top of page

Nawal el Saadawi: Egyptian Feminist Provocateur

Nawal El Saadawi is an earth shattering Egyptian Feminist that was born on October 27, 1931. Saadawi's crusade for the liberation of woman in Africa and the Middle East has earned her a great deal of fame.

In Saadawi's works, a timely discourse often assumes form concerning gender and social norms, which leads the reader to creative ways of subverting and redefining them.

Saadawi's 1975 novel Woman at Point Zero is more than a novel about a woman's recuperation of the body social and corporal; it also lays out a relationship between two woman from opposite social classes.

Saadawi's magnum opus, The Hidden Face of Eve, was first published in Arabic in 1997, with English translations later appearing in 1980. Saadawi's oeuvre, The Hidden Face of Eve, is a milestone that is an example of a successful cultural crossover.

The most essential works are often controversial, so most of her critics in the Arab world naively criticized her magnum opus, claiming that her portrayal of Arab woman reinforced stereotypes and prejudices about the Arab world (This is a common tactic that distracts from the issues in the Muslim world).

Saadawi also became a despised figure for the so-called 'Guardians of morality', thus suffering constant death threats and harassment. The beauty of all of Saadawi's work, but especially The Hidden Face of Eve, is manifest in the credibility and moral authority that stem from the rawness of Saadawi's personal experiences.

In every page of her oeuvre, the reader is put in the shoes of a woman living in Egyptian society, therefore, the reader is witnessing the aftermath of horrific and heinous practices and attitudes of societies in MENA first hand.

While reading The Hidden Fact of Eve, the reader is struck by its eerie, disturbing, heart rending and gruesomely graphic descriptions of sexual assault on young girls. Sadly, these heinous acts are often committed by male relatives.

Saadawi rightfully argues that this is the perverse consequence of a society in which all sexual activity is repressed outside of the confines of marriage. As a result of this oppressive patriarchal social system, men can get sexual gratification in this way without fear of persecution.

Saadawi's prescient observations are often criticized as "Islamophobic" — which is a term that often diminishes much needed reforms in the Muslim World.

The observations of Saadawi rightfully fault the confines of marriage as a gateway to patriarchy, since women are often mere objects to fulfill the mans desire, and are expected to do house work with obedience. These women live in social systems that do not encourage creativity and participation in the market what so ever.

Saadawi launches The Hidden Fact of Eve by vividly detailing the sexual abuse in which her and her sister suffered as children. It is a haunting beginning to an opus that the reader becomes intellectual and emotionally attached to as it progresses.

The power of the story and literary methods employed often illustrate Saadawi's deep affinity with the young girls in poor villages across Egypt who have suffered under an often vicious patriarchy. The men in this patriarchy are often products of their society, so they become misogynists and exploiters of woman.

Saadawi has made a fundamental claim throughout her career. Saadawi presciently and unequivocally postulates that a woman's ignorance is nurtured by her society, especially her ignorance of her own anatomy, which is equated with virtue.

Saadawi herself recalls her own ignorance, specifically when she, at the age of ten saw blood slowly trickling between her thighs. Saadawi, an innocent young girl, recalls her indoctrination that made her feel inferior to men.

There is a broader, more fundamental purpose of Saadawi implicating the society around her as patriarchal. In Saadawi's view, society an a more systemic level under Sharia law does not give a woman equal rights, and this is especially true because a testimony of two woman in court is equal to that of one man.

Saadawi's campaign against barbaric cruelty against woman has been relentless, and its a battle that is still in its infancy. Although female circumcision has been banned in many Muslim countries, they remain legal in others, including Egypt.

The literature chillingly suggests that more than 90% of woman in upper Egypt have been circumcised. This brutal act of female circumcision deprives the woman of pleasure and makes sex into a painful act instead of a beautiful and transcendent one.

Saadawi's timely descriptions of 'honor' killings are both erringly powerful and vitriolic, and it's a problem that haunts the MENA region, as the rates of these killings remain astronomically high, as they account for 23-30% of killings in countries like Jordan.

Saadawi tastefully inspires emotion, and her pen has fearlessly violated many sacred enclosures. Her criticism of oppressive social structures are seamlessly complemented with descriptive passages about her own suffering. Her eloquent works elevate the suffering and the status of women in the MENA region.


bottom of page