Hisham Matar: On the Novelist and Dictaroship فبراير 29, 2012
Libyan creative writer Hisham Matar writes as if he dreams; no detail is without a symbol or an emotional function. That was my first impression on “Naima” a published prose piece from his novel Anatomy of a Disappearance, centered on a little Libyan boy living in Cairo whose politically active father is abducted by authorities. Matar’s careful attention to details and consciously musical diction seem to conceal as much as reveal the pictured psychological horrors and blunt realities. On the night before his lecture in the AUC entitled “Men Who Tiptoe Their Marital Bedrooms: the Novelist and Dictatorship”, I could not stop searching for his writings. They seemed to attract me instantly, wrap me entirely into their luring world of childhood perspectives. It was too late to go and buy an entire book for Matar, so what was available on the net had to suffice. And it did.
As if leaving the kids, the dishes in the sink and driving for about an hour and a half from my suburb to the AUC campus in Tahrir were not enough revolutionary acts, it turned out to be one of those very dusty cold days of early spring. I went to the lecture with an atmosphere of knowing Matar, who I never saw before, intimately. But don’t we actually know people more when we read for them? What was the saying? Oh, yes: “Trust the tale not the teller”. Matar ‘s tale tells a world of fear from ruthless pathological dictatorship, exile into another homeland that became itself another doubtful home after the father’s abduction, and unredeemed unhopeful ends.
There I was in the congested libnan Square pondering on what I had read the night before. Matar’s creative dilemma was moving into two dictatorial worlds: Libya and Egypt, loving both and being emotionally crushed by both. The first exiled him, the latter conspired against him and abducted his father. The two revolutions took place almost at the same time and he saw them as inseparable in rebellion act as much as they were inseparable in corruption. says of his first book In Country of Men in “Spear’s” that it was smuggled into Tripoli and”” But Matar is always reluctant to admit a political motive. To him, the artist/ novelist/individual remains the important issue.
On the way, I tried to imagine how his voice would sound in the Oriental Hall. Would his spoken words be as sensitive as his written prose? Why did he write in English? Was he submitting whole-heartedly to the discourse of his exile? Was he the literary ambassador between two worlds as the New York Times review tells of his last novel? Was he at odds with a language whose native homelands forced him into exile? That was an important question to me, an aspiring creative writer myself, who write in both Arabic and English. Unable to decide why the ideas choose to come to me in either, I was trying to pose the question for others hoping to find an answer for myself. Was Matar’s English, the language of the empire, spoken in the face of its allied dictatorship forcing it to seek translation and analysis or hiding from it behind the masks of foreignness and literary tricks?
A fine grown man, soft faced and deep-eyed greeting everyone with “ Masa’a Elfol”. He sounded calm, shy, and real. He immediately declared that the alluring part of the lecture’s title “Men who tiptoe into their martial bedrooms” was a rather hasty title for the lecture and that he would rather discuss the novelist/artist and exile/dictatorship or the novelist as citizen and artist. Many Western literary figures he mentioned starting from Ovid to Alburt Camus and Becket, writers who were in exiles, managed to delineate exiles and express the writer’s alienation. He was moving from one to the other, quoting parts of their literary works or sayings when necessary as if he was telling of the conversation of a company of friends who had lunch with him just before the lecture.
Answering the audience questions was more revealing about Matar. Though he writes about exile, about children who are originally Libyan and fathers who disappear, his work is not autobiographical. Writing comes to him as a matter of falling in love. He has to be in love with whatever/whoever he writes about. For instance, the father and son in Anatomy of a Disappearance start as fictional characters while Matar was on a short vacation in an almost vacant Red-Sea hotel. On the beach, Matar sees an old man strolling beside a young man. Not even knowing what relates them to each other, they interest him in a strange way and linger on his mind for years. Later on, they reappear and occupy an emotional part of him till their story is written. Getting the first rhythmical sentence: “There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.”, was ninety percent of the job. The remaining ten percent took him three years. Not one word on Libya is in the book, though.
