Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Salmawi’s braid




Mr. Muhammed Salmawi was able to weave a unique braid in his memoir titled “A day or couple of days…” as one can find him talking about his old-established family of big agriculture-land-owners, about big residences that one can say are more like palaces, about grandfathers, fathers and mothers who had their august character and long-established traditions. In the same time, he talked about contradictions, funny situations, defaults and imperfections that all humans have. The memoir’s writer was audacious and frank enough to reveal aspects of social conflict, either that between males and females in the same family or the one between traditional powers in the agricultural community and the authority that adopted a style of specific social classes’ characteristics.

In the memoir, there is an embroidery-like interesting narration for tiny details like a “stitch” intricately neighboring a “knot” to make a beautiful depiction decorating the cloth. One can notice this very well in the details concerning his work in the university, journalism, his engagement in the public affairs and the time when he was jailed including all personal and public scenes, as in those scenes one finds a description of the essence of complicated relations between the jailed and jailer, between the defendant and the prosecutor, among prisoners of political and cultural causes themselves, and between them and other categories of prisoners including frauds, pick-pockets, bandits, peculators, murderers, homosexuals, drug dealers and terrorists.

Muhammed Salmawi, depending on what he recorded in a small note, on his memory and the accounts of some of his colleagues, was able to make this river of scenes flood alluring the reader to keep long imagining the scenes he portrayed in his memoir. I smiled, laughed, burst in laughter, frowned, grimaced and cried during my reading for what the memoir’s writer said about his arrest and what happened in the prison of Appeal as I was directly involved in many of what happened. Perhaps I may have the time later to publish my own account of what happened which I believe will complete and detail some of what Salmawi wrote.

My addition will be about the time gap since he left the prison in the second week of March, 1977 until I left it in the second week of September, 1977 and even continuing confining me in a more ruthless way than keeping me jailed behind bars as I lost my job in the university and was banned from joining any work in Egypt for security approvals were a must. When I visited Mr. Heikal for the first time after I came out, he told me: “Sadat will make an example of you in specific… he will put you and your family into big troubles.” What he said became true.

The skillfully and intricately weaved portrayal written by Salmawi looks as if it’s a narration of life-long human incidents of an Egyptian young man, but in the core lies a profound depiction of the reality in Egypt written from the perspective of an Egyptian intellectual who has a political, ideological and social composition with liberal aspects, bourgeois background and deep inclination to humanity and social equality, as he is the one who gave his father’s land to peasants to cultivate it for a reasonable price and in installments. He also turned into a vegetarian then into a vegan for he believed man does not necessarily be a carnivorous being preying over the flesh of other beings even if it is absolutely Halal!!

Salmawi described the political, cultural and social reality of Egypt in the time from 1976 to 1981 and made no judgments of any kind, not a political or ethical one. He didn’t condemn anyone nor considered himself and his companions saints devoted to national patriotism, Arab-nationalism or socialism. He presented facts, described relations and added some kind of analysis giving the reader the chance to comprehend and make his own evaluation.

It’s also normal that some facts were absent in the writer’s narration and some incidents and roles got confused, also some interpretations for notes he recorded himself were difficult to understand for many of what he recorded was just brief quick hints and the time span between the incidents taking place and the time of writing and publishing the book was too long to recall the details of what happened.

There was a great conflict with the regime led by Sadat who firmly believed that his decision to go to the war and the glorious victory of October, 1973 were enough to forgive him for what he did. Adding to this that Sadat believed that Egypt is more like a village and he’s its mayor, and so the village’s traditions about the right and wrong protects him, for he’s the one everyone should respect and kiss his hands, he was greatly shocked by what happened in Jan. 18 and 19, 1977 and the slogans raised as they had to do with his family and wife including some words that are considered obscene in general.

I believe it’s the same shock he had at the stage six years later as at first glance he believed the military car that slowed down and stopped before the stage was because “his sons” of army men wanted to salute him. Wearing the Nazi-like field-marshal uniform– Mubarak and Abo Ghazala, meantime, were wearing the marshal uniform –he stood to salute them in return when bullets came showering him. He cried in shock for he was appalled of what happened. In both incidents; Jan. 1977 and Oct. 1981, the political conflict in Egypt along with its social, economic and cultural sides came into a climax point that severely affected all safety controls of any regime.

In Muhammed Salmawi’s memoir, there was a third climax point between Jan. 1977 and Oct. 1981. That was the arrests that took place in Sep. 1981 and measures concerning press, universities and others. In the memoir, we can see how any regime can easily find those who justify and give excuses for its measure not paying attention, either by the regime or those justifying its mistakes, that in doing so they both are writing the regime’s last funeral musical note.

We may continue later.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar




This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on December 27, 2017.

To see the original article, go to:


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