‘In the Face of Canons’: Ahdaf Soueif on Palestine

Dar al-Shorouk recently republished Ahdaf Soueif’s book “Fe Mowagahat al-Madafei: Re’la Felestinia” (“In the Face of Canons: A Palestinian Trip”). The book is a collection of articles by the renowned Egyptian novelist, in which she addresses issues such as the 2000 Palestinian intifada, women in the Arab world, and her own trip to Palestine.

Following the 2000 intifada, Soueif was asked by the British newspaper The Guardian to cover the revolutionary events in Palestine. But the writer was suffering from a condition many Egyptians experienced during the revolution, a confusion brought on by deeply contradictory television coverage of the events. Soueif describes the huge gap between the Arab and foreign TV channels — similar to the discrepancy witnessed between state-owned and independent news channels since 25 January.

Soueif was driven by a yearning to “do something” — to leave the comfort of her house and go where people were changing history and sacrificing their lives for their freedom (certainly a familiar sentiment to most Egyptians these days). The collection of articles includes one on Egypt’s position on Palestine, particularly under the reign of former President Hosni Mubarak. “We don’t want food and medical aid; we want them to play politics,” says an old Palestinian woman to Soueif.

The book documents the Egyptian crossing into a new, forbidden frontier. “If only Egypt and Jordan open the borders, we are like rats in a trap,” says a young Palestinian man. Soueif also meets with Israelis, some of whom support the Palestinian cause, like members of the organization Peace Now, and others who are convinced of their right to occupy Palestine, which they consider to be holy land.

In celebration of International Women's Day, Soueif writes about the hardships of Arab women — their struggle, challenges in the workplace, efforts to protect their children, and help men and unite with friends and family, while still keeping a sense of humor. In this article, Soueif writes about the obstacles one Egyptian woman faces when she tries to visit her husband, a political prisoner, due to the hated Emergency Law.

“If you are denied the visit, you simply go back the next day,” says the unfortunate wife. Soueif writes about women of all sorts; housewives, nurses, bloggers and martyrs make history, protect heritage and culture, and give life.

Soueif’s writing strikes a good balance. Her background as a novelist makes this non-fiction work poetic and smooth. On her visit to Palestine, Soueif was able to bring back the necessary scoop in the form of a diary with thorough descriptions, real feelings and on-the-ground work and research. This rich book becomes timeless in light of the latest changes in Egypt, Soueif’s home country .

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