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Secularism, Gender and the State in the Middle East

A considerable literature has been devoted to the study of Islamic activism. By contrast, Nadje Al-Ali's book explores the anthropological and political significance of secular-oriented activism by focusing on the women's movement in Egypt. In so doing, it challenges stereotypical images of Arab women as passive victims and demonstrates how they fight for their rights and confront conservative forces. Al-Ali's book also takes issue with prevailing constructions of 'the West' and its perceived dichotomous relation to 'the East'. The argument is constructed around interviews which afford fascinating insights into the history of the women's movement in Egypt, notions about secularism and how Islamist constituencies have impacted on women's activism generally. The balance between the empirical and conceptual material is adeptly handled. The author frames her work in the context of current theoretical debates in Middle Eastern and post-colonial scholarship: while some of the ideas are complex, her lucid style means they are always comprehensible; the book will therefore appeal to students, as well as to scholars in the field.
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Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Up against conceptual frameworks: post-Orientalism, Occidentalism and presentation of self; 2. Contextualizing the Egyptian women's movement; 3. Self and generation: formative experiences of Egyptian women activists; 4. Secularism: challenging neo-Orientalism and histories; 5. From words to deeds: priorities and projects of contemporary activists; 6. A mirror of political culture in Egypt: divisions and debates among women's activists; Conclusion.


'... a fine piece of scholarly work in the field of feminist studies.' Asian and African Studies '... Nadje Al-Ali study of Middle Eastern women breaks new ground and points to a future programme of original and refreshing research.' Journal of Contemporary History 'This book presents and analyses the author's interviews with selected activists in the women's movement in Egypt, highlighting their extensive struggles to achieve political and civil rights. The work as a whole should help to undermine further the old stereotype of the passive, submissive creature of the 'harem'. It will also help to promote a better understanding of the great similarities among women activists regardless of birthplace, and the alliances that have existed and continue to be made between them across nations, faiths, and colours. ... In this well-researched and well-written book, Al-Ali has brought a difficult subject to life and produced a work that will be of great interest to all readers, specialist and non-specialist alike.' Haleh Afshar, University of York 'An attractive title promises an exciting book, and the expectations are entirely fulfilled.' Studia Orientalia

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