English as his current creative language is not a choice. Though he admits he is better capable of English, this does not mean he cannot write in Arabic if he chooses to invest time and effort there. Interestingly, English is a language that sheds a veil between the surroundings and Matar, giving him a necessary distance to see better. Conscious about his linguistic choices, he gets “cooled” and writes in the right rhythm in English.
Pushed severally to explain the tiptoeing men into their bedrooms, Matar elusively tells two anecdotes he had recently read about illuminating conversations in bedrooms. However, he finally gets to the point that in Libya men used to hush all the time about their views in fear of the secret police; even in their own bedrooms lest their own children may naively betray them. During the Libyan revolution, Matar mentioned, children were interrogated about their parents’ favorite channels at homes! Matar admits that he acted as his own censor not to make his books a horror catalogue of the Libyan totalitarian regime which is happily past in spite of the fact of being exiled all his life because of it and in the bitter fact that his father is still abducted there leaving a heavy disappearance. Kaddafi killed whole generations of artists literally and morally. But art has to rise above the dictatorial project of fixation. (I call it falling in love with Big Brother in the way George Orwell shows in 1984)But that extra-literary concern would have left his works a dead corpse.
“So, if seventeenth century was the century of mathematics, the eighteenth of physical sciences, the nineteenth of biology, the twentieth is definitely one of fear ( here alienation and exile echo). Still, the twenty-first century is in the making and we can still shape what it is like.” Those were the ideas on my head as I drove back home. I felt joyfully light, even swinging inside the car to the music. My happiness rose because finally to me Libya would be akin to some other face rather than Kaddafi’s; and a good one. Hisham Matar’s image is still hovering in front of me with his short laugh, half given and half withdrawn; a soft well-lighted face that you can never miss the veil of sadness on.
It was during l… فبراير 24, 2012
It was during last November when I first read Siraaj by Radwa Ashour, while the sad events of Mohamed Mahmoud Street—the Eyes of Freedom Street—were going on. I needed an escape from all the news, from my own
short, cough-filled trips to Tahrir delivering medical supplies to the field
hospitals, from the vague future that infinitely stretched ahead and the daily
hassle helping my kids study. I picked that thin blue book from my library that read Siraaj, an Arab Tale, promising myself a fantastic escape into a world of harems, sultans, banquets, and hopefully a little bit of good sex. A little voice inside me whispered. Are you kidding? Is this the escape you want? Reading for professor Radwa, the strict, idealist, powerful person? But it was too late to go back; I had been in the car by that time.
The sultan, the harems, banquets, even good Arab horses were there —
sex was not, unfortunately — and also were the poor, the slaves, the frightened
widowed women, the colonizer, the prisons, the thwarted uprisings, the pain,
the tears, and — as Ashour describes the Palestinian children with stones in their hands in front of the Israeli tanks: They choose a minute of an absolute meaning and ability: intense freedom followed by death. They buy this minute with their entire lives. Is it madness? It is beautiful madness because that minute is more precious than an extended life in helplessness and humiliation. The situation is painfully repeated in all the streets of the Arab Spring movements, where the Arab youth face the military machine of the dictators.
Thus Ashour’s fictional trip to a 19th century Alexandria bombarded by the colonizing British ships, which is followed by a trip to an imaginary island ruled by a British-allied totalitarian sultan ends, for me as a reader, right here, right now. The island is an ‘every-Arab-island’ in the middle of every Arab uprising against their dictators.
The writing of Siraaj was influenced by nationality and gender. This is what
Ashour says about her writing experience in “My Experience with Writing” in The View from Within:
I am an Arab woman and a citizen of the Third World and my heritage in both cases is stifled. I know this truth right down to the marrow of my bones, and I fear it to the extent that I write in self-defense and in defense of countless others with whom I identify or who are like me. I want to write
because reality fills me with a sense of alienation. Silence only increases my alienation, while confession opens up so that I may head out towards the others or they may come to me themselves.
