March 10, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 876

Egyptian Feminist Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi Announces Candidacy for Presidency; Explains Women Can Lead Countries; Calls on 70 Million Egyptians to Fight the U.S. and Israel

March 10, 2005
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 876

In two interviews in the Arabic press and in an article in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, the renowned Egyptian feminist and author Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi gave her views on women's issues such as supporting female suicide bombers; allowing women such as herself to lead Arab countries; as well anti-American and anti-Israel views including calling on all Egyptians to participate in a political, and military struggle against the U.S. and Israel.

Dr. Al-Sa'dawi in Kul Al-'Arab: 'Are We to Criticize a Woman Who Loads Herself up with Explosives and Blows Herself Up?'

Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi was interviewed in the Israeli Arabic-language weekly Kul Al-'Arab. The following are excerpts from the Interview: [1]

Question: "Do you support Palestinian suicide operations?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "Israel and the West call resistance operations 'terrorism.' The Iraqi resistance has now turned into 'terrorism' and so has the Palestinian resistance. Are we to castigate those who fought with their own bare hands and died [doing so]? Are we to criticize a woman who loads herself up with explosives, blows herself up, and dies? Are we to castigate her for having blown herself up after having seen her father and her brothers killed? If I were in her place I would load myself up with dynamite and blow myself up… How can I castigate the victim? There are those who [ask] why [the martyrs] don't blow themselves up in army bases [rather than targeting civilians]. [But] many of them did blow themselves up at checkpoints and made every possible effort to do something worthwhile. I do not criticize the victim; I criticize the true criminal…"

'We Need to Change the Egyptian and Arab Way of Thinking'

Question: "First of all, Dr. Nawal, there is no doubt that your candidacy [in the Egyptian presidential race] has a message to it. What is the message that you would like to get across?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "My candidacy for the office of president of Egypt is meant to get across an ideological and political message – that we need to start to change the Egyptian and the Arab way of thinking, to encourage critical thinking, and to base educational values on debate, dialogue, and critical thinking, and not on obedience and subjugation… In addition, we must change the philosophical [basis] of the regime, so that there will not be a centralized regime and so that the regime will not be based on a single person, but rather on collective leadership… I want to repeal the law of immunity, since the more authority one has the more one has to be answerable [for one's actions], and not the opposite. I want to amend the law and to separate between religion and state in all of the laws, including the personal status law – this, together with a free market and a war on American-Israeli-European imperialism…"

Question: "Someone interested in presenting their candidacy for president of the republic [of Egypt] needs the signatures of two-thirds of the MPs, but you demand that the constitution be amended to allow the president to be elected directly by the people."

Al-Sa'dawi: "Perpetuation of the current situation will [guarantee] that anyone who runs in the presidential elections will lose. Everyone knows this. The ruling party holds 90% of the mandates in parliament, and therefore none of the candidates will succeed [in winning] unless the constitution is amended. We are fighting in order to amend the constitution and to bring about public pressure to this end, so that the people can elect the president directly, and not by way of the parliament."

Question: "Do you foresee an increase in the popular demonstrations demanding a change before the elections in September 2005?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "It is likely that there will be popular demonstrations for change before the elections in September 2005, and we may hope that they will be even stronger, that the people will make their voice heard, and that the [various] organizations, parties, and institutes will express their opinion."

'Killing Me Won't Help Anybody; Everyone Knows I Won't Win – I'm Not a Dangerous Candidate'

Question: "Don't you fear for your life? Especially [now,] when you are entering a campaign that isn't going to be easy – after all, in the past you have been threatened."

Al-Sa'dawi: "No, I've already passed the stage of being scared. Taking my life will not help anybody. Everyone knows that I won't win – I'm not a dangerous candidate."

Question: "Do you expect the ruling regime in Egypt to make use of the religious movement, which is opposed to you?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "It would only be natural. They have already used this movement against me; they ran a smear campaign against me and put me on their hit list. I was forced to live in exile for two years, and I cannot teach at the University of Cairo. On the other hand, I do teach in Europe, America, Africa, and Asia, and therefore, my candidacy is based on a demand for social justice, progressive culture, and the encouragement of critical thinking, creativity, and reflection. Education needs to be founded on freedom of expression."

Question: "If that is so, are you trying to fight against the culture of fear that has made its way into the Arab mind?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "Yes. We want a true democracy, and that power should be in the hands of the people in the sense that they will be able to express themselves, to express criticism, and to bring down the government and to disband the parliament…"

Question: "The Egyptian media is not a free media. Is it enlisted in the service of the rulers?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "Yes. Egyptian television keeps silent, as does the Al-Ahram newspaper. I can't write in Al-Ahram, since I wrote an article criticizing Ibrahim Nafi', CEO and Chief Editor of the newspaper, and he has stopped printing my articles…"

'As Muslims We Must Believe in Christianity, Judaism, and a Just World'

Question: "There are progressive Islamic movements in Egypt. Can they meet with progressive-secular and liberal movements?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "Islam, Christianity, and Judaism uphold justice, equality, and human dignity. As Muslims, we must believe in Christianity, in Judaism, and in a just world…"

The Veil Originated in Judaism, and Christian Nuns Inherited it from Them

Question: "You have expressed criticism of [wearing] the veil and of the most important tenets of Islam. How are you to gain the support of the people, who for the most part are Muslim and conservative?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "That isn't important. Egypt is the most tolerant state in terms of religion. I studied in primary school together with Copts, Jews, and Muslims. We are a tolerant society, and if Islam encourages us to believe in Judaism and Christianity, why should we discriminate against others on the basis of their religion?

"In addition, the veil has nothing to do with Islam. Historically, we will see that the veil's origins are in Judaism, and that Christian nuns inherited it from them. So why do people say that the veil is Islamic dress when in fact this is not the case…?"

