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Read the guide. On the one hand, it reads like a 19th-century tract; on the other hand, its appeal to reason is drawn from references so sophisticated as to make the condition described sound even more surreal than it usually does.

The Hidden Face of Eve Women in the Arab World

IN Egypt today under the law a man may take four wives; a girl may be married off by her father without her consent; no woman may petition for divorce; a man may obtain a divorce by the simple act of repudiation; a woman has no right of custody of her children; a husband need not pay alimony or child support if his wife has withheld herself sexually; a husband has the right to forbid a wife to work or to travel or even to move freely in her own environment; a husband has the right to have his wife forcibly returned to his home if she has left it without his consent.

While a fraction of urban university-educated women escape their ''destiny,'' the mass of women in Egypt live out their lives in the manner ordained by such social conditions. The longest and by far the most powerful section is called ''The Mutilated Half.

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The hidden face of Eve : women in the Arab world

Consistent with this all-absorbing concern that a ''girl'' not be a ''woman'' on her wedding night is the barbaric practice of female circumcision, designed to insure that a woman will not be tempted to give away what is clearly not hers to give. Saadawi's discussion of modern-day circumcision in Egypt is eloquent.


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  • She begins with herself. The daughter of a provincial Controller of Education, she was seized in her bed in the middle of the night at the age of 6, dragged into the bathroom, where her legs were pried apart and her clitoris slashed off. Eyes shut tight, she cried out in pain and terror for her mother; when she opened her eyes she saw her mother standing above her, smiling among the murderers.

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    NAWAL grew up, became a doctor and spent years listening to hundreds of her patients repeat this experience, almost word for word, as they sought to explain their fear and hatred of sex. Female circumcision became an obsession that led her to realize that ''amputation of the clitoris She resents Westerners who ignore this crucial analysis with what she feels is an easy dismissal of all life under Islamic law. But while it is certainly true that Islam alone is not responsible for the condition of women in the Arab world - they share too much with women the world over - it is also appallingly true that no culture as religion-dominated as Arabic culture can ever accomplish social or political equality for women.

    The struggle is difficult enough in secular cultures where lip service is paid to the idea of universal individuation. IN the 19th century, American feminists quarreled with Christian society over liberal and illiberal interpretations of Biblical injunctions regarding women exactly as Dr.

    Saadawi here argues for the liberalism inherent in the Koran. Finally, Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, ''This is nonsense. All religious structures posit man as the living godhead with woman as his obedient servant. It will never be otherwise. We must turn away from religion altogether. Western feminists do have reason to think Islamic law will never grant women full recognition.