Book Review: Our Oppressors, will there be justice?

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Saturday 23 Oct 2021

Hayth Yaskon El-General (Where the General Dwells), by Ziad Mohafza, Amman, Jordan: Dar Fadaat Publishing House, 2017

book cover

Those who were oppressed, tortured, robbed of their powers and freedoms always exhibit curiosity about the lives of their oppressors: How are they different? Do they sleep comfortably at night after committing their atrocities? In other words, are they human beings like their victims? How did they become the monsters that they are? Is there divine justice that might give the victims some sort of consolation? 

Ahmed Ziad Mohafza in Where the General Dwells shed light on the other side of the coin in a story about a strong man in one of the regimes in the miserable East; a general who was known for his brutality, murderous investigation style, and intelligence in executing military operations against the proponents of the regime. Mohafza showed how this man’s name became associated with fear and terror in his country. 

He had a rough childhood, belonged to a lower-middle class and a strict religious family; his father pushed him to be a committed Muslim. This harshness led him to be continuously rebellious; he went to the other extreme, deciding to join the military school against his father’s wishes. The father considered those who serve the regime, especially the army, as the enemy. 

General Faisal Tawfik’s story is revealed slowly using the flashback and flash forward techniques that the writer mastered, but they carried repetitions that make the reader want to go through the pages quickly. That is one pitfall that Mohafza needs to work on.

Repeating the symptoms about the general’s condition and the ghosts of his victims that haunt him might invoke sympathy to the man, but divulging his story bit by bit takes away any possible compassion. This makes the reader wonder, is the writer trying to draw sympathy to a monster? 

In order to secure his position in the ruling circles close to the president; the general had to lead a military operation against an armed cell headed by his brother. The information was already known to the security apparatus and was used by his foes to raise doubts about his loyalty to the president. He ended up killing his brother, in their last confrontation. Coming out of this experience the general was a changed man.

No one can come out of such a transgression unchanged. He rose in the ranks, he proved his loyalty beyond doubt, sacrificed his brother, hence destroyed his whole family. The price was more brutality towards anyone that stood in his way or against the regime.

Eventually, he managed to get his main rival -- the one who plotted to put him in the test whether to kill his brother or be labelled as disloyal -- stained with treason. He took his revenge on him and his whole family.

The fallen general told him when he went to arrest him “I have awaken the devil, what a fool was I to commit such a mistake; I should have never stood against you.” That is exactly what general Tawfik was; the devil. 

The reader’s main interest is the ruling circles and how they make decisions. Despite the media and the information that flows about them, it is always up to the writer to give a description of their personalities, background and even their fears and strengths. Mohafza gave a satirist picture of the president, the one who holds all the powers in the country, one who scolds and tells off his aides and assistants in a humiliating way.

The message here confirms what layman think of their rulers in dictatorships, brutal, bloody, rude, crude, and unkind. They trust no one and getting close to them may be a curse. On the other hand, their aids can get pleasure beyond imagination with the illegal unjust perks. They simply consider themselves gods among men. They consider the resources in the lands they rule as their own personal property and the people as subjects, not citizens. 

General Tawfik, even with his brutal character and the monster that he is, managed to get a pure, angelical woman to fall in love with him; a woman whose sole purpose was to give aid and help to cancer patient. The reader might wonder how such a relation can take place. The reader would have wanted a cheating wife and a spoiled child that would make his personal life miserable, yet he got a wife who took care of him when he needed, a girl that loved her father and took care of his needs when he grew old.

They both loved him despite knowing his monstrous nature and the crimes he committed. 

The general had a plan that he had put in place a long time ago in case he falls out of favor or the regime changes. He was to assume another identity and escape the country with his wife on a moment’s notice. His daughter and her children were already settled in Los Angles, California, and he was to travel to Germany and live as a “normal” person until the immediate threat passed. He had money hidden in various European banks and Munich was a stop to lay low. 

True enough, a revolution occurred in the country and he felt that it was time to abandon ship. Within 48 hours he was in Europe, following the news, and seeing the revolution fail and the dictator remaining in power. In a few months he had managed to immigrate to Canada and there was the real beginning of the story. Without exposing the plot, the psychological torture began once he became a “normal” immigrant, his victims started haunting him and many secrets were revealed. A final surprising twist awaits the reader.

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