Why did Nawal El-Saadawi cause all this controversy?

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Tue, 23 Mar 2021 - 03:32 GMT

Nawal El-Saadawi died aged 89 on March 21, 2021. (File/AFP)

Nawal El-Saadawi died aged 89 on March 21, 2021. (File/AFP)

CAIRO - 23 March 2020: After struggling with illness and after a life full of intellectual battles, Egyptian writer and doctor Nawal El-Saadawi passed away at the age of 90, leaving a great legacy of writings, and ideas that remain controversial even after her passing.

The news of the Egyptian writer did not pass without an intellectual, political, and religious discussion. It is above all an event related to the departure of a woman known for her bold attitudes, ideas rejecting inherited values, and her insistence on defending feminist issues.

Saadawi, who married and divorced three times, farewelled her fans, with a few words, on her personal Twitter account.

"I am a girl of God, and my thinking is free," this is the tweet published on the writer's account 12 hours before announcing her death as if she wanted to send a message to her critics before her departure that she was proud of herself and what she presented.

Saadawi's writings varied between medicine and intellectual studies in politics, religion, and gender; in addition, she related women's liberation to the political and cultural liberation of the homeland. Her writings shocked the country and made her prone to accusations of contempt of religion. Some Islamists have even filed a lawsuit demanding her divorce from her husband.

Some believe that the late writer's ideas contributed to the liberation of society. For many, she is a symbol and an icon of the feminist struggle. Saadawi fought a battle against female circumcision starting 1972 with the publication of her famous book, "Women and Sex," in which she recounted her experience with this issue and its impact on girls.

This book and other books of Saadawi turned into references for her readers in search for reminders of her efforts to "correct misconceptions about women and their bodies."

On the other hand, another group of reporters renewed their calls to ban her books and conversations because they "challenge the fundamentals of religion and the sanctity of the Qur’an," as they put it.

Others denied this, considering that her writings "called for critical thinking and the adoption of modern scientific methods and avoiding the traditional ways in dealing with the religious text."

Meanwhile, some brought up her positions that had aroused the public opinion against her, such as her call to legalize prostitution under government supervision, her criticism of hijab and her demand that it should be banned, claiming that it "does not express morals".  At the same time, Saadawi stressed repeatedly that she also rejects nudity as it objectifies women.

In a 2018 BBC interview, she said she is not afraid of death. As a doctor, she confirmed that "a person does not suffer anything if dead because all the senses stop."

Saadawi, who had two children, said: “I can describe my life as a life devoted to writing, although I am a doctor. In spite of all the obstacles, I kept writing.”

Menna Allah Al-Abyad revealed the late writer's unfinished diary project, saying: “She was preparing to write the fourth part of her diary “Papers from My Life.” She had previously published three parts, and was prevented from completing the fourth part due to illness. It was about her struggle with illness and her life.

She explained that Saadawi had a habit that she was keen on throughout her life, which is to allocate 6 hours to reading per day, but that habit stopped completely after suffering from vision problems.

The Egyptian writer Khattab El-Saadawi indicated that Saadawi had limitations in what she proposed in terms of books and writings, saying that she was against female relationships without marriage, noting she was asked this question before and she answered it by refusing this type of relationship.

He continues, "Saadawi used to recognize the necessity of maintaining a minimum of human values and considered the value system as a substitute for religious beliefs, but at the same time she never said that she came out of the Islamic religion."

The Egyptian writer concludes in his speech to Sky News Arabia, saying: "We agree and disagree with Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi, but in the end, she has a framework of values that she does not deviate from it, such as her talk about the value of honesty in her writings."

It seems that the controversy over Saadawi will not end, and the division over her legacy and ideas will continue.

 

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