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John P. Jones III
- Publié sur Amazon.com
... and went home ill and miserable."
I first became acquainted with Ahdaf Soueif when she came to nearby Santa Fe, NM some ten years ago, and gave a joint presentation with Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist, best known for her work Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege in which she describes her experiences living in Gaza over a three year period. Subsequently, I've read both Hass' work, as well as Soueif's The Map of Love: A Novel. The latter concerns love, of course, as the title suggests, but in the setting of almost a century of Anglo-Egyptian relationships, a natural enough topic given her own marriage to an Englishmen, which produced some children with both Egyptian and English names. A melding, indeed.
So when this book popped up on my "Vine" offerings, I naturally said yes. It concerns the events (and, alas, aftermath) that dominated the news media for a couple of weeks, about three years ago. CNN actually sent some "star" reporters to the scene, for cameo appearances. The scene is the title of this work, and its center, where much of the action was, is Tahrir Square. Soueif, who is now in her `60's, was born in a nearby hospital, and grew up, and still lives within walking distance of Tahrir. I suspected I get the real "scoop" from her, rather than the cameos, and I was not disappointed.
It - that is, the revolution - commenced on January 25, 2011. The gestation period was a long one: some 30 years. But within 18 days, the man that had ruled Egypt for that period, Hosni Mubarak, was gone. The author avoids comparisons with other revolutions, for example, the French, Russian, and South African. Hers is very much a "You were there" account. And she literally was, for in addition to being a writer, she and her family are political activists that have fought the corrupt rule of Mubarak, on and off, for that period. The "weapon" of choice was their unarmed bodies, particularly the young, the "shabab" in Arabic. Hundreds were killed by the "forces of order," but millions were participating, and their efforts remained undiminished until Mubarak was gone. Groups along the political spectrum, from the left and the right, participated. Communications was essential, and Mubarak realized this. He cut Egypt off the internet, and cut off the cell phones. So, for a period, it was back to word of mouth, and talking via land-line telephones. And it worked... sorta.
The "sorta" relates to the problems of the "new order" after the revolution. Starting with, will there really be a "new order"? Or is it just a question of a change of face(s) of the same old ruling class? Soueif covers this issue in the chapter: "18 days were never enough." The "revolution" looked to the Army to preserve their gains... always a very problematic hope. All too often, the actions of the Army served the power structure Mubarak had set in place. Elections were held, and the secular / Leftist candidate, Hamdein Sabahi, came in third, obtaining only 21% of the vote. There was a runoff between the top two candidates, Morsi, whose main support was drawn from the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shafiq, who represented the forces that had supported Mubarak. Hence the subject sentence, whereby Soueif voted for the proverbial "lesser of two evils" and went home sick. The drama however continues, since Morsi was deposed by the Army five months ago, and Adly Mansour was installed (this is NOT cover in the book).
Although I have never been to Egypt, I have traveled in most of the Arab countries, and lived in Saudi Arabia over two decades. Nonetheless, I found the factions rather confusing, and thought Soueif could have done a better job explaining them. For example, at times she uses the term "Ikhwan". Is this the Muslim Brotherhood? I think so, but it was not clear from the book. Then there is a separate faction called the "Salafis," and I thought that might just be another term for the "Ikhwan," but apparently not. Comments are welcome that would clarify the use of these terms.
Overall though, it seems to be a struggle between two very familiar factions, worldwide, now commonly referred to as the 1% and the 99%. Mubarak represented the 1%, which had a deep sense of entitlement, making millions and billions in the process, leaving the 99% all the poorer. And in Egypt's case, the 99% seemed far more intent on change, and was far more tenacious than, say, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. As for the final results, though, the proverbial jury is still out. 5-stars for Soueif's important contribution.