Feminists worldwide mourn Egyptian trailblazer Nawal El Saadawi

by Menna A. Farouk | @MennaFarouk91 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 22 March 2021 18:42 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Nawal El Saadawi is seen during a trip to London, May 21, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Emma Batha

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Writers, politicians and feminists pay tribute to pioneering activist who died in Cairo aged 89

By Menna A. Farouk

CAIRO, March 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Writers, politicians and feminists united on Monday to pay tribute to pioneering Egyptian activist Nawal El Saadawi following her death aged 89, vowing her work would live on through the generations she inspired in the Middle East and beyond.

In Egypt, supporters said they would commemorate her with an institute and a prize named after her, while popular actress Boshra Ahmed said she was looking for a production company to make a movie about the trailblazer's colourful life.

Born in 1931, El Saadawi trained as a doctor after rejecting a child marriage.

The author of more than 50 books, she smashed taboos from sexuality and prostitution to female genital mutilation (FGM) - a practice she suffered as a child.

Her writing and political activism made her many enemies over the decades, upsetting governments, religious authorities and hardline groups alike. She told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2018 she had received countless death threats.

El Saadawi was jailed in 1981 after criticising President Anwar Sadat and spent nearly two decades in exile during President Hosni Mubarak's rule.

A tweet posted on her official Twitter account after her death was announced said: "I will die, and you will die. The important thing is how to live until you die."

Bestselling Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak, U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Egyptian-American feminist Mona Eltahawy were among those who paid tribute to El Saadawi, who died in Cairo on Sunday.

"Such a sad loss for our region, our world. Rest in peace, rest in power, sisterhood and books...," tweeted Shafak.

El Saadawi's business manager Omar Ahmed said a fundraising campaign was under way to establish an official institute in her name to raise awareness of women's rights.

"It is only El Saadawi's body that died, but her thoughts and views will last for ever," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said previous attempts to get official recognition for an initiative called the "Nawal El Saadawi Institute for Thought and Creativity" were scuppered because of the writer's outspoken views on religion.

Ahmed said a memorial service would be held in Cairo on Wednesday.

The Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, an Egyptian human rights organisation, said it would create a yearly award in El Saadawi's name worth 1,000 euros ($1,190).

The activist, who remained a firebrand until her death, attracted a large following among young people across the Middle East and beyond.

In recent years, she called for women to take their mother's family name, rather than their father's name, and railed against inheritance laws that favour sons over daughters.

She also continued to speak out on FGM. Although Egypt outlawed the practice in 2008, El Saadawi said the government was too scared of Islamic groups to take robust action.

Prominent British anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali said El Saadawi had strengthened her own work against FGM.

"#NawalElSaadawi saved my life when I was 13. In her writing I found my voice and faith in the belief that #FGM was wrong, not me," she tweeted. "Her death is a loss to us all."

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency for HIV and AIDS, also hailed El Saadawi's influence on feminists in the global south.

"You inspired our generation of Southern feminists. You gave us courage and language to challenge oppression & subordination of women & claim equality ... You changed us. You changed the world," she said on Twitter.

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(Additional reporting and writing by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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