Mufakirat Tifla fi Al-Khamisa wa Al-Thamaneen
(A Notebook of an 85-year-old Girl) by Nawal El-Saadawi, Roznameh Publishing, Cairo, 2017 pp.213.
Throughout Nawal El-Saadawi’s 85 years of life, she has never lost her mental brilliance or her ability to start intellectual debates and stay engaged in them until the last breath.
The renowned Egyptian feminist has authored more than 60 books including novels, plays, short stories, feminist cririques and has been translated to many languages.
El-Saadawi is still capable of adding new contributions to her influential and lasting legacy.
Her latest book is based on excerpts from her journal, where she addresses issues faced by women like herself as well as the general concerns of a country experiencing a series of crises and tribulations.
El-Saadawi lets her pen lead her, riding a stream of consciousness with no interest in either completing her idea and or in maintaining cohesion in what she writes.
She is content with breaks between paragraphs, starting each paragraph with another idea, viewpoint or thought unconnected to the previous one.
El-Saadawi says she does not fear death, although she hates it, and does not suffer from loneliness despite living alone after her life-long partner Sherif Hatata, the renowned left-wing writer and activist, passed away in May.
She speaks a lot, not only about the past, but also the present.
Although she has won all the Hisbah (the right of any citizen to bring “violators of public mores” to court) cases filed against her, the experience has left her drained.
Her latest book takes the form of a diary; where she substitutes titles with dates and writes in an unstructured manner.
For instance, she starts her entries with "Thursday Morning 1 September 2016" or "Summer 2016."
There are other entries where she excludes the date completely, choosing a proper title instead.
What is astonishing is that after 85 years, El-Saadawi is still defending the same issues.
She starts her book with the personal freedom issue, which she tackles from a perspective that is completely different from the socially predominant one.
“They say that the Hijab, the Niqab, the Burkini, female circumcision, make-up and cosmetic surgery all emanate from freedom of choice and democracy, for in their point of view, women are free to uncover or cover themselves. Is this not a deception?”
“It is high time to reveal the falsity of freedom and democracy in patriarchal, class-stratified countries. Are children permitted to choose their religion, their ideas, their clothes or their food? Does a seven-year-old girl choose to wear hijab or to be circumcised?”
Despite the rationality of raising these questions, many intellectuals and writers who do so risk heavy consequences, including Hisbah cases.
What is worse is that some courts rule against these intellectuals, such as the court verdict in the mid-1990s declaring the late writer Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd an apostate, thereby separating him from his wife Dr Ibtihal Younis.
After the last Hisbah case was filed against El-Saadawi – where an Islamist lawyer unsuccessfully filed a case to have her forcefully separated from her husband by having her declared an apostate – Salafist televangelists called for her to be stoned to death in Tahrir Square, according to a statement issued by the Nawal El-Saadawi Forum in August 2016 and published in this book.
The Nawal El-Saadawi Forum, which began holding monthly meetings two years ago, is an “important cultural intellectual phenomenon that discusses several books in the intellectual, literary and scientific fields,” according to El-Saadawi’s book.
Another Hisbah case was filed against her for defending the constitution’s prohibition on founding religious parties.
El-Saadawy advocates the amendment of laws that contradict the 2014 constitution and discriminate between Egyptians on the basis of gender or religion. She calls for a civil personal statute law for all Egyptians; Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women.