Rawya Ateya

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Rawya Ateya
A woman in her thirties dressed in military garb waves to a crowd of supporters.
Rawya Ateya used her military experience as a political asset during her 1957 electoral campaign, hence her appearance in uniform at rallies.
Member of the National Assembly of Egypt
In office
14 July 1957 – 1959
President Gamal Abdel Nasser
Constituency Cairo
Majority 110,807
Member of the People's Assembly of Egypt
In office
1984 – ?
President Hosni Mubarak
Preceded by Farkhounda Hassan[1]
Personal details
Born Rawya Shams el Dine Ateya
(1926-04-19)19 April 1926
Giza Governorate, Egypt
Died 9 May 1997(1997-05-09) (aged 71)
Nationality Egyptian
Political party National Democratic Party
Alma mater Cairo University
Profession Teacher, Journalist, Politician
Religion Islam
Awards Badge of the Third Army
Medallion of 6 October
Medal of the armed forces
Military service
Allegiance  Egypt
Service/branch Liberation Army
Rank Captain
Unit Commandos
Battles/wars Suez War

Rawya Ateya[I] (Arabic: راوية عطية‎‎, 19 April 1926 – 9 May 1997) was an Egyptian woman who became the first female parliamentarian in the Arab world in 1957.[2][3]

Early life

Rawya Ateya was born in Giza Governorate on 19 April 1926. She grew up in a politically active family. Her father was the secretary-general of the liberal Wafd Party in Gharbia, and his political activities led to his incarceration.[citation needed] Ateya herself took part in demonstrations from a very early age, and she was injured during the 1939 anti-British protests.[citation needed] She continued her studies to an advanced level, which was highly unusual for Egyptian girls at the time.[citation needed] She obtained several university degrees in various fields: a license in letters from Cairo University in 1947, a diploma in education and psychology, a master's degree in journalism and a diploma in Islamic studies.[citation needed] She worked as a teacher for 15 years and had a brief six-month stint as a journalist.[2]

Military service

In 1956, Ateya became the first woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Liberation Army. She played an active role in the Suez War, during which Egypt was invaded by the United Kingdom, France and Israel. She helped train 4,000 women in first aid and nursing amid the war.[2] Ateya held the rank of captain in a women's commando unit.[4] During the October War of 1973, she chaired the Society of Families of Martyrs and Soldiers, which earned her the nickname of "mother of the martyred combatants."[5] She obtained several military awards from the Egyptian state, notably the badge of the Third Army, the Medallion of 6 October and the medal of the armed forces.[2]

Parliamentary career

Voting rights and eligibility for elected office were extended to Egyptian women by President Gamal Abdel Nasser through the adoption of the 1956 Constitution. The first elections under the new constitution were held the following year, on 3 July 1957. There were only 16 women in a field of more than 2,000 candidates. Opinion polls conducted at the time showed that 70% of Egyptian men were opposed to the idea of women taking seats in Parliament.[6] Nevertheless, Ateya overcame the odds and received 110,807 votes in her constituency.[5] Elected from Cairo in the second round, she described the strong bias she faced at the time by saying: "I was met with resentment for being a woman. Yet I talked to them and reminded them of the prophet's wives and families until they changed their opinions."[this quote needs a citation] In addition to such religious arguments, she used her military experience as a political asset.[4] Ateya's victory was all the more significant since her opponent in the election was pro-communist lawyer and banker Ahmed Fuad, a personal friend and protégé of President Nasser.[7]

Ateya took her seat in the National Assembly on 14 July 1957. Although another woman (Amina Shukri) was elected in the 1957 elections, her victory was only announced on 22 July, thus making Ateya the first female parliamentarian in Egypt and the whole Arab world.[5] During her time in Parliament, Ateya championed women's rights. She insisted on the implementation of preferential treatment for female workers, notably a two-month maternity leave with full salary.[citation needed] In July 1958, she presented a law abolishing polygamy.[citation needed] Although supported by most MPs from urban districts such as Cairo and Alexandria, the law was strongly opposed by MPs representing rural districts and did not pass.[citation needed] Ateya was also unusually pro-American in an era of intense Arab nationalism and anti-imperialism.[citation needed] After visiting the major communist and socialist-leaning countries of the time such as China, India, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, she told reporters: "I have seen Russia, but I really think that I would like Egypt to be more like the United States of America."[this quote needs a citation] She publicly stated that she liked the United States and its president Dwight D. Eisenhower, a position for which she was attacked. Nevertheless, she managed to get away with the criticism due to her strong support for President Nasser, whom she described as "beautiful".[7]

Ateya's victory in 1957 was short-lived: two years later, she lost her bid for re-election. However, she remained active, notably serving on the board of the Red Crescent.[2] Twenty-five years after her electoral loss, Ateya managed to revive her parliamentary career. A social democrat, she was elected to the People's Assembly in 1984 under the banner of the National Democratic Party.[8] She headed the Population and Family Council for Giza in 1993.[2] Ateya died in 1997 at the age of 71.


Rawya Ateya is considered a pioneering figure in the history of Egyptian and Arab feminism. In December 2007, a ceremony was held in the Egyptian Parliament to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ateya's electoral victory.[citation needed] The ceremony was notably attended by Lateefa Al Gaood from Bahrain, who had become a year earlier the first female MP in the Gulf region, as well as Nada Haffadh also from Bahrain and that nation's first ever female cabinet minister.[9]

See also


I^ : Rawya Ateya is the spelling officially used by Egypt State Information Service, and reflects the way the name is pronounced in Egyptian Arabic.[10] Alternative spellings include Rawya Atiya,[3][9] Rawya Attiya,[7] Rawya Attia,[4] and Rawiya Atiyya.[2]


  1. Sullivan 1986, p. 197
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Goldschmidt 2000, p. 26
  3. 3.0 3.1 Karam 1998, p. 44
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Sullivan 1986, pp. 39–40
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Magdi, Ne'maat (25 August 2009). "راوية عطية: أول نائبة مصرية بعد الثورة". Al Rai. The Parliament of Women (in Arabic) (11012): 7. Retrieved 2010-02-08. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Innovation for Egypt: Women Office Seekers Create Furor". The Spartanburg Herald. 67 (133): 8. 6 June 1957. Retrieved 2010-02-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Zevi, Tullia (30 January 1959). "Gals Should Get More Than Equal Rights in Egypt". The Pittsburgh Press. 75 (219): 13. Retrieved 2010-02-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Sullivan 1986, p. 108
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Bahraini joins Egypt's women celebration". Women Gateway. December 2007. Retrieved 2010-02-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "First Arab Woman Summit Present Challenges & Future Horizons". Egypt Magazine. Egypt State Information Service. Winter 2001. Retrieved 2010-02-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>