Tunisian feminists favored a tolerant and open Islam, as opposed to a militant and dogmatic one. Islamic fundamentalism With their own agenda on politics and culture, Islamic fundamentalist leaders in the early 1990s called for a return to patriarchy and a “traditional” model of gender and family. One of their more conservative leaders named Ghodhbani, for example, expressed the extreme view that “[a]ny woman who has received an education causes moral depravity” (Medimegh 1992, 132). One of the more noticeable activities of the fundamentalists was to flood the country with free or symbolically priced small yellowish booklets, known in Tunisia as the “yellow books” and bearing titles such as “The Woman in Islam,” “The Role of Women,” “Women’s Work,” “Marriage and Polygamy,” and “The Principles of Marriage” (Medimegh 1992, 132). As in other religions, fundamentalism in Islam covers a broad spectrum from politically militant movements to retreatist apolitical groups (Marty and Appleby 1991). Militant fundamentalism is, of course, the part of the spectrum that worried governments in the 1990s and still does today. It combines a selective retrieval of the Islamic tradition with political projects that range from taking over the state (either with bullets or ballots) to gaining a political voice. With respect to the potential impact of the fundamentalist movement, the characteristics of the sympathizers matter even more than their numbers. In the early 1990s, Islamic fundamentalists appealed to a vulnerable, discontented and politically volatile segment of the population. Although they found some echo in all social groups, fundamentalists derived their widest support from the urban poor, who were recent migrants from rural areas. These people were usually young and lacked education. They came to cities in search of jobs, rarely found what they sought, ended up unemployed or seasonally employed, lacked community support, and found refuge in Islamic fundamentalist networks.11


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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the more conservative Islamic fundamentalist leaders wanted to abolish the CPS and restore a law faithful to the Sharia, even though a more progressive segment, the followers of Rached Ghannouchi, accepted the CPS as a given to be tolerated. Already by 1985, Abdelfattah Mourou, then general secretary of the Islamic Tendency Movement, had proposed a national referendum on the revision of the CPS. He said: The preface of the CPS of 1956 indicated that its objective was to protect the family. Thirty years later we wonder whether this objective has been met. . . . I launch an appeal to constitute a national Commission of specialists and ask them to examine the reasons why the cohesion of the Tunisian family leaves much to be desired. (Chater 1992, 38) A woman lawyer and self-identified sympathizer of the fundamentalist movement consented to my request for an interview. She complained that the CPS had become the Tunisian government’s protected “sacred cow.” Conservative fundamentalists argued to restore polygamy, with the claim that it would help to control prostitution. They also contended that divorce should be the privilege of the husband, in contrast to the CPS, which gave women the right to file for divorce. Cheikh Lakhoua, for example, declared in an interview, “It is unavoidable to redo the CPS on the issues of polygamy, divorce and adoption. . . . The call to total equality between the sexes is a war against Islam,” (Chater 1992, 44). Blaming social problems on vaguely defined changes in family life and women’s condition, Islamic fundamentalists wanted to retrieve social order. They suggested that collective patriarchal organization offered the best family arrangement, protecting the welfare of individuals and communities. The Islamic fundamentalist movement in Tunisia acted in part as the political voice of the disappointed urban poor, for whom national sovereignty and the discourse of “modernization” had failed to deliver the promised goods. These groups longed for a sense of family and community solidarity that extended patriarchal kinship arrangements can sometimes offer. They shared a nostalgia for a secure order, or more accurately, for an idealized vision of such an order, in which men control women and individuals can count on extended kin in times of crisis. Facing hardship and yearning for the imagined security of a bygone era, many women found refuge in Islamic fundamentalist networks, which were known to provide social assistance to supporters of the cause. For example, a member of a local office of the National Union of Tunisian Women in a poor neighborhood said of Islamic fundamentalists, “They very much help women who have health or divorce problems. . . . They take initiatives . . .” (Bessis and Belhassen 1992, 223). Rural migrants to the cities brought with them the ideals of a lost rural society and a “traditional” patriarchal family, which they looked to Islamic fundamentalism to restore.

From nationalism to feminism


The state The Tunisian state of the early 1990s thus faced Islamic fundamentalists, some of whom wished to restore kin-based patriarchy, and women’s rights advocates, who wanted to reduce it further. Heir to the reformist national state of the mid1950s, the Tunisian state of the early 1990s found its base in the modernist segments of Tunisian society, which were rooted in the middle class and the economic business elite and felt threatened by Islamic fundamentalism. President Ben Ali expressed his and his government’s position on Islamic fundamentalism by declaring, “The fundamentalists are fundamentally the enemies of democracy. They strive to take the people back to the Middle Ages.”12 That said, the government oscillated between skillful compromise on religious symbolism and an alliance with women’s rights advocates against Islamic fundamentalism. Regarding the former, the state tried to reclaim Islam as a cultural (rather than a political) system of meaning by incorporating it into national institutions and by reasserting the Islamic identity of Tunisia. In 1988, for example, a few months after taking power, Ben Ali declared that “[o]ur first concern has been to render to our religion the place that it should have in this country, for . . . it constitutes the foundation of our civilization . . .” (Bessis and Belhassen 1992, 237). Accordingly, national television indicated times for prayer throughout the day, and government-sponsored newspapers often included articles on Islam. The government also encouraged the celebration of Islamic holidays and the respect of symbolic rituals; created a secretariat for religious affairs that later became a government ministry; and created centers of Islamic studies, usually connected to mosques. At the same time, the regime refused to authorize the creation of a political party around Islam. The government reformed the educational system at various levels by reducing Islamic instruction and expanding the teaching of science. President Ben Ali also declared: “As long as I am here, I shall . . . fight against the creation of a religious party . . .”13 Disturbing events abroad combined with internal developments to influence state policy in the early 1990s. The most compelling event was the bloody conflict involving militant Islam in neighboring Algeria, where more than 50,000 people were killed by the early 1990s in a quasi-civil war (Cohen 1997). As Algerians took refuge in Tunisia, direct reports of violence in Algeria abounded. These developments, combined with domestic politics, prompted the Tunisian state to secure more support against Islamic fundamentalists. One such move consisted of supporting women’s rights sufficiently to obtain the backing of most women’s rights advocates. Shortly after the change of regime in November 1987, the new government affirmed its intent to protect the CPS. President Ben Ali declared in early 1988, “The Code of Personal Status is a gain to which we attach great importance . . . there will be no going back on Tunisia’s progress in the domains of the family and women’s rights” (Tunisian External Communication Agency and National Union of Tunisian Women 1993, 21). In effect, state officials knew that revising or abandoning the CPS would


M.M. Charrad

mean succumbing to the Islamic fundamentalists and possibly alienating key constituents. “The CPS [had] become,” according to Bessis and Belhassen (1992, 239), “the emblematic text of modernist positions,” and a Tunisian legal scholar remarked, “The CPS is a more powerful symbol of Tunisia than the Constitution.”14 The most important state action in that period was a set of amendments to the CPS, passed in July 1993. The amendments satisfied some of the feminist demands and brought further changes to family law. The revised CPS, for example, dropped a clause from earlier versions, which stated that the wife must obey her husband. It also expanded mothers’ prerogatives and reduced fathers’ power after divorce with respect to child custody.15 Complementing the amendments, a National Fund was created to guarantee alimony and child support to divorced women.16 If the former husband failed to provide alimony or child support, the fund would provide this sum to the woman within two weeks of receiving a legitimate petition on her behalf. The fund would then try to recover the money from the delinquent father. The state refrained, however, from reforming the laws of inheritance. Although the most radical women’s rights advocates called for such changes, others preferred caution because inheritance laws are a delicate matter in an Islamic country. The text of the Koran contains clear rules on inheritance that leave little room for interpretation whereas the wording of most other points in the Sharia has permitted – and led to – many interpretations in the history of Islam. For this reason, changes in inheritance law could motivate a fundamentalist upheaval, posing too high a risk for the state and for feminists. In sum, the Minister of Justice described the objective of his government in passing the 1993 reforms as being “to strengthen the family, without negating the Arab-Islamic heritage.” He also stated correctly that the reforms placed Tunisia “at the forefront of the Arab-Islamic world with respect to women’s rights.”17 The CPS acted as also a rallying cry for feminists, human-rights advocates, democratic forces, and modernist Tunisians, whom the state could not alienate in the face of Islamic fundamentalism. It thus reassured these groups by reforming family law, while avoiding changes that might inflame Islamic fundamentalists.

Conclusion A politically active Tunisian woman said, “This is unquestionably the freest country for women in the Arab world. But the irony is that it is not women who fought for their rights in this country. It was the men who gave them to us” (Bronner 1993, 2). This statement is only partly correct. It applies fully to the 1950s, when the expansion of women’s rights was a by-product of family-law reforms that male state elites instituted for their own political reasons. It fails to reflect, however, women’s contributions to the development of state policy in the 1990s. This chapter shows that gender policy need not result from political struggles centered on gender. Sometimes, such policies can arise out of other struggles,

From nationalism to feminism


such as those over state power. Once made, however, gender policy affects the conditions for future struggles, especially when other structural changes enhance women’s agency. In Tunisia, a gender policy made in the 1950s without pressures from below contributed to the emergence of a feminist movement in the early 1990s, which then defended these earlier reforms and influenced new reforms. By addressing similarities and differences across historical periods, this chapter has argued that family-law reforms in Tunisia should be understood within the context of conflicts and alliances among key political actors. To explain gender and family-law policy, I have focused on the autonomy of the state from, versus its alliances with, social groups that have been vested in protecting patriarchy as embedded in conservative interpretations of the Sharia. In Tunisia, the following groups have had such stakes: a) the Islamic establishment; b) regions with a predominance of tribal or kin groupings organized along the lines of the Sharia; and c) political formations that define their identity in terms of a return to Islamic orthodoxy, such as Islamic fundamentalists. Conflicts and alliances between the state and one or more of these groups shaped gender and family-law policy through several historical twists and turns. In Tunisian history, conflicts between the state and these groups have tended to foster an expansion of women’s rights (1950s and 1990s); whereas alliances have usually had the opposite effect (1930s and 1970s–1980s). After women’s agency developed, conflicts between the state and the protectors of Islamic law generated an opening for women’s rights advocates to contribute to family-law reforms. Table 5.1 summarizes the strategic alliances and the conflicts that have predominated in different historical periods. These political struggles over state power, and the resulting shifts in familylaw policies, also had important implications for ideals about women and the family. Depending on the political struggles in which it was involved, the Tunisian political leadership has oscillated between advocating different ideals of women and the family. During the nationalist movement and the immediate postcolonial period, for example, Bourguiba adopted a developmental language to promote a nuclear family ideal consisting of weak kin power, a stronger conjugal bond, and individual autonomy in the selection of one’s spouse. During a rapprochement with the Islamic establishment in the 1970s, however, this same government stressed “traditional” symbols of Islamic identity and women’s domestic roles. More generally, the above model suggests that, when the state is in conflict with groups that are vested in women’s subordination, state actors are more likely to enact policies that expand women’s rights. Conversely, when the state’s interests encourage coalitions with these groups, state actors are more likely to avoid actions that may jeopardize these coalitions, and to promote policies that curtail women’s rights. Thus, I have conceptualized the state as an active political force making moves to consolidate its power (Weber 1922, 1946; Collins 1986; Tilly 1975; Skocpol 1979, 1992). And, I have proposed that states handle




in consolidation



Nationalist struggle against colonial rule

Sovereign national state in formation


Political configuration

All-out bloody conflict between modernizing and traditional factions for control of newly formed national state. Modernizing faction in control of state challenged by ascending left. Rapprochement between ruling elite and Islamic forces against the left. Rise of women’s agency. Challenged modernizing elite forms an alliance with feminists in opposition to Islamic fundamentalist movement.

