Marwa Elselehdar will undoubtedly go down in history – as Egypt’s first female shipmaster. Her path towards obtaining the officer rank and gaining recognition was not easy. Lately, she was accused of blocking the Suez Canal!
The president himself opened the door to her career
The college she is applying to has never seen a woman. Marwa would be the first.
Approval of the application turns out to be a bit problematic for the university authorities. The former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, addresses the issue himself . It is the first time that a woman has the ambition to apply for an officer’s diploma. Marwa’s application seems to be constituting a precedent for the admission of new female candidates to the university, so far educating only men.
After establishing that the law does not impose any restrictions on women, she is allowed to take the entrance exam. Elselehdar is unstoppable. In 2013 she graduates from the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) as a senior officer. After graduation she works as a second officer on board the Aida IV ship and after just two years she becomes the ship’s chief officer. The same ship is first to sail – under Marwa’s command – across the newly extended Suez Canal in 2015.
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This is a real success, but Marwa does not rest on her laurels. She undertakes MBA studies at the Cardiff Metropolitan University. Today she proudly boards as a captain. She also works as a maritime business development coordinator at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.
This is how the revolution happened, as described in the Arab News .
The anti-feminist offensive
Unfortunately, the newspaper’s enthusiastic headline about Marwa’s “waves of success” quickly drew attention of anti-feminist activists. Additionally, Elselehdar’s success coincided with the Suez Canal blockade.
A few days after the article was published, anonymous scammers set up fake Twitter accounts under her name. Before that she had no account. One of the posts said: “Cargo ship crashes into Suez Canal. First female Arab Lloyd captain involved in the accident” .
The Photoshop-reworked headline originally said “Marwa Elselehdar: Egypt’s first female sea captain is riding waves of success”. The original article indicated of course her victory, not her defeat. Immediately after the incident, Marwa posted a video on her Instagram explaining that she had nothing to do with the canal’s blockade.
Women’s mentor in the media
Nowadays we may experience a growing activism among women fighting for their social position. Although fighting stereotypes is not the easiest thing, women of Egypt feel stronger.
The false information was clearly intended to undermine the abilities of Arab women to work in male-dominated areas. Fortunately, sexist comments do not discourage the 29-year-old captain. By observing her activity in social media, you can see her unwavering determination. On Instagram alone she has more than 60,000 followers . Through the platform she can support women and encourage them to develop.
Marwa has worked for many years to reach such a high position and gain recognition from the community. Today, thanks to following her, more and more young women want to make their dreams come true. They believe the sight of a woman in a uniform should not surprise anyone.
“I look forward to the day when I can sail with more women in the crew” – she wrote on her LinkedIn profile .
Marwa looks forward to changes full of hope. During long sea voyages she is still the only woman on board. However, thanks to her, we can expect this situation to change soon.
Nicole Czaplińska – a Romance philology student, interested in the culture and art of France and Arab countries. Member of the Salam Lab team.
[trans. Justyna Siwiec – a philologist and a translator. Food and music lover interested in the history and culture of the Middle East. Member of the Salam Lab team]