In the case of the Middle East, the alliances that the neo-colonial West has taken with the Middle Eastern dictatorships for the indirect sake of Israel, a shameful extension of colonialism, led to creating a strange case of simultaneous existing colonialism and postcolonialism in the region. This is how I see Ashour situating her novel as a play: going back historically, travelling in imagination, and arriving right here, right now. For, as she herself analyzes the genre and its relation with time in an interview with Ahmed Al-Shoraiky in Aljazeera.net: All novels are historical in a sense. The writer’s /reader’s engagement should also be
with novels whose events take place in the past. This is an intended engagement presenting a world parallel to ours and calling the reader to find connections.
Talking about her first experience with Western other in her first book AlRihlah, Ashour says:
I set out full of doubt and fear, perhaps even bitterness toward the imperial other…then, I was a woman. The eye that sees and the perception that classifies and organizes the vocabulary of experience, both, impose their different constrains which are in turn-reflected in the purport of the experience and the writing of it.
It is indeed the eye of the woman that arranges the experience in Siraaj. Storytelling is the keynote here, for all the characters in Siraaj are storytellers, story hoarders, or story lovers. The story in Siraaj is Ashour’s way to assure the national identity, keep the cultural heritage and enforce the distinctive features of the Arab character. So, we hear stories of Egyptian youth Mahmoud, from the old slave Ammar, from Tawaddud overhearing the magistrate, from the different sailors and finally from Amina, the mother of the martyr Said.
The martyrs are from the revolution’s achievement. In the TV program “ On my responsibility” Aljazeera live, Aug 13, 2011, Ashour says:
Though strange and painful to enlist this as an achievement, the Egyptian Revolution has given us a long list of martyrs. A very big loss indeed, but also an achievement because our martyrs will always be a driving force for us and they will eventually lead us to victory; as the blood of those who sacrificed themselves for others to live well is priceless and very precious and will never go in vain. So, there is no way back! We should truly think of our martyrs as an achievement.
Therefore, it is Amina’s painful story, her “subaltern speech”, that is sent back to the empire, the old empire and the new empire with their dictatorships and old unchanging trite discourses. Painful as it is, it promises a continuity of the revolution till “Bread, freedom, and social justice” are finally achieved.
YOUR DOLLAR FOR EGYPT: AN INITIATIVE TO SAVE THE EGYPTIAN ECONOMYGuest Post BY: MOHAMED ALY KHEIR. Trans. Abudlwahab Khalifa يناير 13, 2012
YOUR DOLLAR FOR EGYPT: AN INITIATIVE TO SAVE THE EGYPTIAN ECONOMY
Over the last year,Egypt lost more than 15 billion dollars of foreign exchange reserves, and the proceeds of tourism also dropped by one-third from peak levels. Further, inflows of foreign investment during 2011 recorded a big zero as no single dollar enteredEgypt. And despite the promises of some Arab and foreign governments to provide financial assistance to the Egyptian Government in the form of grants and loans (The Group of Eight promised to offer 35 billion dollars for the Arab Spring Nations:Egypt,Libya andTunisia. SomeGulf States announced offering 10.5 billion dollars as well), nothing of such grants and loans arrived inCairo except for one billion dollars from the Governments of Saudi Arabia andQatar. On the other hand, Egyptian, Arab and foreign capital assets have been smuggled fromEgypt in the past year, either due to the systematic plunder of the Egyptian people’s funds, or through legitimate channels such as foreign investors in the Egyptian stock market or USD treasury securities.
The aforementioned lines lead us to search for solutions and alternatives to get out of the economic predicament thatEgyptis going through now; especially thatEgypt’s global credit rating is dropping month after another. This means that the external image ofEgypthas become negative towards our economy, in the sense thatEgyptwill be unable to repay its debts abroad. This is what international financial institutions allege and circulate about the Egyptian economy, and thusEgyptgets loans with high interest rates (local banks lent to the Government of Al-Ganzouri with high interest rates on the pretext of this rating). In contrast, the Government of Al-Ganzouri announced that the budget deficit will rise from 134 to 185 billion Egyptian pounds, and that part of this deficit will be managed through international borrowing from Egyptian banks, whereas the rest will be managed through borrowing 12 billion dollars from abroad.
