Nawal El Saadawi

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Nawal El Saadawi
نوال السعداوى
Nawal El Saadawi 02.JPG
Nawal El Saadawi
Born (1931-10-27) October 27, 1931 (age 83)
Kafr Tahla, Egypt
Occupation Physician, psychiatrist, author, feminist
Spouse(s) Sherif Hatata (1964-present)
Children 2

Nawal El Saadawi (Arabic: نوال السعداوى‎, born October 27, 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 is founder and president of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association [1][2] and co-founder of the Arab Association for Human Rights.[3] She has been awarded honorary degrees on three continents. In 2004, she won the North-South prize from the Council of Europe. In 2005, the Inana International Prize in Belgium.[4]

Nawal el Saadawi has held 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 Medical Association, Cairo, Egypt, and Medical Doctor, University Hospital and Ministry of Health. She is the founder of Health Education Association and the Egyptian Women Writer’s Association; she was Chief Editor of Health Magazine in Cairo, Egypt and Editor of Medical Association Magazine.[5][6]

Early life[edit]

Saadawi was born in the small village of Kafr Tahla, the second eldest of nine children. 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 her 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.[7]

Adulthood and career[edit]

Saadawi graduated as a medical doctor in 1955 from Cairo University. That year she married Ahmed Helmi, who she met as a fellow student in medical school. The marriage ended two years later.[8][9] 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.[10]

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 Public Health and met her third husband, Sherif Hetata, while sharing an office in the Ministry of Health. Hetata, 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.[7] In 1972 she published Al-Mar'a wa Al-Jins (Woman and Sex), confronting and contextualising various aggressions perpetrated against women's bodies, including female circumcision, which became a foundational text of second-wave feminism. As a consequence of the book as well as her political activities, Saadawi was dismissed from her position at the Ministry of Health.[10] Similar pressures cost her a later position as chief editor of a health journal and as Assistant General Secretary in the Medical Association in Egypt. From 1973 to 1976 she worked on researching women and neurosis in the 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 Middle East (ECWA).

Long viewed as controversial and dangerous by the Egyptian government, in 1981 Saadawi helped publish a feminist magazine, Confrontation, and was imprisoned in September by President Anwar al-Sadat.[11] She was released later that year, one month after his 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."[12]

Saadawi was one of the women held at Qanatir Women's Prison. Her incarceration formed the basis for her memoir, Mudhakkirâtî fî sijn an-nisâʾ (Memoirs from the Women's Prison, 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 Imraʾah ʿinda nuqṭat aṣ-ṣifr (A Woman at Point Zero, 1975).

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 the University of Washington in Seattle. 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.[13] Nawal thus speaks fluent English in addition to her native Arabic.

She 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 awarded the 2004 North-South Prize by the Council of Europe.[14]

She was among the protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011.[15] She has called for the abolition of religious instruction in the Egyptian schools.


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 into over 20 languages.

In 1972, she published her first work of non-fiction, Women and Sex, which evoked the antagonism of highly placed political and theological authorities and led to a 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[16] and Woman at Point Zero.

Saadawi's novel Zeina was published in Lebanon in 2009. The French translation was published under the pseudonym Nawal Zeinab el Sayed, using Saadawi's mother's maiden name.[17]

Nawal has said that elements of the Hajj, such as kissing the Black Stone, had pre-Islamic pagan roots.[18]


Advocacy against genital mutilation[edit]

At a young age, Saadawi underwent the process of female genital mutilation.[19] 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."[20] 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.[21]


Saadawi has expressed the view that women are oppressed by the large patriarchal religions.[22] In a 2014 interview Saadawi said that "the root of the oppression of women lies in the global post-modern capitalist system, which is supported by religious fundamentalism".[23]


Saadawi describes the Islamic veil as "a tool of oppression of women"[24] and supports legislation against Muslim women wearing veils in public.[9][25] She is equally critical about the objectification of women and female bodies in patriarchal social structures common in Europe and the US.[26]

United States[edit]

In a 2002 lecture at the University of California, Saadawi described the US-led war on Afghanistan as "a war to exploit the oil in the region", and US foreign policy and its support of Israel as "real terrorism".[27] Saadawi has opined that Egyptians are forced into poverty by US aid.[28]

Awards and honors[edit]


Saadawi has written prolifically, placing some of her works online.[31] Her works include:

  • 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 under the title 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; transl. by Sherif Hetata, 1980)
  • The Circling Song (1978; transl. by Marilyn Booth, 1989)
  • Death of an Ex-Minister (1980; transl. by Shirley Eber, 1987)
  • She Has No Place in Paradise (1979; transl. by Shirley Eber)
  • Two Women in One (1983; transl. by Osman Nusairi and Jana Gough, 1985)
  • The Fall of the Imam (1987; transl. by Sherif Hetata, 1988)
  • Memoirs from the Women's Prison (1984; transl. by Marilyn Booth, 1994)
  • The Innocence of the Devil (1994; transl. 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; transl. 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, Editrice il Sirente, Fagnano Alto, 2009. ISBN 978-88-87847-16-1

PUBLICATION HISTORY: The following is a complete list of her written works.[32] All originals in Arabic. Many have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and other 30 languages.

