Sticks and stones are thrown at only fruit-bearing trees
It’s a fact that “Nawal ElSadawi” imprinted her name in the feminism movement in the Arab region and around the globe. She spent her entire life struggling for women rights, through her literary output that reaches 56 books, she have challenged the status quo of patriarchal, religious and capitalist power structures.
We are dedicating this article to the leading feminist, sociologist, novelist and medical doctor “ElSaadawi”, after the systematic psychological assassination to her, especially regarding her latest statements about Egyptian laws, those are oppressing women.
“When you are intelligent and beautiful you face a lot of problems. If you are beautiful and stupid then it’s easy.”
Her Early life.. Rebellious since youth
She was born in 1931,in “Kar Talha” to a socially complicated family, as she describes her background, comprising of 9 children, to a father who was a poor peasant, while her mother was a well- educated woman from the bourgeois middle class, having French as her first language after her native, encouraging her daughter to study despite “mutilating her genitals” at the bathroom of her family house; a scene which she translated in her book 1975, “women at zero”, associating how FGM can lead a woman to be emotionally-detached, having fears haunting her for life, as she declared in her guardian article.
“ElSaadawi” was keen on education, always being the top of her class, unlike her pampered and spoiled elder brother, whose failure led him to beat his younger successful sister, out of inferior complex issues, yet she could not react to his abuse except by mentioning in her aftermath quotes “that she used to ponder the birds in the sky, envying them for the gift of freedom, wishing she had been born a bird, not a girl”, referring to how our societies regard women inferior to men, devoid of any rights.
In 1955, she graduated from the Faculty of medicine, Cairo University majoring in Psychiatry, and she came back to her home town working as a doctor, becoming increasingly prominent for that role, until she became promoted to be the general director for public health education in 1963; however, her political struggles and strong cultural opposition led her to her being stripped off her position for six times.
She has tackled a range of controversial topics such as female genital mutilation, violence against women, and religious fundamentalism and explored these complex issues through both fiction and no fiction writings.
Alongside her writings and monthly seminars, she works as a psychiatrist at her home, floor 26, only blocks away from the “Tahrir Square”, by which she states that she has no fixed rate, and she charges her patients based on their monthly income.
“If you are creative, you must be dissident.”
A life of Imprisonments and Diaspora
“ElSaadawi” is known to view the world from the Marx prism, regarding her rebellious character, and the belief in the western imperialism. Therefore, during the reign of ElSadaat, she was arrested staying for 3 months in prison, sharing a small cell with 12 women, proudly writing her memories with an eye pencil on a toilet paper, until she was released after Sadat’s death.
However, when Mubarak came to reign, she faced another type of emotional imprisonment especially that she sued the government for the poor treatment she received in her imprisonment for no apparent crime to commit, and for being under conditions by which animals could not even withstand. Luckily, she won the case and won ‘millions of thousands which she never saw”. It was the execution of the jurisdiction that was halted.
After her act of courage, she acted as a threat to the regime, so her writings were banned, censured and books unpublished, in strong reminisce to the brutal psychological assassination, which her fellow feminist “Dr. Dorria Shafiq” faced as well during the Nasser era.
As a reflex action to this, she started her bitter Diaspora in US, with her third husband, teaching in many universities of the western world, only returning to her mainland in 1996 after the flames of her fire cooled. Then in 2004 she declared that she will run for presidency against Mubarak, mostly just to make a point as a woman, but she was forced to stand down after she received threats.
“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.”
Among the protesters who swarmed the streets
As one of Egypt’s most defiant left-wing voices, and as someone who firmly opposed President Hosni Mubarak, “ElSaadawi” went out and protested in Tahir Square back in 2011.
In one of her interviews, she said “The Egyptian revolution’s slogans were “dignity, equality and justice.” Women participated equally with men. I was in Tahrir Square every day, although I didn’t sleep there like the men. The men are still sleeping there to protect against counter-revolution. On the day when Mubarak sent in his “thugs”, riding camels and horses, wielding whips and swords, I was almost knocked down by a horse. Young men carried me away. Hundreds of women and men were arrested and killed before Mubarak resigned, leaving the military in control.”
The revolution inspired “ElSaadawi” to the extent that she said “I am reborn, I had dreamed about it, since I was 10 years old—for 70 years.”
“I’ve participated in many demonstrations since I was a child. When I was at medical college, I was fighting King Farouk, then British colonization, against Nasser, against Sadat who pushed me into prison, Mubarak who pushed me into exile. I never stopped.”
Her school of thought: Rejection of a Man’s control in marriage
“ElSaadawi” is known to glamorize single women, which led her to her divorce from her three husbands. She describes the three of them, to be typical examples of any Eastern men; either promiscuous, or domineering, still refusing the idea of women’s emotional independence or superiority.
