In This Review

Embodying Geopolitics: Generations of Women’s Activism in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon
Embodying Geopolitics: Generations of Women’s Activism in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon
By Nicola Pratt
University of California Press, 2020, 328 pp.

In an era when they are increasingly in positions of power around the world, women leaders seem conspicuously absent in the Middle East. But as Pratt shows, at least some of the failure to see powerful women in the region is in the eye of the beholder: Western preconceptions often make women invisible. (A personal example: when I was appointed president of the American University in Cairo, the U.S. press announced that I was the first female university president in Egypt. In fact, I was the third.) This volume, based on interviews with over 100 women activists in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, traces the involvement of women in political mobilization over the last 70 years. It is a compelling portrait of women working inside, outside, and against systems of power, often at considerable cost to their personal safety and security. Pratt ends on a pessimistic note, recounting the failures of the uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring to produce genuine change. Since her focus is on activists, this concern is understandable, but women in government also merit attention: in 2020, women held a quarter of Egypt’s cabinet posts, on par with the United Kingdom and more than in the United States.