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 (Dar El Hilal Publishers Cairo 2004)
  • Zeina, Novel (Dar Al Saqi Beirut, 2009)


  • 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 other four plays included in her Collected Works (45 books in Arabic) published by Madbouli in Cairo 2007


  • 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)

BOOKS (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)


  • The Hidden Face of Eve [Study] (London: Zed Books, 1980), re issued 2008
  • Woman at Point Zero [novel] (London: Zed Books, 1982), re issued 2008
  • God Dies by the Nile [novel] (London: Zed Books, 1984) reissued 2008
  • Circling Song [novel] (London: Zed Books, 1986) reissued 2008
  • The Fall of Imam [novel] (London: Methuen, 1987) Saqui Books London 2001 , 2009
  • Searching [novel] (London: Zed Books, 1988) reissued 2008
  • Death of an Ex-minister [short stories] (London: Methuen, 1987)
  • She has no Place in Paradise [short stories] (London: Methuen, 1987)
  • My Travel Around the World [non-fiction] (London: Methuen, 1985)
  • Memoirs from the Women’s Prison [non-fiction] (London: Women’s Press, 1985) (also: University of California Press, USA, 1995)
  • Two Women in One [novel] (London: Al-Saqi Books, 1992)
  • Memoirs of a Women Doctor [novel] (London: Methuen, 1994) (also: City Lights, USA, 1993)
  • The Well of Life [two novels] (London: Methuen, 1994)
  • The Innocence of the Devil [novel] (London: Methuen, 1994) (also: University of California Press, 1995)
  • Nawal El Saadawi Reader [non-fiction 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
  • Love in the Kingdom of oil [novel] (London: Alsaqui Books, 2001)
  • The Novel [novel] (Northampton, Mass: Interlink Books, 2009)
  • Zeina [novel] (London: Saqi Books, 2011)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hitchcock, Peter, Nawal el Saadawi, Sherif Hetata. “Living the Struggle.” Transition 61 (1993): 170-179.
  2. ^ "業者を使って良かったことと悪かったこと". Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "PEN World Voices Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Nawal El Saadawi."
  5. ^ "Nawal El Saadawi". Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  6. ^ "Nawal El Saadawi". Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  7. ^ a b Exile and Resistance
  8. ^ "A PSYCHOANALYTIC APPROACH TO THE NOVEL OF NAWAL EL SAADAWI TITLED MÜZEKKİRAT TABİBE" (PDF). The Journal of International Social Research 6 (28). 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Khaleeli, Homa. "Nawal El Saadawi: Egypt's radical feminist". Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Feminism in a nationalist century
  11. ^ Uglow, Jennifer S.; Hendry, Maggy (1999). The Northeastern Dictionary of Women's Biography. Northeastern University Press. pp. 189–190. ISBN 9781555534219. 
  12. ^ Egypt's face of courage at the Wayback Machine (archived October 30, 2004)
  13. ^ Nawal El Saadawi in conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
  14. ^ The North South Prize of the Council of Europe
  15. ^ The Feminists in the Middle of Tahrir Square Newsweek, March 6, 2011
  16. ^ The Fall of the Imam by Nawal El Saadawi
  17. ^ "Radical writer back with vengeance". September 7, 2009. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  18. ^ No compromise
  19. ^ Nawal el-Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve, Part 1: The Mutilated Half.
  20. ^ Egypt Officials Ban Female Circumcision
  21. ^ "Nawal al Saadawi « The Global Dispatches". Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  22. ^ "Interview: In conversation with … Nawal El Saadawi". Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  23. ^ Fariborz, Arian. Retrieved 16 November 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Bhaduri, Aditi. "Interview: Dr. Nawal El Saadawi". Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  25. ^ Mitchell, Allston. "Nawal al Saadawi". Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  26. ^ El Saadawi, Nawal. "The Nawal El Saadawi Reader". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  27. ^ Pasquini, Elaine. "El Saadawi Calls U.S. Foreign Policy "Real Terrorism"". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  28. ^ Nielsen, Nikolaj. "Nawal El Saadawi: "I am against stability. We need revolution."". 
  29. ^ "Motvillig El Saadawi får Dagermanpriset". SvD (in Swedish). January 9, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Lydnad är ett dödligt gift". Kultur (in Swedish). May 15, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  31. ^ Works available online at Saadawi's website.
  32. ^ " myAfrica - People". Retrieved 2014-02-12. 

External links[edit]