Ahdaf Soueif, a prominent Egyptian novelist, came to Columbia from Tahrir Square on Tuesday night to reflect on the recent revolution in her home country.
Soueif was the first ever female speaker to be featured in Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture, which coincided this year with International Women's Day.
After taking the podium, Soueif joked, "I've been used to a large number of people in Tahrir Square, but I did not expect as many people here." Soueif spoke about how different people naturally found their place in the chaos of a revolution and the organic groupings that formed.
Professor of Modern Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi, who was in attendance, said Soueif is a figure who transcends culture.
"Ahdaf Soueif is someone of the culture. These are the voices we should be listening to...she is coming at a time of hope. She is someone with a humanist message and there is a lot of work still to do," Khalidi said.
A Tunisian man in attendance reflected on his concerns that the change of a regime might not rectify the unequal distribution of power between the genders. He specifically pointed to the existing Egyptian constitution's lack of recognition of women.
In response, Soueif spoke of the two-step process that she deemed necessary in Egypt. The first step, she explained, was to rethink the constitution itself, which until now "has been mutilated by the former regime that it cannot allow for free and fair elections." The second issue, she said, was the actual amending of the constitution, which might take a long time.
In addressing the the role of women in the Egyptian revolution, Soueif said that "for the moment, the position of the feminists and the women's NGOs is that this is a revolution of politics and economy, this is not a revolution about gender. Gender issues are part of what is being resolved. In this revolution, women have declared themselves as equal citizens involved in the revolution, but not a revolution about gender."
Edward Said's widow Mariam said she was pleased about the choice of Soueif for this year's speaker.
"She's well-known abroad, a very prominent Arab author, and a public activist."
About her husband's legacy she said that for students, "the most important thing about his legacy is to think, ponder about things, and develop them. People should stand on his shoulders and think beyond. He would have been extremely happy about what is going on in Egypt."