Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hala and the Dinosaur*
A short story

By Tarek Ghanem

Midday, on a day warmer than the one that came before, colder than the one after, in the midst of a mediocre February and in the crowded heart of the capital of Fearistan, a conscript who’s wrapped in two cheap gray wool jumpers tucked under his black military uniform carries the heavy briefcase of the country’s prosecutor general. The bag is swollen with documents, files, an ipad, a laptop. With his laughing eyes, he is wordlessly trifling with his friends and others who come from the same village, all of whom overpopulate the prosecutor general’s office. He is on his way out to the prosecutor’s comfortable car, which basks confidently in the shade outside. The scent of an original “Fahrenheit” cologne, which the prosecutor, who is now walking behind him wears to work every day, penetrates the area, instantly changing its energy. It fleetingly overpowers the smells of cigarettes, the remains of tea and spiced Turkish coffee, the rural sweat of the conscripts. As soon as the entourage steps out of the inner darkness of the building to the light of the capital’s polluted sky, a light wind briskly sweeps through, pushing the very long hair on one side of the prosecutor’s head sideways. He uses this hair, or rather glues it down, to cover his concave baldness. The problem is the prosecutor general is a little handsome: his two shapely hands are big, his body is well-built, but his bald head is the one thing that can send childish doses of insecurity surging into his bloodstream, despite all his accomplishments in life. At the same instant his hand jumps to cover the sudden nakedness of his skull, the cell phone, which was already in his hand, rings loudly and falls from his hand to the marble floor (two other phones are in his pockets on silent). He knows the number. He knows the caller. He does not know what the subject of the call will be this time. He bounces with his body to catch the phone, momentarily forgetting his naked skull.  

Prosecutor: Yes, sir. Good morning. Good day. How are you…

Voice: [This part removed by the author in fear of consequences.]

Prosecutor: No worries, sir. It’s all clear. Everything will turn out the way you like. These kids must be disciplined. I have been reading literature all my life, but this is not literature. Exploiting Life is not literature. It’s filthy and rotten… That novelist Ahmed Taji must learn his lesson. Such promiscuous kids! They know nothing about discipline and good conduct. Even the illustrations are…

Voice: [interrupting] That’s okay. Thank you, your honor.

The prosecutor now walks slowly back to his office, cutting through the beams of surprised looks that are shooting out from inside the open doors on both sides of the building’s corridors. He is thinking about what to do. The employees, security guards, and the conscripts are thinking about what they will now miss, and are all engaged in various degrees of daydreaming about the world outside their workplace. Now they will have to stay until the prosecutor gets “lost.” The prosecutor is back in his office. He walks in and shuts the door. The first thing he does is call his wife to inform her that he will be late. He checks on his beloved children, especially Shahinda. He thinks fleetingly about his previous lie, when he claimed to be an avid reader of literature. All he’s read in his life from cover to cover are two, not three, novels. One of them is Yusuf al-Sibai’s Give Back My Heart, which he, ironically, finished on the very day that al-Sibai was assassinated on a much warmer February day, during a Nile cruise with his then-young wife in Aswan in 1987. Novelist and former military general al-Sibai was the minister of culture. He was shot while on a state visit to Cyprus because of his efforts to assist Sadat in the peace treaty, and for traveling with the latter to sign the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The prosecutor also read the poetry of his much loved poet Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi. He thought a little about whether the legendary The Personality of Egypt by Gamal Hemdan might be considered literature, even if remotely. He thought and decided to consider all the movies inspired by Naguib Mahfouz’s works, in addition to Nightingale's Prayer, based on a book by Taha Hussein, to be not only literature that he could consider himself to have ”read,” but to be the crème of literature and its eternal crowned jewel. These movies can be considered literature even if he saw their cinematic adaptation. And so, his syllogistic reasoning goes, he has been reading literature all his his life. He has read extensively in law, of course, and some history penned by Mohamed Hassanein Heikal with his canonical historical works, which many consider scripture-like, about the 1952 regime in Egypt. However, he was honest with himself: neither of these last two cases is true literature. If only.

