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Legendary Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi dies aged 89 Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

Legendary Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi dies aged 89

Saadawi was a major advocate for the outlawing of FGM [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 March, 2021

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Saadawi was the Arabic-speaking world's most influential feminist.
Pioneering Egyptian feminist and author Nawal El Saadawi died on Sunday at the age of 89, according to local media reports.

Known as the "Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab World", the physician and psychiatrist was a prolific novelist and an influential voice in the fight for women's rights.

She was born in a village outside of the capital Cairo in 1931, where she wrote her first novel at the age of 13. 

Saadawi was an advocate against female genital mutilation (FGM) for much of her life, having undergone the brutal-but-commonplace practice at the age of six.

FGM was criminalised in Egypt in 2008 but continues to be widespread.


Her subversive feminist writing and activism saw her dismissed from a position at the health ministry, and later arrested as an opponent of then-President Anwar Sadat.

Even in prison, the prolific author never stopped writing, penning a memoir with eyeliner on toilet paper in the absence of a pen and paper.

After Sadat's assassination, Saadawi was released from prison but faced death threats and the ban of her books at home.

She relocated to the United States, where she held positions at prestigious universities including Harvard, Yale and Columbia.

Saadawi returned to Egypt in 1996, eventually participating in the 2011 uprisings against President Hosni Mubarak.

Her death on Sunday came after a long struggle with ill health, according to news reports.

Mourners online have recalled one of Saadawi's more famous utterances, from her novel "Woman at Point Zero".

"They said, 'You are a savage and dangerous woman'," Saadawi wrote.

"I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous."

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