It is impossible to stop the changes which are coming due to economic and social development. Despite the pressure, nations sometimes feel that no one is able to stop the way of progress. It may be the case with the Egyptian nation which is trying to free oneself from pressure and develop more democratically and progressively. Nevertheless, women in Egyptian society are still pressured because they feel gender inequality and do not have the same rights as men have. Struggles women experience because of their inequality are the leading themes in many literary works, such as “The Yacoubian Building” or “Another Evening at the Club” and this inequality is something that women try to defeat, showing that modern Egyptian society is undergoing a social revolution.
The current situation in Egypt shows that although Egyptians have expressed their desire to live differently, they are still reluctant to many progressive changes. For example, many Egyptian males have a hard time accepting women as equal to them and can have jobs and lead independent lives (Khalifa, 2012). They believe that women should only listen to men and obey their rules (Molloy, 2012). To some men, women mean so little that they can be beaten just to save the man’s reputation. An example of it can be found in the novel called “Another Evening at the Club” by Alifa Rifaat. There, the master lets his female servant stay in jail and be beaten for a robbery she did not commit, just to save his reputation. For example, when the man finds out that the servant did nothing wrong, he decides not to tell the police about it because this way, the whole city will be mocking him. Although he knows that the poor servant is being beaten for no reason, he states: “It won’t kill her to put up with things for a while longer” (Rifaat, 1994). His wife agrees with her husband although, in the beginning, she wanted the girl to be free. The piece showed the obedience which was required from a woman, as well as the helpless situation of females which could not defend themselves from brutality and men’s decisions.
Egyptian society leaves women with little or no choice at all. An example can be seen with “Midaq Alley” by Naguib Mahfouz and “The Yacoubian Building” by Alaa-Al-Aswany. Both works present readers with strong female characters who struggle to become independent and live the lives they dream about. Nevertheless, the treatment of women is such that they cannot do what they want since they are expected to get married and listen to men, not be independent and free. Ironically, such a situation makes women easy victims to men who consider them to be tools for men’s pleasures. Hence, sometimes women feel that the only way for them to make money and become financially independent is by becoming prostitutes. For example, this is something that the main female character in “Midaq Alley” experiences. She does not like her current life, and she becomes a prostitute and ruins her life because of her new “occupation”.
Women who want to remain pure and defend their dignity often struggle because they feel pressure and disrespect from men, especially their employers. There is an example of it in the work “The Yacoubian Building” where young Buseyna is exposed to sexual discrimination and harassment at work. She has to keep up with it in order to keep her job and make money, but Buseyna still wants to remain pure and does not want to lose her virginity. It is something that many modern women experience in Egypt even nowadays. Hence, it is a huge issue which has to be fixed.
All of these works show that women in Egypt are still struggling to improve their conditions, but the fact that they are able to fight and speak up is a good tendency which shows that certain progress has been made in society. Nada Ramadan in her article, called “The Egyptian contemporary novel: A survey of a revolutionary endeavor” speaks about such revolutionary works which focus on women and their role in modern society. The author tries to connect the current situation in the country to the demands women have. She concentrates on different stages of revolutionary literature which speaks about important social and political issues. According to the author, this literature shows how authors were progressing and expressing new ideas connected to improvements of Egyptian society. These revolutionary works are connected to women because the position of females in society is one of the most important issues for Egypt. Many writers in their works raised the issues about females and their possibilities in Egyptian society recently, and it is considered a relatively new topic. The raised interest in this topic may be caused by the changing attitudes toward women, and new positions women are taking in Egyptian society. According to Ramadan, “the current political turmoil in Egypt raises a fundamental question about the future of this relatively new subgenre of literature…Whatever direction Egypt is pulled in, there is no doubt that a fourth phase of the new subgenre of the resistance/ revolution novel will emerge and go hand in hand with the situation in the country, reflecting the turmoil during the interim phase and whatever would come afterward” (Ramadan, 2013).
One can say that modern Egyptian women are no longer willing to accept the old way of things when they were dependent on men and could not do anything against their will. Modern Egyptian females are willing to fight and struggle, as long as they believe that their efforts are worth something and will possibly bring them more opportunities in the future. Women are not afraid to take risks and overcome challenges because they realize their growing importance in society. There is still a lot of injustice and discrimination towards women, but one can see a positive shift in gender relations in Egypt. It is something one can find in many literary works, as well as in society itself where more men are willing to accept women as their equals and support their rights. Hence, one can say that strong female characters presented in many works show the strength Egyptian women possess and use in order to defend their rights and become equal and independent citizens of the country.