He makes up his mind. He makes many phone calls. He calls the public defender assigned to the case of Taji and Exploiting Life; a literature professor appointed as head of the English Literature department in a public university by the magical effect of a special recommendation from ”above”; a prominent media personality; a judge; a military judge; a military general; and a senior assistant to deputy minister of justice. The latter is a close friend. They all agree to come to his house at six to discuss the case. Of course he invites them for dinner. He is generous. He orders a feast. A big feast. An expensive feast. Fish.

The general prosecutor’s daughter, Shahinda, has a best friend: Sara. A junior in law school, Sara is in the ”elites-only” French section in the big public university in the capital,  and she spends many hours in the prosecutor’s house. Sara is the assistant deputy minister of justice’s daughter and a confidant of the prosecutor. Unlike Shahinda and others around her, she is revolutionary at heart in a society antagonistic to all things revolutionary, either in thought or in critical innovation. Sara and Shahinda are just coming back from the Judge’s Club, which imperially occupies one of most expensive spots of the capital of Fearistan, overseeing the broad river that cuts through it. They both studied for most of their time there, also playing on their cell phones every now and then. Sara, who loves contemporary literature and fiction, especially the writings of her generation, has recently decided to carry out a wicked and audacious plan.

Two years ago, she stopped arguing with anyone about politics and public issues in serious and candid manner--not even with Shahinda or her mother, the two individuals closest to her heart. She has started to live comfortably with the impossibility of hoping for change, with the impossibility of hoping for influence. However, she still--with the aid of her cleverness, peaceful temperament, and innocent aura--catches wither interlocutors off guard. Anyone from the tiny, immediate society of the judicial and military elites around her who she decides to set up is usually left bare in front of themselves. This is how it goes: She puts on the hat of Socratic gadfly, posing seemingly innocent and painfully obvious questions, acts ignorant, and forces her fellow conversant with escalating tactical arguments. They always get caught in her snare.  They are left to face the deficiency of their own poorly-thought-out ideas. She enjoys this and masters it. She still remembers when she made everyone at the family table laugh at her father when he claimed that the government does not intervene in the formation of cross-partisan alliances. That was a laugh.   

So, today is a big day for her. Today, Sara decides to outdo all her previous games. She is upset by the general atmosphere and the general discussion around the case against novelist Taji, a case which is mockingly known in the opposition and youth circles as the ”Trial of Stagnation.” She decides to take revenge for literature, for imagination and freedom--but in her own way, and following her own understanding of the significance of small and personal victories. She made up her mind and paid a small sum to her friend and talented designer, Ahmad Gaber. She had him make a special and fake copy of Exploiting Life, removing the illustrations and putting it in a new cover that resembles the books from the 1970s and 1980s issued by the Ministry of Culture. She asked him to change the front matter and everything else, except for the actual text. “As is… as is. Leave it as is,” she kept insisting to Gaber. All she asked to change was the author’s name from Ahmed Taji to Edwar el-Kharrat, one of the giants of Egyptian literature, and the title from Exploiting Life to Hala and the Dinosaur.   

Her idea is simple. She wants to prove that what bothers the Fearistanian judges and generals is not explicit sexual writings. What bothers them has nothing to do with ethics, religion, masculine patriarchy, authoritarianism, fake middle-class self-righteousness or any of these bigger ideas. After all, almost all the old ”giants” of Fearistanian literature have written explicitly about sex in their literary classics. Right? What really outrages them--and no one knows this more than Sara--is something simpler, more basic, more primitive. It is their primal, visceral, and intense hate of the liberal, open minded, and liberated youth. The old guard of Fearistian authorities lived a hollow and stern life, or so they see it, at least, when they compare it with the ”unrestrained” youth of the revolution. They hate intellectuals and the youth who are ”just having fun.” The great tycoon, Mohamed Farid Qamis, who is very close to the regime, said so recently in the open. They especially hate them if they are young. Especially if they are liberated.

Sara read the novel Exploiting life and didn’t like it. She fully agrees with its ideas and line of thought, and she appreciates the internal coherence that glues its particular crude and boorish language with the project of the author. She agrees with the boredom, lack of motivation, and loss of hope that colors all the layers and shades of current life in Fearistan. She agrees with the author’s dystopian analysis. She agrees that the capital of Fearistan is perishing for sure. It is set to explode internally. However, for her, a like or dislike of the book has and should have nothing to do with the principle of free speech. Neither does she object to explicit writing. But she also doesn’t like profanity. She likes more creative language, and the kind that avoids old-fashioned pretensions. She is conservative and religious--a little. But Sara adores Taji’s articles and op-eds, especially his piece on granting the cheesy and dimwitted head of the musicians’ syndicate judicial and police powers. This article made her laugh repeatedly. Or his other essays that see the country’s crisis is in essence an unsurmountable generational gap, a piece that she read more than once. There is also his article on how ugliness permeates the current public space.    

