Alaa El Aswany ‘j’ai couru vers le Nil’

—You know, I deserve a citation of excellence , but of course they are only open to sons of paschas.
His father did’t understand and Khaled explained to him that the university administration awarded citations of excellence to children of the teaching staff and to those of high officials in order to ensure their nomination as assistants. This angered Madani.
—But this is unjust.
—But of course it’s unjust
—you must lodge a complaint.
Khaled broke out laughing:
—What complaint? Haj Madani. We’re in Egypt. injustice is the rule.***

This is El Aswany’s novel treating the Egyptian spring, how the revolution came to remove Mubarak and how the military were able to stop the threatened revolution and to keep power, with the will of the people. This book is still banned in Egypt and when you read it you will understand why. The book begins with the movement in Tahrir Square already underway and treats a microcosm of Egyptian society. There are two students, Khaled the son of a chauffeur who explains to his father in the opening quote how the system is stacked against him and Dania the free thinking daughter of the head of state security, general Alouani. The following conversation between Dania and her father shows how an age old religion, here Islam, can be interpreted to justify almost anything as she has been protesting for justice for a dead protestor:

—We ask that his assassins are brought to justice.
—Who is we?
—My fellow students from university and I.
—I don’t understand are you a lawyer or a law student?
—I’m a muslim
—We’re all muslims
—Islam requires us to defend what is just.
—Islam says that sedition is worst than murder.
—Islam sanctifies man and forbids humiliation and torture.
—These are the words of human rights groups payed for by the european union. Who told you that Islam forbids torture? the lash, stoning, hands cut off, these aren’t torture? Islam permits torture of certain individuals and even killing them to ensure the stability of a country. Have you heard of taazir? According to taazir he who governs has the right to judge alone a crime and to decide on the accused’s punishment.***

This book is told through the stories these and of the other members of this microcosm, Asma a teacher, Mazen a unionist, Aschraf a rich Copt and his servant Akram as well as Nourhane a television presenter. We learn of the extreme violence of the army against their own people, including murders, torture and running over protestors at speed in narrow streets with their tanks, of the enforced and humiliating virginity tests carried out on the female protestors with soldiers watching on, these told through individual testimonies.

We are told of how State security, organises for rich private Egyptians within the media to set up a successful smear campaign against the young protestors persuading the average Egyptian that their is a plot against order and the army, financed from abroad, as in this excerpt concerning Nourhane:

Every evening the Egyptians watch Nourhane. She invites university professors, intellectuals, specialists in strategic affairs. All confirm with proof that the Egyptian revolution had only ever been a conspiracy financed and planned by the American secret services and their counterparts in Mossad. Each time, you could read the emotion on Nourhane’s beautiful face as she ended her program calling the almighty in a humble voice as the camera gives a closeup of her face:
—Oh God, make Egypt safe and free her from traitors and those that wish her ill.***

This is a deeply disturbing book mixing manipulation with religion and the underlying influence of Wahabism, the power of the rich arab states, to explain how Egypt’s present day has been shaped. I suspect this book is not going to be available in Egypt in the forseeable future.

First Published in Arabic as “Al-Joumhouriyya Ka’anna” in 2018 by Dar Al-Adab
Translated into french byGilles Gauthier and published by Actes Sud in 2018
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

—Nous demandons que ses assassins soient soumis à un proces juste.
—C’est qui, vous?
—Mes condisciples de l’université et moi.
—Je ne comprends pas: tu es avocate ou étudiante en droit?
—Je suis musulmane
—Nous sommes tous musulmans
—L’islam nous ordonne de défendre ce qui est juste.
—L’islam dit que la sédition est pire que le meurtre.
—L’islam a sanctifié l’homme et interdit de l’humilier et de le torturer.
—Ce sont là les propos des associations des droits de l’homme financés par l’Union européenne. Qui t’as dit que L’Islam interdit la torture? Le fouet, la lapidation, les mains coupées ne sont ils pas des torture? L’islam permet de torturer certains individus, et même de les tuer pour assurer la stabilité du pays. As–tu entendu parler du taazir? Selon le taazir, celui qui gouverne à le droit de juger seul le crime et de décider du châtiment de l’accusé.

—Tu sais, je mérite une mention d’excellence mais, bien sûr, elle est réservée aux fils de Pacha
Son père ne comprenait pas et Khaled lui expliqua que l’administration de la faculté accordait la mention d’excellence aux enfants des professeurs et des hauts responsables, de façon à assurer leur nomination comme assistants. Cela mit Madani en colère.
—Mais c’est une injustice.
—Bien sûr que c’est une injustice.
—Il faut que tu déposes plainte.
Khaled éclata de rire:
—Quelle plainte? Hadj Madani. Nous sommes en Égypte. L’injustice est la règle.

Tous les soirs les Égyptiens regardaient Nourhane. Elle invitait des professeurs d’université, des penseurs, des spécialistes des affaires stratégiques. Tous confirmaient avec preuves à l’appui que la révolution en Égypte n’avait été qu’un complot financé et planifié par les services secrets américains aidés par leurs confrères israéliens du Mossad. Chaque fois, l’émotion se lisait sur le beau visage de Nourhane, qui terminait son émission par une invocation qu’elle prononçait d’une voix humble tandis que la caméra faisait un gros plan sur son visage:
—Mon Dieu, donne la sécurité à l’Égypte et délivre-la des traîtres et de ceux qui lui veulent du mal.