Cooperation and alliance between modernizing and traditional factions of nationalist movement against French colonial rule.

Key conflicts and alliances

Table 5.1 Shifts in national politics and gender policy

Not much happens in gender policy. Mostly conservative orientation cements rapprochement with Islamic forces. Prudently progressive policy. Small reforms of 1993.

Major, progressive reform of family law on marriage, divorce, and polygamy in 1956 (CPS).

Conservative policy. Traditional Islamic restrictions on women’s rights are left untouched.

Overall trend in gender policy

From nationalism to feminism


women’s rights and family law in various ways, depending on their own sources of support and the nature of other contenders to power within each historical context. This approach may shed light on shifts in gender policy in other parts of the Islamic world. Depending on the historical period, the critical actors to consider will vary, and may include kin-based forms of association such as tribes, clans and lineages in countries where such groups have been a basis for political mobilization. This approach may also apply to the relationship between the state and Islamic fundamentalism within the context of other conflicts and alliances in the society under study, including an examination of the opportunities for women’s agency. This approach, for example, has been useful in the comparison of family-law policy in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, following the end of colonization in the 1950s and 1960s (Charrad 2001). The comparision expands the model by examining how different conflicts and alliances between the postcolonial national state and political forces that mobilized kin groupings shaped the possibilities for reforms of family law in three countries. It helps explain conservative outcomes in family-law policy in Morocco and Algeria (where the state or segments of it allied with forces supported by kin groupings), in contrast to the progressive family-law reform of the 1950s in Tunisia. In sum, essentialist concepts such as the patriarchal state, the capitalist state, or Islamic culture have limited use when explaining gender and family-law policy over time and space. Instead, shifting conflicts and alliances that accompany the pursuit of state power – and the models of family that emerge from this process – offer rich fields for further exploration.

Notes 1 An earlier version of this chapter appeared as “Policy Shifts: State, Islam, and Gender in Tunisia, 1930s–1990s.” Social Politics 4, no. 2 (1997): 284–319. 2 French law applied to French citizens. 3 The relevant context is that of Islamic law as it developed in the Maghreb, defined here as including Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Despite many shared aspects of Islamic law in the Muslim world, each region is distinctive. Of the four major schools of Islamic thought with respect to family law, the Maleki School has been most influential in the Maghreb (See Borrmans [1977]). 4 Women in Islamic countries, as elsewhere, have negotiated power resources in everyday life (Tucker 1993; Bourqia et al. 1996; Davis 1983; Fernea 1985). This reality does not negate the lack of autonomy that is inherent in conservative interpretations of the law. 5 Tunisia has been a forerunner in the Arab-Islamic world with respect to reforms of family law. The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen also made significant reforms in promulgating its Family Law in 1974, but did not go as far as Tunisia in that it only restricted polygamy, whereas Tunisia banned it. Turkey made reforms similar to those made in Tunisia, but did so by rejecting the Islamic legal tradition altogether and adopting a secular law. The fact that Turkey stands outside the Arab world has created a different set of conditions for promulgating reforms and implementing them. Morocco made reforms in 2004, half a century after Tunisia, and did not go as far. 6 By setting a minimum age for marriage at 17 for women and 20 for men, whereas Islamic law had set puberty as the only condition, the CPS makes child marriages


7 8 9

10 11 12 13 14 15



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more problematic. The CPS requires that the bride attend the marriage contract and express her consent directly, which makes compulsory marriages more difficult. For the framework and historical data in this section, I draw on Charrad (2001). Following the French system, Tunisian schools teach philosophy in the last year of secondary education. The process by which power changed hands may be one of the clearest testimonies to the relative success of Bourguiba’s efforts to develop a modern state. Regime transition without bloodshed has been rare in the postcolonial world. In 1987, Bourguiba was 87 years old and in poor health. Several physicians signed a statement declaring Bourguiba unfit to govern because of health problems. Relying on an article of the Constitution which states that the Prime Minister will take over if the President is incapacitated, then-Prime Minister Ben Ali took over the presidency and formed a new government. For men, the overall rate of illiteracy went from 75 percent in 1956 to 26 percent in 1989 (CREDIF 1994a, 75). For an analysis of the Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Maghreb before the mid 1990s, see Burgat and Dowell (1993) and Ruedy (1994). “Ben Ali Parle de I’Integrisme, de la Démocratie et de l’Avenir de la Tunisie.” La Presse 9 August 1994. Centre de Documentation National, Tunis, Tunisia. “Ben Ali Parle de l’Integrisme, de la Démocratie et de l’Avenir de la Tunisie.” La Presse 9 August 1994. Centre de Documentation National, Tunis, Tunisia. Verbal communication to the author. Previously, the father retained legal guardianship of the child even when the mother had custody. The mother therefore had responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child. In having guardianship, the father retained control over school enrollment, the issuance of a passport, and financial matters concerning the child. The arrangement created difficulties for many divorced mothers. After the reform, the mother who gained custody after divorce could also obtain guardianship if she showed that the father failed to respect the best interest of the child or manipulated guardianship to hurt her as his former wife. Law no. 93–65 of 1993, Journal Officiel de La République Tunisienne, no. 50. Created in 1993 and managed by the Office of Social Security, the National Fund helped 489 families and provided approximately $170,000 in its first year of operation (“Fonds de Garantie de la Pension Alimentaire et de la Rente du Divorce,” La Presse 20 August 1994. “Nouveaux Amendements du CSP: L’Ère Nouvelle de la Femme Tunisienne.” La Presse (Tunisia) 8 July 1993, 5. Centre de Documentation National, Tunis, Tunisia. The issue of inheritance is now at the cutting edge of debates on women’s rights in Tunisia.

References Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992. Andersen, Margaret L. “From the Editor.” Gender and Society 5, no. 1 (1991): 5–9. Anderson, Lisa. The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830–1980. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986. Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche et le Developpement (AFTURD). Tunisiennes en Devenir. Vol. 2: La Moitié Entière. Tunis: Ceres Productions and Fondation Friedrich Naumann, 1992. Beisel, Nicola. “Morals versus Art: Censorship, the Politics of Interpretation, and the Victorian Nude.” American Sociological Review 58, no. 3 (1993): 145–162.

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Ben Mrad, Mohamed al-Salih. Al-Hiddad ala Mraat al-Haddad (The Shroud of Mourning Thrown on al-Haddad’s Woman). Tunis: Imprimerie Tunisienne, n.d. Bernal, Victoria. “Gender, Culture and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic ‘Tradition’ in a Sudanese Village.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36, no. 1 (1994): 36–67. Bessis, Sophie and Souhayr Belhassen. Femmes du Maghreb: L’Enjeu. Tunis: Ceres Productions, 1992. Block, Fred. Revising State Theory: Essays in Politics and Postindustrialism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1987. Borrmans, Maurice. Statut Personnel et Famille au Maghreb de 1940 a Nos Jours. Paris and the Hague: Mouton, 1977. Bourguiba, Habib. “Le Voile” (The Veil). L’Etendard Tunisien, 11 January: 1. Tunis: Archives of the National Documentation Center, 1929. ——. Citations. Tunis: Editions Dar el Amal, 1978. ——. Discours Vol. XXIV, 1974–1981. Tunis: Publications du Ministère de 1’Information, 1981. Bourquia, Rahma, Mounira M. Charrad, and Nancy Gallagher, eds. Femmes, Culture et Société au Maghreb, vols 1 and 2. Rabat, Morocco: Afrique Orient, 1996. Bronner, Ethan. “For Women, Tunisia Sets Itself Apart,” Boston Globe, 1 November 1993. Burgat, Francois and William Dowell. The Islamic Movement in North Africa. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993. Centre de Recherche, de Documentation et d’Information sur la Femme (CREDIF). Femmes de Tunisie: Situation et Perspectives. Tunis: Ministère de la Femme et de la Famille, 1994a. ——. “La Femme Tunisienne en Chiffres.” Tunis: Ministère de la Femme et de la Famille, 1994b. Chamari, Alya Cherif. La Femme et la Loi en Tunisie. Casablanca: United Nations University and Editions le Fennec, 1991. Charrad, Mounira M. “State and Gender in the Maghrib.” Middle East Report 20, no. 2 (1990): 19–24. ——. “Repudiation versus Divorce: Responses to State Policy in Tunisia.” In Women, the Family and Policy: A Global Perspective, edited by Esther N. Chow and Catherine W. Berheide, 51–69. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. ——. “Formation de l’État et Statut Personnel au Maghreb: Esquisse d’une Étude Comparative et Theorique.” In Femmes, Culture et Société, vol. 2, edited by Rahma Bourqia, Mounira Charrad, and Nancy Gallagher, 15–32. Rabat: Afrique Orient, 1996. ——. “Cultural Diversity within Islam: Veils and Laws in Tunisia.” In Women in the Wider Muslim World: Diversity within Unity, edited by Herbert L. Bodman and Nayereh Tohidi, 63–79. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998. ——. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. ——. “Unequal Citizenship: Issues of Gender Justice in the Middle East and North Africa.” In Gender Justice, Citizenship and Development. Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 2007. Chater, Souad. La Femme Tunisienne: Citoyenne ou Sujet. Tunis: Maison Tunisienne de l’Edition, 1978. ——. Les Emancipees du Harem: Regard sur la Femme Tunisienne. Tunis: Édition La Presse, 1992.


