Alaa Al Aswany

Alaa Al Aswany on Promoting Democracy in the Arab World

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Alaa Al Aswany sees the potential for democracy across the entire Arab world.

Alaa Al Aswany

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 believe in democracy, and I believe that you cannot talk in the name of any people without elections and you cannot supervise the people in the sense, I am not and nobody has the right to say what is good and bad for the Egyptian people.  They must choose for themselves.  There is a very, very strong idea in the West that free elections means, in the Arab world, fanatics in power, and this is not true.  In Egypt, it’s not true, first.  Second, I think that we must respect the choice of the people and, third, Egypt has its first democratic experience in the 19th century, so, I mean, we are not beginning from zero.  We have our own experience and, as you say, you have, it’s a risk that you have terrible people coming, could be elected at any moment, but what is very important is how to be able to defend the whole democratic procedure, and this could be done easily. 

So, I see no point to support Arab dictators, you see, and claiming that they are the only choice, because…  And I would say even the country, I would say that because of the Arab dictators, we are having much more people going to becoming fanatics everyday because the young generations are not allowed to express themselves politically because the dictatorship means a total failure in every domain, so you have more and more desperate people who could be turning to fanatic people at any moment.  So, I think that the real solution for the whole Arab world is a real democracy.