Using the Document Based Question to Teach Historical Concepts: Gender and Women's Roles in Modern Egypt
Kit Adam Wainer
In some regular and virtually all Advanced Placement World History classes Document Based Questions (DBQs) are employed to help students develop the skills they need to analyze primary sources. It can also help them learn to develop an argument based on evidence. It is contended here that the DBQ can also be an effective method of presenting historical content and to that end I have developed a Document Based Question on the role of women in Egypt from 1900 to the present day which teachers can use to teach the complicated interactions of colonialism, anti-colonial nationalism, feminism, and conceptions of modernization. This essay is divided into three parts. First, there is a guide to how to use the DBQ as an instructional tool. The second part is the DBQ itself. The third part consists of extended teaching notes on each document which provide context and raise possible questions for discussion.
Introduction to the Document Based Question
The Document Based Question is one of three types of essay questions students must answer on the College Board's Advanced Placement World History examination. The purpose of the DBQ is to test students' ability to work with primary source material and to construct an argument based entirely on the documents provided. Students need not be familiar with the subject matter before examining the documents, although knowledge of the subject matter will certainly help students place the documents in context. A typical DBQ has 9–10 short documents, some of which are visual—charts, graphs, photos.
In preparing my students for the AP examination, I often have them practice with DBQs from previous exams. I emphasize skills such as how to group the documents, how to analyze an author's point of view, and how to identify the need for an additional document. These are all skills which will earn them rubric points on the AP exam. Bill Strickland's annotated rubrics are particularly useful tools to help students develop these necessary, as well as useful, analytical skills. .2
In recent years, I have begun to use DBQs not just to teach essay skills, but also as a way of teaching history itself. Several DBQs from previous exams have been particularly useful as historical teaching tools. I also use a DBQ on the relationship between Communism and gender roles in Cuba which the College Board has offered as a practice essay. Additionally I have constructed DBQs of my own to teach particular topics. I developed one on the Israel-Palestine conflict from 1948–2000 and one on the White Australia policy.
Using the DBQ as a way to teach modern Egyptian women's history
The DBQ presented here addresses the issues that have affected the role of women in Egypt since 1900. Its starting point is the work of Qasim Amin at the dawn of the 20th century and it concludes with a group of documents on the participation of women in the protest movements in Egypt from 2011–2013. It is substantially longer than a typical DBQ one might find on an AP exam.3 What follows is a strategy for using this DBQ to teach the history of gender relations in modern Egypt. This is a 2 day lesson in which most of the document reading is completed on the first day.
Students should be given textbook reading assignments to familiarize them with modern Egyptian history. These readings should be done in advance so that students come in knowing the context for the documents.4
On the first day students should spend 10–15 minutes familiarizing themselves with the documents and making notes in the margins. The teacher should encourage students to note whatever they observe about context, point of view, how documents may be grouped, what questions the documents leave unanswered, and how each document can help answer the question. Students should then be divided into cooperative learning groups and assigned a group of 3–5 documents based either on chronology or theme. The purpose of this activity is for each group to develop expertise on a subset of documents and prepare to teach what they have learned to the rest of the class. During cooperative learning activities I typically visit each group. If the students are engaged and seem to understand the meaning and complexities of the documents I often simply listen. Teachers may also want to pose questions to the groups to encourage them to probe further. I have indicated some of the main ideas for discussion of each document in the "Notes on the Documents," which I have attached.5
After working in groups for 20–30 minutes each group makes a presentation of its findings to the class and board notes are developed based on each of the presentations.6
On the second day students work in groups of 2–3 to develop a thesis to answer the central question. After 10 minutes each group reads its thesis. A good thesis should summarize the issues that have shaped the development of women's roles in Egypt. The word "development" implies that there has been some change over time. Indeed, the documents imply both changes and continuities. Examples of issues may include, religion, nationalism, economic development, imperialism, and women's activism. The question requires students to focus on the effects of these issues on women's roles, not simply the changes and continuities in women's roles themselves. A sophisticated thesis should indicate that some issues, religion for example, have affected women's roles in complex and even contradictory ways.
