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Egyptian feminist icon and author Nawal el-Saadawi dies at 89

Famed Egyptian author Nawal el-Saadawi, a champion of women’s rights who revolutionized discussions on gender in the Arab world, died Sunday at the age of 89, Al-Ahram newspaper says.

Saadawi died in a Cairo hospital after suffering a long illness, her family says.

A prolific author who shot to fame with widely translated novel “Women at Point Zero” (1975), Saadawi was a fierce advocate for women’s empowerment in Egypt’s deeply conservative and patriarchal society.

With more than 55 books to her name including the taboo-breaking work “Women and Sex,” she was briefly jailed by late president Anwar Sadat and also condemned by Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni Muslim authority in Egypt.

Saadawi’s outspoken brand of feminism — including campaigning against women wearing the veil, inequality in Muslim inheritance rights between men and women, polygamy and female circumcision — gained her as many critics as admirers in the Middle East.

In 1993, after constant deaths threats from firebrand Islamist preachers, Saadawi moved to Duke University in the US state of North Carolina, where she was a writer-in-residence at the Asian and African languages department for three years.

She returned to Egypt and in 2005 ran for president but abandoned her bid after accusing security forces of not allowing her to hold rallies.

She fell out of favor with many secular progressives later in life for her wholehearted embrace of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Her path-breaking, critical books published in dozens of languages also took aim at Western feminists including her friend Gloria Steinem and policies espoused by heads of state such as former US president George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saadawi’s death coincides with Mother’s Day celebrations in Egypt and across the Arab world. She divorced three times and had two children.

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