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Alaa Al Aswany made his literary mark in 2002 when he wrote The Yacoubian Building, the "best-selling novel in Egypt for two years," according to National Geographic, and a hugely popular Egyptian film. Now Al Aswany may become even more famous for a series of articles published in Egypt's opposition press from 2005 to the date of the revolution. Always a believer in human rights, which he believed were being trampled during the thirty-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, the author was a vocal supporter of those who were beginning to challenge Mubarak publicly. In this collection of his articles, beginning in 2005, Al Aswany uses his literary power and popularity to try to reach all elements of Egyptian society, examining some of the issues which have separated Egyptians from each other in an effort to show the importance of cooperation for the larger purpose of ousting the regime and bringing about democracy in a country which has known only despotism, poverty, and corruption for decades. Few who read these articles will doubt their impact on the populace, leading eventually to the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and the far-reaching revolution which began on January 25, 2011, and continued for eighteen days.
At the beginning of the book, Al Aswany explains that repression and poverty were so long-standing that the populace, over two or three generations, had learned submission, and no organized system existed to provide a way for the masses to rebel. Those lucky enough to have jobs, had to work, and these found their own personal solutions to their economic and personal crises. Many talented and educated people left the country because they did not have personal connections to government officials who would hire them. The poor starved. More recently, Saudi oil money, with the blessing of the Mubarak regime, financed the promotion of Wahhabi Islam within Egypt, a very conservative and fundamental interpretation of Islam which requires obeying the ruler, no matter how corrupt he might be.
Many of the local television stations, owned by Saudis, even now feature uneducated Wahhabi preachers who appeal specifically to Egypt's poor and often illiterate in an effort to sway them to this extremely conservative--and very controlling--Wahhabi point of view. Wahhabi wives and daughters are required to wear the face-covering niqab, though as recently as the 1970s, Egyptian women were treated as full human beings, and wore modern clothing that revealed their arms and legs. Ironically, as the author points out, sexual harassment was much less common then than in the present. In addition, the more this movement grew, the more women were taken out of the government's equation, and the more secure the regime could feel.
Comprehensive examples of the Mubarak regime's many long-standing economic and social abuses, too numerous to mention here, are cited in these articles, which cover just about every issue in Egyptian life, including religion. Of special significance to the author is the fact that President Mubarak did not defend Egypt even when Egyptians were detained and flogged in Saudi Arabia, tortured in Kuwait, killed by Israelis on the Egyptian border, or attacked by Algerians during a World Cup soccer match. On January 25, 2011, when a call went out on the internet to demonstrate in Tahrir Square, about 200 - 300 people were expected. Over a million showed up. The author was there giving speeches for eighteen straight days, returning home only briefly during that time, because, he says over and over again, "Democracy is the solution." An eye-opening and important book for those who care about justice. Mary Whipple
The Yacoubian Building: A Novel
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"Alaa Al Aswany is among the best writers in the Middle East today, a suitable heir to the mantle worn by Naguib Mahfouz, his great predecessor." -Jay Parini, The Guardian (UK)
In a collection of time progressing essays, Aswany reflects on a revolution, he claims was inevitable. He discusses the future of Egypt, and expresses his views as one of the Arab world's progressive voice, and a human right advocate. Going back to the first spark that ignited the January 25th demonstrations, when a Face book posting, called on Egyptians to meet in Tahrir (Liberation) Square to protest the three decade of Egypt's corrupt governance, calling for Mubarak's ouster. Aswany addresses many of the questions being asked by embattled Egyptians and the outside world: How could be the next president, Egypt's potential savior? How could he, in this chaos, be democratically elected, in a political system where only jerks, self-seekers and pushovers have previously monopolized the elections? How can a democratic reform be effected among a people used to such hypocrisy of the religious observant who commits most grievous corruption?
The political observer explains why the peaceful revolt that surprised the whole world was liable and bound to happen, in a candid assessment of both the potential and limitations that would shape Egypt's near future. As an accredited novelists, Aswany is divided between idealists, who see a better world even as they strive to portray it, and realists, who interpret life in a harsher and more realistic view; nothing will really change. Although he is an earnest politician, he naturally assumes his idealism. His analysis for the causes of the youth massive revolt is generally conforming to fact, there existed an undercurrent that slowly crept into Egypt's conscience, and accidents that amplified distress, added to sky high unemployment, consumer exploitation, and corruption by Mubarak's son, who hoped to grab power.
"On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable," is Al Aswany, a dentist who devotes a good part of his time to writing, collected a group of published essays. Aswany, one of Egypt's most acclaimed novelists, writes a lively chronicle of the Egyptian society, with discerning analysis of the most urgent issues: state tyranny, government corruption, police brutality, chronic poverty, massive unemployment, economic stagflation, the oppression of Egypt's Christian minority, and the harassment of women just to name a few. These are the reasons that led to the peaceful enormous demonstrations, in Tahrir Square. The Egyptian writer, a Chicago trained dentist, is a political activist who co-founded Kefayah (Enough) party, an early on advocate for the ouster of President Mubarak.
But writings played a principle role, as did Rousseau and Voltaire during the French revolution, a longing for lost Egyptian democratic experiment in the first part of the Twentieth Century, when women had equal elective rights since 1912! Dramatic events of brutality reported in daily newspapers. Religious terror and mass killings which haunted Egyptian conscience of Christians and Muslims alike. Uncensored writings became a reminder of Egypt's history written by a good number of liberal thinkers, who did a good job exposing the leading Egyptian thought on her chronic problems. Dr. Amre Abdel Samie's book, "Copts and the critical number," that included essays by some of the top Coptic thinkers including Dr. Boutros Ghaly, past UN secretary general, and head of human rights foundation, and many others.