She plots how the prosecutor general will fall into her trap this evening. But she doesn’t know that her prey will now be bigger. Maybe bigger than the trap she’s dug.

The invitees enter one after the other. Sara’s father comes in, too. She welcomes him, and they agree that she will stay with her friend, the prosecutor’s daughter, until the meeting and dinner are over. Then they will go home together. She starts reaching out and feeling in her bag, which contains the fake copy of Exploiting Life, or Hala and the Dinosaur. As time ticks away, her eyes brighten more and more, and she is increasingly anxious. The elders close the door behind them and start their meeting. Their meeting is surprisingly and unexpectedly short. Tomorrow in the afternoon, Sara will know that Taji is sentenced to the maximum possible sentence, two years in prison. But, for now, at least for this moment, she has changed her plan and her eyes are set on a bigger victim, a more important one, and this is all that matters in the here and now. The elders open the door. They go to the spacious and over-decorated dining room where three delivery men have brought in the food. A forest of watercress, scallion, and little lakes of tahini paste surround an elaborate and carefully manicured garden of different seafood dishes. The smell fills the place and expectation tickles everyone. “We will also have tea ready, please…,” the prosecutor says while waving his arm in a slow, awkward circular manner that signifies welcome.   

Here and here only Sara will be able to eavesdrop on, nay witness and partake in, the conversation. Now and only now she will be able to cunningly put the fake novel on top of the three books she has been studying and appear natural. She decides to approach the famous literature professor who is a puppet of the security forces.

“How are you, Sir. I love literature so much and love your writing. Your latest piece was amazing.” Some adulation. After some ego stroking she continues: “Which writers do you love?” She quickly advances before the professor’s hands get dirty with the fatty smelling fish.

 “Al-Ghitany. I love something called al-Ghitany.”

“Me too, professor. Do you love Yusuf al-Sibai?”

“May his soul rest in peace. What a giant of literature. I read all his works.”

“Really! Wow! What do you think about this novel? Can you please read aloud a little part of it? I love it when you recite poetry and excerpts of literature on television.”

All the people around the two of them smile. Others, who have no interest in literature, start remembering that they better wash their hands before eating.

“Sure...sure. Let’s loosen up the mood a little before the table is fully set. What novel is this. Oh, Hala and the Dinosaur… Uh… Haaala and the Dinosaur. This is rather one of al-Kharrat’s better works. He is a literary giant. What giant… Yes, I read it.”

Of course he never read it. Of course, he’s confused because the title is close to al-Kharrat’s famous work Rama and the Dragon.

He starts reciting the prose majestically and slowly. Everyone is delighted while snatching bites of the appetizers. He reads for two full minutes until he finds himself face to face with a sex scene. He stumbles. Stops. Thinks. Decides. Comments, “And there is a sexual scene here… but, you see, when one of those giants writes… when they talk about love or innocent insects [by which he means an explicit sex scene], they talk about it with such grace and civility. See… see... Of course I will not read this part now because of the presence of our respected daughters. You can read it on your own if you wish.”
Everyone laughs.  

Sara thanks him and expresses her respect and appreciation loudly in front of everyone. She asks him to write her a little dedication note and to sign the first page of the book. “Please, for my sake!” He does it hastily, but with a smile, since hunger by now has sunk into his belly. She comes closer to him and, with all the courage in her stomach, she slowly and emphatically whispers in his ear: “Look closer professor. This is Taji’s book, Exploiting Life. I changed only the cover. Al-Kharrat never wrote a book or anything called Hala and the Dinosaur. You moron.”

She walks out and goes to chat with Shahinda. She celebrates her biggest victory internally and alone, while the dinosaurs are enjoying the delicious seafood and their fantasies about the aphrodisiac effect it will have on their aged bodies. The literature professor remains speechless for remainder of the night.

