Nawal el-Saadawi Fought Passionately Against Female Genital Mutilation

Egyptian feminist and writer Nawal el-Saadawi, a leading voice on women’s rights in the Arab world who was detained for her views and had some of her works banned, has died aged 89.

Egypt’s Culture Minister Inas Abdel-Dayem mourned Saadawi’s passing, saying her writings had created a great intellectual movement.

Saadawi died in hospital in Cairo on Sunday and was buried at a funeral attended by relatives, her agent said.

Saadawi was born on Oct. 27, 1931, and graduated from Cairo University’s faculty of medicine.

In her autobiography “A Daughter of Isis”, she described growing up in a patriarchal culture where girls were subjected to abuses including child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

After being subjected to the procedure herself as a young girl, she became an early campaigner against FGM while working as a doctor in the 1950s and 1960s.

Later, she railed against religious authorities, Islamists and governments for their defence of conservative values and wrote dozens of books that addressed taboos including sexuality and prostitution.

A woman’s worldview 

“After travelling all over the world … I discovered that girls are brought up in a very similar way — we are all in the same boat. The patriarchal, religious, capitalist system is universal,” Saadawi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2018.

Saadawi’s views repeatedly landed her in trouble with the authorities in Egypt.

She was dismissed from the health ministry in the 1970s and jailed in 1981 after criticising President Anwar Sadat, shortly before his assassination. In the 1990s she spent a spell in exile after death threats from Islamist militants.

Many of her books, which include “Women and Sex” and “The Hidden Face of Eve”, were translated abroad.

But in Egypt, where she was often depicted by her conservative critics as a troublemaker advocating Western views, some of her works were denounced and pulled from circulation.

Because of her views, Saadawi faced several legal challenges, including accusations of apostasy from Islamists.

Saadawi was the founder and head of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and co-founder of the Arab Association for Human Rights.

In 2005, she was awarded the Inana International Prize in Belgium, a year after she received the North-South prize from the Council of Europe. In 2020, Time Magazine named her on their 100 Women of the Year list.

Saadawi married and divorced three times and is survived by two children, writer Mona Helmy and film director Atef Hatata.

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