Science Fiction in…Egypt

Apparently Juan Cole was not fibbing when he wrote, last summer, that Jordan plans a Star Trek Theme Park to attract tourists. This, Cole said, comes despite sci fi not weighing in as a major Arabic literary genre.

Cole surmised that — since Arabs are not currently at the forefront of science and technological development, and are thus not wracked with the angst of this production (as they were when al-Farabi produced his Opinions of the Residents of a Splendid City) — sci fi “is not [now] a genre on which the national allegory can easily be inscribed.”

Sure, time travel has been used a number of times in capital-L Arabic literature to address big issues (Tawfiq al-Hakim’s The People of the Cave, Khairy Shalaby’s Time Travels), but the mechanism often feels disengaged with science or the future. Shalaby’s time traveler, for instance, just bumbles in and out of different periods. The Time Travels, like many works of serious 20th century Arabic lit, tends to be more interested in Egypt’s past than her future.

A number of futuristic works of the last few years have tried to inscribe a sort of national story in futuristic books, such as Utopia, by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, (trans. by Chip Rossetti, 2011), Revolution 2053, by Mahmoud Osman (2009), and Donkey Flu, by Amal Sedik Afif (2010). These books imagine “futures” — particularly in the case of the engaging Utopia — that are pretty darn similar to the present.

However, Ali Abdel Mohsen’s new solo show “Razor-Sharp Teeth,” hints at a fresh Arab sci fi universe, which underpins his often narrative and highly detailed collection. The show opened last night at Mashrabeya.

Characters change from piece to piece, but they retain certain characteristics and attitudes, often dystopic and terrifying, clearly rooted in Cairo’s environs but with elements of a universalist a-human, dys-human, fantastical nature.

You can see Mohsen’s work at Mashrabeya through March 8. (Details here.) Yes, yes, he’s my colleague at Egypt Independent. And, as a further disclaimer, I like his writing and wish he would put together a book.

More on Arabic sci fi

The World SF Blog on Arabic sci fi: They have a short working bibliography of Arabic science fiction.

This Working Bibliography of Arab Sci Fi & Fantasy is now password protected, unfortunately.

Noura Noman: How Far is the Future?

A few more photos of the opening from Yasmine Perni’s phone: