The 81-year-old El Saadawi has written many books about women and Islam, with a particular focus on female genital cutting. But it was her participation in the revolution against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that prompted the jury to award her, says Arne Ruth, a Swedish journalist and chairman of the jury.
"She is a crucial figure in fighting for democracy in the Arab world, not just in Egypt," says Ruth.
The prize is given to a person, group of people or an organistion working in the spirit of Stig Dagerman.
"The most important aspect is that they are acting for human rights, freedom of expression and women's rights in a very personal and committed manner,” Ruth says.
But El Saadawi says the revolution has led to a backlash against women in Egypt.
“They want to take away some of the rights that we gained over the years. In 2008, the law came and prohibited female cutting. Now they want to change that and go back to female cutting. Also, they want to diminish the age of marriage. The law says that girls should not marry before 16. Now they want to go back and say the girl can marry at 12," says El Saadawi.
El Saadawi and Ruth were speaking from Älvkarleby, 90 minutes north of Stockholm, where Stig Dagerman grew up. Dagerman was one of the most universalist-spirited people of his generation, establishing himself as a writer of novels, plays and journalism.
Ruth says Expressen newspaper sent Dagerman to Germany to write about the condition of being German after the second world war. That series of articles has become a classic.
"He treated Germans in that situation as human beings. He told the personal stories and put that into the larger political perspective. That was quite remarkable since Stig Dagerman during the war had been one of the most strong-minded critics against Nazism and anti-Semitism. Ideologically he had been on the ideological battlefront against Germany. After the war he turned to the human dimension," says Ruth.
Dagerman was unknown to El Saadawi before she received the prize. Now, she says, “After reading about his life and how he was so radical like me and a writer and a fighter, I am happy that I am having this prize."