Nubian author Idris Ali passed away yesterday at the age of 70, following a heart attack. Idris had authored many remarkable books, including The Explosion of the Skull, The Excluded and Dongola, which was translated into English and dealt mostly with life in Nubia, south of Egypt, depicting the challenges of poverty and marginalization. His stance on Nubian issues gained him much notoriety, for though he clearly considered himself an Egyptian author, defending Nubia as a part of Egypt despite its unique culture and heritage, he fought for the rights of Nubians to better living conditions and compensation for the land confiscated from them when the High Dam was built, which came with unfulfilled promises for housing near Abu-Simbel.
Idris Ali’s latest work, The Leader Having a Haircut, caused controversy and was eventually banned from the Egypt's 2010 Book Fair. The short novella -- 130 pages -- describes Egyptian workers striving in Libya, driven away from their homes to work under inhumane conditions because of poverty and a lack of proper employment. Ali addresses some of the repercussions of Libyan Leader Moammar Gadafi’s propositions stated in his famous Green Book, namely “The house is owned by its residents,” which dispossesed all Libyans of their savings that they had invested in real estate, and “Owners not workers,” that resulted in the overtaking of management in companies by inexperienced laborers, resulting in a drop in performance and owners abandoning their property.
According to Idris' former media statements, the story doesn’t seek to confront anyone. "[I] lived in peace, next to the wall, for five decades, but now they evoked evil inside me and I will write about everything and will expose corruption and all the issues I avoided raising in my previous novels," Ali had stated, "I was expecting praise and appreciation for my stance on Nubia issues, not this treatment.”
Another one of his works, Above Nuba Mountains, depicts the conflicting life between Cairo and Nubia through the eyes of a young teenager who is forced by her Nubian father to return to Nubia, hoping that her grandmother will teach her traditions, only to discover the difficulty of the endeavor when she attempts escape, each time with a scandal.
Ali’s personal autobiography Below the Poverty Line depicts the difficulties he had throughout his life. Although he loved writing and considered it his life’s task, he worked as an employee in a construction company that paid him barely enough to make a living, and their sole appreciation for his talent was to offer him a small raise when he received the award of the Best Egyptian Novel in 1999 and shook hands with President Mubarak. His minor pension was never enough and his constant suicide attempts reflected his low moods, especially after the loss of his son.