“Se non fossi egiziano” the anthology of ‘Ala al Aswani

This article is also available in: Italiano

All the great writers are distinguished by their style and Ala Al Aswani is no exception, still bringing us a hard but fair fresco on Egypt and its inhabitants. This time, however, divided into stories

Against censorship

Usually the introduction serves only to give an extra emphasis to a novel, to make you appreciate the very complicated and witty word games of the author, or in any case to invest the book you are reading of a “mystical” aura, at the level of a great work. In this case, however, the introduction becomes a way to better understand the Egyptian reality, starting from the relationship between culture and government.


Al Aswani in fact publicly chooses to denounce the pressures of the Egyptian government regarding the publication of “The notebooks of Issam ‘Abd al-‘Ati”, the author’s first work. In fact, the government criticized him for the attitude of one of his protagonists, considered too cynical and with little patriotic sense. I think it is essential to read this introduction in Italy, especially at a time like this. Sometimes we need to see the wounds on others to find ourselves privileged.

Se non fossi egiziano

The book was released in Italy just 3 years after the release of “The Yacoubian Building“, the world’s first success for the author, and reflects many similar dynamics typical of its author’s style. Al Aswani in fact belongs to the generation in the middle between the “classic” authors of Arabic literature and the most daring avant-garde. His own life could be an example: an irreproachable dentist during the day and a frequent visitor to all kinds of Cairo freaks. The results are a harsh reality and made up of characters forced to be over the top to survive.


The atmosphere you breathe is typical of Egypt: a still and heavy reality in which to take a single step it is necessary many times to give up on yourself. The less experienced readers of the Middle East could associate it with the reality of our south but they would be wrong. In Naples, for example, there is still an atmosphere of gratitude towards your city and therefore immobility is seen as a price. In “Se non fossi egiziano”, however, Al Aswani highlights the darker aspects of Egyptian reality and the power that certain men exercise for the simple taste of humiliating. We note a repressed badness, the intimate enjoyment of making the weakest suffer after so many humiliations previously suffered. The title is not a random choice but takes up a famous phrase by the nationalist Mustafa Kamil, this time used in an ironic sense:

«If I weren’t Egyptian, I would be Egyptian»

“Se non fossi egiziano” it is probably one of the most cynical and merciless works of all Egyptian literature, capable of upsetting but also of making pleasant moments pass under the summer sun. Recommended for anyone who is not afraid of getting their hands dirty and who loves, at least deeply, Egypt.

‘Ala al-Aswani, Se non fossi egiziano, ed. la Feltrinelli

Do you want to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Ibn Battuta? You will find here how to do it. Follow us on our facebook page, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, or on our Telegram channel. Any like, sharing or support is welcome and helps us to devote ourselves more and more to our passion: telling the Middle East.

Leave a Reply