A Novel Tracks Egypt’s 2011 Revolution and Its Bloody Crackdown

A Novel Tracks Egypt’s 2011 Revolution and Its Bloody Crackdown

By Alaa Al Aswany
Translated by S. R. Fellowes

Alaa Al Aswany’s newest novel begins with an Egyptian basic waking up punctually, with “no want of an alarm clock,” for the daybreak prayer, which he performs with emotions of “deep and real humility.” He spends the remainder of the morning overseeing the torture of a political prisoner, although his coronary heart isn’t actually in it. He’s fearful about his daughter, a medical pupil who has been posting movies on Fb that present the police brutalizing civilians.

Aswany’s opening is a intelligent riff on essentially the most celebrated novel in Arabic literature, Naguib Mahfouz’s “Palace Stroll” (revealed in 1956), which additionally begins with a personality waking within the evening “with out having to depend on an alarm clock.” But it surely’s a dangerous transfer too, since all allusions invite comparisons and these aren’t at all times in Aswany’s favor.

Like Mahfouz’s novel — and like Aswany’s best-known work, “The Yacoubian Constructing” — “The Republic of False Truths” is a panoramic fiction with a big solid of characters: generals and schoolteachers, manufacturing unit managers and chauffeurs. Each novels take purpose on the hypocrisies of energy, particularly the patriarchal variety, and present how political crises can divide households alongside generational strains. The climax of Mahfouz’s story is the 1919 revolution in opposition to the British, whereas Aswany’s novel facilities on the occupation of Tahrir Sq. in 2011.

For Aswany, this was the yr Egyptians awoke to their very own company. Essentially the most sensitively drawn character within the novel, capably translated by S. R. Fellowes, is Ashraf Wissa, a former film actor, embittered by the trade’s corruption, who has retreated into hashish-smoking and canoodling with the maid (he’s an replace of the getting old sybarite, Zaki Bey el Dessouki, in “The Yacoubian Constructing”). Although skeptical at first of the battle within the sq., he involves acknowledge that the younger folks signify “a unique form of Egyptian,” and joins their motion.

Wissa’s transformation is finely traced and factors to an essential fact concerning the 2011 revolts. It was the younger folks, appearing outdoors established events, who taught their elders how you can stand up and take away a dictator.

That is, in fact, solely half the story. The second half of Aswany’s novel charts the opening part of Egypt’s counterrevolution, during which the military, after ushering Hosni Mubarak offstage, started shoring up the established order ante.

It’s right here that Aswany’s principally melodramatic strategy to storytelling turns into a handicap. In his novel, the deep state’s response to the revolution is masterminded by the overall of the opening scene (whose piety recollects that of the present Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi). He effortlessly marshals Egypt’s media elite to activate the protesters, branding them as international brokers who might be shot down within the streets.

Reasonably than the messy, unscripted drama of fallible characters colliding with each other within the midst of a historic disaster, we’ve a cleaning soap opera — in Egyptian phrases, a Ramadan musalsal — during which a monolithic state equipment batters its noble and self-sacrificing youth.

This doesn’t depart a lot room for novelistic complication. (And it results in dialogue like, “I despatched your Excellency Plan 2000.” “You probably did properly to ship it through the key e mail with out the ministry’s stamp.”) It is usually unsatisfying as historical past. What concerning the Egyptians who didn’t fall into both camp? Aswany treats the Muslim Brotherhood as an object of crude satire — like many Egyptian leftists, he regards Islamism as merely a masks for venality — and reveals little curiosity in extraordinary residents who don’t help the revolution.

Aswany typically mocks the conspiracy theories of sheikhs and armed forces officers, who painted the revolution as a international plot. However his personal novel finally ends up suggesting that the Egyptian state is strictly the type of omnipotent and farseeing entity that its ideologues make it out to be — a fantasy the revolutionaries of 2011 spent a lot blood to show.

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