Because we have SmartBoards in my school I often type the thesis on the board as the student reads it. This way the entire class can analyze the thesis and discuss the extent to which it properly addresses the question.
As the teacher leads a discussion on each of the theses students should be urged to indicate how the different documents fit their theses. Students should also be urged to analyze the point of view of as many of the authors as possible. Students might point out that Nasser was promising to use the state to promote and develop domestic manufacturing in order to produce products that would make women's domestic lives easier. They might also note that his promise was predicated on particular assumptions of women's domestic roles. Additionally students might recognize that for Adel Afif, the removal of women from the political sphere is central to his hope of establishing a more traditional Islamist regime. Furthermore, they may recognize that in February 2013 the Muslim Brotherhood was still in power and, like the Brotherhood, the Salafi Al-Nour Party was still attempting to maintain an alliance with the army security forces. Consequently, they had an interest in rebuffing women's complaints about police behavior. The teacher should utilize the "DBQ: Notes on the Documents" which provide examples of key points students might be expected to draw from each of the documents in the DBQ.
Over the course of the discussion the teacher should develop a board outline of the main issues that have shaped the development of women's roles. This discussion can provide the basis for future lessons which can help the students draw larger generalizations about the relationship of gender to colonization, decolonization, "modernization," political activism, and religious politics.
Teachers may choose to have students write the essay as a homework assignment after the two lessons have been taught. This would help develop the students' DBQ essay skills and also help them summarize what they have learned.
Question: Analyze the issues that have shaped the development of women's roles in Egypt from 1900 to the present.
Historical Background: In 1882 Great Britain established effective control over Egypt although it left the Egyptian monarchy in place. The popular uprising of 1919 led to a significant reduction in British authority and the rise of various nationalist and other popular movements for political change. The government of Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power following a military coup in 1952 and nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, driving out the last vestiges of British power. The military has been a dominant force in Egyptian politics ever since. The Arab Spring protests deposed the government of Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 and the protest movement has continued to the present day.
Notes on the Documents
1. Qasim Amin represented the views of the new, more cosmopolitan, land-owning elite who wanted women to be liberated from traditional restrictions. His motives are complex. Like many modernizing authors of his time he views the status of women as both a symptom and a cause of Egypt's lagging behind the west. In his writings he contrasts the status of women in Egypt with what he sees in Britain and France and has an idealized view of the role and status of women there. Men in his position also tended to want wives who could be partners in the Europeanized world they had entered. By contrast many professional men feared women's mobility and favored tighter restrictions on their activities in order to prevent them from competing with men for professional jobs. At this point seclusion of women was declining rapidly and veiling was beginning to decline as well. There are many debates as to whether Amin was a "feminist." It is probably better to situate him in the early stages of a long tradition of identifying modernity with a western conception of women's place in the public sphere. He has this in common with many Egyptian nationalists, later variants of "state feminism," and western modernization theory. There is little evidence to suggest that he sees a role for a women's movements or women's activism to liberate themselves and reshape their own roles. Students should also note the appeals to Islam as a way of justifying his interpretation. He is clearly concerned about reaction from the ulama, and is probably responding to some of the harsh criticisms he received from his earlier work, The Liberation of Women. The second paragraph should trigger questions about the views to which he is responding and should suggest a need for an additional document.7
2. Al-Badiya was one of the few female writers advocating women's rights prior to the uprisings of 1919. By 21st century U.S. standards her demands appear cautious and constrained by religious traditions. Students should be encouraged to ask why an early 20th century feminist might be so brazen as to challenge male authority yet impose limits on her own demands. Students should be encouraged to recognize a continuous strand of piety among many advocates of women's rights over the subsequent century. Many women's rights activists will combine their feminist agendas with a sense of religious propriety. Students can group this document along with documents 4 and 11 which imply similar combinations. Teachers may also want to use that group of documents in conjunction with the "Islamic feminism" debate that emerged among Iranians over the past 20 years. Finally, this document leaves some questions unanswered and suggests a need for additional documents. How did the Egyptian Congress react upon receipt of her demands? How many people attended the Umma Party convention of 1909 and how broad was its appeal to women? Was it able to interest Coptic women?8
