A 1919 Egyptian revolutionary named Marcos Fahmy wrote in a letter addressed to Egypt’s high commissioner General Allenby that the revolution is the beginnings of “an emancipation that will allow this so-called minor to take, without trepidation, a few necessary steps in order to fortify its muscles and begin its march to adulthood (Pollard 167).” His deployment of the metaphor of the nation as a child is echoed almost one hundred years later during the 18 days of the Tahrir Uprisings. One of the many creative banners that were on display in the square during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution addressed to Hosni Mubarak reads, “Leave… my hand hurts, I have exams to take, I need to work/shave/shower/sleep/give birth”. In the first example, the child is deployed as a metaphor for the accelerated progress of history and, in the latter, the protestor waits for Mubarak to leave so that she can birth a new Egyptian lineage.
Children and the futurity they promise or foreclose are the focus of this talk. Studying Ahdaf Soueif’s In the Eye of the Sun (2000) and Basma Abdel Aziz’s Here is a Body (2021), I argue that tropes of immaturity, growth, and development that underpin notions of childhood are coopted into the service of both the hegemonic powers as well as the resistance. In Soueif’s novel, poor, village mothers’ wombs serve as sites of intervention for the state, where campaigns for forced use of contraception proliferate. Set after the 2011 Revolution, Abdel Aziz’s novel re-inscribes the notion of the nation as nascent: innocent, naïve, dependent. In both novels, the representation of childhood are deployed as a barometer to predict how well a nation will survive, while reflection on reproduction reflect the concern of one generation for the next. I consider how depictions of children bear upon questions of nationalism, futurity, and resistance. I argue that while narratives about children are susceptible to romanticization in any given historical and social context, it is critical to see them as contested terrains, sites in which the tensions and conflicts of the larger society manifest themselves. In other words, this paper reads the history and politics of Egypt through the ways in which its women writers represent childhood, the lives of children, and how children are regulated and managed, acted upon, imagined and contested.