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Shafiq Al-Hout: My Life in the PLO
Memoires often hold our fascination because they take readers through the details of a different era. They are especially thought-provoking when they focus on revolutionary personas like Shafiq Al-Hout, who played a great role in the Arab-Israeli struggle by founding the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
For nearly half a century, the PLO aimed at building a democratic state for the Palestinian citizens, helping in formulating armed resistance guidelines against Israel, and, most of all, fighting for Palestinians' rights to return to their home country. From its start to gaining recognition from the UN and beyond, the PLO developed greatly and changed the lives of Al-Hout and his companions.
In My Life in the PLO, major events during that time are documented, more so than personal memories. We learn of Al-Hout's life in details from his childhood up to his attempts to quit smoking in his final years. He also interprets history and social surroundings as well as a chronological account of his life up until he resigned from the PLO in 1993 after the signing of the Oslo agreement.
The autobiography takes us into the undisclosed process of decision-making, offering insight that does not shy away from criticizing Arab leaders, including Yasser Arafat. From disappointments following the Lebanese civil war and violent Israeli raids, to the author’s hope of reawakening with the Hezbollah party, the book recounts the events as if they happened yesterday with the rationale and justifications of a true political expert.
Al-Hout’s dedication to the Palestinian cause shows in every single word that he wrote. Anyone familiar with the Arab world will empathise with the author’s sense of longing for the country of his early childhood to be free of wars and bloodshed. It’s a cause that he devoted his life to, but one that eluded him.
A simple online search would give you a chronological account of the Egyptian revolution; accurate dates, death tolls and perhaps even the names of the martyrs. But it will not tell you how it made the Egyptian people feel. Statistics can't describe what the families of the martyrs went through and it cannot accurately express the weight placed on the hearts of millions of Egyptians during this time.
Soueif doesn't ignore the violence perpetrated by the regime against protestors; she also mentions those who have lost their lives. She has kept in mind that by the time readers received her book a lot would have changed, so she frequently refers to the fact that we – her readers – would know more about the current situation than she did while writing it.
As she walks down every street, she supplements her story with memories and anecdotes from her childhood and adolescence, adding an emotional and personal dimension to her book and making it easy for readers to imagine why she is still attached to Cairo despite her long years in London.
The book is a refreshing spin on a now-over-a-year-old revolution. It brings hope. Soueif's sharp senses have led her to assume that by the time the book hits bookshelves, hope would still be the number one motivation and that's how she writes; invoking hope and persistence in the hearts of her readers.
The 2011 Egyptian revolution has undoubtedly sparked more art, expression, creativity and literature than Egypt has seen in the past thirty odd years. While some have been inspiring, some have also choked the revolution to the point of boredom. It is with absolute relief and delight to say that the Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation by Ashraf Khalil is not of the latter.
An Egyptian-American journalist and writer based in Egypt for the past fifteen years, Khalil has been a correspondent for the likes of Los Angeles Times, The Times and The Economist. For his first book, Khalil has framed the revolution into an entertaining and educational read.
Khalil divides the book into twenty parts, including the
prologue and epilogue. Starting at the beginning of all that has lead to our
current situation; Khalil sheds light on the sequence of events and essentially
how and why everything came to be. The rise of Mubarak after Sadat’s assassination
is where the story begins, and Khalil moves chronologically through Egypt's history, leading up to today.
Moving through the chapters, the reader is given a very clear and precise account of everything that aided the revolution and added to its necessity, such as the Kefaya movement’s development and Khaled Said’s monstrous death. It’s informative, easy to read and, above all, engaging. Khalil voices a very genuine and truthful angle to events; his sources and references are directly from the people involved and paints a sincere picture. His accounts are often quite moving, where you find yourself smiling at the memory of an event or touched by the humanness that prevailed over much of the revolution.
This is what’s most enjoyable about this book. It highlights the beauty in the uprising, the human hope and the undeniable warmth of the Egyptian people. While he retells events that are simply unjust and frustrating, the story being told is bigger than that. It's a thoughtful representation and description of the movement and is told from a view point most revolutionaries would relate to.
Details that we either are unaware of, or have simply disregarded and forgotten, are given in relation to Mubarak and his rise to power. The fact that he was somewhat of a joke to the Egyptian people prior to his presidency, where he was regarded as complacent and uncharismatic, is an aspect most of the younger generation isn’t plainly aware of.
For anyone interested in getting to know the Egyptian revolution and how it actually played out down to the smallest details and side stories (which are not only relevant but highly interesting), Liberation Square is a highly recommendable read.