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Clemens, Elisabeth S. “Organizational Repertoires and Institutional Change: Women’s Groups and the Transformation of US Politics, 1890–1920.” American Journal of Sociology 98, no. 4 (1993): 755–798. Cohen, Roger. “A Chance to Try to End an Agony.” New York Times, 2 February: E4, 1997. Collins, Randall. Weberian Sociological Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Connell, R.W. “The State, Gender and Sexual Politics.” Theory and Society 19, no. 6 (1990): 507–544. Davis, Susan. Patience and Power: Women’s Lives in a Moroccan Village. Cambridge: Schenkman, 1983. Evans, Peter, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol, eds. Bringing the State Back In. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Fernea, Elizabeth W., ed. Women and the Family in the Middle: New Voices of Change. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985. Geertz, Clifford. Islam Observed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1971. Haddad, Tahar. Imraatuna fi l-saria tua-l-mugtania (Women in Law and Society). Tunis: al-Math al Fanniyyam, 1930. Hartman, Heidi. “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union.” Capital and Class 8 (1979): 1–33. Hatem, Mervat. “Class and Patriarchy as Competing Paradigms for the Study of Middle Eastern Women.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 29, no. 4 (1987): 811–818. ——. “Egyptian Discourses on Gender and Political Liberalization: Do Secularist and Islamic Views Really Differ?” Middle East Journal 48, no. 4 (1994): 661–676. Hermassi, Elbaki. Leadership and National Development in North Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Joseph, Suad. “Elite Strategies for State Building: Women, Family, Religion and the State in Iraq and Lebanon.” In Women, Islam and the State, edited by Deniz Kandiyotti, 176–200. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1991. Lamont, Michele. Money, Manners, and Morals. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992. MacKinnon, Catherine. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. Margolis, Diane Rothhard. “Women’s Movements around the World: Cross-Cultural Comparisons.” Gender and Society 7, no. 3 (1993): 379–399. Marty, Martin E. and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Fundamentalisms Observed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991. Medimegh, Aziza Darghouth. Droits et Vécu de la Femme en Tunisie. Lyon: HermesEdilis, 1992. Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam. Translated by Mary Jo Lakeland. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1991. Orloff, Ann Shola. “Gender and the Social Rights of Citizenship: The Comparative Analysis of Gender Relations and Welfare States.” American Sociological Review 58, no. 3 (1993a): 303–328. ——. The Politics of Pensions: A Comparative Analysis of Britain, Canada, and the United States, 1880–1940. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993b. Orloff, Ann Shola, and Theda Skocpol. “Why Not Equal Protection? Explaining the Politics of Public Social Spending in Britain, 1900–1911, and the United States, 1880s–1920.” American Sociological Review 49, no. 6 (1984): 726–750.

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Republique Tunisienne. Code du Statut Personnel. First promulgated on 13 August 1956. Tunis: Imprimerie Officielle, 1991. Riza, Radhia. “Ensemble pour Preserver les Acquis de la Nation.” Femme, no. 63 (1991). Ruedy, John. ed. Islamism and Secularism in North Africa. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1994. Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. ——.Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. Swidler, Ann. “Culture in Action.” American Sociological Review 51, no. 2 (1986): 273–286. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. ——. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Tilly, A. Louise and Patricia Gurin, eds. Worriers, Politics and Change. New York: Russell Sage, 1990. Tilly, Charles, ed. The Formation of National States in Western Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975. Tucker, Judith, ed. Arab Women: Old Boundaries, New Frontiers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. Tunisian External Communication Agency and National Union of Tunisian Women. Women of Tunisia: Their Struggle and Their Gains. Tunis: Tunisian External Communication Agency and National Union of Tunisian Women, 1993. United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 1995. New York: United Nations Development Programme and Oxford University Press, 1995. Walby, Sylvia. Theorizing Patriarchy. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1990. Weber, Max. “On Bureaucracy.” In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, 196–244. New York: Oxford University Press, 1946. ——. Economy and Society. New York: Bedminster Press, 1968 (1922). Weiss, Linda. “War, the State, and the Origins of the Japanese Employment System.” Politics and Society 21, no. 3 (1993): 325–354.

Part III

Continuity and change in daily family life


Why kin marriages? Rationales in rural Upper Egypt1 Hania Sholkamy

The study of family, marriage, and kinship in anthropology is by and large “old country.” Gender and the individual are seen as our new frontiers. Thirty odd years have passed since kinship and kin marriages were topics worthy of theorizing and analysis (Antoun 1972; Bourdieu 1977; Hol´y 1989). But almost half of all Egyptian marriages from the late 1990s are between men and women who are related. So, while this chapter may not offer a new theory or revelation, it will describe the rationales that made youth in the 1990s seemingly continue to make choices similar to those of their ancestors. My research relies on ethnographic data from a small village in the governorate of Asyut, Upper Egypt. The inhabitants of this village are of Arab Bedouin origin.2 They differentiate themselves from neighboring Upper Egyptian peasants by referencing this heritage and by following its traditions. Young people in this village identify with this heritage, but also have to contend with the exigencies of a changing society, economy, and environment. The chapter will explore the practices of a young couple and their friends and relatives to illustrate how new “old” forms of marriage take place. The second objective here is to consider the implications of these choices for how the young view their past, present, and future. The third is to postulate on the meaning and significance that women in this village give to kin marriages. The argument that follows does not generalize from these data.3 It also does not claim that the practices of these men and women are symbolic of anything. The chapter is intended to enrich an understanding of how the so-called New Arab Family is forged in a particular village and to comment on the social principles that guide marriage unions. It attempts to go beyond the prescriptions regarding these marriages to understand the conditions that make them favorable options for those who choose them. I do not assume that kin marriages are antithetical to “modernity” or “development.” Indeed, this chapter demonstrates that these matches are what people make them and that love, longing, and the effervescence of youth have a place even within the most classical unions. To lay the groundwork for this argument, I first briefly review anthropological work on consanguinity and theoretical considerations concerning kin marriage. I then describe one patrilateral parallel cousin marriage from the village of Rihan.4 The last section offers the exegesis of villagers for the choice of kin


H. Sholkamy

marriages and so places these choices in familial, social, and historical context as constructed by the villagers, particularly women themselves.

Kinship and anthropology Kinship studies in anthropology have highlighted the significance of marriage prescriptions of the Mediterranean and the Arab world. On the whole, ethnographers of Middle Eastern societies have posited that kinship and marriage rules are the organizing principles of people’s lives (Eickelman 1989, 124–134), with bint al-amm (father’s brother’s daughter/son [FBD/S]) marriage5 at the heart of these principles. Some scholarly rationales for this practice include men’s desire to consolidate property and to preserve family honor (by protecting women). Some feminists view these unions as political, and not just social, organizations that center on the oppression of women by patriarchy (Tillion 1983). The principle and practice of marriage to bint al-amm, however, are distinct. The former makes it a unique type of endogamous marriage; whereas, the latter places it along other kin marriages in a social and historical context. Whether one chooses his uncle’s daughter or that of his second cousin twice removed, the rationale for both may be similar. This chapter will address this logic, as illuminated by the individual practices, perceptions, and expectations of young men and women. Using the logic of practice, Bourdieu has suggested dismantling the rigid principle of father’s brother’s daughter marriage since “[A]ny two marriages between parallel cousins may have nothing in common” (Bourdieu 1977, 48). The alliance is not between a man and his father’s brother’s daughter, but between two individuals whose actions reference not only their lineage but also their emotions, land, social position, and social relationships. Bourdieu criticizes the very language of prescription, wondering if [W]e can make the genealogical definition of groups the only means of differentiating between social units and of assigning agents to these groups without implicitly postulating that the agents are defined in every respect and for all time by their belonging to the group, and that, in short, the group defines the agents and their interests more than the agents define groups in terms of their interests? (Bourdieu 1977, 32) Bourdieu thus refocuses the issue on the practice of individuals who form such marriages. This argument is applicable to other forms of kin unions, such that the focus is on concepts and perceptions of kin and family rather than on structures of kinship. Others working in the Arab region have argued similarly for an understanding of each event of cousin marriage (Antoun 1972, 114–141). Nevertheless, less attention has been given to the role of women in structuring and defining these unions and the kinship ties that ensue (Boddy 1992). But kinship maps that

Why kin marriages in rural Upper Egypt?


chart only patrilineal descent and agnatic ties ignore the equally pertinent affinal and matrilateral relationships (Boddy 1992; Bourdieu 1977). Individuals may be equally related from the mother’s and father’s sides, yet in studies of societies where Father’s Brother’s Daughter/Son (FBD/S) marriage is an ideal, only the latter side is considered (Bourdieu 1977, 36, 43. Also see Barth 1954; Khuri 1970, 610–618; Davis 1987; Eickelman 1989, 129). Students of Egyptian and other Arab societies have argued that the theory of parallel cousin marriage is not borne out by its frequency. At best, it is a preference that is subject to circumstances, the most obvious of which is the availability of a suitable cousin. Interestingly, the presumed ubiquity of such marriages may lie in the ethnographer’s idealization of them and tendency to highlight patrilineal relations over other markers of identity. In so doing, ethnographers have distorted the practice, separated it from its historical and social contexts, and ignored various reasons that make some cousins intermarry. In essence, they have produced a myth of “traditional” cousin marriage (Thornton 2001, 2005). This section stresses the practical importance of patrilateral parallel cousin marriages, thus placing them in the same domain as other kin marriages. For, in reality, patrilateral parallel cousins may also be related through their maternal lineages, and these other ties are equally influential in marital choices. Also, the logic for marrying close can inform the choices of youth even if the partner is not their direct cousin. So what is the practice in Egypt? Despite falling rates of fertility, which have limited the number of marriageable cousins, until 1991, more than 30 percent of all marriages in Egypt were between first cousins (both parallel and cross from both the father’s and mother’s side). By 1995, this rate had fallen to about 24 percent, but marriages between other relatives had increased 10 percent (to stand at 15 percent of all marriages). Of the total marriages between relatives, which in 1995 was almost 40 percent of all marriages, the most common blood tie is that of the first paternal cousin (El-Zanaty et al. 1996).6 In other words, cousin marriage is still a common phenomenon, and its recent decline in frequency has been coupled with a general surge in marriages between relatives. Not only is this the practice, but it is also women’s stated preference (Hoodfar 1997; Rugh 1984). Anthropologist Homa Hoodfar (1997) explains these marriages in terms of the security that they provide. Shrabo notes that for urban dwellers, neighbors often replace kin, since people find similar assurances in lifelong relationships based on proximity. Some analysts have indicated an antithetical relationship between kin marriages and the forces of “modernization.” Individuals migrating in search of work and a new life may not be inclined to marry their kin (Haj 1988). But others have challenged this assumption by showing that endogamy and kin marriages are thriving (El-Zanaty et al. 1996; Holy 1989; Rugh 1984). How, then, do people juggle the demands of contemporary life and contemporary economies, and the often individualistic rationality that they promote, with the necessities and respective values of cultural and social structures? Hirsch (1999) has shown, among Mexican migrants and those living at


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home, how the meaning and significance of marriage has changed over time. Love, sexuality, and procreation may remain as basic elements of marriage, but their construction, implications, and functions have differed greatly. A similar argument can be made for the “old” practice of marrying kin. The preference for such marriages is a new, not an old, choice. Each time a young couple enters such a union, they create a new family and structure a new relationship.

