The Prescience of a 2001 Egyptian SF Novel: ‘America 2030’

A gangster in the White House and five people’s Unions arrayed to defeat the United States — in Hosam Abd Al-Hamid El-Zembely’s America 2030:

By Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD

The anticipatory power of science fiction never ceases to amaze. Such is the case with America 2030, originally published in 2001 by Egyptian author Dr. Hosam Abd Al-Hamid El-Zembely.

The novel paints a portrait of a dystopian future for the United States, where the mafia take over the political system and places one of their operatives in the White House, transforming the bastion of liberty and democracy into a tyranny that practices gangsterism on a global scale. The novel is currently being translated and edited for an English-language audience. Indeed, it seems that — since you-know-who was elected president — the moment for this novel is now.

The anvil of time

In America 2030, thanks to the country’s permanently aggressive posture, the rest of the world — and that includes the EU — has had to bunch together in five Unions to counter-balance American arrogance. These groupings are: 1) the Arab-Islamic Union, 2) the Union of the Japanese Islands, China and Korea, 3) the European Union, 4) the Union of Afro-Asian Peoples, and the 5) Union of South and Central America Peoples. In a cruel twist of fate, they make up the ‘free’ world. They eventually put together a work plan to taper America’s excesses only to listen, terrified, to the American President warning them that his country has developed a new secret weapon of mass destruction that will tip the balance forever in his country’s favor. Either they toe the line or face annihilation.

From that point on, the novel takes the form of a WWII spy thriller, with a team of secret heroes operating behind enemy lines. Enter the nominal hero, Khalid, an intelligence operative of the Arab-Islamic Union. He’s put in charge of the Amal Team, which is made of up of representatives of the five Unions. Amal means “hope” in Arabic, and they are quite literally humanity’s last hope.

It’s their job to track down the secret weapon and destroy it, in the United States itself. His team members are: Ms. Kialing (martial arts expert from East Asia), Rogers Warren (electronics and computer whiz kid from Europe), Rajiv Luthra (a parapsychology expert from India), and Fernandez (master at disguise, from South America). Khalid is the team leader, but only so long as the Arab-Islamic Union is the appointed head of the alliance of the five Unions. The leadership rotates between the five member Unions, and so it is with the Amal team. This comes at the insistence of Mr. Ahmed, President of the Arab-Islamic Union himself.

When the head of the EU queries Ahmed on this unusual request, he explains: “History has taught us that power corrupts. It was you and the Americans that put term limits on your leaders. Eight years maximum. A very wise choice. And then the Iranian revolution came and they learned the value of renewing the blood in the veins of the ruler, giving him only two terms. And now it is our turn, the Arabs, to do the same. Before, our leaders would stay on the throne till either God remembered him by natural causes, or somebody assassinated him.”

The Americans, then, are going through a reverse evolution while Arabs and Muslims are finally catching up. The problem with politics in our part of the world isn’t religion, as such, but that people don’t understand the nature of politics. Too many think the “state” is the local tribal chief, going around and solving problems directly by settling disputes between villagers. The state, nowadays, is a giant entity with tremendous power, for good or evil, and so needs to be restrained in a way that is institutionally binding.

You can see this parting of paths between the US and the Arab-Islamic world when Khalid meets with an operative in New York, in the Statue of Liberty. Khalid cannot help but lament: “You used to be the symbol of freedom for a proud nation… What a shame… what a terrible shame.”

The coagulation of civilizations

The novel fits in the action-adventure genre of science fiction. The world is introduced quickly, with the speeches made by the respective leaders of the five Unions used as an opportunity to summarize the histories and accomplishments of these blocs. Flashbacks follow to help speed things along.

The emphasis among all Unions is peace and security. Japan, China, and Korea have learnt to put their past behind them, while Central and South America have learned to stand up to the divide-and-rule policy of the Yankee imperialist to the North. The Afro-Asian Union is the most precarious, being made up of what was left of the countries that didn’t join the other Unions, but it lives up to the expectations and philosophy of Nehru and Gandhi and the non-aligned movement. The EU was already built on the rubble of the Second World War — the same kind of imperial arrogance from which the US now suffers.

The Arab-Islamic Union is the most hard-won, and its formation is the most fresh in the memories of the Muslim characters. During a key scene where Khalid is on the verge of failing in his mission, his memories galvanize him, pressing him towards victory: “Khalid was one of that generation, the so-called dreamers… those who dreamed of resurrecting his lost civilization… A Union built on justice and truth and morality… the Union that had allowed Muslims, once again to live dignified lives, heads held high, pursuing their mission once again…”

Also, in a distinctly Egyptian touch to the novel: “… with their Christian brethren, where every church and monastery was safe and secure, where Christians loved the Union as much as the Muslims…”  Note that the secret headquarters of the five Unions is located, not coincidentally, in Egypt, and underneath the pyramids no less. It’s described as the central point of the world. Egypt is equidistant between the five Unions, no doubt, but is also the center of the Arab-Islamic world and heir to its own great civilization.

Dr. Hosam’s writing, however implicitly, is also meant to be an antidote to Samuel Huntington’s accursed Clash of Civilizations. Here, mankind learns to find things in common with each other, and it is only one recalcitrant civilization that threatens it all. Notice as well that the five Unions are always unions of “peoples,” not states. They’re democratic to the bone, and are there to improve the lot of mankind. Someone working on Huntington’s model would think of blocs of “states,” like the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Need I say more?

A study in color contrasts

While a long and detailed novel, America 2030 is fast-paced and full of intrigue, taking the reader from Egypt to New York to Colorado to Australia to Tasmania, and eventually to outer space. There is spy gadgetry galore: mini-rocket launchers, holographic projections, electromagnetic force fields, and more. And the detailed description of the Grand Canyon and Colorado rapids seem to indicate that the author has first-hand knowledge of the US.

Each of the characters have their little nuances. Fernandez has a great sense of humor; Rogers, as brilliant as he is, is a bit of a klutz; Rajiv is a gentle soul despite his mental powers. There is also a lot of mutual respect between Khalid and Kailing, and you suspect a romantic relationship would have ensued, were it not for all the grim political circumstances.

The only thing matching the Amal team’s commitment to their mission is their commitment to each other. At one point in the storyline, Rajiv gets captured by a bunch of mad monks — they worship the ancient Roman god Jupiter — and Khalid insists on going back to rescue him (the monks plan on sacrificing him). It is also noteworthy here that the Temple of Jupiter is contrasted to the Temple of Apollo. The Greek devotees of the god of knowledge take the Amal team in as honored guests, despite the gulf in religious differences.

This kind of human sensitivity pervades the novel throughout. Khalid only ever knocks out people, instead of killing them, and he weeps frequently during moving and tragic moments. On the last leg of their journey, the Amal team has to face off with a kill squad sent out to eliminate them — an American Special Forces team stationed in Tasmania. They are, pound for pound, as tough and skilled as the Amal team, but not nearly as diverse and humane. Fortunately, the leader of the kill squad is an honorable warrior — despite the lies he’s been fed by his superiors — and does the right thing at a key juncture in the storyline, after being beat fair and square by Khalid’s team.

All in all, a worthy contribution to the world of sci-fi. It may be moralistic by Western tastes but, then again, so was Terminator 2: Judgement Day. And I don’t remember anyone complaining about how the exceedingly good guys in that movie stopped a nuclear war happening. If only we were all so lucky!

Emad El-Din Aysha is an academic researcher, freelance journalist and translator and also an active member of the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction.

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