Alaa Al Aswany: 'Like being in love': literary reflections on the revolution

The Egyptian writer gives Donald Macintyre his take on the uprising

For the best-selling author and star of a new generation of Egyptian novelists, there is much in common between a revolution and being in love.

"When someone is in real love he becomes a better person," says Alaa Al Aswany, the celebrated author of The Yacoubian Building and Chicago. "A revolution is like that." Everyone who takes part knows what kind of person he was before the protests started, "and now he is going to feel different. We have dignity. We are not scared any more."

Aswany has participated in the protests with a passion. He will write a book about the events still unfolding here: "It has been a unique experience not to read about history but to live inside history," he told The Independent yesterday

The 53-year-old author is an acute observer of what he and many millions of other Egyptians now fervently hope will be the final days of the autocrat who has ruled them for the past 30 years. The atmosphere reminds him of that surrounding the fictional Caribbean dictator conjured in Gabriel García Márques's novel The Autumn of the Patriarch.

First, he says, there is the phase of "total denial". Second, the preposterous accusations that those protesting are being "used and manipulated [by those] who hate our country". Third, the "new game" of doing anything to stay in power. And only after all that, to run away.

The writer, a long-time critic of Mubarak's regime, senses something "medieval" about the concentration of presidential power. He also rails against what he sees as government propaganda. Aswany says he has seen a leaked Ministry of Interior document containing "a very clear instruction that Egyptian TV should interview women, saying how afraid they are and... calling on Mubarak to save them [from the criminals]".

Like many fellow Egyptians, Aswany is at pains to play down fears that the protests might usher in rule by the the Muslim Brotherhood. The fears have been cooked up to create the misconception that "either you accept Mubarak or you need to get prepared for another Hamas or Taliban in power", says Aswany. "This revolution has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood."

A comparison the former dentist prefers is to Spain returning to freedom after the Franco years, and a return to Egypt's 19th-century standing as a bastion of liberalism and democracy.

He also rejects another Western and Israeli "stereotype" that a new Egypt would cancel the three-decade-old Camp David accord with Israel. He is puzzled that Israeli officials cannot "see that making a peace treaty with a responsible democracy is much better than making a peace treaty with a corrupt dictatorship. If you respect the Egyptian people and their choice they are going to keep the peace process on a very steady and strong course."

Aswany is contemptuous of the new Vice-President Omar Suleiman's planned consultations with opposition political parties, adding that "the opposition is the street, not in the political parties". The movement will throw up its own, predominately young, leadership, and if it needs older figures to advise it, they should be ones to choose.

He is not talking about Mohamed ElBaradei, whom he says many young Egyptians respect for his integrity, while emphasising that this is not "ElBaradei's revolution".

And a role for him in the new Egypt, Minister of Culture perhaps? "It is much better to be a good novelist," he says.

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