Rose Antun: Early 20th Century Arab Feminist Journalist

How ‘Shwam’ Migration Contributed to Arab Renaissance Movement
Naomi Pham
Rose Antun (2020) by Etab Hrieb for Al Jadid.

Among developments from the Al Nahda (Arab Renaissance) of the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century was the rise of Arab women in the literary and intellectual fields. The Al Nahda period gave rise to several women writers like May Ziadeh, who had distinguished herself in Egypt and Lebanon, Zaynab Fawaz, a novelist, playwright, poet, and historian, and Syrian journalist Marie Ajami who founded the magazine “Al-Arous” (The Bride) and Rose al-Yusuf, who founded a magazine named after herself in 1925.

Recollections of early 20th century women writers often overlook Lebanese journalist Rose Antun, but one new biographical work aims to rectify this. More books like “Rose Antun: An Anonymous Renaissance Writer” (Dar al-Farabi, Beirut, 2018) by Ahmad Asfahani would do justice to Arab feminist journalism, shedding light on 19th and 20th century Lebanese and Syrian emigrants (referred to as ‘shwam’) who settled in Egypt and became journalists and intellectuals. Though Antun’s writings were overshadowed by those of her brother Farah Antun and her husband Nicola Haddad, two well-known journalists and intellectuals, she made a name for herself in Alexandria and Cairo between 1903-1934, founding several magazines. These included “Women and Girls'' (later renamed to “Ladies'') and “Women and Men,” as well as the platform “Modern Salon” that allowed for intellectual debates that conveyed concerns and ideas through women’s dialogues.
Social, economic, humanitarian, and political themes featured prominently in Antun’s writing. She criticized citizens’ “desperate attempts in flattering the rulers” while lamenting the decline of patriotism and the spread of unemployment and economic malaise,” according to one reviewer. Antun also consistently criticized orientalism and spoke on the shortcomings of the nation’s leaders in “figuring out the place of the national idea between ‘moderation’ and ‘extremism,’” according to another reviewer.
Rose Antun passed away in 1955 in Cairo. In a society that assumed women’s issues were less important than men’s, her magazines tackled sensitive subjects allowing women to write about topics beyond love, family, and marriage, delving into war, ideology, and religion.
“Rose Antun: Early 20th Century Arab Feminist Journalist, How ‘Shwam’ Migration Contributed to Arab Renaissance Movement” by Naomi Pham will appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 24, No. 79, 2020.