Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

Over eighteen days in Tahrir Square, millions of Egyptian women protested alongside the men; on Sunday, February 27th, fourteen of them (and four young men) gathered again, this time in the apartment of the eighty-year-old Egyptian dissident and writer Nawal El Saadawi. The post-revolution committee to revise the constitution is all male, and El Saadawi, who has been called the godmother of Egyptian feminism, was angry. "The blood of the women killed in the revolution was still wet, and we were being betrayed," she said. It was time to form a union.

El Saadawi lives on the twenty-seventh floor of a drab building in Shubra, a few miles north of Tahrir Square. Cigarette butts litter the dim stairwell, and the rickety elevator takes fifteen seconds too long for comfort. Her narrow living room is dominated by a writing desk and bookshelves containing everything from Japanese translations of her work to novels like Nora Ephron's "Heartburn." El Saadawi has written more than forty books, including "Women and Sex," which got her fired from the Ministry of Health in 1972, and "Memoirs from the Women's Prison," about her own political imprisonment, in 1981. When she talks about Egyptian Presidents, she tends to focus on their wives, whom she blames for fracturing the Egyptian Women's Union in the first place. "Jehan Sadat, Suzanne Mubarak, they wanted to be the leader of the Egyptian feminist movement, but they did nothing," she said. "Women have no rights because we are not united."

Among those seated in the circle of mismatched chairs was Habiba Hassan Wassef, a medical-school classmate of El Saadawi's more than fifty years ago, and now a nutrition expert. "I've been following Nawal's career closely," Hassan Wassef said.

"You've been following my naughtiness!" El Saadawi said.

"Not your naughtiness, your courage," Hassan Wassef said.

"Ever since I was ten years old, I wanted to be free," El Saadawi said, settling into an armchair near the balcony. "I divorced three husbands to be free."

"I, too, am a woman who takes my rights with my own arms," Hassan Wassef said.

"During the revolution, we shouted, 'The people want the fall of the regime!' Now we need to shout, 'Men and women want the fall of the old constitution!' " El Saadawi said.

"The fall of the masculine regime!" Yasmine Khalifa, a student from the American University in Cairo, chimed in.

El Saadawi had met many of the participants in Tahrir Square; others, like Khalifa, found out about the meeting on Twitter. …

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