UMM KULTHOUM (Tammay, Delta village, Egypt, 4 May 1904 - 3 February 1975)
Umm Kulthoum was more than a singer. She was one of the musical geniuses of the Arab world. Her fans number in the hundreds of millions and she is affectionately known as 'the planet of the east'. She grew up in the countryside, studying Quranic recitation with her father and occasionally appearing before village audiences. Her fame reached the capital where she became its most sought-after artist. Umm Kulthoum embodied the ideal of an Arab cultural renaissance after many decades of British occupation. Her songs combined classical training and folk sensibility with Cairo 's sophisticated musical forms. As far as Egyptians were concerned, she sang on their behalf, giving voice to their strivings and offering a sense of deliverance. Her recordings still outsell many contemporary artists', and a radio program dedicated to her music is broadcast daily.
FATEN HAMAMA (Cairo, 27 May 1931)
Faten Hamama's delicate beauty and emotional sensibility illumined many an Egyptian film classic. She made her screen debut at the age of six. Her first husband was the famous filmmaker Ezz El-Din Zulfikar, known as 'the poet director'. But her romance with the dashing young Omar Sherif, her frequent co-star, captured Egypt 's imagination and resulted in a second marriage. Faten Hamama's memorable characterizations in over two dozen films earned her the respect of generations of Arab movie goers. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in the humanities in 1999 for her distinguished career, and her portrayal of women's problems in a traditional society confronting modernity.
ROSE AL-YOUSSEF (Lebanon, 1898 - 10 April 1958)
Rose Al-Youssef came to Egypt as a child. She lived with the family of Iskandar Farah, an actor, who influenced her life and choice of career. She became a successful actress and was called the 'Sarah Bernhardt of the Orient' but the transition from silent movies to 'talkie's' proved difficult. Rose, a woman of intellect, decided to forge a second career. In 1925, she began publishing a weekly art magazine bearing her name. The publication remains popular today, albeit in a political format. Rose Al-Youssef held salons where Egypt 's intelligentsia gathered to discuss the issues of the day. She supported the feminist movement and served as a role model for women unafraid to form their own ideas and publicly speak their minds.
SAFIYYA ZAGHLOUL (1878 - 1946)
Daughter of Egypt 's Prime Minister, Safiyya married Saad Zaghloul, the founder of the party (Wafd) that challenged British occupation. When her husband was exiled, Safiyya acted on his behalf, supporting the nationalist resistance. Her home, the meeting place for those who demanded an independent Egypt, became known as the 'house of the nation'. Safiyya was a pioneering feminist, who enlisted women's involvement in the cause. After her husband's death, she continued her political activities. Some historians attribute her title, 'the mother of Egypt ', to a statement by Zaghloul who told his wife, 'we may have had no children but all Egyptians are your sons and daughters'. The 'house of the nations' was made a museum in 1956 at Safiyya's bequest, and remains open to the public beside the neo-pharaonic tomb of her husband in the heart of Cairo.
HODA SHAARAWI (Al-Minya, 23 July 1879 - 13 December 1947)
Hoda Shaarawi's famous gesture of removing her headscarf in public was as dramatic in its day as the bra-burnings in the west fifty years later. Hoda had an upper class background. At thirteen, she was married, as was customary, to a much older, wealthy cousin. Her early life was spent in the harem, a social - not religious - institution, since both wealthy Christian and Muslim women were veiled and secluded. Politics brought women like Hoda out of the harem. She supported the nationalist cause, which demanded solidarity of men and women alike, regardless of class or creed. But Hoda's great objective was to see women gain equal rights as citizens of a self-governed Egypt. As a result of her efforts, the legal marrying age for women was changed from nine to sixteen. She fought and paved the way for women's right to vote, which was finally achieved after her death, in 1956. Hoda Shaarawi is remembered as Egypt 's first feminist.
JIHAN AL-SADAT (Cairo, 1933)
Jihan Al-Sadat was Egypt 's First Lady from 1970 to 1981, the wife of Nobel Peace prize winner, President Anwar Al-Sadat. Elegant and outspoken, the daughter of a British army officer and an Egyptian mother, Jihan Al-Sadat was the first wife of a Muslim leader to have her picture in the newspaper, to travel outside her country, and to champion women's rights. She established a village cooperative for peasant women, to teach skills that could raise their status within their communities and families. She also succeeded in reforming divorce laws that victimized women. Jihan Al-Sadat received her PhD at the age of forty- one, and following the assassination of her husband, published her memoirs, A Woman of Egypt, in 1987.