Eyewitness Egypt: Feminist Nawal El Saadawi --'No discrimination between men and women ...That’s what women and men are saying'

January 31, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- Renowned feminist and human rights activist Nawal El Saadawi was a political prisoner and exiled from Egypt for years. Now she has returned to Cairo, and she joins us to discuss the role of women during the last seven days of unprecedented protests. "Women and girls are beside boys in the streets," El Saadawi says. "We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system... and to have a real democracy."

AMY GOODMAN: We go back right now to Egypt. Joining us on the phone is one of Egypt’s most renowned human rights activists, Nawal El Saadawi. A well-known feminist, psychologist, writer, former political prisoner in Egypt, she lived in exile for years due to numerous death threats. Nawal El Saadawi joins us on the line from Cairo.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Your feelings today in the midst of this popular rebellion against the Mubarak regime, calling on Mubarak to leave? Do you agree?

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: We are in the streets every day, people, children, old people, including myself. I am now 80 years of age, suffering of this regime for half a century. And you remember, Mubarak is the continuation of Sadat. And both Sadat and Mubarak, you know, their regime worked against the people, men and women. And they created this gap between the poor and rich. They brought the so-called business class to govern us. Egypt became an American colony. And we are dominated by the US and Israel. And 80 million people, men and women, have no say in the country.

And you see today that people in the streets for six days, and they told Mubarak to go. He should have gone, if he respects the will of the people. That’s democracy. Because what’s democracy? It’s to respect the will of the people. The people govern themselves. So, really, we are happy.

But what I would like to tell you, the US government, with Israel and Saudi Arabia and some other powers outside the country and inside the country, they want to abort this revolution. And they are creating rumours that, you know, Egypt is going to be ruined, to be robbed, and they are also preventing—we don’t have bread now, and the shops are using this to raise the price. So they are trying to frighten us.

They have two strategies: to frighten the people, so we say, "Oh, we need security, we need Mubarak", because people are living in fear. But when I go to the streets, there are no fear, you know, but when I stay at home and listen to the media, I feel, "What’s going to happen?" But when I go to the streets, to Midan Tahrir, and see the people, the young people, the old people, the men, I feel secure, and I believe that the revolution succeeded. So, they are trying to abort the power outside and inside. But we will win.

AMY GOODMAN: And Nawal El Saadawi, you often hear in the United States, "Is this going to be like the Iranian Revolution?" not talking about throwing out the dictator so much, but a fundamentalist revolution. Your response? Nawal?

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: They are frightening us by the Ikhwan Muslimin, and that if Mubarak—they tried for years to tell us that "Who protects us from the fundamentalists, like Khomeini and Iraq? It’s Mubarak." You know, and this is not true. This revolution, the young people who started the revolution and who are continuing to protect it, they are not political, ordinary young men and women. They don’t belong to the right or the left, or Muslim. There was not a single Islamic religious slogan in the streets. Not one. They were shouting for justice, equality, freedom, and that Mubarak and his regime should go, and we need to change the system and bring people who are honest. Egypt is living in corruption, false elections, oppression of women, of young people, unemployment. So the revolution came, it was too late. This revolution is too late, but anyway, it came. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Nawal El Saadawi, you have been arrested how many times under previous regimes?

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Sadat. Sadat put me in prison only. But I came out from prison with bars to a prison with no bars. I am living in Cairo in exile. I am censored. I cannot write in Al-Ahram or the big media. I write only one article every Tuesday in Al-Masry Al-Youm.

AMY GOODMAN: And we only have 30 seconds, but I wanted to ask you about the role of women in this rebellion, women and girls.

NAWAL EL SAADAWI: Women and girls are beside boys in the streets. They are—and we are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system, to change the people who are governing us, the system and the people, and to have a real democracy. That’s what women are saying and what men are saying.

AMY GOODMAN: Nawal El Saadawi, I want to thank you for being with us, well-known feminist, psychologist. She ran for president in Egypt, speaking to us from Cairo.

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Monday, 31 January 2011 08:51
Written by John Rees

The most striking fact about Cairo is the popular control of the streets. As the mass demonstrations enter their sixth day, the old police have simply disappeared, creating a power vacuum at street level.