* I am indebted to Marcia Lynx Qualey for editing this short story, which I translated from Arabic. The original Arabic story was published on

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Al-Azhar and the dinosaurs

“Sheikhs issue religious edicts for the price of two chickens. They are no more than stooges of backwardness, feudalism and capitalism.”
This is how former President Gamal Abdel Nasser described religious scholars from Al-Azhar in an article published in 1961 by the government-sponsored newspaper Minbar al-Islam.
As for popular perceptions, two common Egyptian proverbs describe sheikhs as, “The sultan’s sluggish yes men,” and those who “issue religious responses concerning things as tiny as a pin and permit themselves to unlawfully gain ground.”
But why are individuals who should occupy a dignified position in Egyptian society described in such a damning way? What has become of the nation’s leading Islamic institution Al-Azhar today? And what is the historical role of the state in its transformation?
In an attempt to address these questions, a seminar was organized by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) on April 5 as part of the “Forum on Religion and Freedom.” Ahmed Bassiouny’s documentary, Al Azhar: A Citizen, Imam, and Sultan, produced by Daal for Research and Media — an independent production company that integrates research and media solutions — was screened and discussed during the event.
The basic pretext of the documentary is that the Al-Azhar should act as a mediator between the nation’s leader (sultan) and its citizens. Using historical footage, other archival materials, and a number of interviews, it traces a few key historical moments in the history of Al-Azhar, starting with its origins as a Shia institute, and moving to its leading role during the revolution of 1919, to its deterioration as a result of state intervention and politicization in the wake of 1952. It also engages with material from 2011 onwards, though cautiously.
While the film does a good job of covering a number of complex issues that are pertinent to Al-Azhar’s reformation, including the quality of state-sponsored religious and non-religious education, the range of topics it engages is not met by the depth with which it analyzes them.
Three discussants offered their perspectives at the seminar on the documentary. The first was Daal’s director, Essam Fawzy, who stated that, although it is fair to criticize the film for not tackling the relationship between the administration of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Al-Azhar, “we had to make concessions, because we needed to pitch and sell the film.”
Even if this disclaimer is accepted, the inclusion of Kamal al-Hilbawy and Mazhar Shahin, the first of whom wrongly claimed Al-Azhar’s relationship with the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood was favorable, and the latter is a pro-state demagogue, is unforgivable. There was hardly any mention in the film of “good” sheikhs. The name of martyred revolutionary Sheikh Emad Effat was mentioned only in passing, and there was no mention of someone like Sheikh Hassan al-Shafi’i, who stepped down from his high-ranking position in protest over the 2013 Rabea massacre. 
The second discussant was Basma Abdel Aziz, a writer, psychiatrist, and artist, who recently published, Satwat al-Nass (The Power of the Text), in which she applied critical discourse analysis to a specific body of Al-Azhar’s literature and rhetoric during the intense three months following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013. The findings of the book are pertinent to any discussion of Al-Azhar’s political views, as it carefully examines the linguistic rhetoric used by the institution to claim its role as an unbiased arbitrator of religious affairs, but with the aim of supporting the state. Abdel Aziz cited Shafi’i as being the only courageous interlocutor who dared to speak about the relationship between the state and Al-Azhar. Other than that, Abdel Aziz said nothing about the film.
Hamadallah al-Safty, director of scientific and cultural affairs at the World Association of Azhar Graduates, referenced a number of divergent opinions within Al-Azhar, pointing out that there isn’t one perspective or narrative. In addition to the institution’s adopted Sunni orthodoxy, he cited a plethora of religious perspectives that he said cut through the institution, which oversees the education of 450,000-500,000 students. His discussion oscillated between historical correction (such as explaining how, contrary to the widely held claim, Al-Azhar never fully closed down under Saladin, but only ceased its prestigious Friday Sermon), "to apologia, (claiming that Al-Azhar always distinguishes between the 'patriotic' and the 'political' regarding public affairs."
After Safty made his closing statement, I could see the eye rolling and mumbling. Al-Azhar’s alignment with Sisi’s administration was the elephant in the room. As Abdel Aziz wrote in her book:
“It can be said that every patriotic action that is connected to political inputs is political first and foremost. In the case that Al-Azhar chooses to side with one of the parties engaged in a struggle over power, by this it has assumed a political role. As for whether we can describe such a role as patriotic or otherwise, that remains a question for debate.”
Words that were repeated in both the documentary and discussion were “modernization” and “reform” — modernization as a pretext to compel Al-Azhar to submit to, and legitimize, state policies. In order for the state to modernize Al-Azhar, especially under Nasser, it needed to control it, and in order to control it, it needed to remodel it as an extension of itself: an oversized, dysfunctional bureaucracy, permeable to the security apparatus. But there is more to the conversation. According to Malika Zeghal, professor of contemporary Islamic thought at Harvard University, Al-Azhar scholars benefited from their allegiance to the state through forums for public engagement that they previously had no access to.
As “Islam” was bandied around the room, one couldn’t help but ask: Is the Islam called for by Al-Azhar now a neutral and apolitical religion? No one in the room agreed on this either.
In an important paper by researcher Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, Intisar al-dawla ‘ala al-Islam (The State’s Triumph over Islam), he asserts that the control of religion by the state was aided by the codification of Sharia law and the popularity of Islamist movements — including the Muslim Brotherhood — which he maintains all contributed to dismantling an older Islamic order, including Sufism. This echoes Hegel’s notion that the state has overtaken religion to become “God on earth.”
Another elephant in the room was the influence of Saudi Arabia on Al-Azhar, despite the Kingdom spearheading a rival theological school that runs counter to Al-Azhar’s raison d’etre, namely its adherence to the Ash`ari theology, sect-based jurisprudence and Sufism.
During the 2015 Hajj season, when more than 140 Egyptian pilgrims died in a stampede, Al-Azhar didn’t question Saudi Arabia’s safety procedures. Instead it rushed headlong into attacking Iran for criticizing the Kingdom. There is a historical backdrop to this “allegiance” to the Kingdom, which dates back to the 1970s, when Al-Azhar called for external donations to expand and fight “deviant” groups. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait contributed the lion’s share of the donations.
Using Al-Azhar for political ends dates back to the age of empire. According to Reem Meshal in her book, Sharia and the Making of the Modern Egyptian, the Ottoman Caliphate needed Al-Azhar to discipline the populace (to use French Philosopher Michel Foucault’s analytical term). Meshal demonstrated how the Ottomans used Al-Azhar to meter out religious punishment and discretionary penalties (ta`zir). Abdel Aziz also highlights parallels between the patriarchal tone used by statesmen and bureaucrats and religious discourse. No wonder we often hear the younger generation today grouping these aged, repressive, patriarchal and authoritarian institutions under one banner, referring to them all as “dinosaurs.”
Finally, unless Al-Azhar struggles for its independence, allowing it to fully perform its roles, both scholarly and spiritual, as well as to criticize the state, its own fate will be the same as that of the dinosaurs: extinction.
After the film a religious scholar asserted that God, religion, and Sunni traditionalism are bigger than any single institution. He asked me, “What does it matter if Al-Azhar collapses?”

