At 79, Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian cultural icon. The activist writer is one of the most respected feminists of her generation. Trained as a doctor, she worked as a psychiatrist and university lecturer while publishing almost 50 novels. Her outspoken nature has often cost her professionally and personally. Her 1972 book, Women and Sex, led to her losing her job in Egypt’s Ministry of health. Because of her willingness to be vocal about her political views, she served three months in jail, even fleeing to the US in 1993 when religious groups in her home country threatened to kill her.
With her hair in pigtails and a demin shirt, El Saadawi channels the youth of Egypt’s new generation of protestors, but the lines on her face give away the wisdom she holds.
Now, back in the country, she does not sugar coat the way the past decades have made her feel, saying:
“I am becoming more radical with age. I have noticed that writers, when they are old, become milder. But for me it is the opposite. Age makes me more angry.”
Her honesty catches many off guard but she makes no qualms about making others comfortable, she seeks instead to unnerve others in order to bring them to understanding. Recalling one such incident, she says:
“A young man came to me in Cairo with his new bride. He said, I want to introduce my wife to you and thank you. Your books have made me a better man. Because of them I wanted to marry not a slave, but a free woman…it’s all worth it. If I went back I would do it all again. That is what I have learned from my experiences, that I was on the right track.”
Looking at her, I think that is why even at 79, El Saadawi’s eyes gleam as bright as any child’s. She is eager and unafraid to walk into the future knowing why her past has led her here.
Today, be unapologetic about your beliefs, trusting that following them will keep you on the right path. Walk ahead with gleaming eyes, trusting why you have been led here.