The beginnings of Arab feminisms can be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century against a backdrop of colonialism, anti-colonial struggles, and the emergence of postcolonial nation states. From day one, Arab feminists were forced to contend with social as well as political challenges, as their demands for rights and justice became entangled in the battles over cultural identity, the relationship with the imperial west, and the shape and direction of nascent postcolonial states. In this talk, I will attempt a narrative of the history of contestation and negotiation in which Arab feminists engaged in with centers of power, be they colonial, nationalist or religious. My focus will be on the Egyptian feminist movement which is specific, but also fairly representative of many Arab countries. I argue that the particular trajectories of Arab movements have been largely shaped by their persistent contestation and negotiation with authoritarian postcolonial states.