Millennium Post

Revelling in a new Egypt

Noted Egyptian writer and columnist Ahdaf Soueif is revelling in a new Egypt, more inclusive and aware of human rights, after the revolution of January 2011. ‘After the revolution in Egypt in January 2011 (to oust the Hosni Mubarak government and usher in democracy), there is a heightened sense of awareness among young people that the revolution needs to touch every front of social life, including the home,’ the 63-year-old author, one of the earliest Man Booker Prize nominees from the country said.

Soueif, a household name in post-revolution Egypt because of her columns and books portraying the lives of the modern Egyptian and the situation at the grassroots, was in the country to attend a literature festival, followed by a seminar in the capital. Soueif, who was educated in England and married British poet and critic Ian Hamilton who died in 2001, was nominated for a Man Booker Prize for her novel,
The Map of Love
(1999). As a cultural and political commentator, she reported extensively on the Egyptian revolution. Her reportage was the basis of her book, Cairo My City, Our Revolution, a personal chronicle of the uprising.

Soueif said, ‘Social justice, freedom from oppression, freedom from the harassment of the state are the issues Egyptians were working on at the moment’.

‘...You can really judge economic empowerment by the fact that 80 per cent of the poorest families in country have women as bread-winners,’ she said. The writer, who returned to Egypt permanently since the revolution, says, ‘Young people are now more involved in the social revolution’.

‘It is a total positive action to be equally responsible as man and woman – as partners,’ she said. ‘Islam does not say it is haram (sin) for men to do the washing. And many men are doing so. There are Muslim men who now argue for feminists from an Islamic point of view... ,’ she said.

‘The more important and popular the men are, the more fanatic they are about issues like childcare and filial well-being,’ Soueif said, explaining the progressive spin of the Arab Spring on social discourse in Egypt. The change in mindset is primarily because of a change in the interpretation of Islam. ‘Let me quote a popular Egyptian Islamic liberal scholar Gamal el Banna (who died Jan 30) to explain the situation. He had said if we had a middle of the road pragmatic Islam, there would be no problem. It is the evangelical zeal that is problematic... The youth is gradually coming around to realising it,’ the writer added.

Banna, a moderate Islamist, was known for his criticism of traditional interpretations of Islam that he found in conflict with the Quran and its message of justice, freedom and tolerance, she said.

Arguing for the spirit of freedom enshrined in the Quran, Soueif said, ‘When the prophet arrived, what did he find? What was his direction? ‘His direction was towards liberation and equality. You take that aspect of Islam, push it and apply it... Societies respond.’

Citing one of the earliest examples of gender equality in Islam, Soueif said, ‘So far, the best example is of the prophet’s wife Aisha. She was well-versed in the prophet’s way of thinking – what he said of the Quranic verses. The prophet often told his followers ‘take half of your religion from this young woman... This young woman is able to teach religion and has her interpretations,’ Soueif said, quoting scholars. The writer said that post-revolution society in Egypt was ‘arguing about an Islamic theology, Islamic liberation’. (IANS)
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