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Nawal El Saadawi
Illustration by Maira Asaad

Nawal El Saadawi was an Egyptian public health physician, psychiatrist, author, and advocate of women’s rights. Sometimes described as “the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab world,” El Saadawi was a feminist whose writings and professional career were dedicated to political and sexual rights for women.

El Saadawi’s novels, short stories, and nonfiction deal chiefly with the status of Arab women, as in Mudhakkirāt ṭabībah (1960; Memoirs of a Woman Doctor), Al-Khayt wa al-jidār (1972; The Thread and the Wall), Al-Ḥubb fī zaman al-nafṭ (1993; Love in the Kingdom of Oil), and Al-Riwāyah (2004; The Novel). The oppression of women by men through religion is the underlying theme of El Saadawi’s novel set in a mental institution, Jannāt wa Iblīs (1992; Jannāt and Iblīs). The female protagonists are Jannāt, whose name is the plural of the Arabic word for paradise, and Iblīs, whose name refers to the Devil.

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