Also, she strongly opposes the fact that men are allowed to have free premarital and extramarital affairs, while women “face honor killing in Upper Egypt with reports stating that 30% of the girls are born without hymens.”
“The family code in Egypt is one of the worst family codes in the Arab world. The husband is having absolute power over the family.”
Breaking the Shackles of Authority
As a normal outcome of her rejection to slavery, she refuses any woman to be submissive to any sort of authority whether societal such as the governmental authority, or the cultural norms nor the religious authorities of the “Imams”. She states explicitly that religion is not something that is ineffable and that it is liable to mental inquiry and investigation as all other life matters; a fact which led her to be targeted by Islamic fundamentalists. In one of her interviews, she said “I’m not an atheist because although I am outside of religion, I don’t believe in them or not believe in them, I look to them as a social phenomenon like medicine.”
She recalls, that upon her return from her exile in 1996. Most of the professors “were in veil”, a fact which Egypt had never witnessed with such flooding-intensity at earlier ages, describing it as “a brainwash” from the sources of fundamentalism who strive to “banish one’s own brains in replacement for their ignorant theirs”
“When you have increasing power of religious groups, oppression of women increases. Women are oppressed in all religions.”
Virginity cannot be surely identified and is bigotry
For “ElSaadawi”, she refuses those violating practices against women, such as the female genital mutilation, and she is credited to be the first female to tackle such an African-only epidemic, in her numerous books, such as ‘women and sex’ 1972, “’women at zero” 1973, and “the hidden face of Eve” 1977, by which she explained in the former how parents used to prohibit girls from playing sports to “secure their daughters’ virginity, explaining in details from a physician perspective, how the fact that having a hymen or does not, never acts as a credible representation of whether the girl is virgin or not because “some girls are born without hymens”, and even “some married women are still having their hymens, though having had sexual intercourse”.
She states in her book, that a man came to her clinic once, asking to remove his wife’s hymen, and another father pledged for a certificate of his daughter’s virginity, because she lost her hymen during playing sports, despite that, the latter was never touched and the former had husbandry intercourse.
Furthermore, “ElSaadawi” states that the virginity concept is bigotry because women have to be examined to be “virgins on their wedding days as their hymens are their own matter of pride”, while men easily flee “with any sexual relationships”.
A woman should be judged by her “brains” not her outlook
One of the strong convictions of “ElSaadawi”, which matches the theme of our magazine, is that a woman is always taught since youth and through media, to take good care of her outer appearance, neglecting any effort geared at flourishing her own brains.
Therefore, “ElSaadawi” personally, never bleaches her hair nor wears high heels and doesn’t put on make-up, living herself to grow naturally as men in societies are privileged to be; exactly practicing what she preaches, encouraging other girls to invest in their minds and intellects rather than follow “what the global culture implies”.
“Whenever I go to New York or any European country, they say: ‘Nawal, why don’t you get a facelift?’ I tell them, ‘I am proud of my wrinkles. Every wrinkle on my face tells the story of my life. Why should I hide my age?”
Are Western Women Free as they Export in their Media?
When she was asked about such an issue from the guardian writer, she exclaimed with a fierce tone “NO”! because “if a woman covers up herself out of fear from the man in the East, she uncovers her body in the west to attract men; in both cases, it is slavery to the man; therefore, the “burka” and “the bikini” both are forms of oppression and suppression.
Furthermore, she states that she had inner circles from feminists in America, and she had witnessed how “they were suppressed from their husbands at their homes”, mentioning that only by a woman’s will and education, she will reach her true freedom, not the need to please people neither to satisfy men as a sort of validation, as happens in the west, but “unlike what they ostentatiously export to the eastern world”.
“I am very much against makeup and high heels and all that we inherit as ‘beauty.”
A feminist under bullets of fire
“ElSaadawi” was nominated to win the Nobel award prize for producing more than 55 books in English and Arabic and pioneering in the FGM-combat.
Before and after the Egyptian revolution in 2011, young women and men worked hard to organize what they call today, the “Nawal ElSaadawi Forum”, which comprises monthly seminars where her books are discussed in detail.
She is having a wide audience of youth attending her seminars and believing in her thought, a matter which encouraged her to establish the institute for thought and freedom in August 2016.
However, the recent growing number of supporters and the spread of her thoughts at unprecedented rates especially her recent calls of “abandoning polygamy” and “institutionalizing prostitution”, revived the wave of hatred against her asking to stop her activities and imprison her, “if not kill her in cold blood for being anti-religions”, as Islamic fundamentalists claim?!
She is one of the Arab world’s most per-eminent figures, she is “a hero” in eyes of her supporters all over the world, and heroes are always those brave ones who break the shackles and never conform to the general norm.
“Everybody has to die, Firdaus. I will die, and you will die. The important thing is how to live until you die.”