This Issue is : 04-2024
Monday, 24 June 2024

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Princess Fatma Ismail: A Trailblazer in Egyptian History

Princess Fatma Ismail: A Trailblazer in Egyptian History
 
Written by : Dr. Mostafa M.Motawei
Researcher in history and Islamic archaeology

In the shadow of ancient sands, she stood, A beacon of grace, her spirit unbowed. Princess Fatma, with vision unconfined, Carved her name in the annals of time.

Her heart, a library of dreams and lore, Pages inked with compassion, wisdom galore. She wove education’s tapestry bright, Stitching hope into every student’s plight.

Beneath Cairo’s sun, her legacy blooms, A garden of knowledge where futures consume. From royal lands, she sowed seeds of change, Nurturing minds, transcending age.

Princess Fatma, a constellation above, Guiding women to rise, to dare, to love. Her name whispered by Nile’s gentle flow, A role model for all—our eternal glow.


In the annals of Egyptian history, Princess Fatma Ismail stands as a remarkable figure whose legacy reverberates through time. Born in 1853, she was a daughter of Khedive Ismail (who ruled Egypt from 1863 to 1879). Her impact on scientific, cultural, and charitable life in Egypt remains indelible, with one of her most enduring contributions being the establishment of Cairo University.

Philanthropy and Social Work

Princess Fatma Ismail’s philanthropic endeavors left an indelible mark. In the late 19th century, Egyptian intellectuals clamored for the creation of a national university that would provide modern, professional education to Egyptians.

However, the costs of such an ambitious project proved daunting. It was then that Princess Fatma intervened, providing a waqf (endowment) of 661 feddans (approximately 661 acres) to cover the expenses of establishing the Egyptian University. She also donated 6 feddans of royal land in Giza’s Dokki area to expand the university’s grounds. Her financial contribution, totaling EGP 18,000 (a significant sum at the time), ensured that the dream of an independent institute of higher learning in Egypt became a reality.

Founding Cairo University

On December 21, 1908, the Egyptian University (now known as Cairo University) opened its gates for the first time. Princess Fatma Ismail’s vision had materialized, and her foresight extended beyond mere financial support. She ensured that two of the era’s most enlightened sheikhs, along with the country’s supreme judge, sat on the university’s founding board. Their collective wisdom guided the institution toward excellence.

Acknowledgment and Legacy

In 1913, Al-Ahram published a piece expressing gratitude to Princess Fatma Ismail for her tireless efforts. The sentiment echoed Sheikh Mohamed Abdu’s belief that Egypt had focused too much on building mosques, with the buildings themselves outnumbering those who prayed. Princess Fatma’s intervention rescued the dream of an independent educational institution—one that would shape generations of Egyptian minds.

Her legacy extends beyond bricks and mortar. Princess Fatma Ismail exemplified the spirit of progress, compassion, and empowerment. She understood the transformative power of education and championed it relentlessly. Her story serves as a beacon for women across generations—a testament to what determination, vision, and philanthropy can achieve.

As we celebrate the achievements of Egyptian and Arab women, let us remember Princess Fatma Ismail—a trailblazer who defied odds, leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of history. Her legacy continues to inspire, reminding us that women have always been architects of change, even when the world around them resisted.

Princess Fatma Ismail—more than a name etched in stone, she is a role model for women, an embodiment of resilience, and a beacon of hope for generations to come
 
 
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