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SA’DAWI, NAWAL AL- (born 27 October 1931), leading feminist of the Arab world. Al-Sa’dawi evokes more passion and controversy than any other Arab writer, male or female, inside or outside of the Middle East. At various times, she has been subject to governmental harassment and arrest, or, conversely, the recipient of special protective measures. Her diverse career as a writer, feminist activist, and physician has brought her international fame as well as political adversity in her native country of Egypt.

Born in 1931 in the village of Kafr Tahlah in the Egyptian Delta, al-Sa’dawi studied medicine in Cairo. As a physician she has practiced in the areas of public health, thoracic medicine, and psychiatry. In 1982, she founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association (AWSA), with its official organ, Nun, devoted to women’s issues and feminist politics. She was appointed Egypt’s minister of health in 1958, but was dismissed from that post in 1972 because of her frank writings on the sexuality of Arab women. In 1981, when the regime of President Anwar el-Sadat imprisoned numerous intellectuals of different political persuasions, al-Sa’dawi found herself sharing prison accommodations with both leftists and Islamists. More recently, her name has appeared on a death list drawn up by Islamic opposition groups. The assassination of the secularist Faraj Fawdah in 1992 sent shock waves through the Egyptian secular intellectual community and prompted government protection of intellectuals, al-Sa’dawi among them. That same year, she lost a court case contesting the governmental closing of AWSA and the diversion of its funds to the Association of the Women of Islam. Nun had been shut down a few months earlier, thus censoring an important source of feminist theory and criticism.

These political setbacks have not kept al-Sa’dawi from indulging in her favorite activity: writing. The life of the pen has always had a greater attraction for the feminist physician than the life of the scalpel. Her extensive literary corpus covers a wide range of prose genres: novels, short stories, drama, travel and prison memoirs, and programmatic works. She wrote her first novel, Mudhakkirat tiflah ismuhd Su’ad (Memoirs of a Girl Called Su’ad), at the age of thirteen. Her most recent novel, Al-hubb ft zaman al-naft (Love in the Time of Oil, 1993) like all her writings, reflects her deep commitment to exposing gender inequality and the hardships endured by Arab women. Al-Sa’dawi tackles difficult subjects with a frankness few Arab writers display, forcefully illuminating sexuality, gender roles, and male/ female relations in Arab society in a straightforward, accessible prose. Much in her fiction revolves around the body, and powerful physical images permeate her writings.

Al-Sa’dawi has gained an international readership and is perhaps the most visible of modern Arabic writers. The Hidden Face of Eve is a classic in the West. Her popularity in the West has meant that many of her works have been translated into several European languages, and her novels have received a number of international awards. Consequently, she has been accused by some of writing for a Western audience. But anyone familiar with al-Sa’daw-i’s writings recognizes that they only make sense within an Arab-Islamic cultural context. Her plots, her linguistic games, her literary allusions, her religious-legal intertextual references are part and parcel of what makes Nawal al-Sa’dawi a powerful Arab-and Arabic-writer.

Saadawi began writing early in her career. Her earliest writings include a selection of short stories entitled I Learned Love (1957) and her first novel, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1958). She has since written numerous novels and short stories and a personal memoir, Memoir from the Women’s Prison (1986). Saadawi has been published in a number of anthologies, and her work has been translated from the original Arabic into more than 30 languages,[20] including English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, Urdu and others.

In 1972, she published her first work of non-fiction, Women and Sex, which evoked the antagonism of highly placed political and theological authorities. It also led to her dismissal at the Ministry of Health. Other works include The Hidden Face of Eve, God Dies by the Nile, The Circling Song, Searching, The Fall of the Imam and Woman at Point Zero.

She contributed the piece “When a woman rebels” to the 1984 anthology Sisterhood Is Global, edited by Robin Morgan.

Saadawi’s novel Zeina was published in Lebanon in 2009. The French translation was published under the pseudonym Nawal Zeinab el Sayed, using her mother’s maiden name.

She sees the question of translation into English or French as “a big problem” linked to the fact that

“the colonial capitalist powers are mainly English- or French-speaking…. I am still ignored by big literary powers in the world, because I write in Arabic, and also because I am critical of the colonial, capitalist, racist, patriarchal mind set of the super-powers.”


In a 2002 lecture at the University of California, Saadawi described the US-led war on Afghanistan as “a war to exploit the oil in the region”, and US foreign policy and its support of Israel as “real terrorism”.Saadawi has opined that Egyptians are forced into poverty by US aid.


Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. Woman’s Body, Woman’s Word: Gender and Discourse in Arabo-Islamic Writing. Princeton, 1991. Discusses alSa’dawi’s fiction and sets it in the broader context of corporality and Arabo-Islamic prose, classical and modern.

Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. Men, Women, and God(s): Nawal El Sadawi Writes Arab Feminism. Berkeley, 1995. In-depth analysis of al-Sa’dawi’s literary writings.

Sa`dawi, Nawal al-. The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World. Translated by Sherif Hetata. London, 1980. Classic work on the status of women and Arab feminism; originally published in Arabic as Al-Wajh al-`Ari lil-Mar’ah al-`Arabiyah.

Tarabishi, Jurj. Woman against Her Sex: A Critique of Nawal elSaadawi. Translated by Basil Hatim and Elisabeth Orsini. London, 1988. Translation of a psychoanalytic work very critical of alSa’dawi’s positions, which appeared in Arabic under the title Untha didda al-Unuthah. Al-Sa’dawi appended a response to the English translation.

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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/sadawi-nawal-al/

  • writerPosted On: July 21, 2017
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