Abu Zayd, Hikmat

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First Egyptian woman appointed to a cabinet-level position.

Originally from a village in Assiut, Hikmat Abu Zayd completed her education and began a career as a teacher at the Hilwan Secondary School in the 1940s. She then studied in England, receiving her doctorate in educational psychology in 1955. She taught at Ain Shams University and published two books before Gamal Abdel Nasser appointed her minister of social affairs in 1962. This achievement was significant in the history of Egyptian women, within the regime itself, and politically, because of Nasser's desire to co-opt female-run charitable organizations into the purview of the Arab Socialist Union.

In the nineteenth century, elite women took the lead in running many of the country's charitable organizations. They sponsored social and welfare programs that the government was unable or unwilling to support, particularly after the British occupation of 1882. Nevertheless, the 1952 revolution sought to dismantle the ancien régime and all vestiges of its power, including women's organizations. Abu Zayd's appointment in 1962 must be viewed in light of these circumstances as well as Nasser's reforms of 1961 and 1962, which included wide-ranging nationalization of industry, income redistribution, land reform, educational expansion, and family planning. Under Abu Zayd's leadership from 1962 to 1965 many charitable organizations came under state control and women's literacy programs expanded. In 1963 she presided over the first national congress convened to study issues related to women and work, which published its findings in 1964 in Characteristics of the Path Facing the Working Woman (Arabic).

see also nasser, gamal abdel.


Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Marsot, Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid. "The Revolutionary Gentlewomen in Egypt." In Women in the Muslim World, edited by Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Sullivan, Earl. Women in Egyptian Public Life. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986.

Mona Russell

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