Thursday, October 1, 2015

Etiquette and Egyptian Harem Women

Veiled, Egyptian Harem Women, in a Dressmaker's Shoppe, circa 1918– "The women's movement in Egypt began during the last decades of the 19th century, when social and political changes overturned traditional Egyptian life. Until then, upper-class domestic life was defined by the harem, the part of the household where a man’s wives, concubines and young children lived in seclusion and were serviced by slaves. When these women went out they put on veils to ensure they could not be seen by men. Harem women were envied by the rest of society for their pampered and easy lives. And although less well-off urban women also veiled in public, women in the countryside did not, making the veil a kind of status symbol." –From The Middle East: A Guide to Politics, Economics, Society and Culture By Barry Rubin

"It is been pretended that it is not the jealousy of the husband which, in Mohammedan countries, confines the wife to her apartments; but the influence of laws and customs, enforced long before the time of Mohammed. From this peculiarity in their manners proceeds the style in which the Turks construct their houses, which are divided into two parts; one called a salamlik, corresponding to the andron of the Greeks, inhabited by the master of the family; the other, called harem (the retired or sacred apartments), in which the women reside.

The passages conducting from the former to the latter are reserved entirely to the master of the family; no servant, not even the eunuchs, ever entering the harem, where everything is performed by female slaves. Near relations are admitted twice a year, during the festival of Bairam, and on occasion of a marriage, lying-in, or circumcision; but their visits must be short, and in the presence of female slaves.

These—the only men before whom the ladies can appear unveiled—are denominated Mahhrem, and all strangers, to whom the harem is interdicted, Na-Mahhrem. According to the strict etiquette required by ancient usage, a lady cannot appear unveiled before a physician, even in presence of her husband, or have her pulse felt except through a muslin sleeve; but, in cases of danger, the law relaxes its severity.

Physic is generally practiced by women, who are the only accoucheurs in the empire. The employment of a man on such occasions would disgrace a family forever; so that these barbarians, gross and ignorant as they are, display infinitely more delicacy on this point then civilized nation."
– From Egypt and Mohammed Ali; or, Travels in the valley of the Nile, Volume 2, By James Augustus St. John, Muḥammad 'Alî (pasha of Egypt.)


Women of Egypt Break Harem Laws

The “new woman” movement in Egypt is rapidly growing in strength, and despite the traditions of the Mohammedans is being favorably received. Harem laws are being broken with impunity and many of the younger women have discarded their face veils and are taking part in political processions engineered by the Egyptian nationalists. At the beginning of the political riots women of the lower classes took part in the looting, but now the cry for "emancipation" has spread to all classes. The girls in the government school joined the boy students when they went on strike against British rule. –Los Angeles Herald, March 5, 1920

‘Egyptian Princess’ Jailed in S. F. 

SAN FRANCISCO, July 14—Della Pattra, who claims to be an Egyptian princess, was sent to jail when she could not satisfactorily explain to thejudge why she wore a harem costume in court.–Los Angeles Herald, July 14, 1920

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