Velvet Revolution remembered in Egypt

Mary Mourad , Wednesday 4 Apr 2012

The Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs launched three books in Arabic related to the Czech revolution of 1989, filled with lessons for the Egyptian reform path

Al-Arabi Publishing

Together with the Czech ambassador to Egypt Pavel Kafka, the Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberger was the guest of honour at a reception celebrating the launch of a series of Czech books in Arabic translation by Al-Arabi Press.

Held at the Automobile Club in downtown Cairo, the launch was organised in collaboration with the Egyptian-Czech Friendship Association. The three books launched included two by the late Czech president, Vaclav Havel: The Power of the Powerless; and a collection of three plays, Citizen Vanik. Both have a strong flavour of the Velvet Revolution, which liberated Czechoslovakia from its Stalinist one-party dictatorship in 1989. A third book was also launched, The Czech Revolution, featuring a number of researchers on the challenges facing the Czech people in reforming the police, the judiciary, the intelligence and other government organisations.

Al-Arabi Publishing
From left to write: Kafka, Ambassador of Czech; Bakr, Al-Arabic Publishing; Schwarzenberg, Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs; Abul-Magd, Egyptian-Czech Friendship Association (Photo: Courtesy Al-Arabic Publishing)

The event brought together writers, publishers and diplomats: Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, Azza Sultan and publisher Mohamed Hashim, owner of Dar Merit, were all present. The event opened with a brief speech by Mohamed Marzouk Abul-Magd, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Czech Friendship Association, who stressed the Czechs’ unique alliance with Egypt in times of war in the 1950s and 1967.

Schwarzenberger’s brief speech focused on the similarities between the Egyptian and the Velvet revolutions, reminding the audience that the path to democracy is long and should not be underestimated when he concluded with a statement of Havel’s: "We thought the main work was done when the revolution was complete, but we have actually only just started."

Al-Arabi Publishing
Sherif Bakr (Photo: Courtesy Al-Arabic Publishing)

Sherif Bakr, from Al-Arabi Press, started the conversation by jingling his keys and pointing to the keys on the book cover. According to Bakr, this was they symbol used by the Czech people in their street demonstrations, much like the famous Egyptian slogan: “The people want to bring down the regime.” 

The journey through the translation of these books, according to Bakr, had started soon after the Egyptian revolution; and now that the books are available, we should learn from their experience and avoid their mistakes. Bakr mentioned in particular the challenge that the Czech people faced regarding the police system and other remainders of the old regime, much like the current situation in Egypt.

Sadly, Havel departed our world last December, without getting a chance to see the first Arabic translation of his work; and the translation had been speeded up in time for the book fair, but the launch had been planned in liaison with Schwarzenberger, who had been a close friend of Havel.

The translator of Havel’s book, professor Khaled El-Beltagui, was also present; he addressed the guests briefly, expressing his wish that the book will be an inspiration regarding the power of the people, who are seeking a better life. A student of the Czech language then followed by reading a small piece of the first book, Power of the Powerless, about the grocer who had the slogan, “Workers of the world, unite” on his display window, without any intention to ask for unity or change, but rather because it represents loyalty to the existing socialist regime, and would therefore save him trouble.

Al-Arabi Publishing
Photo: Courtesy Al-Arabic Publishing

The three books as well as a plate with Pharaonic engravings were presented to the Minister as gifts from the publisher and the association. Schwarzenberger told Ahram Online that, although the Czech revolution was different in some ways from the Egyptian revolution, in the sense that the first was fighting a totalitarian system with an ideology, while in Egypt it was a military dictatorship. Nevertheless, both were fighting for freedom and for the rule of law — against oppression, and therefore lessons should be learned.

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