I am very happy to be given the chance to honor Nawal El Saadawi who has been such an inspiration in my life.
When I left Beirut in the sixties to go study in the States at the age of 19, I didn’t know she would have such an impact on my life. I had left my country of birth Lebanon in order to escape the plight of my Arab sisters and to find out who I was, away from the imprisonment I had felt as an adolescent.
It was in the US that I discovered Simone de Beauvoir through a friend who compelled me to read her. She opened my eyes to the plight women face all over the world and provided many answers to the reasons I had left Lebanon to cross the ocean. It led me to commit my research and writing to women’s issues and more specifically to Arab women’s problems.
But it was Nawal el Saadawi in whom I found the strongest echo to my dilemmas and concerns. She was analyzing and writing about the deep problems women in my part of the world were facing. She was the outspoken, eloquent voice of resistance I needed. It helped me address and analyze what had troubled me so much that I had had to run away in order to discover other places where I felt I might gain freedom and a better understanding of myself.
I didn’t know it at the time, but when I started writing my first novel L’Excisée it was when Nawal was publishing her work Al Mar’ah wal Gins in which she denounced all the practices women suffered from: genital mutilation (which she was subjected to), polygamy, beating, lack of freedom of all kinds … She was dismissed from her job at the Ministry of Health because of her revolutionary ideas and her books were banned. She left Egypt for a while to come to Lebanon where she worked at UNRWA and had her books reprinted. They became best sellers throughout the Arab world.
I had started my career as a young professor at the University of Illinois and I included her books in my teaching. I discovered we had written about genital mutilation around the same time before knowing each others.
When I organized a conference on Gender and Third World Women at the University of Illinois as a young professor in the early eighties, I invited Naawal el Saadawi to be the keynote. She was just out of prison and in a lot of back pain but gladly accepted to come and talk to us. Her presence and the speech she gave added the touch needed to this outstanding event. Her amazing presence uplifted us all. Women coming from various horizons to hear about women’s struggle and how to overcome the insidiousness of patriarchy felt uplifted by a woman like Nawal who was overcoming so many odds yet stood up with courage, resistance and resiliency.
The event was our first encounter; it was the beginning of a long friendship and moments of support sometimes from far and at other times in meetings through conferences or visits in Paris, Beirut, Cairo or the States. I remember a special time at La Fête de l’Humanité in Paris on a rainy day when we laughed a lot and shared in our activism with a sense of deep sisterhood. She would always ask me to sing and whenever she knew I was coming to a conference she would request I bring my guitar and sing. I have a song I composed with her in mind and which I would like to dedicate to her as I conclude my remembrance of this remarkable woman and a friend without whom I feel at great loss now that she has left us.
Resist, Nawal, Resist
Resist, resist, resist
For all of us resist
For the rest of the world, resist
Kawmi, Nawal Kawmi
Lil alam kuluhu, kawmi
Diren (Turkish) Lawan (Malaysian, Indonesian)
Makibaka (Philippino) Jaago (Urdu, Pakistani)
Résiste, résiste, résiste
Pour tous les peuples, résiste
Pour transformer le monde, résiste
We are all women, we are all women
Last summer we were all Lebanese
Seventy years for Palestine
One day in January, all Turks were Armenians
All Turks were Armenians
We are with the suffering
The wounded of the world, the wounded of the earth
Sexuality is the order of the world
Bring down the walls, give hope to all
Bring down the walls, give hope to all
Resist, Nawal, resist
You taught us to resist
We are so thankful to you Nawal
 First published in 1982 by l’Harmattan in Paris, it was translated into English as The Excised in 1989. The novel deals with excision of women in both the physical and metaphorical sense. (wikipedia)
 In 1972, she published Woman and Sex (المرأة والجنس), confronting and contextualising various aggressions perpetrated against women’s bodies, including female circumcision. The book became a foundational text of second-wave feminism. As a consequence of the book and her political activities, Saadawi was dismissed from her position at the Ministry of Health. (wikipedia)