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Fundamentalism: An Old Friend and New Enemy, a Conversation with Egyptian Feminist and Author Nawal El Saadawi

StoryOctober 31, 2001
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Nawal El Saadawi was dismissed from her post as Director General of Health and Education in Cairo in 1972 for herpolitical activities. She has been unable to practice medicine in Egypt since. In 1972, she also lost her job in theEgyptian government, and the magazine she founded was closed down. She wrote "Memoirs from the Women’s Prison," aftershe was imprisoned by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat for alleged crimes against the State. She was released one monthafter his assassination in 1981. Because many of her works were banned in her native country, she had them publishedin neighboring Lebanon. The Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, which el Saadawi founded was closed down in 1991 foropposing Egypt’s role in the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War.

El Saadawi’s writings on feminism and Islamic fundamentalism have earned her many enemies. El Saadawi speaks openlyabout female genital circumcision, constantly criticizes religious fundamentalism, and calls for sexual equality inMuslim inheritance laws. Earlier this year, an Egyptian lawyer claimed that 70-year-old Saadawi had shown she was nolonger a Muslim in a March newspaper interview. He argued that she should not be allowed to remain married to herMuslim husband and filed a suit to forcibly divorce them. In July, a Cairo court threw out a petition, ruling that noindividual could petition a court to forcibly divorce another person.

In a lecture she gave several years ago called "Why keep asking me about my identity?" el Saadawi says:

"People asked me where I stood [on the issue of Israel and Palestine], did I identify with the angels, makers of thepeace, or with the devils, makers of war, the aggressors, the terrorists. I am not a terrorist, nor will I ever be.But I believe that without justice there can be no peace. The events in my region have proved that to me."

El Saadawi has long been critical of Islamic fundamentalism, and of how women’s movements are shut out of Islamicpolitical movements and state religion. She calls fundamentalism an "old friend and new enemy" that has infiltratedmany government administrations in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries.

Guest:

  • Nawal El Saadawi, leading Egyptian feminist, writer, and psychiatrist, author of ??The Hidden Face ofEve: Women in the Arab World and ??The Naked Face of the Arab Woman. She is currently distinguished visitingwriter at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

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