In honor of Women's Month, our SIRA member, Samar Saeed, features a list of memoirs written by women who have fought against injustice, built movements, & challenged power across the Arab & North African world. The blog encourages readers to explore the work of these women & learn from their experiences. Samar also highlights the community-building efforts of SIRA, which seeks to bring together impact-driven individuals who appreciate & build upon the legacies of previous generations
This is a list of memoirs by women who fought injustice, built movements, and wrote against power across the Arab and North African world. They challenged the colonial and patriarchal systems in which they were born and which they dreamed and worked to dismantle. Their memoirs give us a glimpse of their journeys, struggles, joys, setbacks, and achievements.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many brilliant women across the Arab and North African world, who fought injustices, organized and mobilized their people, and produced beautiful art and poetry but have not written their memoirs, and their journeys are found in the margins and the footnotes of their national histories.
1- Aida Najjar, Banat Amman Ayam Zamman
Aida, a writer and a socioeconomic researcher, takes us on a journey between the late 1940s and 1980s spanning Jerusalem, Amman, and Irbid. She weaves the personal with the socio-political to leave us with a beautiful documentary about her school days, friendships, activism, and Amman's political and cultural milieu in the 1950s.
Born in 1887 in Beirut, Khalidi’s life spanned Ottoman, Mandate, and post-colonial periods in the Arab world. Known for her anti-colonial struggle against the British in early 20th-century Palestine, this memoir is considered by many as the first memoir to document the struggle of Palestinian women. Khalidi provides a historical account of the socio-political transformations that engulfed the Arab region in the late 19th century and early 20th century,
Saleh, a member of the political bureau of the Egyptian Communist Workers Party and a member of the Egyptian student movement of the early 1970s, writes a brilliantly haunting memoir that was published shortly after she committed suicide. Saleh provides a scathing critique of the leftists and Marxists of her generation, contemplates the notion of defeat, the crushed hopes of Egypt’s student movements, and its implications for generations to come. She also poses important questions about revolutionary politics relevant today.
4- Fadwa Toukan, A Mountainous Journey: A Poet Autobiography.
Toukan, one of the most distinguished figures of modern Arabic literature, writes her autobiography taking her readers on a journey through childhood memories in Nablus and her friendship with her brother Ibrahim Toukan, known as the poet of Palestine, who had a great influence on her introducing her to poetry, bringing her books, and educating her. Toukan writes about the tragic events of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba and 1967 Arab military defeat and how those events influence her poetry where she wrote about her people’s struggle under Israel’s colonial regime.
5- Hayat Sharara, When Darkness Falls
Sharara, a leftist writer and educator, writes a novel inspired by her life in Iraq. Set at the University of Baghdad in the 1970s, the novel centers around a University professor and tackles issues such as political dissent, implications of challenging power and living true to your morals, censorship and punishment, and despair. Sharara committed suicide with her daughter after being punished by the state because of her political choices and trajectory. Her sister, Balqees, writes the introduction to this novel sharing with the reader intimate details about who Hayat Sharara was.
6- Inji Efflatoun, From Childhood to Prison
An artist, educator, and rebel, Efflatoun, writes about her passion for arts and politics. She fought injustices wherever she saw them starting at school where she was almost expelled. Efflatoun cared about the marginalized and impoverished groups whether women or workers. She joined the communist party and was a fierce advocate for women’s rights. In 1959, Efflatoun was imprisoned by the Nasser regime for belonging to the Communist Party. During her years in prison, she produced some of her finest work depicting the struggle of female prisoners and prison conditions.
7- Jean Said Makdisi, Teta, Mother, and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women
Makdisi’s autobiography traces more than a century in the Arab world by weaving her life with the lives of her mother and grandmother. The narrative spans Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt during turbulent times which witnessed the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the loss of Palestine to Zionism in 1948, the 1967 defeat, and up to the Lebanese civil war. The historical, detailed, and reflective book shows the changing roles of women over a century and how their lives were shaped and reshaped by the events that they witnessed.
8- Radwa Ashour, Heavier than Radwa
Through a deeply personal reflection, Ashour shares with her readers her long fight against cancer while weaving in her activism and thoughts on victories, struggles, and setbacks of the Egyptian revolution. Ashour, an Egyptian novelist, short-story writer, literary critic, and university professor, captivates the reader with details that, despite the pain and sense of defeat the writer may have felt, remains steadfast, resilient, and hopeful. The memoir is raw, vulnerable, and honest.
In her memoirs, Algeria's freedom fighter and lawyer writes about her childhood and growing up in French-colonized Algeria. She describes in vivid detail her school years, the violence and discrimination her people faced at the hands of French settlers, and how she joined the armed wing of Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN) and engaged in an armed struggle against French settler colonialism. Drif shows how women were central to Algeria’s revolutionary struggle yet have been written out of its history. Through her memories, Drif takes us on a journey of resistance, determination, faith, and hope.
All these women were true to their beliefs and convictions. They impacted the lives of others and influenced a generation of women and men for years to come. We proudly feature these women and encourage you to read their work. At SIRA we are an impact-driven community and we aim to build a community of like-minded individuals who appreciate, learn, and build on what previous generations have paved and built for us.
Let us know your thoughts on these memoirs & share others we can learn from.
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