Gamal al-Ghitani on the 1,001 Nights and the Egyptian Cultural Scene

Gamal al-Ghitani is interviewed in this week’s Qantara, mostly on the topic of the latest legal wrangling over 1,001 Nights.

With all due respect to a greater literary mind, I must disagree with al-Ghitani’s statement that there is no government censorship of media (newspapers can, for instance, criticize Hosni now?). However, I certainly agree that criticism and finger-pointing only take us so far: They must be joined to positive, active ideas for social change.

Al-Ghitani talks about “progressives” vs. “Islamists” in quite broad strokes (educated vs. uneducated);  I find there are a number of educated people who are very religious. Still, I think he has his finger on the heart of the matter: the extreme gap between rich and poor.

Anyhow, I’m sure my ideas about politics are quite shallow. I was most interested where he started to talk about the contemporary literary scene:

There are a great many very talented young writers in Egypt, and the young upcoming literature scene in Saudi Arabia is also a real hot tip. It’s very important to foster this talent and offer these writers long-term perspectives.

It is very gratifying that a real surge in the popularity of reading has developed in Egypt over the last two years. This is a great incentive to new writers. The Egyptian cultural scene pulsates with life at the moment; a handful of fanatics can’t stop this wave of success, but they do dampen the enthusiasm.

And I was glad to hear this, on the topic of 1,001 Nights:

[This] may sound very audacious, but this latest accusation has blessed the current edition of “Thousand and One Nights” with an unimaginable circulation. We have sold more than 10,000 copies in just a few months. The book is in the news, everyone’s talking about it and it’s never been so popular.

In this respect, the radicals have achieved the opposite of what they intended: They have given “Thousand and One Nights” publicity and ensured that this wonderful book gets the attention it deserves. It’s a very positive side-effect, a victory for the multiplicity of views in today’s Egypt.