Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nawal El Saadawi: Egypt's radical feminist

"For me feminism includes everything," she says. "It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice . . . It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this."

79 year old Egyptian Writer Nawal El Saadawi continues to inspire and amaze:

Read the full article in the Guardian

El Saadawi already seems to have lived more lives than most. She trained as a doctor, then worked as a psychiatrist and university lecturer, and has published almost 50 novels, plays and collections of short stories. Her work, which tackles the problems women face in Egypt and across the world, has always attracted outrage, but she never seems to have balked at this; she has continued to address controversial issues such as prostitution, domestic violence and religious fundamentalism in her writing.

This has come at considerable cost. In 1972, her non-fiction book Women and Sex (which included criticism of female genital mutilation) led to her losing her job as director general of public health for the Egyptian ministry of health. In 1981, her outspoken political views led to her being charged with crimes against the state and jailed for three months – she used the time to write Memoirs From The Women's Prison on a roll of toilet paper, with an eyebrow pencil smuggled in by a fellow prisoner. In 1993 she fled to the US after death threats were issued against her by religious groups.

Her work continues to be explosive. Her play, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting – in which God is questioned by Jewish, Muslim and Christian prophets and finally quits – proved so controversial that, she says, her Arabic publishers destroyed it under police duress. And recently her criticism of religion, primarily on the basis that it oppresses women, has prompted a flurry of court cases, including unsuccessful legal attempts both to strip her of her nationality and to forcibly dissolve her marriage.

As El Saadawi prepares to talk about her life at a PEN literary festival on Friday, she is unrepentant. "It's all worth it," she assures me. "If I went back I would do it all again. That is what I have learned from my experiences, that I was on the right track." Her energy, she insists, comes from the 10 to 15 letters she receives every day from people who say their lives have been changed by her writing. "A young man came to me in Cairo with his new bride. He said, I want to introduce my wife to you and thank you. Your books have made me a better man. Because of them I wanted to marry not a slave, but a free woman."

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