Kol Haza Al-Hura’ (All This Nonsense) by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, Al-Karma Publishing, Cairo 2017 pp. 324
Perhaps Egyptian novels dealing with the events and repercussions of the 25 January Revolution are few or rare. Maybe this is understandable, given that the last five years have leveled storms upon the revolution, almost uprooting it and wearing down its identity and fundamental objectives.
Revolutions are not daily events. They are decisive moments that take long periods of time to perceive, assimilate and express in works of art.
Egyptian author Ezzedine Choukri Fishere decided to write about the revolution in not one, but two novels. The Exit Door, published first in episodes in Al-Tahrir newspaper and later in book form in 2012, is set in the aftermath of a fictionalised January revolution.
The book raised political and artistic controversy at the time it was published, as well as predicting the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power about a year in advance.
Prior to his career as an author, Fishere joined the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, served in the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv, and worked as a political advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy to the Middle East during the Second Intifada.
The author then joined the UN Advance Mission to Sudan UNAMIS and contributed to establishing the first UN peacekeeping mission in that country after the signing of the Naivasha peace agreement in 2005. He obtained his PhD in political science from Université de Montréal in 1998 and taught in a number of universities.
In his previous seven novels since his debut, The Killing of Fakhredine (1995), Fishere displayed a keen interest in public affairs and political events. He distinguished himself by approaching the world of political Islam and possessed a fantastic artistic ability and notable dexterity in penetrating this ground in a contemporary style.
In his latest work, All This Nonsense, these talents have materialised on a number of different levels. The novel is built around a ploy through which the revolution’s events, repercussions and lives of its activists are revealed.
In brief, the ploy is that the narrator (Fishere) is handed a sound file from a young man called Omar Fakhredine whose father was an old friend of Fishere's. The file contains a recording made over two nights of a meeting between Omar and an Egyptian-American woman, a lawyer named Amal Mufeed.
Omar asks Fishere to listen to the file and see whether he can benefit from it in the novels that he writes.
Through this setup, Omar — who isn’t more than 22 years old — and Amal, who is 29, trade off narrating different facets of the revolution’s events and its participants or aspects of their personal lives.
These two characters belong to totally dissimilar worlds, meeting coincidently at a farewell party for Amal, who was imprisoned for a year on charges of belonging to a civil society NGO.
Charged with espionage and conspiring to overthrow the state, Amal learns — one week before she meets Omar — that the price for her release is to relinquish her Egyptian nationality.
At the farewell party, Amal drinks too much and Omar helps her get home. He has met her only briefly before at workshops organised by the civil society groups. The night ends with the two in bed together.
Amal is required to leave Egypt for the US on a flight the next evening, so the two make a deal that Omar will narrate to Amal, and vice versa, the events of the last year she spent in prison, as they while away the hours together until her flight time.
Through Omar’s stories, Fishere draws a panoramic portrait of the radical activists, the Ahly Ultras youth, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions and their fates.
Nearly every character either enters into depression, escapes or is detained or killed. The novel is gloomy, displaying a dark melancholic world without a single spark of hope.
What is astonishing is that the American woman, who has Egyptian origins, is the only one who dreams of a brighter future. She asserts in the novel’s ending that she will sue the Egyptian government to regain her nationality and return to Egypt after a brief warrior’s rest.