Interesting insight into current struggles in Egypt  posted by Robyn Creswell at The New YorkerIn May of 2011, three months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim, a wiry man in his mid-seventies with a salt-and-pepper half-fro, was interviewed about the relationship between politics and literature. Asked if he was writing anything about the uprising, Ibrahim demurred. To write about Tahrir would require a great deal of research. “A novel takes time,” he explained, and a good novel “would have to have a firm grasp of the past, the present moment, and the future—what will happen, or what might happen afterwards. All this entails having a total vision.”Ibrahim has written a number of historical novels set in times of profound historical transformation. “Warda” (2000) tells the story of a female guerilla who fights for the Dhofar Rebellion, in Oman, in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. “Turbans et Chapeaux” (2008) is a revisionary account of Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt, which is commonly thought to have ushered Egypt into modern history. In the interview, Ibrahim suggested that what had happened in Tahrir was not on this order of magnitude. “It certainly was not a revolution,” he said. “A revolution has a program and a goal—a complete change of reality or the removal of one class by another. What happened was a popular uprising [whose] primary demand was ‘regime change,’ though it was not clear what that was supposed to mean, except in the sense of removing the most prominent symbols of the old regime.”

Ibrahim has become a sort of oracle for many Egyptian students and writers, although he is not as outspoken or as friendly to journalists as his fellow novelist and leftist Alaa Al Aswany. Along with his fiction, Ibrahim is revered for having publicly refused the Arab Novel Award, a prize given by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, under Mubarak. In 2003, Ibrahim attended the awards ceremony, but instead of delivering an acceptance speech he excoriated the regime for its feckless foreign policy, its endemic corruption, and its use of torture, all of which, he said, gave him no choice but to refuse the prize: “For it was awarded by a government that, in my opinion, lacks the credibility to bestow it.” At that time, Ibrahim was already well known as a dissenter. He had belonged to the Communist Party as a young man, and his novels of the eighties and nineties—published by independent rather than state-funded presses—were pitiless satires of Mubarak-era Egypt. He also has a reputation for personal probity, living modestly in a sixth-floor walk-up in a middle-class suburb of Cairo. The awards-ceremony speech made him a hero, especially among young Egyptian writers.

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