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The Statue of Liberty was Modeled After an Arab Woman

posted on: Feb 8, 2017

Already a symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty wears a kuffiyah to reinforce her purpose of liberty for all. Drawing by Arab America Contributing Artist Katie Miranda.

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

Since signing executive orders banning all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, President Trump has given a new life to the Statue of Liberty, an undeniable symbol of freedom for new immigrants reaching the shores of America for the first time.

More than ever, Americans are using the Statue of Liberty as a reminder of the nation’s values and origins. Anti-Trump protestors hold signs scribbled with the Statue of Liberty’s words: “Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Social media users cleverly insist, “The Statue of Liberty doesn’t have an RSVP.”

Although most women from the Arab world are currently not welcomed in the U.S., one Arab woman is here to stay: the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, the Statue of Liberty was originally modeled after an Arab woman, giving protestors another ironic tool to use in the fight against the immigration ban.

According to historian Edward Berenson, the statue’s French designer, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, was captivated with Egyptian art and history. Initially, Bartholdi designed his statue as an Egyptian woman wearing Arab peasant (fellah) garb and holding a torch over her head. She was designed to be a lighthouse guiding ships through the Suez Canal at its northern entrance.

Bartholdi’s work would have debuted at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, but then-Egyptian ruler Ismail Pasha went bankrupt before the designer could finish his project.

The French artist was not ready to give up on his statue, though, and a few years later, he decided to gift it to the United States to celebrate the centennial of the American Revolution. By the time she made it to the U.S. in 1886, the Statue of Liberty’s Arab garb was replaced with a Greco-Roman dress, but the image of an Arab woman remained in tact.