Interview with Nawal El Saadawi
Building Solidarity Key to Change and Women’s Progress
By Sussan Tahmasebi
Tuesday 8 March 2011
Change for Equality: Following the Revolution in Egypt a Committee was established to reform the constitution. Women in Egypt were surprised that, despite their significant role and turnout in the protests, the Committee of eight legal experts did not include a woman and that it failed to take into consideration their demands and rights. So, women activists have started a coalition of 63 women’s organizations to demand that a woman be included in the Constitutional Committee. Also a coalition of women activists, which includes highly respected feminist activist and scholar, Dr. Nawal El Saadawi, are planning a Million March to demand women’s rights in Egypt on the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day. Iranian women and in fact all women in the MENA region and internationally are watching carefully the developments in Egypt with respect to women’s rights. They understand that any gains for women in the region, be it Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or Tunisia, will be a gain for all of them.
I had a chance to talk briefly with Dr. Nawal El Saadawi in Washington during her short visit here to be interviewed by Christiane Amanpour. She stressed the importance of global solidarity with women’s demands in Egypt and especially on the occasion of March 8 and the Million March on Tahrir Square, during which women will be demanding democracy and rights. Here is more of what she had to say:
Q: Tell us what the situation in Egypt is like right now? What is happening on women’s rights after the Revolution?
After the Revolution, there have been some gains in Egypt. Mubarak left, some of his men left, the Prime Minister left, but still women’s rights are not recognized, because we were not members of the Committee that was formed to reform the Constitution. So we came back from Tahrir Square and decided two things. To hold a one million women’s march on March 8 [International Women’s Day] and to re-establish our women’s union, because without unity we cannot have anything. We gained some of our demands by the Revolution in Egypt, because we were united. Millions of Egyptians were united in Tahrir square and in the streets. So we wanted women also, millions of women, to unite with men who believe in our cause against patriarchy, against class oppression, against external colonialism and all that, to unite together for women’s rights.
Do you think you will have a million people show up?
Why not? In fact it was the idea of young men. They came to me after Tahrir square and told me that we should have a one Million March for women and I agreed I said Yes! Excellent we have to do that.
Q: Egypt is a young country, 70-80% is under age of 30, this generation is different, they are more open to women’s rights, they are more educated, but still there are many who don’t agree with women’s equality. There are conservatives who oppose it. How much resistance do you think you will get from the conservatives and from other groups with respect to advocating for women’s equal rights?
Of course they are fighting back, it’s not only the conservatives, the right wing, it is some of the religious groups, Muslims and Christians, the fanatic religious groups and also those connected to the neo-colonial powers, because we cannot separate the external from the internal, the global from the local. Who supported Mubarak? It was the US government and Israel. Who is supporting Saudi Arabia? It is the same external powers. And even Qadafi, he is supported by external powers, because of oil. And now people are revolting against those dictators who were supported by external powers to exploit the oil and we are aware of that. And young men and women in Egypt are very aware. Even if they don’t have a university degree, they are very aware of these issues. And they never separate the external neocolonial powers with local dictatorship.
Q: Do you think they would come out in favor of women’s rights, because as you know some believe that Islam calls for different roles for women and therefore different rights? Do you think that the majority of people in Egypt will come out in favor of women’s rights?
Yes of course. Even when we were in Tahrir square, millions, even younger generations of Muslim Brotherhood members, who everyone is afraid of, those younger generations are secular in their thinking. Because of their education, their awareness, they are not as religious or as conservative as their leaders. I met them in Tahrir square and they came to me and they hugged me. Yes the younger generation of the Muslim Brotherhood. They told me “we read your books and we agree with some of your ideas and we disagree with some of your ideas. But we love you, we respect you, we believe in a secular constitution, and a secular Egypt.”
Q: And for you secular means women’s rights?
Yes, of course, you cannot have women’s rights under a religious state you need secularism as a first step.
Q: What do you think we can do in the region to support one another? Because as you know that women in Muslim countries and in the region are fighting for women’s rights, from religious and secular backgrounds, in Iran, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia…
And even here…in the US, in Wisconsin and….
Q: Yes, but I think the difference is that in our countries our struggle for equal rights is often dismissed as a western concept and demand. They say that Islamic is different, Western is different than Eastern. So many of these governments welcome Western Support, but when it comes to women’s rights they say that that is a Western concept and bad. So, how can we make this our issue?
Exactly. By fighting together. We need to fight together. We need solidarity—global solidarity, Arab solidarity, Iranian solidarity… We need to be together, in all countries. We need solidarity between the people. The people are the people they are different, the problem is the government, and the interests, the oil, the money, the land, so the people of Iran should connect. Our people should connect. Like now, it is the first time we see each other. So we should connect through the internet. Because we cannot meet physically all the time, so we should connect through the net to build solidarity.
Q: We have been celebrating March 8 in Iran for years. But women in Iran are facing a difficult situation, so they may not go into the streets. Of course, we have always faced resistance with respect to going into the streets on March 8th, but this year seems to be even more difficult. Do you have a message for the Iranian women on March 8th?
To go to the streets in Millions and also women in Egypt, and even women here in America, they should try to influence their governments. Because Christiane Amanpour asks how can we help you? I don’t believe in helping, I believe in solidarity, equality, women should unite. , being on equal footing, so people should help and women should unite. Now we have the internet, facebook and conferences. We need two things to unveil the mind, because the most dangerous thing is the veil of the mind. And our minds are veiled by the Media, the media veils our mind, and bad education and politics veil the mind. We need two things to unveil our minds and to organize. We need to network and organize. How can we organize with the Iranian women? Through the Internet.