Alaa Al Aswany is the author of The Yacoubian Building, which has been translated into twenty languages and caused an immediate scandal due to its sexual frankness when first published in Egypt in 2002. It has since been made into a film and a television series. Al Aswany is also the author of Chicago, and a story collection, Friendly Fire, to be published in English in 2009. He is a founding member of the political movement, Kefaya, which is the unofficial moniker of the Egyptian Movement for Change, a grassroots coalition which draws it support from across Egypt’s political spectrum. Al Aswana lives in Cairo where he also works as a journalist and dentist.
al Aswany: I must tell you that, in Egypt, for example, Jews or the Jewish Egyptians were very, very accepted. They’re very prominent, and I will give you some quick examples. The assistant of our great leader of 1919 revolution, Saad Zaghlul, who was our great leader who made the revolution against the British occupation. His assistant was a Jewish Egyptian. Some of the founders of the Egyptian economies were, and that was our way to fight back against the English occupation, to have our own university and our own economy and our own banks were Jewish families, you see. It was, even some of the very, very famous movie stars in Egypt of the ‘40s were Jews, you see, and it was not even accepted to identify Egyptians according to their religion. That was totally impolite to say or even to [refer] that somebody is Jew or Christian, you see. They were Egyptians like any other Egyptians who happen to be Jews, like Egyptians who happen to be Christians or Muslims. So, we had our very, very great, positive experience about Jews, with Jews and the problem with us was not with Jews. The problem was Israel, you see? And it is very dangerous to confuse the two concepts. I would say that some people in Israel feel very comfortable to confuse, to mix up the two concepts in the sense that if you are critical against some Israeli policies, so, accordingly, you are against Jews, and this is terribly wrong, terribly wrong, you see, because I am, I believe that I am very critical against the Saudi regime, and I believe it’s a terrible regime, but this does not mean that I’m against all Arabs or all Muslims. So, I think that we never had, we never had really a problem or a discrimination against Jews in the whole Arab history.