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‘A Revolution from Me, Despite of Me': Google Celebrates First Arab-African Pilot on International Women's Day

8 March, 2017
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Egypt's Lotfia ElNadi was the first Arab and African woman to earn a pilot's license. Born to a middle class family in 1907, ElNadi defied society, her family, and the way the world viewed women at the time. 

ElNadi was one of many women remembered by Google on March 8, and was incorporated into the search engine's animation that honors International Women's Day.

“My father’s omnipotence was suffocating. I learned to fly because I love to be free,” ElNadi revealed in Take Off from the Sand, a documentary about her remarkable life. “When something is excessive it turns to its opposite. The excessive pressure forced upon me made me love freedom. It was a revolution from me, despite of me.”

In 1932, Almaza airport, the first airport in Egypt, created a school for aviation, and with it ElNadi's dream was born. She joined the school without telling her father, and her mother refused to fund the lessons, which resulted in ElNadi having to pay her own fees by working as a receptionist in the airport. 

“I said, okay, why wouldn’t I build myself on my own? If I want something that I believe is good, I must continue,” ElNadi recalled. 

She was the only woman in the whole airport, and the situation remained as such for seven years. 

But lessons did not fulfil her enough, so ElNadi would hide in planes that would be soon due for test runs, feeding her curiosity and learning more about the profession. 

After only 67 days of training and at the age of 26, ElNadi became the first female pilot in Egypt and the Arab region to obtain a pilot’s license in 1933.

“As soon as I took off I felt the plane was light and I owned the whole world. Freedom. Freedom. The freedom you always dreamt of, Lotfia, well here it is, you got it,” she recalled. 

Upon participating in an international race between Cairo and Alexandria, she became the second woman in the world to fly solo, following Amelia Earhart. The two female pilots were even known to be friends, having exchanged many letters with each other. 

Unfortunately, an accident damaged ElNadi's spine, which ended her aviation career. She died in 2002. 

Even after her death, she has remained a feminist icon. She left an imprint on the feminist movement that took place during her time, and was even honored by renowned Egyptian feminist Huda Shaarawi.

The pilot paved the path for other women pilots. Following ElNadi’s lead, Linda Masoud was the first female pilot coach, and Aziza Moharam became the first female director of the Aviation Academy.

Remembering her time in the air, ElNadi said, “I can’t tell you how ecstatic I became, I wasn’t in the least bit afraid. There was absolutely no fear.”

Lotfia El-Nadi honored in the early 1990s. Photo credit: Al-Ahram


Tags Lotfia ElNadi Google international women's day