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Nawal El Saadawi is an internationally renowned writer, novelist and fighter for women's rights both within Egypt and abroad.
Born in 1931, in a village outside Cairo, she wrote her first novel, Diary of a Child Called Souad, at the age of thirteen. Unusually, she and her brothers and sisters were educated together. After graduating from the University of Cairo Medical School in 1955, specializing in psychiatry, she practised as a medical doctor for two years.
From 1963 until 1972, Saadawi worked for the Egyptian government as Director General for Public Health Education. During this time, she studied at Columbia University in New York, where she received her Master's degree in Public Health in 1966. In 1972, however, she lost her job in the government as a result of political pressure. The magazine Health, which she founded and had edited for more than three years, was closed down.
From 1973 to 1978 Saadawi worked at the High Institute of Literature and Science. It was at this time that she began to write, in works of fiction and non-fiction, the books on the oppression of Arab women for which she has become famous. Her most renowned novel, Woman at Point Zero, was published in Beirut in 1973. It was followed in 1976 by God Dies by the Nile and in 1977 by her study of Arab women, The Hidden Face of Eve.
In 1981 Nawal El Saadawi publicly criticized the one-party rule of President Anwar Sadat, and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. She was released one month after Sadat's assassination. In 1982, she established the Arab Women's Solidarity Association, which was outlawed in 1991. For some years during the Mubarak regime, Saadawi lived in exile, teaching in universities in the USA and Europe, including Duke University and Washington State University. Saadawi returned to Egypt in 1996. In 2004 she presented herself as a candidate for the presidential elections in Egypt, with a platform of human rights, democracy and greater freedom for women. In July 2005, however, she was forced to withdraw her candidacy in the face of ongoing government persecution.
Nawal El Saadawi has achieved widespread international recognition for her work. She holds honorary doctorates from, among others, the universities of York, Illinois at Chicago, St Andrews and Tromso as well as Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Her many prizes and awards include the Premi Internacional Catalunya in 2003, the Council of Europe North–South Prize in 2004, the Women of the Year Award (UK) in 2011, the Sean MacBride Peace Prize (Ireland) in 2012, and the French National Order of Merit in 2013. Her books have been translated into over forty languages worldwide. They are taught in universities across the world.
“A tragic insight into a woman's oppression and downfall.” —Banipal
“El Saadawi has a flair for melodrama and mystery” —International Journal of Middle East Studies
“A powerful indictment of the treatment of women in many parts of the Middle East” —Labour Herald
“Woman at Point Zero should begin the long march towards a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of Arab women” —Middle East International
“Scorching” —New Internationalist
“Nawal el Saadawi writes with directness and passion, transforming the systematic brutalisation of peasants and of women in to powerful allegory” —New York Times Book Review
“A dramatic symbolised version of female revolt against the norms of the Arab world” —The Guardian
“It is a remarkable book. Painful, compulsive reading. I am sure some of you know all about it but for those who don't this short novel, or creative non-fiction as the author describes it, is the story of Fidraus, a prostitute about to be executed for murdering her pimp. Her life is recounted in a little over 100 pages but each one leaves an indelible mark. This is a tale of injustice, inequality and sheer bad luck to rival all those bloody misery memoirs that litter the supermarkets but it is written with such grace and skill as to be on a par with the finest literature of this or any era.
Leaves an indelible mark. This is a tale of injustice, inequality and sheer bad luck” —Scott Pack, The Friday Project