“Counter-revolutions emerge when revolutions lose strength, and we Egyptians made a serious mistake in 2011,” said Alaa al Aswany, the best-known Egyptian writer and one of the most important Arab novelists of the last 30 years. “We left Tahrir Square too early, right after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. We should not have left that place until we elected representatives of the revolution in every part of Egypt.”
More than six years later, Aswany continues to reflect on those days back in January and February 2011, which put an end to the rule of “Pharaoh” Mubarak — “those were the best 18 days of my life,” he says — and the reasons for their failure. After the brief presidency of the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, the military coup of 2013 led to the birth of another authoritarian regime, which culminated in the rise to power of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
A dentist by profession and writer by vocation, Aswany is the author of fascinating novels translated into dozens of languages, such as The Yacoubian Building, Chicago and The Automobile Club of Egypt. In 2013, Aswany rallied for Morsi’s removal: “The Muslim Brotherhood in power was a danger to Egypt, but I never supported violence and massacres.” Now he deploys his criticism against the regime. “I never called for el-Sisi to be president,” he told me by phone from New York. “And I wrote that his election was not democratic. For these positions, I’m no longer allowed to publish my articles, I am under attack in the media and I’m prohibited from television appearances.”