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Author Highlight #2 - Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi (1931–2021) was an internationally renowned feminist writer and activist from Egypt. She founded and became president of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and co-founded the Arab Association for Human Rights. El Saadawi was a feminist whose writings and professional career were dedicated to political and sexual rights for women.

Colourful painting of an elder Nawal el Saadawi, only showing her head and shoulders, with shoulder long har, a red scarf and a blur collar shirt on. The background is of many different colours.
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El Saadawi was educated at Cairo University (M.D., 1955), Columbia University in New York (M.P.H., 1966), and ʿAyn Shams University in Cairo (where she performed psychiatric research in 1972–74). In 1955–65 she worked as a physician at Cairo University and in the Egyptian ministry of health, and in 1966 she became the director-general of the health education department within the ministry. In 1968 she founded Health magazine, which was shut down by Egyptian authorities several years later, and in 1972 she was expelled from her professional position in the ministry of health because of her book Al-Marʾah wa al-jins (1969; Women and Sex), which was condemned by religious and political authorities. She conducted research at ʿAyn Shams on Egyptian women suffering from neurosis; its case studies inspired her novel Amraʾah ʿind nuqṭah al-ṣifr (1975; Woman at Point Zero). Her nonfiction book Al-Wajh al-ʿarī lī al-marʾah al-ʿarabiyyah (1977; The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World) established her work internationally for its discussion of female genital cutting and commentary on the patriarchy of religious fundamentalism. El Saadawi was jailed in September 1981, and during the two months of her imprisonment she wrote Mudhakkirāt fī sijn al-nisāʾ (1984; Memoirs from the Women’s Prison) on a roll of toilet paper using a smuggled cosmetic pencil. In 1982 El Saadawi founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association (AWSA) and later served as editor of the organization’s publication, Al-Nūn. In 1991 the government closed down Al-Nūn and then, several months later, AWSA itself.

In 1993, 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,[35][36] as well as at the University of Washington. She later 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.

Nawal El Saadawi held the 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 the Medical Association, Cairo, Egypt, and medical doctor at the University Hospital and Ministry of Health. She was the founder of the Health Education Association and the Egyptian Women Writers' Association; she was Chief Editor of Health Magazine in Cairo, and Editor of Medical Association Magazine.

Among her numerous roles in public office she served as Egypt’s National Director of Public Health and stood as a candidate in the 2004 Egyptian presidential elections. El Saadawi held honorary doctorates from the universities of York, Illinois at Chicago, St Andrews and Tromso, and her numerous awards include the Council of Europe North-South Prize, the Women of the Year Award (UK), Sean MacBride Peace Prize (Ireland), and the National Order of Merit (France). She wrote over fifty novels, short stories and non-fiction works which centre on the status of Arab women, which have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Saadawi 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 among the protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011.

Her legacy lives on in the many books she has left behind for the world to learn from and enjoy.

You can read more about Nawal El Saadawi on the source links above. You can also find links below to some of her books on our website below.

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