For Egyptian Activist, A Dream Finally Realized

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Egyptian writer, scholar and activist Nawal El Saadawi has been agitating for change in her country for 50 years. In exile off and on for the past 15 years, she returned to her home country in November and has been protesting in the streets. Guy Raz speaks with the 80-year-old Saadawi about her hopes for a peaceful and secular Egypt.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Eighty-year-old Nawal El Saadawi has been protesting against Egyptian leaders since the 1940s. She's a medical doctor by training, but El Saadawi is well known in and outside of Egypt as a feminist writer and a secular activist. And she's gone to jail for some of the things she's said and written about Egypt's leaders.

Back in 2005, she was tailed by the police after she put her name up as a candidate for president to challenge Hosni Mubarak. When I spoke with her earlier today, she described the scene the moment she heard the news about Mubarak's resignation.

Dr. NAWAL EL SAADAWI (Feminist Writer; Secular Activist): Everybody rushed to the streets and we were dancing and celebrating and having a big, big festival in every street and in Tahrir Square. So it was a carnival yesterday.

RAZ: I know that you've been in exile on and off for the past 15 years. You returned to Egypt last November. Can you give me a sense of how important this event is? I mean, did you ever imagine something like this could happen?

Dr. EL SAADAWI: I was dreaming of this revolution since I was a child. And, you know, I am 80 years now, so under Farouk when I was a student in secondary school.

RAZ: This is, of course, the king.

Dr. EL SAADAWI: King Farouk, yes. We were demonstrating against him. I've seen many, many demonstrations in Egypt since the '40s and '50s, and then the revolution of the army in 1952. And then we demonstrated against Nasser after their very weak(ph) defeat, 1967, and we ask him to change. And then we demonstrated against Sadat and against Mubarak several times. But this is something great. This is historical. I have never seen those millions, millions in the streets. So this was unimaginable.

RAZ: I know that you have been an activist for most of your life. Can you describe a little bit about your role? What have you been doing over the past few weeks and in the months preceding these events?

Dr. EL SAADAWI: The last two weeks, I was in Tahrir Square with the young men and women, whom (unintelligible) to my home. Most of them were sleeping day and night there. But at night, I have to go home to take a shower and sleep in my bed. I couldn't sleep there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. EL SAADAWI: It's too cold for me and I am 80. But in the morning, early morning, we'll be together and we'll just discuss what we are going to do, et cetera.

RAZ: Tell me what your plans are now. Can you imagine becoming active in the new political process in Egypt that will begin to emerge?

Dr. EL SAADAWI: You know, I look to myself mainly as a creative writer all my life and a medical doctor. I always was active also in the women movement. So now we have a big task coming, because in Tahrir Square, many young women, we sat together and we said that we should start establishing our Egyptian women union, because we need collective power of women to follow up what the revolutionary temporary government will do.

And our demand is that we should have a secular constitution, no discrimination between men and women or Christians and Muslims. So, you know, the idea of real democracy is coming up.

RAZ: That's Egyptian author and activist Nawal El Saadawi. She joined me from her home in Cairo.

Thank you so much.

Dr. EL SAADAWI: Thank you very much.

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