Fadila Tawfiq, or “Abla Fadila,” is an Egyptian woman pioneer of radio broadcasting, who has been a household name across Egypt since the 1960s for her work as a radio presenter of children’s program. She graduated from the Faculty of Law, Cairo University in 1951, before training in radio production under the tutelage of Mohamed Mahmoud Shaaban, also known as “Baba Sharo.” Fadila served as the Director General of the children’s radio programs, at the Egyptian Radio from 1970 to 1980. In the interview, she spoke of her academic education, and career journey in radio.
Fadila was born in al-Abasiya district, in Cairo. At the age of three, she attended the Princes Children Kindergarten for three years. The kindergarten was located in al-Abasiya, and headed by Principal Galila Abd Allah. Fadila participated in various activities at a young age, and was known for her outstanding tact, and excellent speaking skills. She attended al-Abasiya Primary School for four years, and studied under Egyptian teachers, before joining Princess Fawqia Secondary School for six years to earn her high-school diploma. At that time, girls had to study for six years to qualify for college, whereas boys studied for only five years. Fadila recalled the strict and rigorous Principal Ms. Delini, and the close relationship between the students and teachers, and between the school administration and the family at home.
Fadila was later transferred to Princess Ferial School, since the girls were distributed among the schools geographically, according to the school’s proximity to their residences. The School Principal was Faiqa Saudi, and among Fadila’s classmates were Faten Hamama and Queen Nariman. Fadila recalled the high cost of education at that time, explaining that she received high-quality education, with full access to school care, and a wide range of sports and music activities. She also never experienced any discrimination or class privilege during her education despite the students’ varying social classes.
The British occupation left a deep negative impact on Fadila, especially during her childhood since she used to see the English troops from the balcony of her house. She developed negative feelings for the British at a young age, and refused to attend the English schools, and opted for Egyptian schools from the beginning. Fadila’s awareness of the country’s conditions was fostered by her father, who was mindful of the need to explain and discuss the country’s affairs with his children. He was keen on inspiring their sense of belonging and patriotism, particularly because their mother was of Turkish descents. Fadila saw in her mother a role model, accrediting her own reverence for her work, as well as her calm and wise personality to her mother, who exhibited great wisdom when dealing with difficult situations. The events Fadila witnessed during her childhood due to the colonial presence in Egypt motivated her to later inspire the national spirit in the children through her radio programs, especially during the year 1967.
As soon as Fadila graduated high school, one of her neighbors asked for her hand in marriage. When her father asked her, she expressed her desire to pursue a university education, and not to get married, which was also what her father wanted. Although Fadila’s wish was to study English literature, her family decided to enroll her into the Faculty of Law so that she could be with her brother at the same college. Fadila recalled that her class encompassed 600 male students and only 15 girls. After a while, she enjoyed studying law, especially sharia, and the comparisons between sharia and the positive law. She explained that studying law helped develop her capacity to run discussions and hold dialogues. Among her sharia professors, she recalled Sheikh Mohamed Abu Zahra, and Sheikh Abd al-Wahab Khalaf, who had a close and positive relationship with the students.
During her university studies, Fadila and her colleagues provided help and care to the students protesting against the British occupation, and facilitated the overnight sit-ins organized by the students inside the university. She also participated in the university’s national gatherings, supported her colleagues during their speeches against the occupation, and helped her colleagues who ran in the student union elections.
Upon her college graduation, Fadila tried, unsuccessfully, to work in the legal field, with Hamed Zaki Pasha, who served as the Minister of Transportation and Radio at that time. When she could not adapt to the demands of the profession, Hamed Pasha convinced her to work in the radio. Fadila took the qualifying test, and was well received and admired by the board of examiners, which comprised of Abd Al-Wahab Youssef, Mohamed Mahmoud Shaaban, and Ali Khalil Bey. She began her training with her fellow trainee Omaima Abd Al-Aziz, who later became Fadila’s friend. Mr. Hosni al-Hadidi minded with training Fadila, and taught her how to deliver the news, and read the newsreel. Yet, she did not take interest in broadcasting the news. According to Fadila, the training period at the Egyptian radio changed the course of her life.
One day, while at the radio building, Fadila attended the children’s programs presented by Baba Sharo, and asked him to stay with the children, and to help in his programs. In the year 1960, the radio started working with recordings and tapes, and Fadila began her life-long work in the children’s programs, until the very end. Fadila served as the Head of the General Program at the Egyptian Radio, and took pride in the fact that at some point during her term, the majority of the leading media figures were women. While she was the Head of the General Program, Safiya al-Muhandis was the Head of the Egyptian Radio, Madiha Naguib was the Head of Radio Middle East, and Fawzia al-Mowalid was the Head of the Cultural Radio, known as the Second Program.
Fadila’s career path was not without difficulties and problems, but she was able to overcome them with composure and wisdom. She loved working with children for their innocence, yet after years, she noticed the negative change that occurred, and the big difference between the children she used to interact with in the past, and the present-day children. Fadila explained that children used to be less intelligent, but more polite and obedient, whereas currently, children became increasingly more intelligent due to their access to technology and sources of information that were not previously available, but their sense of morality declined. For Fadila Tawfiq, working with children had a great impact on developing her leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as her ability to overcome hardships, because the experience taught her composure, patience, and persuasion.