Dr. Saadawi was among some 1,500 activists jailed by President Sadat shortly before his assassination in October 1981. She was released three months later and published, in Arabic, “Memoirs From the Women’s Prison,” in 1983.
Her message and manner drew equivocal assessments in the West.
After the first of Dr. Saadawi’s books to be translated into English, “The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World,” was published in the United States in 1982, by Beacon Press, Vivian Gornick, reviewing it in The New York Times Book Review, wrote, “For an American feminist it is a curious work.”
“Written by a Marxist who has read Freud,” she went on, “in a country and for a people that require an educated introduction to the idea of equality for women, the book seems disoriented by the inorganic nature of its understanding.”
Four years later, reviewing Dr. Saadawi’s novel “God Dies by the Nile,” the Indian-born American writer Bharati Mukherjee wrote that the author “bears down on social issues with directness and passion, transforming the systematic brutalization of peasants and of women into powerful allegory.”
She added, “This directness may put off American readers.”
Under President Mubarak, Sadat’s successor, Dr. Saadawi was placed under police guard, supposedly to protect her from Islamist threats. Her name was included on a so-called death list published in Saudi Arabia.
After fleeing to Duke, where she taught from 1993 to 1996, Dr. Saadawi wrote two more volumes of autobiography. When she returned to Egypt she continued to face fundamentalist accusations of apostasy and heresy. She announced plans to run for president against Mr. Mubarak in 2004 but resolved instead to boycott the election when her followers were threatened.
Into her 80s she seemed to suggest that her struggle was far from over.
“Do you feel you are liberated?” she asked a writer for The Guardian, a woman, in an interview in 2015. When the writer nodded her head, Dr. Saadawi said, “Well, I feel I am not.”