Reading al-Qa’id’s ‘War in the Land of Egypt’ on October 6

A poster for the 1991 film.

From Al Masry Al Youm: 

Yusuf al-Qa’id’s acclaimed novel, War in the Land of Egypt, was set during the brief October 1973 war and published in Lebanon in 1978, just before the signing of the Camp David Accords.

Fellow Egyptian novelist Khairy Shalaby summed up these surprising times in his 2002 novel, The Hashish Waiter:

Just as we’d been shocked by the ungodly defeat of ’67, we were blown away – again taken completely unawares – by the news of our crushing victory over the Zionist enemy in ’73.

It must have felt like a glorious victory on 7 October. But, as Shalaby’s narrator continued, this victory didn’t lead quite where people had hoped:

And just as we were surprised by the news of the enemy breaking through and encircling our Third Army and the ceasefire, we were also shocked – without the slightest premonition at all – by the news of President Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem to show the Israeli leaders his good will and to prove he was serious about wanting to pursue peace between the two peoples.

Shalaby’s novel goes on to narrate the street’s shock when Anwar Sadat appears on television, “embracing and being embraced by our enemies.” But al-Qa’id’s novel was written before these revelations, when Egyptians were still overwhelmingly positive about October 1973.

Al-Qa’id’s novel does not criticize the military or examine foreign policy. Indeed, it uses Egyptian patriotism as a way of questioning the ruling classes’ corruption and greed. The novel’s bite was close enough to the bone that Sadat’s regime banned the book, and it wasn’t available in Egypt until 1985, four years after Mubarak assumed power. By then, the bite had apparently faded: In 1991, it was made into a film starring Omar Sharif. Go on; keep reading.