Nawal El Saadawi
Nawal El Saadawi (Arabic: نوال السعداوي, born 27 October 1931) is an Egyptian feminist writer, activist, physician, and psychiatrist. She has written many books on the subject of women in Islam, paying particular attention to the practice of female genital mutilation in her society. She has been described as "the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab World".
Nawal El Saadawi
Nawal El Saadawi at the 2010 Göteborg Book Fair
|Occupation||Physician, psychiatrist, author|
(m. 1964; div. 2010)
She is founder and president of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association and co-founder of the Arab Association for Human Rights. She has been awarded honorary degrees on three continents. In 2004, she won the North–South Prize from the Council of Europe. In 2005, she won the Inana International Prize in Belgium, and in 2012, the International Peace Bureau awarded her the 2012 Seán MacBride Peace Prize.
Nawal el Saadawi has held the positions of Author for the Supreme Council for Arts and Social Sciences, Cairo; Director General of the Health Education Department, Ministry of Health, Cairo, Secretary General of the Medical Association, Cairo, Egypt, and medical doctor at the University Hospital and Ministry of Health. She is the founder of the Health Education Association and the Egyptian Women Writers' Association; she was Chief Editor of Health Magazine in Cairo, and Editor of Medical Association Magazine.
The second-eldest of nine children, Saadawi was born in 1931 in the small village of Kafr Tahla. Her family was at once traditional and progressive: El Saadawi was "circumcised" (her clitoris cut off) at the age of six, yet her father insisted that all his children be educated.
Her father was a government official in the Ministry of Education, who had campaigned against the rule of the British occupation of Egypt and Sudan during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. As a result, he was exiled to a small town in the Nile Delta, and the government punished him by not promoting him for 10 years. He was relatively progressive and taught his daughter self-respect and to speak her mind. He also encouraged her to study the Arabic language. Both her parents died at a young age, leaving Saadawi with the sole burden of providing for a large family.
Her mother was from a family of Turkish origin; El Saadawi has described her grandfather, Shoukry Bey, and his family as "all of whom had the fair skin of the Turks". Her maternal grandmother was also of Turkish origin.
Saadawi graduated as a medical doctor in 1955 from Cairo University. That year she married Ahmed Helmi, whom she met as a fellow student in medical school. The marriage ended two years later. Through her medical practice, she observed women's physical and psychological problems and connected them with oppressive cultural practices, patriarchal oppression, class oppression and imperialist oppression.
While working as a doctor in her birthplace of Kafr Tahla, she observed the hardships and inequalities faced by rural women. After attempting to protect one of her patients from domestic violence, Saadawi was summoned back to Cairo. She eventually became the Director of the Ministry of Public Health and met her third husband, Sherif Hatata, while sharing an office in the Ministry of Health. Hatata, also a medical doctor and writer, had been a political prisoner for 13 years. They married in 1964 and have a son and a daughter. Saadawi divorced Hatata after 43 years of marriage.
In 1972, she published Woman and Sex (المرأة والجنس), confronting and contextualising various aggressions perpetrated against women's bodies, including female circumcision. The book became a foundational text of second-wave feminism. As a consequence of the book and her political activities, Saadawi was dismissed from her position at the Ministry of Health. She also lost her positions as chief editor of a health journal, and as Assistant General Secretary in the Medical Association in Egypt. From 1973 to 1976, Saadawi worked on researching women and neurosis in Ain Shams University's Faculty of Medicine. From 1979 to 1980, she was the United Nations Advisor for the Women's Programme in Africa (ECA) and the Middle East (ECWA).
Long viewed as controversial and dangerous by the Egyptian government, Saadawi helped publish a feminist magazine in 1981 called Confrontation. She was imprisoned in September by President of Egypt Anwar Sadat. She was released later that year, one month after the President's assassination. Of her experience she wrote: "Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies." In 1982 she founded the Arab Women Solidarity Association.
