The American sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote his famous book ‘The Power Elite’ in 1956, where he concludes that there is no secret government of the word, but in fact it is a visible one located in politicians’ offices and government agencies. Not everyone agrees with that theory, including some writers in Egypt. Some still believe that the world is ruled through secret meetings and conferences attended by a chosen few who formulate policies that affect the lives of millions.
In a novel that explores the Egyptian revolution of January 2011 from a different angle, Sobhi Moussa in ‘Lovers Club’ describes the revolution and the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood from behind the scenes. The writer insists on adopting the Western term “Arab Spring” instead of “25 January revolution”, the commonly used term in day-to-day Egyptian life.
The main character is a theorist who has reached the highest levels any intellectual can dream of. His connections reach heads of states, think tanks, and royal families, and he receives million-dollar checks and has his own research centre, which is just the tip of the iceberg. He is consulted by Hillary Clinton, works on research papers for the French and the Turks, and his articles are published in the Guardian and the Washington post. This is not the whole picture, however. Recruited at an early age, he works for the intelligence apparatus in Egypt and collaborates with similar intelligence agencies and eventually helps through his research papers in forging the concept of the new Middle East.
The writer hammers home the idea that the January Revolution was a conspiracy that aimed to put the Islamist political movements in power in their own countries, instead having them target their terrorism and extremism at the West. This was the solution allegedly reached by Western rulers after the 9/11 attacks.
In other words, he strips the revolution of its noble aim – to topple a dictator who ruled the country for 30 years – and makes the masses that offered their lives and freedom mere puppets executing someone else’s plans. The amount of research that Moussa did to write his novel is remarkable. He managed to include every landmark article and idea that supports his overall aim in the story, a sneaky writing style to say the least.
The darkness in the story comes in the way he manages to solidify the idea that to be an important figure in the political world, or even reach a decent level of living, an intellectual has to be an informant, a servant and nearly a slave for all the possible security apparatuses. No matter the talents that any individual possesses, Moussa tells us that without being a “partner” to the secret services, that individual will not reach anything of value.
In addition to the theorist being someone who plays all sides – the government and its dissidents, the US and against it when convenient – he is also gay. This fact by itself may be acceptable in the intellectual liberal circles. But, since the protagonist is presented as one of the godfathers of the revolution who wrote against Mubarak giving power to his son and suffered imprisonment due to this opinion and many others, the writer is deliberately tarnishing the January revolution.
Moussa constantly describes the main character’s feelings towards men and the traps he sets to catch new lovers – hence the title ‘Lovers Club.’ The sex scenes are spread out throughout the novel. After each political event or successful move by the theorist, he is compensated with a new partner, either as a gift from a powerful character such as a prince from an Arab royal family, or a catch in a European gay bar, or just a pick-up at a coffee shop.
The writer gives the impression that the “lovers” circles are spread all over; whether in his small village where he engaged in homosexuality for the first time, or when he is recruited by the police to be an informant, or in the higher circles of power, including ministers and members of Islamist movements. This portrayal is offensive to a society that considers itself extremely conservative when it comes to sexual orientation, at least on the surface. When intertwined with a revolution that many still consider a turning point in Egyptian history, the offense becomes an insult.
The writer insists on offending the reader when he introduces the theorist’s wife, who started as a secretary and ended up marrying him. She understood his attraction to men and accepted his “illness” in hopes of changing him, and when she failed, she nourished her own lesbian tendencies. She ends up betraying him with men and women, selling him out to the brotherhood when they turned on him, and trying to steal his money when she realised that they were going to kill him. So, we are speaking about a dysfunctional couple (a gay man married to a lesbian) who influenced the entire political scene at a critical time in Egyptian history.
The novel reiterates much of what has been said about the Muslim Brotherhood. How they were linked to the Turkish secret services, how they chose their candidate for the presidency, their plans to declare Sinai an Islamic state, and how they formed their own militia to take over power if a civil war with the army becomes a necessity.
The theorist gave the example of Adolf Hitler at a conference in Washington DC, when he changed his opinions about the Muslim Brotherhood and their capability to rule the country while giving more freedom to the political arena. Hitler reached power through the democratic process, only to later abolish and establish an awful dictatorship. Our theorist stated that the Brotherhood will do the same.
The novel’s narration, due to its length, becomes confusing to the reader. The writer did not do a good job of reminding the reader of who the characters were when they are re-introduced each chapter. Overall, the writer exposes the Muslim Brotherhood as the fascist group that they are and describes exactly how the Egyptian deep state managed to fight back and dismantle their forces, without getting into how the military regained power.