A stone's throw from Hyde Park, Mohamed Salmawy and his wife, painter Nazli Madkour, received guests over an afternoon of tea and biscuits. The occasion was a presentation by the prominent Egyptian writer followed by a book signing.
Although it was a rainy Monday evening, the gilded room of the Egyptian Embassy’s Cultural Center in Mayfair was full of Egyptian and Arab expatriates as well as British friends of Egypt. All seemed eager to know more about the author’s recently published memoirs "A Day or Just About”.
The event was organised by Randa Achmawi, a trustee of the Arab British Centre and the Egyptian Embassy’s Cultural Counsellor Reem Bahgat.
Achmawi, former diplomatic correspondent of Al-Ahram Hebdo, introduced the talk by recalling her experience of working with Salmawy for 16 years.
Throughout his extensive career, Salmawy held a number of posts, including editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Hebdo newspaper, undersecretary of state for culture and assistant minister of information.
Among the attendees was the chairman of the Arab British Centre, Sir Derek Plumbly, former British ambassador to Cairo, and his wife Lady Nadia Plumbly, Edward Mortimer, distinguished fellow at All Souls, Oxford, and Andrew Whitley, former senior UN official.
Salmawy gave his account of growing up and living in Egypt during the ever-changing political landscape. Highly mesmerising, the tales of his personal life were punctuated by the great events of Egyptian history, from the time of the monarchy through the successive rules of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar Al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak to the present.
Salmawy's life seems to have been equally shaped by his family as well as his encounters with intellectuals and politicians from around the Middle East as well as Western diplomats and politicians, such as the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
In a way, Salmawy’s life story is the life story of his own country.
No wonder, the questions from the audience turned political, Salmawy answered them in both an entertaining and subtle diplomatic manner, not surprisingly for the man who represented Naguib Mahfouz at the Nobel prize ceremony.
After all, he is a distinguished author who has written successfully about many critical moments of his country’s history; notably, in his novel “Butterfly Wings” which anticipated almost prophetically the events of January 2011 in Tahrir Square.
Mohamed Salmawy is the author of more than 30 books ranging from creative writing to political and cultural topics