On our mission to break the stereotype when it comes to Upper Egyptian Women, we researched a lot to look at what our women of the South have accomplished. We were surprised to find so many women who rose to prominence in many fields and turned out to be originally Upper Egyptian!
Here are some famous women you might not have known were from Upper Egypt:
The first woman on this list had to be Egyptian Feminist icon Hoda Shaarawi. Born to a wealthy family in El Minya in 1897, Hoda Shaarawi was to marry a man she did not love. However, being of strong character, her marriage did not stop her from achieving what she set her mind to. She was determined to leave for Cairo and began her charity work there. Hoda Shaarawi founded The Children’s Foundation in 1907 and had the most prominent role in the feminist movement that was part of the 1919 revolution. Also, she led women’s marches and was chairperson of the women’s committee within the Wafd Political party. She also founded The Arab Women’s Coalition in 1944. All of this definitely earned this Upper Egyptian woman the title of Feminist pioneer.
Sanaa Gamil is inarguably one of the greatest actresses –not only of her generation—but in all Egyptian cinema. Despite starting her career as a theater actress, she rose to stardom and showcased her immense talent in works like Bedaya wa Nehaya, El Zoga El Thaneya, El Raya El Beyda, Sawa’ El Hanem and so many more. Interestingly, Gamil, the distinguished, polished, French-speaking woman is Upper Egyptian! She was actually born “Soraya Youssef Attallah” and raised in El Minya. Her family was not supportive of her acting career at the beginning but later on, accepted her after she proved herself as a serious actress and huge talent.
Another iconic woman you may not have known was Upper Egyptian is world-famous jewelry designer Azza Fahmy. Born in Sohag, this woman became a pioneer in jewelry design in Egypt. Azza Fahmy graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Décor. In 1969, she acquired a German book on Medieval jewelry and that’s what awoke her passion for jewelry design. Azza Fahmy started off by working in one of the most prominent workshops in Khan El Khalili’s jeweler district and was the first –and the only—woman working there. With hard work and dedication, she was able to earn a scholarship to London to hone her skill. Because of her creativity, innovation, and passion, she became the world-famous brand she is now. She has stores and boutiques all over Egypt in addition to Jordan, the UAE, the US, and the UK.
Hekmat Abu Zeid
Hekmat Abu Zeid is a name that should be known by every Egyptian woman. This Upper Egyptian woman is a pioneer political figure in the history of the country, being the first female cabinet minister in Egypt. Born in Assiut in 1916 to a well-educated family in a village in the town of Qusseya. She used to travel daily from her village to the town of Dayrout to go to school and continued her secondary education in Alexandria. She studied History at Cairo University, got a Master’s degree from The University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, and a PhD in Psychology from The University of London. In 1962, she was appointed minister of Social Affairs by then-president Gamal Abdelnasser. After her time in office, she taught sociology at Cairo University.
The last famous Upper Egyptian woman we’ll talk about in this article is definitely the one who breaks the most stereotypes when it comes to Upper Egypt: Samia Gamal. “Zainab Khalil Mahfouz” was born in Beni Suef in 1924. However, as a young woman, she travelled to Cairo to pursue her dancing career in the famous Casino Badiaa Massabni. In 1943 she formed a cinematic duet with musician/actor Farid El Atrash that lasted for years. Samia’s dancing style was revolutionary at the time in that she mixed between traditional belly-dancing and more contemporary moves; her shows always very glamorous and theatrical. She was also an accomplished actress appearing in films like Amir Al Intiqam, Al Ragol Al Thani, and Zoqaq Al Madaq.