Alaa Al Aswany: On The State of Egypt
Alaa Al Aswany
Always well-known for his outspoken
political opinions and daring literature, Alaa El Aswany is, paradoxically,
more controversial than ever after Egypt’s January 25th revolution.
It is fitting, then, that his first
collection of columns in English translation, On the State of Egypt, was published just before the onset of
political unrest. The volume was re-launched post-revolution with an
introduction written from Tahrir
A collection of columns published by
El Aswany in El Shorouk and El Dostour newspapers between 2005 and
2010, On the State of Egypt provides
an insightful look at some of Egypt’s political and social problems, some of
which remain relevant even after February 11th as Egypt moves into a new era of
Although intended for an
international audience, the columns in this collection contain insights
valuable to everyone’s understanding of Egypt’s political life under
Mubarak, and in retrospect, shed a considerable amount of light on the factors
that underpinned the January 25th revolution.
In his columns expertly translated
by Jonathan Wright, El Aswany covers current events and issues which he sees as
crucial for Egypt’s
progress. At the end of each article, whether the subject was the poor state of
government healthcare, the negative influence of Wahabi Islam or Islamophobia
in Europe; El Aswany’s conclusion is the same: ‘Democracy is the solution.’
In his discussions of religion in
particular, El Aswany comes to logical conclusions providing much needed
clarity to common conceptions about the dynamics of faith in Egypt,
particularly for international readers. His writing style is heavy on
entertaining anecdotes and straight to the point, making each article an easy
read and an explosion of insight.
El Aswany’s forceful, clear and
highly logical arguments are a political education in and of themselves, and
for this reason alone, On the State of
Egypt is worth reading. El Aswany manages to put forth his perspective on
contentious issues in a way that leaves the reader convinced and enlightened on
the topic at hand, however much they thought they knew before.
The publication of El Aswany’s
political writings in English translation is a landmark event, and one that
clearly reveals how much non-Arabic readers interested in Egyptian politics
were missing out on all these years. Readers without a taste for politics could
still benefit from Aswany’s insightful commentary on Egypt’s social problems and western
perceptions of the Arab world.
Even those who have enjoyed
Aswany’s writings in Arabic have something to gain from On the State of Egypt – this book is hopefully just the beginning
of a new era of unrestricted political writing, which will promote a more
nuanced understanding of Egypt’s past, present and ongoing challenges as it
faces the difficult transition to democracy.