In October of 1933, Lotfia El Nadi became the first Egyptian female to receive an aviation license. Yesterday Google Doodle celebrated the 107th birthday of this extraordinary woman whose achievements paved the way for women in Egypt and the Arab region to enter the world of aviation. Until this day, Arab female pilots look up to her as an idol and a symbol of gender equality and liberation.
For a long time, before Egypt even had its own airport, El Nadi was infatuated with the idea of flying. It appealed to her because it represented the freedom and liberation that she and many young women of her time were deprived of.
“When something is excessive it turns to its opposite. The excessive pressure forced upon me made me love freedom”, she said in the documentary made about her life, called Take off from the Sand.
At that time a lot of female pilots were emerging in Western societies. El Nadi firmly believed that Arab women were not inferior to them and set out to prove it by joining the newly founded school for aviation. The school was created in 1932 as part of Almaza airport, which was the first airport in Egypt.
When she first joined, El Nadi was the only woman in the whole airport, and the situation remained as such for seven years, until other young women were encouraged to join. El Nadi joined the school without telling her father and although her mother was informed she did not entirely support the endeavour in fear of Lotfia harming herself. Thus, she refused to fund her lessons.
Nevertheless, El Nadi did not give up. In exchange for her lessons, she worked as a receptionist in the new airport. The lessons weren’t enough for her, though. Thus to fulfill her passion and curiosity for flying, she would hide in planes that would be soon due for test runs and would only bring her head up when the planes were in mid-air.
El Nadi was trained by an English pilot called Dan Karol who saw a lot of potential in her and he was right to. After only 67 days of training and at the age of 26, Lotfia El Nadi became the first female pilot in Egypt and the Arab region. She made headlines in December 1933 when she became the second woman in the world to fly solo after, Amelia Earhart, by participating in an international race between Cairo and Alexandria. The two female pilots have been known to be friends and have exchanged many letters over the years.
Although her time in the air ended shortly due to an unfortunate accident that damaged her spine, her breakthrough as a pilot encouraged many women in Egypt to enter the world of aviation through various career paths. Of those women, Linda Masoud stands out as the first female pilot coach, and Aziza Moharam as the first female director of the Aviation Academy. El Nadi also played a huge role in the feminist movement that was taking place during that era and was honoured by the renowned Egyptian feminist Huda Sharawi, whom she considered a role model.
Lotfia ElNadi revolutionized the way people viewed women’s intellectual and physical abilities and challenged the gender roles that society forced and continues to force upon us. Although she passed away in 2002, she will forever be remembered as the woman who was soaring amongst the clouds when women on the ground were still shackled by regressive laws of society.