The “modern” practice of marrying a cousin In Rihan, a surprising number of people are married to their patrilateral parallel cousins. Marriage also cuts across generations, with people marrying their classificatory aunts and uncles. In the “old days,” the inhabitants of this village were too poor and unruly to be concerned with the prescriptions of marriage. They kept their women to themselves and added to them with marriage to others. Even in those old and wild days, marriage for females was endogamous. But the men married any woman who would agree to have them. As old Ghelmy remembered: At the time life was easy. What was marriage? A word with the male responsible for the woman, a silver anklet or two, some food, and the women would bring their own “barazi” (the woolen tent set up for the married couple outside the nucleated settlement area) to marry in. When he left her, she and her children would live as everyone else did. They would remarry other men. So men married and divorced and the result is this village. Tracing the descent lines of different households in the village reveals that concerns about marrying within the patriline resulted from the sedentary life that villagers adopted when they settled in Rihan. The income derived from guarding land and crops and their subsequent acquisition of land and property enabled them to create a pool of cousins from which sons and daughters could marry. In other words, adherence to the rule of marrying parallel cousins, although a highly esteemed Arab ideal and practice, became more important with the relative upward mobility of some of the inhabitants. Perhaps an illustration would help to explain this point. Nimat’s grandfather married seven women and had ten boys and several girls – she is not sure of the exact number. She can remember eight of her aunts. The boys include her own father, her husband’s father, her sister’s husband’s father, her other sister’s husband’s father who is also the brother-in-law of her two younger brothers and the ex-father-in-law of her third brother, who has divorced her cousin for a Cairene. Her third sister is married to the son of her father’s cousin (from his father’s side). She and two of her sisters and her three married brothers7 are married to their patrilateral parallel cousins. The ten sons of Nimat’s grandfather fathered 48 sons and 35 daughters, including those who did not survive to adulthood.

Why kin marriages in rural Upper Egypt?


Her mother and father are not related although her mother is an Arab and her grandparents from her father’s side were unrelated, moreover her paternal grandmother was a peasant. Her daughter is engaged to her own father’s brother’s son and her eldest son is supposed to take his father’s brother’s daughter but does not want to for personal reasons. The family prides itself on its ability to intermarry. Constant comparison is made with the other families in the village, who are less numerous and so have not achieved an equal number of cousin or other-relative marriages. As one prominent member of the Sewify family explains, comparing his own family with that of the Moroukh who live in the southern part of the village: We have many men and fewer women but they, aha, the wonders of God, have many daughters. So we take from them but we do not give to them. It is very rare that we give them Sewify women. But it has happened. But this was before we fell out. And so, they have a lot of unmarried women amongst them. It is not only that they have few men, but also because their men take from the outside because by their own admission, their women are bad. They wish that they had enough sons to take their daughters like we do. Clearly, the Sewifys derive part of their prestige from the fact that they have enough men for their own women. They can adopt the Upper Egyptian and old Arab Bedouin ways of arranging marriages from childhood and so avoiding the anxiety of having unmarried girls. The second generation of one branch of the Sewify family illustrates clearly this marriage preference. This generation ranges between the age of 56 years and three years. Of the 34 men who are married, 17 (50 percent) are married to their patrilateral parallel cousins. Of the remainder, five are married to other cousins, ten to more distant relatives or to women from other families in the village, and only two have taken complete strangers.8 For some of the Sewifys, the boundaries of the family are almost the boundaries of the village. A male elder boasted: “There was no village, but we brought children and filled the world, and now there is a village.” Even among this group, however, individuals are sensitive to issues of personal choice and preference. A closer look at specific marital experiences, and at the deliberations and considerations involved, are illustrative.

Al-Nina and Mansour Al-Nina is reputed for being one of the most eligible girls in the village. She used to do most of the work on behalf of her mother, who admits to making her work like a slave. “She used to get up before dawn and start mixing the dough for bread, and then clean under the animals and make dung cakes, then collect fuel for the oven, all before I even woke up.”


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Al-Nina’s two brothers are married to their patrilateral parallel cousins (FBD). The two girls have different mothers, one from Cairo and one from the village. The elder girl is the Cairene who fell in love with her (very attractive) cousin. The younger girl, 15 years old, married his brother because the fathers arranged it. Out of jealousy toward her Cairene sister, and despite or because of her youth, she likes to say that she, too, had eyes for her cousin. When Al-Nina’s brothers “took” their wives, their uncle and future father-inlaw made it a condition of his approval that their family consent to “giving” alNina to his 19-year-old son, Mansour. Al-Nina and Mansour had been clutching hands on the landing and sharing mementos and subtle hints for some years. She had no objections whatsoever to the idea. Neither did her father and brothers. Indeed, once her uncle had asked for her, there was not much anyone could do. She is Mansour’s rightful bride to take or leave. In claiming her, he had only done the right thing. Al-Nina’s family, however, bestows her with many virtues and talents, and sees her as being a perfect bride. She has “family,” beauty, the correct demeanor and disposition, and a reputation for being a hard-working girl. So, while no one could deny her to Mansour, they did balk when it came to the details. They organized the official signing of the marriage contract (katb al-kitab) on the same day as her brothers’ wedding, but wanted to postpone the celebration and consummation of the contract for a year. The groom refused and insisted on getting married in June. This refusal was seen as small-minded and inconsiderate. June is a parched month. People have spent their money and have not yet harvested cotton, the main cash crop in the area. No one has money in June; no one can invite, celebrate, and make the appropriate gift offerings to the newlyweds. But he insisted, and who can deny a man his legal wife? The family was split on the issue. Many cousins swore that they would not attend. Some said that this was the work of women. The groom’s mother and sisters were blamed for this awful timing, but neither he nor his father would back down. Needless to say, when the day came, the celebrations were extensive and much food was consumed. All did attend, and Mansour and his father made their point clear. As Al-Nina’s sister put it, “when you are giving the woman, you are the weaker party.” Fathers for this reason do not attend their daughters’ weddings, which would threaten their dignity and sense of modesty. Indeed, a woman cannot lift her eyes to her father’s until a reasonable period of time has passed. Al-Nina entered into the perfect match. Mansour is an areeb (relative) not a ghareeb (stranger). He cannot discard her. Her sister explained that, if he did not keep her because she is his wife, he would have to because she is his cousin. It is also a happy coincidence that they have been “in love” for some time. Yet this obvious alliance was never taken for granted and was not free of distress. When I discussed the issue with Al-Nina’s sister several months after the wedding and said “that all is well that ends well,” she agreed with reservations. They would never forget what a hard time Mansour’s family gave them. But what does it matter, I asked? Her retort was:

Why kin marriages in rural Upper Egypt?


Well, haven’t you noticed that she has not been to visit her father’s home yet? Mansour is playing hard with her. But she has become as bad as they are. She has not left the house once since they married. She did not come to visit me after I gave birth. She herself says that it is because her own brothers did not let their wives visit their father’s house till many months after the wedding. Do you not remember that they did not attend the wedding? Well even if my brothers did that, she should try to go and see her mother! Appreciating the framework of blood ties against which people make personal choices is necessary to understanding the significance of such choices. The linkages are a background against which people live their daily lives. These ties are more pronounced at some times than at others. However, when called into play in day-to-day life, they do not act in isolation. In the realm of the mundane, personal likes and dislikes, as well as affections, emotions, bad habits, and economic hardships, have room to design and structure the interactions of individuals and families. In the case of Al-Nina and Mansour, their blood ties both condoned and anticipated their match, but it was made by them and colored with familial tensions. One can argue that such details are inconsequential, since the general principles and preferences seem to have prevailed. But, to understand parenting and childrearing, as well as the situation of women as mothers, boys as sons, and girls as daughters, demands an understanding of these details, as well as the link between structuring axioms and daily life. The potential for change may even exist in these details.

Explanations and conclusions Men and women choose, or wish, to marry patrilateral parallel cousins because marriage is not just a way to consolidate wealth, power, and control over women (Barth 1954 and Bourdieu 1977). Marriage is a route to personal security (Hoodfar 1997) and to the creation of a secure environment for procreation (Sholkamy 1997). These routes become evident when the perspective on marriage adopts the vantage point of a woman. Procreation is the essence of marriage, and children make or break a marriage. Islam defines descent through the father, which explains the predominance of agnatic links. But the mother and her family play an important cultural role in the lives of children. The romance of the mother and father rearing their own children in their own way has yet to delude villagers. Children are born into households and into families. Marrying close means knowing who the extended and influential kin of sons and daughters will be. It makes sense for men and women to be safe in the knowledge that their children will be born into a known and secure network. Choosing the mother of the child-to-be is an implicit choice of a future head of household, for many new brides are the matriarchs of tomorrow. Most men would choose to marry a patrilateral parallel cousin, if an eligible one existed, so as to consolidate the heritage, if not the inheritance of their children.


