On the 4th of July, the Edinburgh World Writer’s Conference (@edwritersconf) tweeted: “As Cairo is on our minds, it’s a fitting moment to publish our Egyptian #worldwritersconf keynote by @SaharElmougy”:
El Mougy’s address was never given, as the Edinburgh World Writers Conference, Cairo edition, was set for December 9, 2012. Because of violence outside the presidential palace, the World Writers Conference cancelled its stop in Cairo, and El Mougy never gave her keynote.
El Mougy, the author of four books, talked about how the Internet has changed writing — and reading — in Egypt, saying that, “Online self-publishing would not bring the writers money, yet their works would be read, they would be given feedback and offered a chance to pool with other writers/ bloggers.”
In the Egyptian case, blogging was not just an escape from and a challenge to the publishing business. More importantly, it has lead to some radical psychological change in the 1980s generation, which I call “the Emergency Law generation”. This is the generation which has been born to a multi-faceted marginalization. …. Blogging has offered those writers a zone where they can deconstruct and reconstruct their sense of identity against the social and political mainstream. Lately, many Egyptian blogs have been popular enough to seduce publishers into publishing such works (novels, poetry collections and short stories)! In order to keep up with this phenomenon, Amazon has started a self publishing line of E-novellas sold for one dollar. A certain percentage goes to the writers. Is this the door to a deeper and wider change in the world of writing/ publishing? Does it pose a challenge to the critic and to the reader?
She also discusses recent “upheavals” (this was to be given in December 2012, but the world hasn’t settled much):
Quite a number of new novelists have emerged. Some of those writers came from the blogging world. More bookstores have opened. Signing events are taking place, a newly introduced tradition which did not exist before 2004. Private book clubs, operating away from the cultural institutions which monopolized all cultural activities for decades, have mushroomed. Meanwhile, Writers and Artists for Change was founded in 2005, a branch out of Kefaya, the mother movements to many offshoots. On 5th September 2005, fifty five Egyptian artists and theater critics were burnt to death in a fire that took place in a small performance hall in Beni Soueif. The tragedy came as yet another bitter reminder of the dilapidated state of the political regime. Writers and artists left their desks and protested for months on end against the Ministry of Culture and the corrupt regime which protected the minister for twenty three years in office. Serious questions related to the state’s continuous efforts (since the 1970s) to “tame” the Egyptian writers have surfaced.
How will blogging (in Egypt) change the novel? El Mougy says, ” I would borrow Maggie Gee’s question here: will the novel develop into an oral saga? It very well might.”
And whither the Egyptian novel now?
The question of how the novel can keep up with such a radical change of consciousness is open to infinite possibilities. When Egyptian novelists will write about the revolution is unknown to me. But I am certain that the Egyptian novel of the next decade will turn into a playground of experimentation and aesthetic adventures based on the principle of “the sky is the limit”. Haven’t we seen it happen?