It is noteworthy in this context that the International Monetary Fund’s mission will arrive inCairowithin days to discuss lendingEgypt3.2 billion dollars, with difficult conditions, as declared by Dr. Al-Ganzouri, such as reducing the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound. Apparently, it is the citizens that are going to pay the cost of this decision when the prices of goods in markets rise above their income. Certainly, the loan that the Government wants from abroad is the largest in the history of the Egyptian Government which has committed, since 1990, not to increase the foreign indebtedness and resorted to domestic debt. It is also certain that if we get this loan, our debts will rise to large proportions and we would enter the cycle of ongoing deficit. Hence, if we manage to pay the deficit in the current budget though external borrowing, then what about the coming years in which our conditions will not improve quickly! Furthermore, with such huge indebtedness we heap a heavy burden on the generations to come.
In the following lines I put forward an envision (an initiative) to get out of this predicament with the least amount of loss. The initiative I am launching will be directed mainly to the Egyptians working abroad, who are estimated, according to the official statistics, at ten million, and the proportion of workers among them is 65% (i.e. 6.5 million Egyptians). Those workers have regular incomes and they are patriots par excellence as well. They love Egyptand are impressed by the revolution of its youth and they have a keen desire to assist their homeland, but how?! My initiative is based on inviting those Egyptians living abroad, on the upcoming 25th of January, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the glorious revolution, to deposit – each of them – the amount of one thousand dollars in their personal account in Egyptian banks.
Taking into account the following considerations:
1- The 25th of January is a significant date, however, every Egyptian abroad has the right to choose any date in January, according to his/her circumstances and the nature of his/her income, to deposit the required amount of money.
2- The deposited amount of money maybe lessened, according to the economic conditions of every Egyptian, and can yet be raised dozens of times. However, we estimate the average amount by a thousand U.S. dollars.
3- The amount of money deposited in the personal account in Egyptian banks is not a donation from Egyptians abroad but is a deposit in the personal account of the depositor.
4- This amount of money is stipulated not to be affected by the total of the usual remittances sent by every Egyptian to his/her account. In other words, this amount of money should be, as convenient, a proportion of any excess private savings, especially of Egyptians working in European and American countries.
5- This amount of money will be a deposit for a year, during which it cannot be withdrawn, so as to lend it to the Egyptian Government.
6- The remittance proceeds are expected in this day (or week) to reach almost six billion dollars, and then the Central Bank ofEgyptwill issue USD treasury securities (bonds) to borrow those six billion dollars from local banks where such funds were deposited.
In order to achieve the desired success of this idea, we – through this initiative – call upon Dr. Al-Ganzouri and his Government and the governor of the Central Bank ofEgyptto consider the following suggestions:
1- Issuing a bi-monthly statement about the expenditure of this amount of money, so that the Egyptians abroad would trust the initiative and satisfy themselves that they have served their homeland.
2- The Central Bank of Egypt vows not to finance any provocative importing operations and the importation of luxury goods such as Mercedes and BMW cars, pets’ food, saumon fumé (smoked salmon) etc….
3- Non-allocation of those billions to finance the operations of fund transfer for senior businessmen inEgypt, Arabs and foreigners, who are seeking an opportunity to smuggle their money.
4- Compelling the Minister of Supply to buy wheat from outsideEgyptdirectly, without mediators, as it is not conceivable for brokerage operations to remain so far and after the revolution to import wheat from abroad in such a way that increases the cost of imports.
If the International Monetary Fund will impose its conditions for the Egyptian Government, and the Government of Al-Ganzouri will be obliged to consent, then we think that our government’s compliance with the aforementioned controls of the initiative is more worthy, especially if Egyptians abroad transfer six billion dollars funds without conditions putting pressure on the Egyptian pound. Add to that that if the Egyptian Government agrees to such controls, we would give a second call for Egyptians abroad to repeat this deposit operation within six months. If this happens, the government would have blocked the budget deficit without foreign pressure, but through its children. With the implementation of this initiative, the Egyptian Government and people will reap a large number of advantages.