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Marriage is also a unique source of security for women. Aziza explains: You get educated and when you finish you have the guarantee of your job that gives you a monthly salary. Here our guarantee is our children. If a woman has no man her brothers won’t let her starve but they have wives and families too. With no children a man can throw her out but not if she is his blood and has nowhere to go. Even if he is made of stone he could not throw out his own blood. Of course you never know and we hear of all sorts of things happening these days. As Arabs we have many divorces and marriages but now people have hardly enough to feed their families and no one can afford a divorcee or single woman. No, marriage is the way for women. Aziza describes as one thing marriage, kin marriage, and the resulting children, as well as the economic and social security they extend to mothers. These are the perfect benefits, which mothers aspire to see their daughters enjoy. This design and the security that it extends, however, do not negate the real concerns of girls and of families when venturing on a marriage agreement and celebration. The historical meaning of security has influenced choices of marriage partners. Labor migration to the Gulf resulted in fathers preferring a rich ghareeb to a poor areeb. But in Rihan, security still meant blood ties that created respect and a welcoming home. Often cousins are like brother and sister before they marry, but as the saying goes, illy yetkissef min demoh ma-yekhlefsh (He who is shy of his blood will never have children). Indeed, some divorces are explained by the man’s inability to approach the woman because he feels that she is like a sister to him. This is an extreme case, which has been known to happen, but families try to protect their children from such mishaps by separating eligible cousins from an early age. It is known that close marriages do not always work, and some popular notions stress the development of genetic defects when repeated generations of cousins intermarry. But women in Rihan know that marrying a stranger can be a dangerous bet, as women can consolidate, but cannot forge, family alliances. At best, she can offer herself. In case of divorce, she is not entitled even to her own children. Batta, for example, has lived with her mother and daughter since her divorce. She had married a stranger from Arab Matteer, who was a drug addict and abused her to the extent that she sought a divorce. She had a daughter and son by him. His family took the boy and refused to take the girl. He is a stranger. I have no leverage over him except by the courts but I cannot go to court, his family would scandalize me and my mother. Now he pays me nothing. I wanted him to take the girl too as I can’t feed her but he won’t. His mother said “the boy belongs to them and that I can take the girl since they do not want her.”

Why kin marriages in rural Upper Egypt?


As Batta’s testimony illustrates, a woman cannot be a link between unrelated families, and so there is little security for a peasant woman who marries a stranger. In Rihan, matrilateral ties are recognized only in the context of (even distant) agnatic ties (for Sudan, see Boddy 1992). Such ties are highly regarded and are seen to create affections and intimacy between people who are thus related. They also create an alternative marriage pool for men and women. Women play an important role in structuring the pool of marriageable partners not just through marriage, but also through breast-feeding. The fostering of children through milk ties, which makes marriage impossible, is a means for women to regulate marriages (Khatib-Chahidi 1992, 109; Altorki 1980). Marriage in general has been portrayed as a male concern, but women play an important role in defining legitimate partners.9 While this point does not relate to FBD marriages per se, it is a silent ingredient in the construction of marriage and marriage preferences. The marriage of a daughter is a blessing and a loss. Once daughters marry, they no longer belong to the father’s family, even daughters who marry a cousin. A woman’s labor belongs to her new home. She must keep their secrets and be prudent when it comes to their belongings, food, and animals. But keeping women within the family is judged to be better then letting them disperse. Young girls know that they are headed for marriage, and some of them do not relish the idea. For them, it means going to live with another family, having children, working very hard, baking, and breeding animals. Marriage for a woman signifies a departure – from home and the life they have always known. She is leaving her family, hopefully for good. She must therefore be assured of a dignified reception and place in another family, and who would take better care of her than her own kin? A woman who marries within the family is assured a minimum in terms of dignity and fair treatment. More importantly, she is assured a place in her own patriline. Because girls are viewed as belonging to their husband’s family, they are often treated as strangers in their own homes. The saying has it that al-banat marbat-hin khaly (The stable of women/girls is empty). In other words, parents cannot rely on returns to their investments in daughters, and so poor parents especially cannot afford to invest in girls. His and his family, their problems, joys, sorrows, responsibilities, and projects become hers. And “when they come to tell her that her father has died she goes to scream at the grave and then returns to her husband’s home, fills her belly with food, and forgets all about the dog who died,” said one man who has five daughters. Perhaps people idealize FBD marriages because married life, divorce, polygyny, and above all procreation are present in the mind and the imagination when marriage looms on the horizon. The contemplation of these potentials is not confined to men. Women have a role in choosing to be chosen as partners. The popular concept of FBD mistakenly relays an image of consolidation and alliance (Bourdieu 1977, 43). In Rihan, the most passionate of couples were direct cousins because they had a chance to know each other before marriage.


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Sexual encounters between engaged cousins are not unknown. Couples had time and space to nurture love and compassion. Unrelated couples in rural areas cannot afford this luxury. Abstract and official representations of kinship are valid only in particular situations and are not really helpful in understanding marriage preferences; how they structure society; and the functions that they perform in maintaining, reproducing, and transforming it. Perhaps at one level FBD/S alliances exist as a “white lie,” as Bourdieu calls it, which serves to reaffirm gender and the sexual division of labor by completely denying the role of other relationships and markers of identity (Bourdieu 1977, 43–44). But this view ignores the role of women as marriage partners and sees them only as representatives of a group of kin. In accepting marriage to their patrilateral parallel cousins, women in Rihan are not only acquiring affines, they are securing agnates. Marriage is also a life-step, or in “modern discourse,” a career move. It has profound implications for a woman’s personhood and its individual manifestations. Marriage is important, and marrying close is a calculated personal strategy. Marriage means getting a husband and access to children, status, and a different position in another house. In many cases, it also signals the re-admission into a network of mothers and of grandmothers, this time as a married woman. The importance of endogamous marriage reflects the importance of kinship to social life. Security, identity, and the future lie within the folds of kin. Men and women not only marry cousins, but also vote for, work with, migrate to, and invest in kin. The continued advocacy of the FBD marriage, and of endogamous marriage more generally, suggests a lack of trust in “modern” indicators of status and security, such as money, moral righteousness, and education. Kin networks remain the mainstay of social relations. The individual is an unreliable partner; the group is a safer bet. Marrying close consolidates the group and assures both marriage partners of their alliance as equal co-members. This alliance protects the couple and their children from the outside and provides the language and rules with which to communicate within their group. The continuity of kin marriage does not mean that social ties are stagnant or conflict-free. Of course, brothers fight and cousins can become worst enemies. Yet maintaining consolidated patrilines in which women play an important role remains a way by which many people want to define, negotiate, and live in society. Thus goes the reasoning presented by those who have married their close kin and those who intend to do so. One 14-year-old girl in the village was promised to a cousin who had migrated to Jordan in search of a job. Along came a wealthier but more distant cousin who had a good position in Saudi Arabia. Her greedy father opted for the wealthier man, and so she was betrothed to him. She hardly knew either of them and, while impartial to the two men, she was attracted by the wealth of the new suitor. Some villagers called this decision a sign of the times. Others said that material things had always mattered in choices of

Why kin marriages in rural Upper Egypt?


marriage. Despite either interpretation, her mother found solace in the fact that they were related to both men. The family is just like the village. You fall out with some and are very close to others. This is always happening in all families and they are kin. What would it be like with strangers?! Are these testimonies and experiences important when we revisit kin marriages in Egypt? I hope they are. They reveal how youth in one part of Egypt rationalize their world and their future, and how they relate to heritage and responsibilities. These testimonies also show that the story is never one of individuals making life choices by referring only to their free will. Nor are they simply objects controlled by inherited ideals and strictures. These testimonies also reveal how women in this village view their future and their security. They highlight the precarious nature of womanhood in contemporary Egypt and the ways in which women strive to fortify their position and overcome its burdens. This chapter does not prove whether marrying kin is a good or bad thing. Perhaps it has shown that marrying kin is still a viable option for young people in Egypt, and one that can extend the benefits that women especially are seeking.

Notes 1 This chapter is based on one previously published in the Cairo Papers in Social Science (Sholkamy 2001). 2 The inhabitants of the village were nomadic until they settled about 80 years ago. 3 These data are derived from fieldwork undertaken in 1992–1995. 4 Rihan is a pseudonym for the village, so chosen to guard the privacy of its inhabitants. 5 Or marriage between patrilateral parallel cousins, the offspring of a pair of brothers. 6 This is a reading of cross-tabulations between type of relationship and current marital status. 7 Her fourth brother is still in school, and her stepmother has three children all under the age of seven. 8 One of them is a radical Muslim whose bride was chosen by his cell, not by himself or his family. In fact, his family learned of his marriage only by coincidence, when he was caught and imprisoned. 9 Islam prohibits children who have been breast-fed by the same woman to marry.

References Altorki, Soraya. “Milk Kinship in Arab Society: An Unexplained Problem in the Ethnography of Marriage.” Ethnology 19, no. 2 (1980): 233–244. Antoun, Richard. Arab Village: A Social Structural Study of a Transjordanian Peasant Community. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972. Barth, Fredrik. “Father’s Brother’s Daughter Marriage in Kurdistan.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 10, no. 2 (1954): 164–171. Boddy, Janice. “Bucking the Agnatic System: Status and Strategies in Rural Northern


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Sudan.” In In Her Prime: New Views of Middle Aged Women, edited by Virginia Kerns and Judith K. Brown, 141–154. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992. Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Davis, John. “Family and State in the Mediterranean.” In Honor and Shame and the Unity of the Mediterranean, edited by David D. Gilmore, 22–34. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 1987. Eickelman, Dale F. The Middle East: An Anthropological Approach. 2nd edn, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989. El-Zanaty, Fatma, Enas M. Hussein, Gihan A. Shawky, Ann A. Way, and Sunita Kishor. Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 1995. Calverton, MD: Macro International, 1996. Haj, Majid. “Kinship and Modernization in Developing Societies: The Emergency of Instrumentalized Kinship.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 36, no. 3 (1988): 311–328. Hirsch, Jennifer S. “Companionate Marriage, Sexual Intimacy, and the Modern Mexican Family.” Paper presented at the IUSSP Workshop on Social Categories in Population Research, Cairo, Egypt, 1999. Holy, Ladislav. Kinship, Honour and Solidity: Cousin Marriage in the Middle East. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989. Hoodfar, Homa. Between Marriage and the Market: Intimate Politics and Survival in Cairo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Khatib-Chahidi, Jane. “Milk Kinship in Shiite Islamic Iran.” In The Anthropology of Breast-Feeding: Natural Law or Social Construct, edited by Vanessa Maher, 109–132. Oxford: Berg, 1992. Khuri, Fuad I. “Parallel Cousin Marriage Reconsidered; A Middle Eastern Practice that Nullifies the Effects of Marriage on the Intensity of Family Relationships.” Man n.s., 5, no. 4 (1970): 597–618. Rugh, Andrea. Family in Contemporary Egypt. Syracuse, NJ: Syracuse University Press, 1984. Sholkamy, Hania. “Children’s Health and Well Being: An Ethnography of an Upper Egyptian Village.” Ph.D. dissertation, London School of Economics, 1997. ——. “Rationales for Kin Marriages in Rural Upper Egypt.” In The New Arab Family: Cairo Papers in Social Science 24, no. 1/2, edited by Nicholas S. Hopkins, 62–79. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2001. Thornton, Arland. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38, no. 4 (2001): 449–465. ——. The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Changes in Family Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Tillion, Germaine. The Republic of Cousins: Women’s Oppression in Mediterranean Society. London: Al Saqi Books, 1983.


Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt1 Sahar El Tawila, Barbara Ibrahim, and Hind Wassef

Introduction Generational differences in outlook and attitude appear to be a universal feature of human society, enshrined in myth, folklore, and local wisdom. Youth and their parents are expected to relate to each other in predictable ways, based on their different positions along the life-course. A “gap” between the generations is often presumed, with young people less bound by “tradition” and more open to new ideas. When they grow into adults and eventually become parents, this generation is then expected to experience a similar “gap” vis-à-vis the next generation of youth. While undoubtedly containing a partial truth, this perspective overlooks the influence of historical context. Other research has posited a distinctive “mark” on each new generation of youth, as the forces and ideas that circulate during their formative years help to shape their identities (Abdalla 2000; Neyzi 2001; Thornton 2001, 2005). Rarely, however, has anyone combined these perspectives, by looking at how young people relate to their parents in the context of profound societal changes at a given historical juncture. In this chapter, we explore generational differences between young Egyptians in their late adolescence (ages 16 to 19 years) and their parents, most of whom are roughly between the ages of 40 and 50 years. We are interested in how the economic and social changes that are transforming Egypt affect parent–adolescent dynamics at the end of the 1990s. Is there a recognizable generational gap between adolescents and their parents, and if so, which types of families most often experience it? Are different parent–adolescent communication styles related to larger gaps in attitudes and behavior? Can we measure with any assurance the attitudinal gaps within as well as between generations? How does gender interact with age and generation to create gaps in attitudes and aspirations? These topics are important as Egypt grapples with its largest ever cohort of youth and attempts to integrate them into a rapidly changing social environment. Most such studies have looked at these issues using clinical data or small samples in one location (Ibrahim and Wassef 2000). We make use of a unique national dataset on youth and their parents from a household survey that was conducted in 1997. We take advantage of the possibilities inherent in survey


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data to analyze more rigorously the changing generational dynamics in Egypt in the late 1990s.

Families as intensive arenas of generational interaction In Egypt and the Arab world, the family is still a central unit of society (Young and Shami 1997; Singerman and Hoodfar 1996). Individuals derive much of their identity and standing from their kin ties. While nuclear families have become more common in some areas, extended families persist across the boundaries of household and home. And these extended families are assuming important new roles, such as providing support for working mothers. Individuals rarely live alone in Egypt, and people often define themselves in terms of their close family relations (Joseph 1993). Family and household members also interact within, and redefine daily, power relationships and hierarchies vis-à-vis one another. Social change and conflict are often intense within the family, because expectations of support and solidarity, as well as norms of social control, are high. Young people in Egypt are rarely able to live and function independently. They need the social, economic, and emotional support of their parents and family, but they are experiencing a youth that differs radically from that of their parents. As a result, young people accommodate two roles within the family: the “keeper” of valued social norms and practices, and the “source” of social change and new ideas from the outside (Rosenmayr and Allerbeck 1979). How does this tension unfold in parent–adolescent interaction? We assume that actual and mythical “generational gaps” should vary across societies and across time. In pre-industrial societies, for example, greater continuity of values and experience probably characterized the generations. Postindustrial societies have achieved widespread gains in schooling and wealth, and so many similarities in values and experience should characterize the generations. In this respect, then, pre- and post-industrial societies should exhibit more generational continuity. In transitional societies, however, rapid change probably became integral to cultural myths about intergenerational relations. In such settings, we would also expect to find larger generational gaps in attitude and behavior. Young people will have markedly different experiences from their parents, as schooling replaces illiteracy and global ideas impinge on local values (e.g., Thornton 2001, 2005). This generational gap in exposure and experience will probably result in divergent attitudes and preferences, which may in turn spur conflicted relations within families and communities. Comparative data would be required to test these ideas across societies. Within Egypt, however, one can compare sub-groups that have experienced different exposures to the changes that are underway. Such differences could result from many factors, including socio-economic status, region of residence, and proximity to metropolitan centers (see Thornton 2001, 2005). To test this proposition, we consider three groups of people (represented by categories of

Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt


households): those still relatively unexposed to change, through poverty and residence in more isolated settings that are governed by more restrictive cultural norms; those experiencing heightened transformation by virtue of their increased exposure to schooling, migration to urban centers, and changing economic roles; and those who passed through these changes in an earlier era, represented by urban residence and high levels of education and high occupational status. Of all the changes in Egypt during the past 40 years, exposure to formal schooling has probably most transformed parent–child relations. Once a privilege of the urban minority, schooling has become much more widespread. Net primary enrollment in 1994–1996, for example, was 98 percent for boys and 88 percent for girls (World Bank 2000). In 1997, the enrollment rate was 90 percent for those aged eight to 11 years, but was considerably lower (73 percent) among those aged 14, the age at which students transition to the non-compulsory secondary level (El Tawila et al. 1999). With schooling comes exposure to peers and adults outside the family, reducing the influence of parents and providing fertile ground for youth sub-cultures to form (Mitterauer 1986, cited in Kiem 1994; Thornton and Fricke 1987; Thornton 2001, 2005). Also with schooling come the skills to access a wider world through books and newspapers, and to acquire jobs that require more diversified skills. Such changes have extended and complicated the period of adolescence, and also have challenged the social hierarchy of households, in that young members are viewed as “superior” in training but “inferior” in age (Buchholt and Mai 1994). As a result, an illiterate woman who married at age 16 in the late 1970s is more likely to have a 16-yearold daughter who remains in school, plans to work in an urban setting, and experiences a vastly different world from that which her mother experienced as a teen. Along with mass schooling, the media is another critical agent of social change (Berger et al. 1973; Thornton 2001, 2005). It exposes young and old people to what often seems an alien world. In Egypt, the state sponsors various forms of media, which are useful in promoting social change toward governmental policies (see Bier; Charrad; and Hoodfar this volume). Examples of new ideas that were introduced in the last half-century include the use of family planning (see Bier, this volume), the uptake of “modern” means to promote child survival (e.g., vaccination), and the need for citizens to exercise their right to vote. Television has played a powerful role in this process, especially through its transmission of evening drama serials. Lila Abu-Lughod (1998) discusses the ways in which rural villagers interpret the various images that they see on television, ranging from Western advertisements for certain commodities to sometimes stereotyped and flawed portraits of themselves. A second proposition is that gender and generation are intertwined (Kandiyoti 1991). In a historically patriarchal society, men are presumed to have authority over women, and the young are expected to defer to their elders. Boys, therefore, can expect to move from a position of relative subordination to one of relative dominance with their passage to adulthood. Girls, however, will transit from the subordinate status of youth to the subordinate positions related to her


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adult gender roles (Ibrahim et al. 1998). As one result, girls have more to gain from changes away from “traditional” gender arrangements, and may therefore embrace them more fully than do boys. Parents also stand to lose power and authority in the process of social change, and so both boys and parents should favor more strongly “traditional” age-gender norms. In light of this discussion, we anticipate the following. First, a significant intergenerational gap will reveal itself in the various ways that boys and girls distance themselves from their parents’ experiences and views. Second, compared to boys, girls will diverge more than will boys from their parents’ views, and will more strongly favor “modern” patterns of family formation and marital relations. Third, taking these gender-based differences into account, families experiencing more social change will express more divergent intergenerational attitudes, which will adversely affect family interaction.

Sample and data The research program “Adolescence and Social Change in Egypt” (ASCE) had multiple objectives that cut across the socio-economic, cultural, and health dimensions of adolescent development. Given the lack of information on adolescents in Egypt, the authors joined a larger team of researchers to conduct a national survey that would provide comprehensive baseline data on this subgroup. In reality, adolescence have no clear starting or ending point. The survey aimed at exploring various social and cultural understandings of this stage of life without imposing prior categories. A working definition of adolescence as the second decade of life, spanning the ages 10–19 years, was adopted. The survey design emphasized gendered constructions of adolescent experiences, so as to understand better how girls and boys experience adolescence differently, and how those patterns may translate into different attitudes, behaviors, and opportunities. The survey sample is a nationally representative, multi-stage, stratified, probability, cluster sample. A total of 13,271 households were screened. Some 7,256 eligible households, defined as those with at least one member in the age range 10–19 years, were identified, from which one adolescent from each sex was randomly selected. A total of 9,128 adolescents were interviewed (4,354 boys and 4,774 girls).2 A one-quarter random sub-sample of adolescents received a second interview focusing mainly on reproductive health and adolescents’ gender-role attitudes (El Tawila et al. 1999). This analysis focuses on the 16 to 19 year-olds who were never married and living in two-parent households. We chose this group because they have already passed the transitional phase of puberty and almost all have reached physical maturation. Educational prospects are also clearer for this group; some never attended school, others had already dropped out before reaching secondary education, some were continuing to secondary level, with the likelihood of continuing to university fairly predictable based on the type of secondary educational

Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt


track they followed.3 This group is also legally recognized in the labor market, since the legal minimum age for work in Egypt is 15. Thus, it is plausible to expect that these young people have developed their own views about their social context and their own future, including marriage. Most importantly for a study of generational dynamics, this group of young people is unaffected by the complicating factors of single parenting or the remarriage of a parent, since its members reside with both parents. At the time of interview, 2,162 or 68 percent of 16–19-year-old adolescents in the total national sample met these requirements, representing 73 percent of the boys and 63 percent of the girls.4 Compared to all 16–19 year-olds in the sample, this group was slightly younger (more in the ages 16–17 than 18–19 among both sexes) and more often had never been married, especially among girls (100 percent of this group as opposed to 88 percent of all 16–19 year old girls). More of the selected girls were also still in school (56 percent compared with 48 percent among all girls 16–19). Slightly fewer boys and girls in the selected sample were from Upper Egypt (25 percent compared with 29 percent overall) or from the lowest socio-economic status households (28 percent compared with 31 percent).5 As we have framed this analysis, intra- and intergeneration relations are context-dependent outcomes. To assess the factors that enhance or mitigate a “generational gap,” we have incorporated many standard background variables, but add others that we believe are crucial to parent–adolescent relations. These variables include a measure of the socialization style at home – whether autocratic or more open to discussion and sharing of opinions – and a variable that measures where a particular family lies on the continuum of rapid social transformation that Egypt is experiencing. We measure the “gap” in intergenerational relations by examining whether each child reports a parent to be a role model (namuthag igabi), or a person that the adolescent would like to emulate and that s/he admires for their attitudes, behavior, or attributes (either parent identified as a role model, someone else identified as a role model, or no role model identified). Identification of either parent as a role model is taken as a proxy for convergence of ideas and goals with the parental generation. Among those diverging most from parents on this dimension are those who either have no role model or who identify someone other than a parent as their role model. The second indicator of intergenerational gap is a construct that summarizes attitudes regarding the basic parameters of family formation and marital relations. In the ASCE survey, older adolescents were asked what they considered to be the best age and educational difference (if any) between spouses. They were also asked their views about acceptable reasons for divorce. Another battery of questions measured gender-role attitudes regarding task sharing and decision making between spouses.6 These answers were then compared with attitudes or actual practices among the parents to assess the degree of convergence or divergence. Overall attitudinal distributions on items relating to the parental generation, when not available from the ASCE survey, are fortunately available in


