The Arab world’s most prominent feminist has lost none of her fire. Jailed by late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Nawal El Saadawi was forced into exile under Hosni Mubarak. Now, almost a year since the revolution that toppled Mubarak, Saadawi is back in Egypt. And she believes in her country, and its future. She spoke to me in Cairo, going back and forth between English and Arabic.
Q: What role did women play in the revolution last spring?
El Saadawi: All revolutions in history have obstacles. There is not a revolution that succe Women were everywhere in the revolution. Women participated in it, and many women were killed. Then we had the right to speak up and gain some more rights, but what happened was there was a backlash. Why? Because we have the Salafists, Muslim Brothers, religious groups.
Q: What do you mean by Salafists and the religious groups?
El Saadawi: All revolutions in history have obstacles. There is not a revolution that succe Saudi Arabia paid $7 billion for the Salafists to come, and the United States and Israel are pouring a lot of money into Egypt. Why? To divide the country by religion. You know, I’ve lived here among Christians and Muslims, and we never had a conflict. Now you have a conflict between Christians and Muslims and Baha’is and Sunni and Shia. The Salafists are trying to abort the revolution and make it religious, though the revolution started secular. There was not a single Islamic slogan. It was secular men and women, and in fact, they were unified. Now they want to divide the revolution, and religion is a very strong weapon.
Q:: How does this affect women?
El Saadawi: All revolutions in history have obstacles. There is not a revolution that succe Women are suffering because they are being excluded. The high military council excluded women from the committee to change the constitution. We cannot be liberated as women in a society built on class oppression or gender oppression or religious oppression.
Q: Since the revolution, there have been a number of occasions when women have tried to push women’s issues but some male activists have said we don’t want women’s rights because it is inherently discriminatory and a single issue. What are your thoughts on this?
El Saadawi: All revolutions in history have obstacles. There is not a revolution that succe This is ignorance. Women are half the society. You cannot have a revolution without women. You cannot have democracy without women. You cannot have equality without women. You can’t have anything without women. You cannot have dignity. The slogan of the revolution was dignity, social justice, and freedom. You cannot have dignity or social justice or freedom without women.
Q: How do you feel about the future of Egypt in the post-revolution atmosphere?
El Saadawi: All revolutions in history have obstacles. There is not a revolution that succeeded in a few months. It takes years, even decades, to fulfill its goals. I am very hopeful because I trust the revolution and feel nobody can really conquer a nation that has decided to be united and to fight, and we decided to fight. The revolution is there, inside the Egyptians by the millions.
Joseph Mayton is a journalist and editor based in Cairo, where he has worked for the past eight years. He is also editor-in-chief of Bikyamasr.com.
This is just an excerpt from the interview with Nawal El Saadawi in the special Dec/Jan issue of The Progressive, "The Global Uprising." To read the interview in its entirety, and to read the whole issue, simply subscribe today for just $14.97--that's 75% off the newsstand price--by clicking here.