As you drive across downtown, the equivalent of Oxford Street and Regent Street in London, every intersection is controlled by men (almost exclusively) with iron bars and wooden staves who direct traffic around Tahrir Square, occupied of course by a mass of protesters. At night they sit around fires, form groups that patrol the streets and organise to have them swept.

It was the same across the Nile in Dokki. At the end of the road where I am staying there was a mass of army in three trucks who set up their own checkpoint on the main road that runs down this east bank of the river. And there is a tank at the entrance to the bridge across the Nile up the road. As I took a picture my Egyptian friend said ‘go on climb up on it, they don’t mind at all’.

But the side streets are all controlled by militia. Twenty men were in the street outside last night armed with baseball bats and sticks. They discuss and debate and set up groups at the cross roads. Two waiters from the hotel and a concierge, still in their uniforms, were on patrol. ‘What choice do I have’, Abdel the doorman told me, ‘it’s my job I have to protect it and the police have vanished’.

The looters are widely believed to be former police and in some cases they are. Mohammed Shafique, a young doctor who I met a few years back at the Cairo conference, told me he was on militia patrol in his area when they stopped and searched a car whose boot was stuffed with cash. The driver was a policeman. The ‘arrested’ him and kept him locked up in the local community hall.

But some looters may just be looters... hardly surprising in a desperately poor country where the police have disappeared. But if the whole ‘looting’ issue, including the much publicised vandalism in the Egyptian Museum, is a Mubarak ploy to create a ‘strategy of tension’ and discredit the revolution, it has backfired spectacularly. Instead it has spread popular power across the society. As the air force jets boomed across Tahrir Square yesterday afternoon, my Egyptian friend and I agreed that ‘they control the air but we control the streets’.

The curfew itself has done the same thing in another way. The main effect is that virtually no traffic is moving (apart from the Cairo Vespas which are unstoppable)... now that is a revolution in itself: Cairo without traffic! Most Cairenes thought that was less likely than Mubarak going. But it’s happened and it’s turned Cairo into a giant pedestrian precinct! Now crowds just amble down the dual carriage ways like a regular Italian passagiata.

It might be different further out in this giant city of 18 million. I hear that it is in well-off Mahdi for instance... but in the city centre the crowds are out. The few cars and taxis that there are will, if you wave them down, just pick you up and take you on your way. That’s the way I got to Tahrir Square last night - a car full of perfect strangers just stopped, I said the magic word ‘Tahrir’ and they took me across Zamalek, the island in the middle of the Nile, across the bridge and up to the checkpoint at the entrance to the Square. The barrier of two tanks is controlled jointly by civilians and young squaddies.

That tells you a lot about where the army is, as does yesterday’s scenes of officers being carried on the shoulders of the crowd in Tahrir. But a crackdown is still possible. In Tiananmen they brought in raw troops from Nepal on the other side of China to ‘clean out Beijing’. But the cost of such a counter-revolution would now be very high... it would have to be on a Chilean scale, with thousands of deaths in football stadia. Mubarak must be near the point of not being able to mount such an operation. The US and its allies are deserting him and the regime looks to me like the Honecker regime did in East Germany in the days before the Berlin Wall fell. Honecker gave the order to fire but army officers refused to pass it on, knowing that, among other things, Gorbachev wouldn’t back the regime.

But, needless to say, such things still hang in the balance. The young activists in Tahrir are pushing on. They are, as many tell me, ‘not afraid to die’. It’s not rhetoric. Ola Shahba told me last night that when she was marching in the front rank to Tahrir last Friday the protester next to her was shot dead. Mohammed Shafique was one of those trying to storm the Interior Ministry when the snipers opened fire. He still has the marks from shot gun pellets. He winced when I embraced him because the bruises from the rubber bullets are still on his back.

They are both organising today from the Socialist Renewal Current offices just around the corner from the Square. They hope Tuesday’s demonstration, the one-week anniversary of the revolution, will be a million strong. They hope it will be the day Mubarak goes.