3. This document, a letter from a young male government employee, fits well with document 1. Again, he indicates that he would like a wife with whom he can have an intellectual conversation and, consequently, wants her to be educated and cultured. Teachers might ask students to debate whether either M.Z.K or Qasim Amin are feminists. Both of these authors are writing at a time in which Egypt is heavily influenced, although not completely dominated by Great Britain. Great Britain is still one of the great colonial powers and Egypt's status in the world is declining relative to Europe. Note the extent to which M.Z.K. associates women's mobility and education with modernity. 9
4. Was Zaynab al-Ghazali an opponent of women's liberation? She begins by attacking the women's movement. Then she proceeds to argue that improvements in women's rights are compatible with Islamic teachings. Students should see a connection to the al-Badiya document. Although the emphasis is more religious in this document, they favor many of the same reforms. This document should indicate the richness of debate that was going on among Egyptian men and women by the 1930s. Note also that she has the same concern for Egypt's "backwardness" that Qasim Amin has. She sees Islam as an ally rather than an enemy in the struggle to advance Egypt. Additionally, she highlights a tension between women's liberation and motherhood. This is a theme common to many debates over women's roles in many parts of the world, especially the United States.10
5. The simple meaning of this graph is that from 1924–1984 the education gap between men and women was gradually closing. This fits nicely with both positivism and modernization theory. One way to teach students to analyze data is to ask what is missing. We don't know how uniform these trends are. Is the gap closing in rural villages to the same extent as it is in the cities? Is the trend among working class women comparable to that among professional or elite women? To what extent does a tendency toward equality in education lead to equality of opportunity? This document should be grouped with document 10.11
6. Al-Zayyat's statement indicates a growing conflict between left and communist student movements and religious ones. Students should note that she does not name those she refers to as "fundamentalists." We don't know if these are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Posing that question links this document to documents 12 and 14. This was a time period of increased agitation against British influence and an avaricious monarchy. The mid-1930s and mid-1940s in particular were decades of student unrest. As an additional document students might request a statement from the Muslim Brotherhood from the period between the end of World War 2 and the fall of the monarchy in 1952 to clarify their views on roles of women in protest movements. 12
7. This is the first document that really illustrates women's activism for women's rights. Note that all the participants are women and their heads are not covered. Doria Shafiq was willing to risk her physical safety. And, in 1957, her criticisms of Nasser's authoritarianism would land her in prison. In 1951 the demand for women's suffrage had still not been met in Egypt. On the other hand, the demand for equal pay for equal work is one U.S. feminists would take up several decades later. 13
8. Students should think critically when examining constitutional provisions. The monarchy was deposed in a coup d'etat in 1952 and Gamal Abdel Nasser was in power by 1956. An advocate of "state feminism," Nasser also believed that women's equality was an indicator of social progress. However, Nasser imprisoned Duria Shafiq and did not permit the independent organization of women. Are women liberated if they don't define "liberation" or control its pace? This is a discussion that can trigger a much broader exploration of the meaning of reform and whether the process by which reforms are achieved are as important as the result. Furthermore, students should analyze this provision in the context of documents 5 and 10. Can a constitution decree equality?14
9. At first this does not appear to be a document about gender but about nationalism. It is promoting the idea that Egypt can be self-sufficient at a time in which Nasser has nationalized much of the economy and is practicing import-substitution. This indicates a heavy role for the state in the economy and in reshaping society. However, it also reveals much about the Nasserite vision of gender relations. Note that the husband is sitting and watching television while the wife is in the back room examining herself in the mirror. Additionally there is a female maid cleaning the kitchen. Students may also note another continuity. Despite Nasser's pan-Arabism and his recent conflict with Britain and France, the image equates modernity with westernization. An unknowing reader might assume that the drawing is a depiction of a New York City apartment and the images of idealized middle class men and women are similar to what one might have seen in a U.S. magazine of the time. 15
