The Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU) and its founder Huda Sharawi (1987) were among the vanguard who demanded changes in the structure and emotional life of the upper-class Egyptian family during the early nationalist period. The oldstyle eighteenth-century model of the elite family/household, which was characterized by polygamous unions, concubinage, and female seclusion, was rejected in favor of a nuclear family based on the monogamous, companionate union of spouses. These changes, which Sharawi demanded in her personal life and which the EFU sought to implement through legal reform, are in keeping with the desires of the Egyptian elite to appear “civilized” to the West (see Thornton, 2001, 2005; Yount and Rashad, this volume). These changes, however, should be considered in the context of the social, economic, and political changes of the time. Specifically, we should not take a teleological approach to this issue by assuming that the Western-style nuclear family was the natural outcome of the social and economic transformations that Egypt underwent during the nineteenth century (see also Fay 1998). Nor should we assume that the EFU and its leaders adopted a model of the “modern” family as part of a process of Westernization (e.g., Cole 1981). Rather, we should consider the importance of struggle and agency on the part of the women and men who advocated such a model of family life. And, consistent with Yount and Rashad’s argument about competing models of family life, this trend toward endorsing the ideals of nuclear family and monogamous, companionate marriage was only one in the discourse of nationalism and reform that emerged in opposition to the British occupation and that escalated after quasi-independence in 1922. It was uncertain in 1922 whether the EFU’s favored model of the family would emerge through legal reform as the dominant model. Among the demands that the EFU made in its founding year (1923), only two were granted expeditiously: raising the ages at marriage for boys and girls and extending the duration of women’s custody of
children. Its other demands of restricting polygamy and curbing men’s easy access to divorce were not granted. Only in the late 1990s did legal reforms grant women easier access to divorce.