Mona Eltahawy is considered one of the most radical feminists from the middle east. The freelance Egyptian-American journalist and social commentator are based in New York City.
She has written essays and op-eds for publications worldwide on Egypt and the Islamic world, on topics including women’s issues and Muslim political and social affairs. Her pieces have appeared in many notable magazines and newspapers like The Miami Herald, the New York Times and The Washington Post.
She is the author of two books; Hymens and Headscarves: Why the middle east needs a sexual revolution and Seven necessary sins for women and girls. She is also one of the women at the forefront of the mosque too movement on social media which she discussed in her second book.
Mona was born on the 1st of August 1967 in Port Said, Egypt. She lived in the UK when her family moved there when she was 7 and in Saudi Arabia when she was 15 in 1982. At the time she was sexually assaulted during Hajj(pilgrimage).
“I felt like I had been put on trial” She writes of the experience, “found guilty of being a teenage girl, and sentenced to life in prison.”
At 16, she vowed to become a journalist, because she wanted her freedom. She graduated from the American University in Cairo with a bachelors degree and later on got a master’s degree in Mass Communication.
Everything changed for Eltahawy during the Arab spring. In 2011, she was arrested by the Egyptian authorities while covering protests in Tahrir Square. Eltahawy was detained for 12 hours, sexually assaulted, and threatened with gang rape. Her left arm and right hand were broken.
Eltahawy was a news reporter throughout the 1990s and a correspondent for the Reuters News Agency in Cairo and Jerusalem. She has written news and opinion articles for The Guardian, the International Herald-Tribune, The Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report,and The New York Times. In September 2020 she started a newsletter on Substack called the Feminist Giant.
She moved to the United States in 2000 and got an American citizenship in 2011.
From 2003 to 2004, Eltahawy was managing editor of the Arabic-language version of Women’s eNews, an independent, non-profit news website that covers women’s issues from around the world.
She wrote a weekly column for the Saudi-owned, London-based international Arab publication Asharq Al-Awsat from 2004 to 2006 before her articles were discontinued by editor Tariq Alhomayed for being “too critical” of the Egyptian regime.
On November 24, 2011, she was one of the numerous journalists arrested by the Egyptian authorities while covering renewed protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
After this in September 25, 2012, Mona was arrested for spray painting over an American Freedom Defense Initiative advertisement in a New York City Subway station that read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad”.
Toward the end of the incident, two police officers approached the area and arrested her. In an interview on CNN, she said she was arraigned and charged with Criminal Mischief, Making Graffiti, and Possession of a Graffiti Instrument. She defended herself by saying what she had done was freedom of expression and that her actions were civil disobedience.
Her first book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, was published in the United States on April 21, 2015, by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book is based on a piece about misogyny in Arab society entitled “Why Do They Hate Us?”, which she wrote for Foreign Policy in 2012.In September 2019, Eltahawy released her second book, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls.
Awards and honours
Mona was given Muslim Leader of Tomorrow by the American Society for Muslim Advancement in 2005. Distinguished Visiting Professor at the American University in Cairo in 2009 she was given the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press, for opinion writing by the European Commission. In 2012 she was number 258, among Power 500 Arabian Business and number 30, among “100 Most powerful Arab women” in the same year.
In 2019, she was number 54 in The 100 Most Influential Africans, The Africa Report and in 2020, she won the Global Vanguard Award, National Women’s March.