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EGYPT: New book captures a nation's angst

Egyp_and_cover_2Thanks to content that hits a sensitive nerve with a highly disenchanted society, the book “Egypt Is Not My Mother, But My Stepmom” has been breaking sales records across the country.

The book is a collection of satirical pieces that tackle a plethora of Egypt's social and political ills, including corruption, political despotism, backwardness and human rights violations, questioning the validity of the sense of belonging to the country. The first edition came out in January 2008; in less than a year, the book went into a ninth printing, garnering an unprecedented success in a county with a slim readership.

"How would you expect people to have a sense of belonging toward a country where they cannot find food, clothing or shelter?" author Osama Gharib told the L.A. Times.

Gharib, a columnist with the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, does not provide his readers with conventionally sophisticated analyses. On the contrary, his book, which relies on colloquial Arabic in many parts, has derived its popularity from being a ruthless mockery of Egyptian realties.

“I was sitting on a bench at the Nile coast when a friend of mine asked me: 'After five years of living in Canada, what do you think of the current socio-political situation?' I replied saying: 'I feel as if Egypt was hit by a hurricane, an earthquake that Mr. Richter cannot record, as well as a chemical strike. Millions of Egyptians live in huts along the Nile from Aswan up to Demietta, and some also live in cemeteries. This could only happen if Egypt was hit by an earthquake and a hurricane that uproot people’s houses. As to the chemical strike, is it possible that the records of cancer can be that high in a country in a state of peace? Did you notice water and air pollution? Did you notice the rates of the proliferation of hepatitis and kidney failure? Egypt must have been dealt a chemical blow,” Ghari writes in the preface.

The book has been a hit, especially among the youth. A group has been created on Facebook to reflect on the tome's attitude and content. Almost 3,000 signed up for the group, voicing mixed reactions. The fact that every new edition gets sold out very fast proves that “the people are fed up and they really feel that Egypt is not their mother but their stepmom,” wrote one of the group’s members.

“People really hate the country. If you go on a walk in the morning, you rarely find someone with a smile on his face,” wrote Ahmed Gad.

“It is a cruel country with a corrupt government that has no mercy and with a passive people that get humiliated everyday and do not utter a single word,” wrote Mohamed Adel.

However, some readers disagreed with the book title. “Egypt is my mother but the government is my stepfather. If the latter is evil, I shall not hate my mother. Don’t let them [the government] kill our sense of belonging. If we let them, we will lose everything,” wrote Fatma Alaa Eddin.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo credit: Noha El-Hennawy

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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what's new here?
no need to read such books, we are living it


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