Nawal el-Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist author, doctor, and activist. Often referred to as the “Egyptian Simone de Beauvoir”, Saadawi has seen British colonization, was imprisoned by Sadat, and was exiled by Mubarak. (It should be noted that while she was in prison, Saadawi wrote her memoirs on a roll of toilet paper… with an eyeliner pen.) Saadawi writes about patriarchal, class, and imperialist oppression as well as cultural and religious issues affecting women. At 80 years old, Saadawi participated in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, camping day and night in Tahrir Square.
I first heard Saadawi speak on the University of Kansas campus in Fall 2011, after having read her short novel “Woman at Point Zero”. The lecture she gave was on creativity and dissidence: she was clever, frank, and critical. It was the first time I’d thought critically about things like “feminism” and “colonialism” and phrases like “Middle East”, which Saadawi used as an example of lingering colonialism through “innocent” words and names.
Although our ideas and politics do not always align, her lecture stuck with me throughout the fall semester. Two years later as I started this research project, I remembered her lecture as my first experience thinking critically about “feminist” ideas. As I began approaching academics and feminist authors for an interview, I remembered something Saadawi said in her lecture: “You don’t need a PhD to rebel against any type of injustice.”
It was one thing, at least, we agreed upon. I decided to take a shot at contacting her, which I did through her website. The following are the answers she graciously provided to my questions.
What role did women play in the Egyptian Revolution and the historic events of Tahrir Square in 2011?
Egyptian women were part of all revolutions in Egypt since 25 January till today: they were killed and exposed to all types of aggression from external and internal powers, local government agencies, fanatic religious groups, and other male dominated powers. The struggle of Egypt’s women and progressive men goes on, and their effect will be felt in the near future.
Women are oppressed in all countries by this system and by all religions: not only Arab Muslim women. But the degree of oppression differs from one country to the other and from one class to the other according to the level of education and socioeconomic status. Nobody in the West or East can rescue oppressed women except themselves.
Do you think that feminists can be nationalists? Is there a contradiction between feminism and nationalism as political projects?
Women are half of the society, and women cannot be free in a country that is not free. So feminism and nationalism do not contradict each other if we understand them well. Women’s problems are political as well as national problems.
Why, despite the different meanings of gender around the world, as well as the changing nature of war, is war still primarily a masculine pursuit?
Media in the US and Europe portray Arab women as oppressed veiled things in need of rescuing by the West. This is part of the media war against the Arab countries, or the so called “Middle East”. This media war is part of the military and economic wars against this region perpetuated by the global- local colonial capitalist imperialist patriarchal system.
The wars have no gender or religion: they are colonial, economic, and political wars hidden under the mask of religion and perpetuated by the patriarchy.
28 Nov. 2013