Saadawi was one of the women held at Qanatir Women's Prison. Her incarceration formed the basis for her memoir, Memoirs from the Women's Prison (Arabic: مذكرات في سجن النساء , 1983). Her contact with a prisoner at Qanatir, nine years before she was imprisoned there, served as inspiration for an earlier work, a novel titled Woman at Point Zero (Arabic: امرأة عند نقطة الصفر, 1975).
Further persecution, teaching in the US, and on-going activism
In 1988, when her life was threatened by Islamists and political persecution, Saadawi was forced to flee Egypt. She accepted an offer to teach at Duke University's Asian and African Languages Department in North Carolina, as well as at the University of Washington. She has since held positions at a number of prestigious colleges and universities including Cairo University, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the Sorbonne, Georgetown, Florida State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1996, she moved back to Egypt.
Saadawi has continued her activism and considered running in the 2005 Egyptian presidential election, before stepping out because of stringent requirements for first-time candidates. She was among the protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011. She has called for the abolition of religious instruction in the Egyptian schools.
Saadawi was awarded the 2004 North–South Prize by the Council of Europe. In July 2016 she headlined the Royal African Society's "Africa Writes" literary festival in London, where she spoke "On Being A Woman Writer" in conversation with Margaret Busby.
She was in Göteborg Book Fair which took place on September 27–30, 2018 were she attended a seminar on development in Egypt and the Middle East after the Arab Spring and stated during her talk in the event that "colonial, capitalist, imperialist, racist" global powers, led by the United States, collaborated with the Egyptian government to end the 2011 Egyptian revolution. She added that she remembered seeing then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Tahrir Square handing out dollar bills to the youth in order to encourage them to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in the upcoming elections.
Saadawi began writing early in her career. Her earliest writings include a selection of short stories entitled I Learned Love (1957) and her first novel, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1958). She has since written numerous novels and short stories and a personal memoir, Memoir from the Women's Prison (1986). Saadawi has been published in a number of anthologies, and her work has been translated from the original Arabic into more than 30 languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, Urdu and others.
In 1972, she published her first work of non-fiction, Women and Sex, which evoked the antagonism of highly placed political and theological authorities. It also led to her dismissal at the Ministry of Health. Other works include The Hidden Face of Eve, God Dies by the Nile, The Circling Song, Searching, The Fall of the Imam and Woman at Point Zero.
Saadawi speaks fluent English in addition to her native Egyptian Arabic. As she writes in Arabic, she sees the question of translation into English or French as "a big problem" linked to the fact that
Advocacy against genital mutilation
At a young age, Saadawi underwent the process of female genital mutilation. As an adult she has written about and criticized this practice. She responded to the death of a 12-year-old girl, Bedour Shaker, during a genital circumcision operation in 2007 by writing: "Bedour, did you have to die for some light to shine in the dark minds? Did you have to pay with your dear life a price ... for doctors and clerics to learn that the right religion doesn't cut children's organs." As a doctor and human rights activist, Saadawi is also opposed to male circumcision. She believes that both male and female children deserve protection from genital mutilation.
"They talk about changing the way the Hajj is administered, about making people travel in smaller groups. What they don’t say is that the crush happened because these people were fighting to stone the devil. Why do they need to stone the devil? Why do they need to kiss that black stone? But no one will say this. The media will not print it. What is it about, this reluctance to criticize religion? ... This refusal to criticize religion ... is not liberalism. This is censorship."
She has said that elements of the Hajj, such as kissing the Black Stone, had pre-Islamic pagan roots. Saadawi has been involved in the academic exploration of Arab identity throughout her writing career.
Saadawi describes the Islamic veil as "a tool of oppression of women". She is also critical about the objectification of women and female bodies without male bodies in patriarchal social structures common in Europe and the US.
Selected awards and honors
- 2004: North–South Prize from the Council of Europe
- 2007: Honorary Doctorate, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
- 2007: Honorary Doctorate, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
- 2010: Honorary Doctorate, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
- 2011: Stig Dagerman Prize
- 2015: BBC's 100 Women.
- Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1960, 1980; translated by Catherine Cobham, 1989)
- Searching (1968; translated by Shirley Eber, 1991)
- The Death of the Only Man in the World (1974; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1985) Published in English as God Dies by the Nile
- Woman at Point Zero (1975; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1983)
- The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (1977; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1980)
- The Circling Song (1978; translated by Marilyn Booth, 1989)
- Death of an Ex-Minister (1980; translated by Shirley Eber, 1987)
- She Has No Place in Paradise (1979; translated by Shirley Eber)
- Two Women in One (1983; translated by Osman Nusairi and Jana Gough, 1985)
- The Fall of the Imam (1987; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1988)
- Memoirs from the Women's Prison (1984; translated by Marilyn Booth, 1994)
- The Innocence of the Devil (1994; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1994)
- North/South: The Nawal El Saadawi Reader (1997)
- Love in the Kingdom of Oil, translated by Basil Hatim and Malcolm Williams (Saqi Books, 2000)
- The Novel (2004; translated by Omnia Amin and Rick London, 2009)
- A Daughter of Isis
- Dissidenza e scrittura (2008)
- L'amore ai tempi del petrolio, translated by Marika Macco, introduction by Luisa Morgantini, Fagnano Alto: Editrice il Sirente, 2009. ISBN 978-88-87847-16-1
Novels (in Arabic)
- Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (Cairo, 1958)
- The Absent One (Cairo, 1969)
- Two Women in One (Cairo, 1971)
- Woman at Point Zero (Beirut, 1973)
- The Death of the Only Man on Earth (Beirut, 1975)
- The Children’s Circling Song (Beirut, 1976)
- The Fall of the Imam (Cairo, 1987)
- Ganat and the Devil (Beirut, 1991)
- Love in the Kingdom of Oil (Cairo, 1993)
- The Novel (Cairo: Dar El Hilal Publishers, 2004)
- Zeina, Novel (Beirut: Dar Al Saqi, 2009)
Short-story collections (in Arabic)
- I Learnt Love (Cairo, 1957)
- A Moment of Truth (Cairo, 1959)
- Little Tenderness (Cairo, 1960)
- The Thread and the Wall (Cairo, 1972)
- Ain El Hayat (Beirut, 1976)
- She was the Weaker (Beirut, 1977)
- Death of an Ex-minister (Beirut, 1978)
- Adab Am Kellet Abad (Cairo, 2000)
Plays (in Arabic)
- Twelve Women in a Cell (Cairo, 1984)
- Isis (Cairo, 1985)
- God Resigns in the Summit Meeting (1996), published by Madbouli, and four other plays included in her Collected Works (45 books in Arabic), Cairo: Madbouli, 2007
Memoirs (in Arabic)
- Memoirs in a Women’s Prison (Cairo, 1983)
- My Travels Around the World (Cairo, 1986)
- Memoirs of a Child Called Soad (Cairo, 1990)
- My Life, Part I, Autobiography (Cairo, 1996)
- My Life, Part II, Autobiography (Cairo, 1998)
- My Life, Part III, (Cairo, 2001)
Non-fiction (in Arabic)
- Women and Sex (Cairo, 1969)
- Woman is the Origin (Cairo, 1971)
- Men and Sex (Cairo, 1973)
- The Naked Face of Arab Women (Cairo, 1974)
- Women and Neurosis (Cairo, 1975)
- On Women (Cairo, 1986)
- A New Battle in Arab Women Liberation (Cairo, 1992)
- Collection of Essays (Cairo, 1998)
- Collection of Essays (Cairo, 2001)
- Breaking Down Barriers (Cairo, 2004)
Novels translated into English
- Woman at Point Zero (London: Zed Books, 1982), reissued 2008
- God Dies by the Nile (London: Zed Books, 1984), reissued 2008
- Circling Song (London: Zed Books, 1986), reissued 2008
- The Fall of Imam (London: Methuen, 1987), London: Saqi Books 2001, 2009
- Searching (London: Zed Books, 1988), reissued 2008
- Two Women in One (London: Al-Saqi Books, 1992)
- Memoirs of a Women Doctor (London: Methuen, 1994) (also: City Lights, USA, 1993)
- The Well of Life, two novels (London: Methuen, 1994)
- The Innocence of the Devil (London: Methuen, 1994) (also: University of California Press, 1995)
