Toward the end of our talk, I found myself asking her, “What made you Mona?” How did she become the unique voice she’s become. It turns out a secret stash of feminist literature in Saudi Arabia did the trick.
“I think several things [made me different],” she says. “First that I grew up with parents who were equals because my parents met in medical school. When we moved to the UK, I often say that I learned to become a minority. I understood that wow, people expect Muslim women to be nothing, but I have a mother who’s doing a PhD. What is this?
“And then we moved to Saudi when I was 15, and this was a huge schism in my life. My world turned upside down in Saudi Arabia because my frustration at the way women were so badly treated there. It finally found an outlet when I was 18 or 19 and I found ...feminist literature in the library of my university.”
“In Saudi Arabia?”
“Yeah, some professor had put feminist journals up there—[in the city of] Jeddah . It saved me. And I often say that as a woman, you either lose your mind or you become a feminist. And so I began using my mind. I fell into a terrible depression. But I was saved by feminism. That was a real pivotal moment in my life. Becoming a feminist in Saudi Arabia.”
Before she left to pack for her trip back to the violent streets of Cairo, Mona showed me again the tattoo of a goddess she had inscribed on her arm where the police had broken it. “Sekhmet,” she said, “very much a woman. The head of a lioness.”