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another national survey, the 1995 Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey (El-Zanaty et al. 1996). The extent to which responses of the younger generation diverge from the average experiences and attitudes of the parental generation measures the generational “gap” between the two generations. To clarify, this analysis compares the two generations at the aggregate level and does not compare the views of adolescents with those of their parents. Table 7.1 lists the set of background (“gap”) explanatory variables capturing the attributes of adolescents and their parents, as well as the socio-economic status of the household and surrounding community. For the younger generation, we expect that the effects of age, gender, and educational attainment are crucial. Consistent with Thornton’s (2001, 2005) argument, we postulate that education will affect intergenerational dynamics significantly by supporting the values inherent in social transformation. The impact should be positive if cultural norms in the family already support these values, or, if the family is already characterized by levels of education. Alternatively, the impact of education may become negative if cultural norms in the family are restrictive and if the schooling attainment of the young person challenges age-gender hierarchies in the family. Region of residence – in particular the urban governorates, Lower Egypt, and Upper Egypt – proxies for the community culture within which a family lives. One dimension is varying degrees of cosmopolitanism, which is widespread in the urban governorates (mainly Cairo and Alexandria) and restricted in Upper Egypt. The physical proximity of most of Lower Egypt to large metropolitan centers and its more rapid pace of social change very likely make this region more cosmopolitan than Upper Egypt. We believe that a third “social transformation” variable may help to account for observed gaps between the generations in Egypt today. This variable classifies families based on the difference in the educational attainment of the adolescent and each parent (both generations have little formal education; the adolescent’s attainment is significantly higher than that of either parent; and both generations have achieved fairly high levels of education). This construct adds a relational dimension separate from the educational attainment of the adolescent and the parents individually. Our hypothesis is that, irrespective of gender differences, the intergenerational gap will be augmented among those families in which the younger generation has acquired higher levels of education compared with the parents. We also expect to find significant differences in how Group 1 and Group 3 generations relate to one another. We begin the analysis by examining how young people in Egypt select a role model to guide their passage to adulthood.

Parents as role models Among adolescents aged 16–19 years who were surveyed in 1997, fully one quarter failed to identify any role model. This figure suggests, for a sizeable number of young people, a sadly limited horizon for relating to adults or envi-

Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt


Table 7.1 Percentage distribution of adolescents in the sample by distant explanatory variables hypothesized to impact both intra- and intergenerational dynamics Background variable Educational attainment of adolescent Never attended school Dropped out before secondarya Enrolled in/completed vocational secondary Enrolled in/completed general secondary Intergenerational education difference: father/adolescent Same low education Adolescent’s education is higher Same high educationb Intergenerational education difference: mother/adolescent Same low education Adolescent’s education is higher Same high educationc Mean age of mother Mean age of father Socio-economic status of the household Low Middle High Region of residence Urban governorates Lower Egypt Upper Egypt Total number of cases



5.1 29.2 42.4 23.4

12.8 23.2 37.6 26.5

20.2 68.1 11.6

23.1 61.5 15.5

12.4 80.4 7.2 43.9 51.2

19.2 74.1 6.7 43.7 51.3

29.0 35.3 35.7

28.1 35.0 36.9

26.4 47.9 25.7

26.5 48.9 24.6



Notes a A small number of cases that dropped out after attending some but not all secondary schooling is included in this category. b High education refers to secondary-school level or higher. c See footnote 8.

sioning their own futures. About 40 percent identified someone other than the parents, 11 percent reported an elder sibling, and 29 percent mentioned someone who was neither a parent nor a sibling. Among this latter group, a range of people were reported, including well-known celebrities (e.g., singers, soccer players, famous leaders, or historic figures) or individuals with whom the young person was in regular contact (e.g., a schoolteacher, an uncle). Another one-third of the young generation referred to either parent as the role model. Adolescent boys (33 percent) and girls (36 percent) identify a parent as a role model equally as often, and both more often name the father than the mother. Table 7.2 shows the reasons for identifying parents or others as role models and suggests intergenerational similarity among adolescents who identified parents as role models. The majority of this group (87 percent) referred to the manners, attitudes, behavior, or strong character of the selected parent as the


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Table 7.2 Adolescents’ responses concerning what they like most about the person identified as role model What they like most Manners, behavior, and attitudes Strong character Social standing Financial ability Sub-total Other reasons Total


Other (than a parent)

57.6 29.1 4.0 0.2 90.9 9.1

42.3 20.6 17.8 2.5 83.2 16.8



attributes they most admired. Similar attributes were mentioned among a smaller majority (63 percent) of those who identified others (non-parents) as their role model. Social standing and financial ability, which may have been lacking among the parents, also emerged as responses of this group. Individual and contextual factors affect boys and girls differently to appreciate parents and relate positively to them as role models (Table 7.A, end of text). Educational attainment and region of residence are strongly associated with how boys, but not girls, relate to their parents. Boys in secondary education appreciate their parents almost twice as much as do boys who left school earlier. Also, boys in the urban governorates are 60 percent more likely than are boys in Lower or Upper Egypt to report parents as role models. Boys living in small towns or rural areas appear to have aspirations that distance them from admiring their parents. Adolescents’ perceptions and appreciation of parents are also associated with the stage of social transformation variables, especially among girls. In most cases, adolescents from “transitional” families (in which the adolescent’s educational attainment exceeds that of the father) are the least likely to identify their parents as role models, whereas adolescents in “transitioned” families (in which both generations have further education) are the most likely to relate to parents as role models. Exceptionally, however, girls from families with poor educational attainment in both generations, especially among girls and fathers, are also unlikely to identify parents as role models. Boys, by contrast, are almost equally and highly likely to look up to their fathers in “pre-” and “post-” transition families, in which educational attainments are similar across the generations. Notably, boys from Lower Egypt, who are expected to be going through the heightened transformation process, are significantly more likely not to have a role model as boys living elsewhere. Also, boys and girls who never attended school or did not continue onto secondary school are significantly more likely not to have a role model, compared with those who did continue. Education thus plays an expected role in helping young people to observe and then consider the adult lives and achievements to which they might aspire in the future.

Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt


Convergence of views related to family formation and marital relations Adolescents have the example of their parents” marriage as they plan for their own family. We compared the actual situation of parents on several dimensions (such as parental educational differences and the distribution of household tasks) with the parallel attitudes expressed by adolescents. Table 7.3 compares the attitudes of sampled adolescents with the attitudes or experiences of the parents’ generation along several dimensions related to marriage.7 Ibrahim et al. (1998), in their analysis of the ASCE data, highlighted the high convergence of parents and of adolescent girls and boys toward “traditional” gender-segregated expectations about responsibility for specific household chores. (Gender differences were more pronounced regarding views on appropriate styles of couple decision making.) However, adolescents overall have diverged significantly from their parents’ generation on important aspects related to the formation of a new family and to relations within marriage. The younger generation prefers marriages that match spousal attributes like education, and tolerate less “traditional” characteristics and roles. The attitudes of adolescent girls in this sample also diverge strikingly from the average experience of their parents’ generation (Table 7.3). The only exceptions that converge are those related to family finances and, to a lesser degree, justifications to seek divorce. While adolescent boys do not replicate the experiences and attitudes of their parents, their attitudes correspond more closely with those of the parents than do the attitudes of adolescent girls, especially regarding differences in educational attainment, girls’ circumcision, marriage to a relative, caring for children, and helping children with schoolwork. To explore further this gendered intergenerational gap, we conducted a multiple classification analysis where the dependent variable is a composite indicator of the differences between the attitudes of adolescents toward the ten aspects of family formation and marriage relations and the average experience of the parent generation, as presented in Table 7.3. Only significant explanatory variables were retained in the final model. Table 7.B displays these results. The difference between the average score on the constructed index among the two genders is significant, and reinforces the conclusion that girls’ attitudes about family and marriage differ from the parental generation more than do the attitudes of boys. Among adolescent girls, general secondary schooling and residence in an urban governorate are strong correlates of diverging attitudes regarding family formation and marriage relations. In other words, this generation of girls prefers and probably aspires to marital arrangements that are atypical of their parents’ generation. Adolescent girls with secondary schooling and living in an urban governorate stress equal educational attainment and sharing among spouses, and more strongly reject circumcision, consanguinous marriages, and violence toward wives (Table 7.4). Among boys, their own educational attainment and intergenerational differences in schooling are significantly associated with divergent views. Low

47.8 94.2 76.4 26.5 1.7 10.1 15.6 53.3 73.7 54.1

Both husband and wife should have the same level of education attainment The age difference between husband and wife should be less than or equal to five years A girl should be circumcised before marriage If a relative proposed and the father accepted, the daughter should comply Both husband and wife should provide for the family Both husband and wife are responsible for watching children and playing with them Both husband and wife are responsible for helping children do homework Household budget should be a shared decision among husband and wife Wife is justified to file for divorce if husband beats her Wife is justified to file for divorce if husband ignores her opinions and views

66.7 85.9 56.8 15.8 11.9 25.2 37.5 74.7 60.4 47.4


22.4b 46.6 97.0c 39.0d 14.2 4.2 5.7 74.8e 47.4e 24.6e


Parents’ generation experience/attitudes

Notes a In this column, we report basically the percentages of parents from the ASCE survey whose actual marriage experience agrees with the statement. b In fact, 40.5 percent of the parents of adolescents in our sample have equally no education and only 22.4 percent had ever attended school and acquired the same years of education. Since almost 90.0 percent of sampled adolescents have ever attended school, then their inclination toward equal education attainment among the spouses refers to equal years of schooling greater than zero. c Data not available from the ASCE survey, however, the EDHS (95) reported that 97.0 percent of ever married Egyptian women of reproductive age are circumcised, a rate that varied little with age. d Data not available from the ASCE survey, however, the EDHS(95) reported that 39.0 percent of ever married Egyptian women over 34 years old were married to a relative. e As reported in the 1995 Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (El-Zanaty et al. 1996).


