November 24, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9053

Egyptian Writer Nawal Al-Sa'dawi Calls To Fight Tradition Of 'Honor Killing' Sanctioned By Egypt's Mainstream Culture

November 24, 2020
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 9053

In a September 21, 2020 article in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, prominent Egyptian writer and women's rights activist Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi came out against Egypt's patriarchal society that turns a blind eye to, and even encourages, the murder of women for "violating the family honor." Al-Sa'dawi begins her article by recounting the story of a 14-year-old girl who was married against her will to a man 40 years her senior and was murdered by her family after she tried to escape the marriage. Stating that hundreds of underage girls are murdered in Egypt in the same manner, Al-Sa'dawi claims that these crimes are sanctioned by the dominant culture and morality in Egypt, which has discarded the values of freedom and social justice – the very same values that the protesters were fighting for in the Arab Spring uprising of 2011.

The following are excerpts from her article:[1] 

Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi (Source:

"The father of a 14-year-old girl married her off, against her will, to a man 40 years older than her. Naturally enough, the marriage did not go well. For how can you violate the body and soul of such a young girl [by placing her], against her will, in the hands of a man who is older than her grandfather?! The girl opposed [the marriage], but to no avail. She tried to commit suicide, but that failed too, [so] she had no choice but to marry him.  Later she tried to run away but [the husband] went to the marriage registrar and divorced her unilaterally. Then he caught her and beat her up, after which he took her back to her father and accused her of misbehaving. This accusation serves as an easy and available pretext for any unscrupulous man who wishes  to divorce his wife out of his own shame or helplessness, or in an attempt to take revenge on her for refusing to be submissive and cowed. The important point is that the father, lacking a conscience to begin with, caught his small and weak daughter, who was unable to fight back, and, with the help the [other] men in the family, her uncles and brothers, tied her small wrists with a strong rope.  They placed tape on her mouth and nose and threw her into the Nile while still alive. After her body was found and pulled out of the water, the coroner determined that the cause of death had been strangulation, not drowning. 

"Dozens or even hundreds of such shameful incidents occur, [we hear about them] on a daily basis. We read of them in the papers and magazines, and then we turn the page, soaked with the blood of these young women and girls, to peruse [other] news we consider more important… [such as] how many millions have died of Covid 19; scandals involving celebrities, and struggles for power, money and influence, namely elections that change the names [of the leaders] but not our culture. [We read] press columns that support the spirit of religious extremism, and [see] pictures of men and women running for office who promise to bring change, social justice and individual and collective freedoms - promises that pour onto the public [in the form of] newspaper ink and media [declarations]. These promises of social justice evaporate once the elections are over and [the candidate] comes into office. Did any of the candidates, so eager for social justice, ever feel anguish in the face of the reports about this [murdered] young girl?

"The story repeats itself all the time and everywhere, always in the same way. How is it supposed to change? After all, the racist values and patriarchal rules of [social] class dominate the relations within the state and within the family. Everyone – except for a small minority – turns the page to read more important news. Everyone  – except for a small minority - turns the page and forgets about this innocent child murdered in the name of defending the family honor. The father, uncles and brothers trumpet the word 'honor', loudly, boldly and offensively. They are all united in defending their masculine honor, and their honor stands in opposition to this girl, who has no honor and nobody to protect her in this jungle. Even her poor mother shudders at the sound of the word 'honor' and helps the men kill her daughter, or at least keeps silent and covers up the crime. How many young girls have been killed in our country for the sake of 'honor', while the murders escaped punishment or received light punishments because there is sympathy for men defending their honor?

"We [also] followed the affair of Yasser, an Egyptian from one of the governorates in Sinai who emigrated to the U.S.,  married an American woman, obtained American citizenship and worked as a [taxi] driver. In 2008 he seduced his daughters Amina and Sarah and sexually assaulted them. Later, after he learned that his daughters had gone on dates with non-Muslim American men, he shot them to avenge his honor and the honor of his family. He evaded [justice] for 12 years, until on August 26, 2020 he was [finally] caught, calm and proud of having carried out this manly Arab crime on the soil of America, which does not recognize 'honor' crimes. Now he faces the gravest charges and gravest punishments.[2]

"Yes, in our land the term 'honor' refers only to the behavior of young girls, not to the behavior of the strongest men in the political, financial and media arenas. This is the opposite of honor. Some of those who are sunk up to their necks in the struggle for power, wealth and influence may mock me for my interest in this young girl, who has no importance in the jungle of politics, money and balances of power. After all, who respects the rights of any Egyptian woman or man who lacks power?! Didn't millions of Egyptians gain some dignity [only] after millions staged a revolution, toppled the leaders and took their rights [by force], thanks to the power of unity and organized [action]?! This revolution raised the banner of honor, freedom and justice regardless of religion, gender and class.

"Nine years later, I wonder: Why did the Egyptian revolution occur? Was it not for the sake of justice, freedom and honor? Was it not waged for the sake of this girl and for the millions of other oppressed members of this poverty-stricken nation? Has the fire of this great human revolution died out, or have [people] gone back to their former habits? We have gone back the old battle arenas. [We have] lost our revolutionary humanness that cared for the weak and for the oppressed majority, to reembrace the brutal political mechanisms…

"How can honor, justice and freedom be gained for the entire nation, including for young girls who fall victim to the greed of the men in their family and to 'crimes of honor' that are the opposite of honor?! [Why] have we never seen victims from the elite… [from among the circles of] the politicians, the official parties, the businessmen, the media and the beauty [industry]? Some of these people grew up in the arms of the corrupt former regimes and kept silent in the face of their corruption for years. This elite, which corrupts everything, has also started corrupting the young women and men of the popular revolution that promoted high human values…  

"I demand that all the bodies, both governmental and civil, that are concerned with women's human [dignity] act to criminalize these so-called honor crimes. That would be the first practical step towards gaining justice for the girls and women, in the cities and villages, [who fall victim to] these barbaric and criminal acts that are sanctioned by the dominant culture.


[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 21, 2020.

[2]  On this affair see, August 27, 2020.

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