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.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all