Nahdet Masr: Woman, Sphinx, and the Question of Modernity

In Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soeuif’s novel, The Map of Love, there is a scene that describes the statue Nahdet Masr (Rise of Egypt), a statue of a peasant woman unveiling as she stands next to the Sphinx:

“The statue of Nahdet Masr rises before her: the statue at whose feet they had gathered in the days of the demonstrations…when it had seemed that the young would conquer the world and they, the students of Egypt, would be among the conquerors. They had taken Nahdet Masr as their symbol: a fellaha [peasant woman], one hand on the head of a sphinx, rousing him from sleep, the other putting aside her veil; a statue at once ancient and modern.” (297)

At the time it was created by Mahmoud Mukhtar, Nahdet Masr was meant to symbolize Egypt’s national aspirations during the struggle for independence from British occupation. Apparently, Mukhtar wanted “to create a statue that combined all the dreams of Egypt and its civilization, blending the glorious past with the nation’s future aspirations. This is how the idea of Nahdet Masr was born.”

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