The expected positive results would be – to name but a few:
1- An increase in the rate of the Egyptian pound against the U.S. dollar exchange rate.
2- An increase in foreign exchange reserves in the Central Bank ofEgyptfrom 20 to 26 billion dollars.
3- A rise in the global exchange rating ofEgyptfollowing the increase of its cash reserves.
4- An increase in the capacity of the government to cover the main needs of food to six months instead of four months now.
5- The provision of internal opportunities for lendingEgypt, but with better conditions in terms of duration and return on lending.
6- The availability of dollar liquidity in markets, the thing that will not create a black exchange market for the dollar.
We do hope that Dr. Al-Ganzouri would adopt the initiative and work on activating it, and yet to be launched in a large-scale press conference so as to get the message across to all the Egyptians abroad.
P.S. For those interested in the idea, a Facebook page has been created for the campaign: https://www.facebook.com/groups/318431288177731/. Please participate and interact. All the best forEgypt.
” آسف يا كريسماس أنا مسلم ولن أحتفل بك وسأقضى هذا اليوم مع ربنا فى الصلاة والصلاة والصلاة”!
هذه ترجمة حالة شخصية أو “ستاتوس” بلغة الفيسبوك تنتشر منذ يومين ،مع وضع خط يقطع كلمة كريسماس فتبدو وكأنها مشطوبة. وبأستثناء الناس فى أقصى الصعيد وقلب الريف البعيدين عن أى فرصة للتواصل عن طريق النت فقد بات معروفاً أن مواقع التواصل الإجتماعى وبصفة خاصة الفيسبوك ( وقد تُنطق فى المناطق المذكورة أعلاه فثتوك!) قد لعب دوراً كبيراً فى ثورة مصر المجيدة (التى تبدو للتو قد بدأت!) ولايزال يلعب دوراً هاماً بدليل أن الجيش والشرطة أنشئتا صفحات عليه (تتابع منها الناس أكثر مما يتابعها الناس!) .ومعروف ان مشاركة الفيديوهات والصور والآراء والتعليقات والملحوظات كلها من أدوات الفيسبوك المعتادة ومن ادواته أيضاً التى تعكس الرضا هى الإصبع المرفوع، علامة الإعجاب ثم مشاركة الحالة الشخصية (الستاتوس) او “تشييرها” كما تُصاغ الكلمة. وعلى حسب عدد الأصابع المرفوعة والتشيير يكون تقييمك لجودة ماكتبت..وهنا تكمن بعض الخطورة لأن نزعة كل الناس لإثارة إعجاب بقية الناس وعلى خلفية الأحداث الملتهبة هذه الأيام قد يدفع البعض بمشاركة أشياء وآراء من اجل الحصول على الإعجاب فقط دونما تعمق فى معناها.
نعود لقصة ستاتوس الكريسماس.و يجب ان افرق بين معنيين لكلمة كريسماس. المعنى الأول هو المعنى الدارج وهو يوم 31 ديسمبر أى رأس سنة الميلادية والثانى هو عيد ميلاد السيد المسيح عليه السلام والذى يوافق فى مصر بحسب الأغلبية الأرثوذوكسية يوم 7 يناير. لا أخطئ عندما أقول أننى رأيت هذا الستاتوس من قبل ولكن هذا العام أراه متكرراً بشكل اكبر وبالتأكيد دفعنى هذا للسؤال الذى وجدت بعض الإجابات عنه مقنعة وتنم عن حسن نية وبعضها غير بريئة.فالبعض يؤكد انه يقول هذا ليبعد المسلمين عن شكل الإحتفالات المستغربة لرأس السنة من حفلات وهدايا وخلافه على إعتبار انه شكل غربى مسيحى ليس من الإسلام فى شئ. وردى على هذا أنه هو دع كل منا يسأل نفسه كم شخصاً يعرف يحتفل لعيد الميلاد بهذه الطريقة؟ ينطبق هذا على فئة قليلة جدا من فاحشى الغنى والذين تتسم معظم عيشتهم بأنها ليست من سمات الطبقة المتوسطة المتدينة. وأنا أكتب هذا وجدتنى أفكر فى الناس فى بولاق وفيصل وفى الغيطان وفى طوابير أنبوبة البوتجاز وأكاد أبكى أضحك فى نفس الوقت.
