…and Sonallah Ibrahim?

Over at the Arabist, Ursula Lindsey raises questions, in Et Tu Sonallah?, about the towering Egyptian novelist’s current and past political positions and how they reflect on his role as a sometimes-“oracular novelist,” as he was recently called by Robyn Creswell:

At Stanford, May 2013.
At Stanford, May 2013.

The spark for Lindsey’s comments was that Ibrahim, like many other Egyptian novelists, artists, and culture workers (see: the press conference from last Tuesday), has gotten on board the praising-al-Sisi train while denouncing al-Baradei as a plant for the West. Lindsey writes:

I say this in light of a recent interview in which Ibrahim, commenting on the current situation, says that “the military power is working on behalf of the people,” and describes Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as “a gain for political life in Egypt,” a “patriotic personality” and someone who “for the first time since Gamal Abdel Nasser challenged America and the West.”

It is worthwhile to question the validity of an interview on Youm7, and Lindsey does, but a Facebook statement (at bottom) stands by the piece with a correction requested on the headline.

Certainly, the rah-rah-military interview surprised many. But although Ibrahim was heroically anti-Mubarak — as Robyn Creswell reminds us, Ibrahim threw his 2003 Arab Novel Award back in the State’s face — perhaps his stronger literary obsession has been anti-imperialism. Back in 2011, it was surprising that Creswell wrote in the first page of an excellent Harper’s piece that Ibrahim began his speech refusing the 2003 award “by thanking the prize committee and denouncing the complicity of Arab regimes with the foreign policies of Israel and the United States, which is how Cairene intellectuals clear their throats. He then moved on to harder truths.”

While it’s true that denouncing Israel and the US is often done in a throat-clearing manner, and that in Cairo these can be “easier” truths (sort of), it is also a core obsession in Ibrahim’s literary project, and perhaps part of what draws him to the al-Sisi camp (regardless of whether the general has any serious anti-imperialist stance). 

Lindsey further writes: “In That Smell [1966] Ibrahim portrays a country that has turned into a prison, a place where people can’t connect or tell the truth. Yet in the interview he describes Nasser as a ‘great leader.'”

In the end, Lindsey suggests that Ibrahim’s admiration of Nasser and al-Sisi points toward “much less comforting thoughts, not about a lifetime of skepticism and prescience [as depicted in Creswell’s piece], but about the recurrence of a certain gullibility or delusion.”

I think gullibility or delusion are perhaps the wrong tack here; we all have recurring patches of gullibilty and delusion. But does this Youm7 interview lead us to ask any new questions about how power is crafted and depicted in Ibrahim’s novels? The relationship of the citizen to the state? And, sure, his literary blindspots?

Or, as Anna Della Subin wrote earlier this week, “Time for a more nuanced look at Ibrahim’s politics than we’ve seen before…. 2/2”

Meanwhile, the 2013 state literary prizes have gone out, with Ahmed Abdel Muti Hijazi winning the renamed “Nile Prize for Literature.” Read poetry by Hijazi at Big Bridge. Meanwhile, the State Appreciation Awards went to Egyptian poet Sayed Hijab, theatre writer and critic Nihad Seliha, and writer Said Salim, and the State Excellence Awards in Literature went to Mohamed Nagui and Nessim Megally.


بيان من الكاتب صنع الله ابراهيم

يوم السبت 14 أغسطس 2013 نشرت جريدة اليوم السابع المصرية حوارا معي تحت عنوان :” السيسي شخصية وطنية كبيرة وبفضله نتحدي أمريكا والغرب لأول مرة منذ عبد الناصر وأنا مع ترشحه للرئاسة”. ولم يكن هذا العنوان دقيقا في التعبير عن متن الحوار. وأعطي ايحاءات غير صحيحة. فقد جاء في متن الحديث عندما سألني المحرر عما اذا كنت سأمنح صوتي للفريق السيسي اذا ما ترشح لانتخابات الرئاسة أني أجبت بالنص :” أنا معه قلبا وقالبا الآن لكني اري أن مسألة منحي صوتي له سابقة لأوانها”.

وقد ابلغت الصحيفة بوجهة نظري وتفضلت مشكورة بتصحيح الأمر في اليوم التالي، الأحد 25أغسطس 2013 تحت عنوان: صنع الله ابراهيم : لا أدعم ترشيح السيسي للرئاسة ولكن هذا حقه بالقانون والدستور”.

واليوم الأحد 25 أغسطس فوجئت بصحيفة المصري اليوم تنشر علي صفحتها الأخيرة أني وجهت رسالة الي الفريق السيسي في صحيفة اليوم السابع أطالبه فيها بأن يرشح نفسه لانتخابات الرئاسة وهو ما لم يحدث اطلاقا ويمثل اختلاقا كاملا. وقد بادرت بالاتصال بالصحيفة ووعدوني بتصحيح الأمر