10. This table may be grouped with the chart in document 5. Again, students should be encouraged to critically examine data. The numbers were gathered in 2003, a time in which Hosni Mubarak headed a repressive police state. We know that accurate data is difficult to acquire when official demographic statistics are not kept, or at least not made public. Measuring income by gender is also tricky because we don't know—from this document—the extent to which husbands or wives controlled their joint incomes. All of these questions should not lead students to dismiss documents with raw data. This does indicate a level of inequality of income and that Duria Shafiq's demands had still not been met. Students should be encouraged to discuss what additional documents might help us further analyze the meaning and context of documents 5 and 10.16
11. The Egyptian labor movement began to recover after 2004 and the textile workers of Mahalla have been in the forefront of renewed labor activism. Many formed independent unions because the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation was dominated by Mubarak's New Democratic Party and often functioned as an arm of the employer. Labor historian Joel Beinin argues that the gender segregation of the industrial workforce in Mahalla has allowed women space to communicate with each other and organize without fear that male co-workers will try to keep them out of labor politics. As the strike wave got more intense from 2007 to 2009 women workers were often in the forefront of confrontations with the state and with their employers. (Often times their employers were public-private joint ventures). Note that the women's heads are covered. This document should force U.S. students to confront their own prejudices that head covering equals repression and submission to male authority. This document, representing a growing independent labor movement, is also a harbinger of the political crisis that will topple Mubarak four years later. 17
12. Along with documents 4, 6, and 11 this statement indicates the complex relationship between women's activism, Islamic piety, and political Islam. In this case women joined and were active in the Tahrir Square protests of January 2011 which ultimately forced Mubarak to resign. Much of the western press coverage focused on the groping of western female journalists. This document indicates that identification with the Muslim Brotherhood is not an automatic indicator of one's perspective on women's political activity in practice. Note that the author tells us that the Brotherhood members were disobeying orders from their leaders. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood did not officially endorse the Tahrir protests of 2011, leading to the disaffection of many younger members. This fissure persists to the present day.18
13. Shahira Amin was a state feminist success story. She was a Mubarak-era TV anchorwoman whose hair and attire were indistinguishable from what one might expect from a U.S. anchorwoman. And she showed that women can achieve high positions in modern Egypt. Is she the woman M.Z.K. dreamed of marrying? It is also noteworthy that the price of her success had been a willingness to be a propagandist for Mubarak's police state. After the "battle of the camels," however, she felt morally obliged to break from the regime. Even after Mubarak's ouster she continued to criticize press censorship. 19
14. First, this document raises doubts about the positivist vision of eternal progress one might infer from document 5. We can see two contradictory phenomena: male authorities use sexual assault to curb women's political activities and many women continue their activism nonetheless. The complaint is brought to the government because the perpetrators were police agents or officers. There is a long history of state-sponsored sexual violence in Egypt. Sexual harassment is also frequent among workplace supervisors who use it to keep female employees in check. This document also leaves some questions unanswered. From the document we can't determine how influential the Salafi Al-Nour Party was and whether the Muslim Brotherhood (which ran the government at this time) held the same view. Students should also note a connection between this document and document 6 which illustrated a conflict between political Islam and women's activism. However, when paired with document 12 it indicates that the conflict was complex.20
15. This document was written just two weeks after the Egyptian military overthrew and imprisoned President Mohamed Morsi. It also indicates that secular forces can oppose women's activism with as much ferocity as can religious movements. Kirollos argues that military authorities have been repeat perpetrators of sexual violence and use it as a means to control social protest. Therefore, this document can be grouped with documents 14 and 12. At the same time it is a spirited call for women's self-activity or agency. In that sense she is following in the tradition of Doria Shafiq. At the same time, like both Amin and al-Ghazali, she sees women's emancipation as central to the project of a broader Egyptian liberation. She links women's oppression to "sexist, racist, classist, nationalist, and militarist ideologies" indicating that she is calling for a broad transformation of society and is most likely influenced by socialism.