- Love in the Kingdom of Oil (London: Saqi Books, 2001)
- The Novel (Northampton, Mass: Interlink Books, 2009)
- Zeina (London: Saqi Books, 2011)
Short stories translated into English
- Death of an Ex-minister (London: Methuen, 1987)
- She Has No Place in Paradise (London: Methuen, 1987)
Non-fiction translated into English
- The Hidden Face of Eve (London: Zed Books, 1980), reissued 2008
- My Travel Around the World (London: Methuen, 1985)
- Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (London: Women’s Press, 1985) (also: University of California Press, USA, 1995)
- Nawal El Saadawi Reader, essays (London: Zed Books, 1997)
- Vol 11 Nawal El Saadawi Reader (Zed Books 2009)
- Part I A Daughter of Isis, autobiography (London: Zed Books, 1999), reissued 2008
- Part II Walking Through Fire, autobiography (London: Zed Books, 2002), reissued 2008
- Mahmoud El-Wardani (24 April 2014). "El-Saadawi and Hatata: Voyage of a lifetime". Ahram Online. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
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- "Arab Women's Solidarity Association United", Lokashakti.
- Hitchcock, Peter, Nawal el Saadawi, Sherif Hetata. "Living the Struggle". Transition 61 (1993): 170–179.
- Nawal El Saadawi, "Presentation by Nawal El Saadawi: President's Forum, M/MLA Annual Convention, November 4, 1999", The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 33.3–34.1 (Autumn 2000 – Winter 2001): 34–39.
- "PEN World Voices Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Nawal El Saadawi", YouTube. 8 September 2009.
- "International Peace Bureau". www.ipb.org. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
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- "Exile and Resistance". Archived from the original on 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
- Nawal El Saadawi (2013), A Daughter of Isis: The Early Life of Nawal El Saadawi, Zed Books, ISBN 1848136404
- Nawal El Saadawi (1986), Memoirs from the Women's Prison, University of California Press, p. 64, ISBN 0520088883,
My eyes widened in astonishment. Even my maternal grandmother used to sing, although she was born to a Turkish mother and lived in my grandfather's house in the epoch when harems still existed.
- Koseli, Yusuf (2013). "A PSYCHOANALYTIC APPROACH TO THE NOVEL OF NAWAL EL SAADAWI TITLED MÜZEKKİRAT TABİBE" (PDF). The Journal of International Social Research. 6 (28). Retrieved 16 November 2014.
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- "Egyptian Women's Rights Activist Nawal El Saadawi: I Saw Hillary Clinton Handing Out U.S. Dollars In Tahrir Square So That People Would Vote For the Muslim Brotherhood", Memri TV, 30 September 2018.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Nawal El Saadawi|
- Nawal El Saadawi's website at archive.org
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- Nawal El Saadawi page at Zed Books page
- Interview by Shiva of Avaye Zan (Women’s Voice), London, November 1997
- Nawal El Saadawi speaks to Forward Magazine, August 2007
- Adele S. Newson-Horst, Article Excerpt: "Conversations with Nawal el Saadawi", World Literature Today, 1 January 2008
- An interview with Egypt's dissident writer Nawal El Saadawi, 16 June 2009
- Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Nawal El Saadawi on YouTube, 8 September 2009
- Khaleeli, Homa, "Nawal El Saadawi: Egypt's radical feminist", The Guardian, 15 April 2010
- El Saadawi: "Women and Girls are Beside Boys in the Egyptian Streets" - Democracy Now! video interview
- Natalie Bennett, "Meet Egypt's most radical woman", The Guardian, 6 March 2009
- Allston Mitchell, Interview with Nawal El Saadawi in www.theglobaldispatches.com, 16 May 2010
- Interview with Nawal El Saadawi on www.freedomfromtorture.org
- Hua Wang, "Talking Leadership with Nawal El Saadawi", Ms. JD, 6 April 2011