Dr Nawal El Saadawi: talks to Pat Lancaster.

Author:Lancaster, Pat
Position:Face to face - Interview


DESPITE THE FACT THAT SHE IS IN HER 80s AND THAT she was nursing a damaged elbow following a fall, Dr Nawal El Saadawi had to be in Tahrir Square when revolutionary fervour erupted on the streets of Cairo earlier this year.

"Any physical pain or exhaustion vanished," she recalls with a broad smile, "The power of millions could not be quashed. I felt as if Tahrir Square was my real home, the only place I wanted to be. We were living and sleeping in tents--men and women, we became comrades--a family."

Clearly being part of the revolution was among Saadawi's proudest hours. And little wonder, she has nothing to thank the previous two Egyptian presidents for and even the one before that (Gamal Abdul Nasser) was, she says, "a dictator but at least he didn't do it for personal gain, he died a poor man."

Such distinctions are important to Nawal El Saadawi, whose international fame has been won at considerable personal cost. She is critical of religious fundamentalists--of all denominations -politicians and the greedy who make their fortunes off the backs of others. "Why are people so greedy?" she asks me with what seems like genuine bewilderment, "Why do some people never seem to have enough?"

Her outspokenness in favour of women, children and the oppressed caused her to lose her job in the Egyptian Ministry of Health where she was director general of public health in the 1970s. In the early 1980s she was thrown into prison and charged with crimes against the state for airing her beliefs, where she used the opportunity to write her novel, Memoirs from a Women's Prison.

In the early 1990s she was forced to flee to the US after receiving death threats from religious extremists, and the early years of this century found her teaching in Atlanta, Georgia, after her play, God resigns at the Summit Meeting, in which God is questioned by Muslim, Jewish and Christian prophets before deciding to quit, caused such a stir the Egyptian authorities threatened to strip her of her nationality and to arrest her should she return to her homeland.

Eventually, three years ago, she won her case and was swiftly back on a plane to Cairo.

Speaking of the events of January 2011, she says she felt something was about to erupt in Cairo. "There is a group of people who visit me at my home on the first Wednesday of every month. We have a sort of forum where we discuss novels, book and ideas. As our discussions took shape over the months, I saw patterns...

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