This final document should be understood as one of many increasingly bold statements by many revolutionaries who, in the aftermath of Tahrir Square, are attempting to develop a broader vision of social change.21 Such declarations are common in the initial phases of revolutionary movements globally and persist in efforts aimed at continuing the revolution, whatever its fate. Rarely has a revolutionary movement benefited women commensurate with their leadership and sacrifice in its name, but that issue, and the measure of its significance for women engaged politically in Egypt today, is best left for another DBQ exercise.
Kit Adam Wainer is teaches Advanced Placement World History at Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences in Brooklyn, New York, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 This paper was originally conceived as a paper for a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, "Roots of the Arab Spring," held at the University of California-Davis. I would particularly like to thank Professor Omnia El-Shakry who led the institute and whose advice and instruction were invaluable to me. I would also like to thank Pamela Tisdall of the UC-Davis History Project, Professor Phillip Barron, and Research Assistant Rajbir Singh Judge.
2 See, for example, Strickland's annotated rubric of the 2006 DBQ on the global flow of silver following the Spanish conquest of the Americas in World History Connected at http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/6.2/strickland/Apdx_14_DBQ_2006_Annotated_Rubric.pdf.
3 Therefore, should teachers wish to use it as an exam, I suggest modifying it by removing at least five documents.
4 While few textbooks will yet have coverage of the Arab Spring, the film Tahrir 2011 provides a useful summary of the events leading up to the overthrow of Mubarak.
5 An alternative method of organizing the cooperative learning groups would be to first begin the discussion on the documents with the class as a whole and to have them suggest how the documents should be grouped. The teacher could then break the class into groups and assign each group a subset of documents based on the class discussion.
6 This lesson format assumes a teaching period of 50-60 minutes. For classes with shorter periods the presentations may have to begin on the second instructional day. Teachers with longer periods, such as teachers in schools with block schedules may be able to accomplish the entire lesson in a single day.
7 Akram Fouad Khater, Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East. (Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2011), 77.
8 Hassan, Fayza, "Speaking for the Other Half." Al-Ahram, March 1, 2001. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2001/523/sc3.htm.
9 Hanan Kholoussy, For Better, for Worse: The Marriage Crisis That Made Modern Egypt. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 52.
10 Laura, Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminisms, Modernity, and the State in Nasser's Egypt. (Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2011), 47. For a very good description of the political career of Zainab al-Ghazali see Leila Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011)
11 Philippe Fargues, "Women in Arab Countries: Challenging the Patriarchal System?" Reproductive Health Matters 13, no. 25 (May 1, 2005), 47.
12 Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood, 46.
13 Cynthia Nelson, Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist: a Woman Apart. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996), 168–171.
14 "Egyptian Women and the Right to Vote," ArabicNews.com, 3 May 2001.
15 Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood, 14.
16 United Nations Development Programme, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organization, The Arab Human Development Report 2005: Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World. (New York, NY: United Nations Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2006).
17 "Strike Opens Labour Wounds," GulfNews.com, 6 October 2007. See also Joel Beinin, Justice for All: The Struggle for Workers Rights in Egypt. A Report by the Solidarity Center. (Washington DC: Solidarity Center, 2010)
18 Sherine Hafez, "No Longer a Bargain: Women, Masculinity, and the Egyptian Uprising." American Ethnologist 39, no. 1 (February 1, 2012), 38.
19 "Former Egypt TV Anchor Says Military Regime 'Still Very Repressive'." Here & Now, 13 April 2012.
20 "Shura Council Members Blame Women for Harassment" Daily News Egypt, 11 February, 2013.
21 Mariam Kirollos, "Sexual Violence in Egypt: Myths and Realities," Jadaliyya.com, 16 July, 2013. See also Vickie Langhor, "'This is Our Square': Fighting Sexual Assault at Cairo Protests," Middle East Research & Information Project 43 no. 3 (Fall 2013), 18–25.
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