ولأن من يحتفلون بالكريماس أيضاً هم الأخوة الأقباط، فيبدو لى الأمر كأن البعض ممن يستخدمون نفس الستاتوس يبعثون برسالة ما، رسالة اجدها رسالة تفرقة وتحديد وإقصاء لن تكون سوى البداية للمزيد من نوعها من الرسائل المحزنة .وانا إن كنت مسلماً وأصحابى على الفيسبوك يعرفون اننى مسلماً ولايفرق معى عيد الميلاد بأى حال من الأحوال، لماذا أذكره من الأصل؟ لماذا لا يتوه من بالى هذا اليوم لأننى مشغول بما هو اهم ( كونى مسلماً!)؟ وإذا كنت أنتوى أن أقضى اليوم فى الصلاة والصلاة والصلاة كما تقول الستاتوس وهى علاقة خاصة بينى وبين ربى الذى نهانى من أن ألوثها بالرياء لماذا أعلنها على الملأ؟ ألا يحمل هذا نوعاً من النفاق؟وحتى الستاتوس لاتقول إن شاء الله، ألا تقول الآية الكريمة “ولاتقولن لشئ إنى فاعل ذلك غدا إلا أن يشاء الله” ( الكهف 23-24)؟ وعلى إفتراض حسن النية وأننى أود ان أبدأ عام جديد بذكر الله بعيداً عن الإحتفالات المستغربة ألم يكن من الأليق والأحسن فى هذه الفترة الملتهبة من حياة مصر أن نقول “ندعو أن نتشارك جميعاً فى الصلاة فى هذا اليوم ان يغفر لنا عام مضى وأن يجعل العام الجديد خيراً على مصر كلها” مثلاً؟ على إعتبار ان العام الميلادى شئنا أو أبينا هوالتقويم الذى نعمل به وأننا نود ان تكون رسالتنا فى العام الجديد دينية. مصر دولة إسلامية بأقلية مسيحية عاش فيها الأقباط قبل الإسلام وإستقبلوا الفتح العربى وظلوا على مر العصور محتفظين بهويتهم وتدينهم وإعترافهم بأن مصر دولة إسلامية .وإشعال الفتنة بين الفريقين أججها بل وإبتدعها النظام السابق للحفاظ على أهمية وجوده ( فالمثل اليونانى قديماً قال إذا أردت أن تحافظ على مُلكك فإعط الشعب حرباً أوسيركاً. وبالطبع نلنا حرباً داخلية والعديد من أشكال السيرك!) اليست مصر دولة إسلامية؟ وأليس المسلمين أكبر فى العدد؟ إذن أليس من المنطقى حسب العقل ومن الشهامة حسب اخلاق العرب والإسلام أن يحتوى الكثير القليل ويطمئنه ويحسن إليه؟ اليست تهنئة غير المسلمين أمراً حثنا عليه الدين فما بالك بإعلان كراهيتنا للإحتفال ونشطب اليوم برمته؟ أليس درء المفاسد مقدم على جلب المنافع كما تقول القاعدة الفقهية؟
للأسف الكبار العاقلون بعيدون عن التواصل مع الشباب بشكل حقيقى والمثقفون المستنيرون بعيدون عن ممارسات الشارع الحقيقى من تمييزو أفكار مغلوطة و السياسيونبالكراسى مشغولون والثوار فى التحرير يناضلون والنار تحت الرماد دخانها يكاد يخنق الناس وهم لايعون الخطر القادم. النار لم تعد تحتمل المزيد من الزيت ، فهذا وقت الفتنة والخطر الحقيقين ويستلزم من الجميع أن يقولون ( أويشيرون) خيراً أويصمتون.