Percentage of adolescents who agree that:

Table 7.3 Attitudes of never-married 16–19-year-old adolescents living with both parents and the attitudes or actual corresponding experience among the parents’ generation

(4) 60.5 94.0 70.1 18.3 – 23.5 26.0 55.9 86.5 66.4 72

Key (1) Same low education as father. (2) Same high education as mother. (3) High socio-economic status. (4) Urban governorate. (5) General secondary. – Number of cases less than five.

(4) 77.0 82.5 20.5 1.0 29.4 47.6 45.7 87.5 74.0 47.5 69

(5) 73.5 79.9 25.9 0.7 29.1 41.7 42.3 80.9 71.4 40.8 90

(3) 50.5 90.6 69.3 21.6 – 11.4 20.3 48.5 81.4 59.9 96

(1) 36.9 100.0 95.9 64.2 – – 31.0 52.6 64.2 56.5 21

Both husband and wife should have the same level of educational attainment The age difference between husband and wife should be less than or equal to five years A girl should be circumcised before marriage If a relative proposed and the father accepted, the daughter should comply Both husband and wife should provide for the family Both husband and wife are responsible for watching children and playing with them Both husband and wife are responsible for helping children do homework Household budget should be a shared decision among husband and wife Wife is justified to file for divorce if husband beats her Wife is justified to file for divorce if husband ignores her opinions and views Number of cases

(2) 62.8 90.2 58.5 – – – 33.2 52.4 80.5 55.8 21

Girls in (5), (4)

Boys having (1)–(4)

Percentage who agree that:

Table 7.4 Attitudes of selected sub-groups of adolescents regarding parameters of family formation and marriage relations


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schooling attainment of the boy and his father correlates with even more conventional attitudes than the average experience of the older generation. High schooling attainment equivalent to the mother’s and residence in an urban governorate are related to divergence from the experience of the older generation in the direction of a more egalitarian pattern. High socio-economic status is associated with intergenerational divergence, on the whole, toward a more egalitarian pattern among boys (although not in the areas of women’s employment or the sharing roles between spouses).

Intergenerational dynamics: links between an adolescent’s background and the socialization style at home The previous analysis examined the extent and correlates of intergenerational gaps in attitudes and behavior. Here, we explore the aspects of family dynamics that may lead to the generational gap. In addition to the direct influence, the background variables of schooling attainment, parental ages, and family status should affect the intergenerational gap indirectly through the socialization style at home. Socialization style refers to the nature and quality of intergenerational interaction. An egalitarian parenting style involves more listening, dialogue, and consideration of young people’s views, whereas an authoritarian style is more distant and unidirectional. The ASCE questionnaire included several questions to capture one or more dimensions of parenting style. Here, we focus on four measures that were asked of all respondents in the sample. The first indicator measured “family integration,” or the adolescents’ reports about the nature of their communication in the family and parental responses to it. Adolescents who usually voice opinions, ideas, or suggestions that parents consider and respect comprise one category (termed a democratic socialization style in psychology). Adolescents who do not voice opinions on family issues, or are dismissed by parents if they do, comprise the second category. The second indicator relates to the level – either high or low – of parent– adolescent communication. “High communication” adolescents reported that they talk with either parent about their problems with friends and with other family members. “Low communication” adolescents communicated one type of problem but not both, or reported no communication with either parent about these problems. Communication with parents about problems with friends suggests that an adolescent is sharing issues that may be unknown to parents, as interaction with peers may often occur beyond the home at school, work, or leisure. The third indicator captures exposure to extrafamilial channels of socialization, such as books, radio, television, and other forms of mass media. While not directly controlled by parents, these items probably measure how adolescent activities reflect the value that parents place on reading and exposure to “modern” mass media. Adolescents in this survey were asked about all activities that they had carried out on the day before the interview, including reading nonschool-related books, listening to the radio, and watching television. Adoles-

Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt


cents exposed to one or no type of media comprised one group, and the second group were exposed to at least two types. The final indicator was physical mobility beyond the home, which distinguished adolescents who were not allowed to meet with friends at all or allowed to exchange home visits only, and adolescents who were allowed to meet and go out with friends beyond their neighborhood. This indicator captures the degree of parental restriction on or the autonomy of adolescents to interact with their peers. Especially for girls in Egypt, this indicator probably captures the trust and autonomy that is associated with parents having more cosmopolitan values. Thus, allowing girls more physical mobility should be associated with a later stage of social transformation and/or with higher schooling attainments among the parents. Family integration (style of dialogue in the family) is strongly tied to several of a girl’s background attributes (Table 7.C). For girls, integration increases with higher schooling attainment, regardless of parental schooling. The highest levels of integration are found among girls with general secondary education. The direction of influence is unclear, however, because girls who are integrated with their families may lobby better for more schooling, and greater communication/integration may be a reward for girls’ scholastic achievements. Interestingly, integration of girls is highest in Lower Egypt, where we anticipated a faster pace of social change than elsewhere, and also in families with consistent schooling attainment between the two generations. For boys, family integration is more strongly associated with community attributes and less with personal qualities or achievements (e.g., education). To some extent, this pattern is also apparent among girls, but only in Lower Egypt. For boys, family integration is highest in the urban governorates and Lower Egypt and is lowest in Upper Egypt. This pattern is consistent with more patriarchal norms guiding communication between elders and youth in Upper Egypt and with greater heterogeneity of family communication styles likely to be found in and near metropolitan areas. Although more difficult to explain, the integration of boys also intensifies as the age of the mother increases (Table 7.C). A high level of communication with parents about adolescent problems is unrelated to any of the distant variables among boys. For girls, however, communication is higher in “post-transition” families, in which schooling attainments among the adolescent and the father are high. In these families, girls communicate well with parents more often than do girls in “pre-transition” families (in which parents and children have equally low schooling attainments) or “transitional families” (in which youth have more schooling than the parents). Exposure to mass media is higher among boys with access to some schooling and with continued schooling, as well as among boys in the urban governorates and Lower Egypt. Among adolescent girls, exposure to the mass media was positively associated with access to schooling but not with school continuation, and was greater among girls in the urban governorates. Surprisingly, girls whose mothers have equally high education have significantly lower exposure to mass


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media, which may reflect the high degree of mobility that these girls are allowed. This mobility probably leads them to spend less time at home reading books, listening to the radio, or watching television (Table 7.D). As expected, mobility is much higher for boys than girls, with large variations in the factors associated with their mobility. In general, girls’ mobility is highly restricted unless they continue to general secondary education, or if their mothers have high schooling attainment. For boys, mobility is more of a cosmopolitan attribute, with boys in the urban governorates enjoying greater mobility compared with boys in Lower and Upper Egypt.

Conclusion This chapter has explored, using national survey data, the complex relationships between adolescents and parents in Egypt. Without prior data for comparison, it is unknown whether observed variations in intergenerational interaction in this sample reflect important changes from the past. We can, however, consider the multiple factors that are related to the closeness or gap between the generations. Gender emerges as a crucial determinant of similarity in the views of parents and adolescents, with girls less likely than boys to agree with the parental generation on several basic issues related to marital and family relations. Beyond these gender differences, a link emerged between the generational gap and families” location along the continuum of social transformation in Egypt. As previously mentioned, schooling attainment was our marker for this transformation, and generational gaps in schooling have implications for almost every indicator examined here. Rapid strides in access to basic education during the last decade in Egypt suggest that this large generational gap will probably decrease over time, as better-educated young people become parents. While social transformation exacerbates the generational gap, personal attributes also predict this gap. Less-schooled girls are unlikely to have a role model, but when they do, it is rarely a parent. These girls may observe the opportunities of peers in better-off households – for education, recreation, or mobility, and feel alienated from their parents who have not enabled such changes. Intense social change is also taking place in Lower Egypt and urban centers and, according to our findings, may lead to generational gaps in attitudes and behavior. Particularly for girls, the end point of social transformation, defined here as “high schooling” in both generations, correlates with a positive family setting in which their views are heard and respected. Yet the transitional group is least likely to identify parents as role models and to voice opinions that are respected and heard. The extent to which these “intergenerational differences” result in overt intergenerational “conflicts” is an unknown, but worthy question for future research. A positive finding related to communication with family is that girls in “posttransition” households communicate more than do those in “pre-transition” or “transitional” families. Yet this survey does not provide data on the nature and meaning of this communication. Are girls in transitional families, for example,

Social change and parent–adolescent dynamics in Egypt


more independent problem solvers, or do their problems simply go unresolved? Answers to these important questions also require more in-depth methods of study. A final point relates to the importance of maternal schooling, which is associated with greater spatial mobility for girls and a more egalitarian outlook among boys. These trends may continue as the proportion of women with higher schooling attainment increases. Yet, because women’s schooling attainment nationally is lower than that of men, mothers with more schooling are still the exception. This fact could suggest that there are other unique attributes of the households with highly educated mothers. These mothers, for example, may

Table 7.A Odds-ratios of reporting either parent as a role model and failure to identify a role model at all by distant background variablesa Background variable

Reporting either parent as a role model Boys

Educational attainment of adolescent Never attended school 0.29** Dropped out before secondary 0.53*** Enrolled/completed vocational secondary 1.3 Enrolled/completed general secondary 1.0 Intergenerational education difference: Father/adolescent Same low education 0.78 Adolescent’s education is higher 43*** Same high education. 1.0 Inter-generation education difference: Mother/adolescent Same low education Adolescent’s education is higher Same high education Age of mother Age of father Socio-economic level of the household Low Middle High Region of residence Urban governorates 1.6** Lower Egypt 1.04 Upper Egypt 1.0 Total percentage 32.7


Failure to identify a role model at all



13.3*** 3.2*** 1.08 1.0

5.0*** 2.2*** 0.9 1.0

0.28*** 0.34*** 1.0


1.42 1.90*** 1.0 22.5 28.5

Notes a All distant background variables listed in Table 7.1 were included in the model. Stepwise logistic regression using likelihood ratio test for retaining significant variables was used. *0.01 < P < 0.05; **0.001 < P