Showdown in Paris: Protesters vs. Novelist Alaa al-Aswany

The video began circulating on Wednesday: A talk by novelist Alaa al-Aswany at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris was suddenly derailed by chanting protestors getting up on chairs, shouting, breaking glass:

Alaa al-Aswany.

According to organizers, it happened soon after al-Aswany took the stage. The Egyptian pop novelist and political commentator is in France this week to discuss his most recent novel, Automobile Club*, which will appear in French next February and is also forthcoming in English and Italian.

It was only two minutes into the video of events that a voice interrupted to ask, “Excuse me doctor, may I speak?”

Translator and host Gilles Gauthier, at that point, reminded the audience that questions would be taken at the end, but the speaker continued to talk over him. Soon there was a show of four-fingered hands, of yellow t-shirts, and shouting. Several protesters advanced on the platform, causing organizers to rush al-Aswany out the back; after that, the protest continued.

Although the total damage, according to Le Mondewas one broken window, the Arab World Institute has reportedly filed a police complaint against unspecified parties.

See the video:

It is not particularly surprising that protesters would target al-Aswany’s talk, particularly after the author’s statements giving what seems to be a blank check to the Egyptian Army vs. any anti-government forces. Certainly, as Chiara Comito points out over on Editoriaraba, Ahmed El Shamsy on Muftah, and as Richard Jacquemond discusses in Le Monde, al-Aswany is hardly alone in supporting the army. With notable exceptions such as Ahdaf Soueif and Bilal Fadl, and younger writers like Mansoura Ezz Eldin and Muhammad Aladdin, most high-profile Egyptian writers have actively or tacitly given support to the military. Yet al-Aswany has been among the loudest and most visible. And it was long before June 30 — for instance — that al-Aswany suggested that the illiterate shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Yet Jacquemond adds:

Mais attention, le silence ne vaut pas acquiescement. Ne nous laissons pas abuser par l’unanimisme de façade, les portraits omniprésents du général Sissi et les chansons patriotiques reprises ad nauseam. Surtout qu’avec l’état d’urgence et le retour de l’Etat policier moubarakien (les arrestations ne se limitent pas aux cadres et sympathisants des Frères) la peur, qui avait disparu depuis le 28 janvier 2011, revient en force. Redisons-le, la fin de l’histoire n’est pas écrite.

All this happens at the same moment when maverick publisher Mohamed Hashem, head of Dar Merit, has announced that he is looking to leave Egypt, saying that he does not want to join a team that practices “political terrorism under the name of religion” or the “chorus of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s deification.”

As novelist Muhammad Aladdin noted, “I wish I could make him stay, but a large part of me knows that he is a human being, a father who has a family, and nobody would dare to ask anybody to do more than what he can. But his honesty, and  his integrity, told him to choose voluntarily exile over staying and jeopardising his shirt turning to black.”

*Do you know who’s translating Automobile Club into English? Are you the translator? Do drop me a note.