Dr. Al-Sa'dawi in Al-'Arabi: 'I Believe in a Political and Military Struggle [Against the U.S. and Israel]'

In an interview with the Egyptian opposition weekly Al-'Arabi, Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi declared her support for the struggle against the U.S. and said she is not opposed to the establishment of religious parties. The following are excerpts from the article: [2]

Question: "How did your idea of running for the office of president of Egypt arise?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "… We need intellectuals now who will suggest solutions to our suffering, and who will succeed in arousing the 70 million Egyptians. From this the idea arose that the educated elite must regard the fight against despair positively and must encourage the people to fight the U.S. and Israel. If there is no military struggle, at least there should be a political struggle. I believe in a political and military struggle."

Question: "What happened during your meeting with [two other candidates for the presidency, Dr.] Sa'ad Al-Din Ibrahim, and Muhammad Farid Hasanein?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "We met in Muhammad Farid Hasanein's office, and agreed on the need for change in the constitution, but there were differences of opinion between us regarding my election platform, which deals with the U.S. and Europe. They thought the U.S. should be dealt with neutrally, but I refused, asking them how [we could do so, since] it is killing us and robbing us daily. What, then, would be the difference between us and the rulers? The rulers are afraid of the U.S. because they want to remain on their chairs [of power]. Why are the nations afraid? It is essential to clash with the U.S. and Israel politically, and if necessary – militarily as well. The occupation will never leave except through battle, and it is essential to mobilize the 70 million Egyptians and to rely upon them.

Question: "Do you [support] freedom in the establishment of parties, even religious ones?"

Al-Sa'dawi: "[My] platform explicitly states the cancellation of all the restrictions and conditions on the establishment of parties, professional unions, and associations, and I am not opposed to the establishment of religious parties. Let's leave the choice to the people."

Dr. Al-Sa'dawi in Al-Hayat: Women Should Be Allowed to Hold Government Leadership Positions

In an article published in the London daily Al-Hayat, Dr. Al-Sa'dawi explained why women are fit for leadership positions. The following are excerpts from the article: [3]

"The news of my candidacy for the presidency of Egypt … aroused great debate among the people, in senior political circles, and in religious circles – to the extent that Sheikh Al-Azhar Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi issued a ruling permitting women to serve as president of the Egyptian republic. Al-Azhar's religious authorities took various different positions, with some opposing Sheikh Tantawi and others supporting him – including Secretary-General of the Academy of Islamic Research, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Fayyumi, who said: 'Islam does not differentiate between men's activities and women's activities, and it allows one to opt for activities that suit their own nature [i.e. both men and women].'

"… Is there a difference between men's and women's characters? Does the difference lie in mental capabilities, in muscles, in biology, in the soul, or in other areas? Is there a difference in character between American and European women on the one hand, and Egyptian and Arab women on the other? If so, how is it that Margaret Thatcher ruled Britain for many years with an iron fist? I used to see her walk tall, with Arab leaders, heads of state, kings, and sultans from the Third World walking after her with their heads hanging low and obediently accepting her British imperialist dictates.

"[But] why look as far as Thatcher? Condoleezza Rice acts like Thatcher, only more so. Just like Madeleine Albright and Golda Meir, and like Hillary Clinton, who was only a president's wife and not a head of state. Women have held rule in neighboring Muslim countries and in others, such as Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and others. In Arab countries, the wives of leaders have many powers that at times are equal to those of the president, the king, or the emir.

"And now some religious figures, among them the Mufti of Egypt, Dr. 'Ali Jum'ah, and Dr. Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, are leading the opposition to Sheikh Al-Azhar's decision and are completely ruling out a woman's presiding as a head of state. Why is this, honorable sirs? They answer: because of a woman's physiological disposition and her suffering during menstruation. My goodness, did menstruation prevent Margaret Thatcher from presiding as head of state? Does it prevent Egyptian peasant women from working the fields like men, from dawn to dusk? Does it prevent young female athletes from participating in Olympic competitions, where they play and compete with men? Who says that menstruation is an illness that interferes with a woman's work? What is more, pregnancy and childbirth don't interfere with women's work in the fields, in factories, in offices, and in embassies … the word 'menstruation' sounds strange and even ridiculous when men say it, especially when most women involved in politics, in presidential elections, and in other elections are over fifty years old, so that menstruation is irrelevant…

"Even more preposterous was the statement from Sheikh 'Abdallah Mujawwir, Secretary of the Council of Religious Legal Rulings at Al-Azhar, that he supports a woman's presiding as head of state, since Islamic law is not opposed to this, so long as the woman will not be in seclusion with a man. My God! How can a woman be head of state without [ever] being in seclusion with a man? Is she to work only with women? Is she not to be allowed to sit with a prime minister or with another senior official and discuss a certain issue? It is ridiculous to hear this from religious figures in senior positions at religious institutions, and it would be proper for them to address public opinion in our country and overseas, and not just by way of the television stations.

"Even the women who sit mounted on the seats [of power] in the Egyptian religious establishment have donned a veil over their minds, which is worse than covering one's hair, and toe the line of those clerics who opposed Sheikh Al-Azhar. These women's personal attacks against me are much harsher than the men's attacks against me. One of them, Dr. Amna Nuseir, said that she was opposed to Nawal Al-Sa'dawi's candidacy for the position of president of Egypt because [Al-Sa'dawi] disregards many principles of Islamic religious law and because she lacks the qualities [necessary] for this position and ignores the principles of Islamic law [ Shari'a ]."


[1] Kul Al-'Arab (Israel), December 24, 2004.

[2] Al-Arabi (Egypt), January 9, 2005.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), December 30, 2004.

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