Sunday, May 8, 2016

محاكمة الخبال: قصة قصيرة

طارق غانم (نشرت على موقع قل)

في صبيحة يوم أدفئ من سابقه، وأبرد من لاحقه في شهر فبراير، وفي قلب مدينة خوفستان المزدحم، يحمل العسكري “المتكلفت” ببلوزتين رصاصيتين من الصوف الرخيص تحت ملابسه العسكرية السوداء حقيبة المدعي العام الحبلى بالأوراق والملفات وآيباد ولابتوب، ويغازل بعينيه الضاحكتين دون الكلام أصحابه وأهل بلدته من العساكر الذين يكتظ بهم من مكتب المدعي في طريق خروجه إلي سيارة الأخير المريحة الراقدة بثقة في الظل. رائحة عطر “فهرنهايت” الأصلية التي يضعها المدعي يوميًا تنفذ إلى المكان، وتغير من طاقته لحظيًا، وتستقوي على روائح السجائر وبواقي أكواب الشاي والقهوة المحوجة وعرق المجندين الريفي الذي يلازم المكان.  بمجرد خروجهم من ظلام المبنى إلى نور سماء القاهرة المزعج تهب ريح خفيفة ترفع الشعر الجانبي الطويل جدًا للمدعي العام الذي يستخدمه في ستر عورة صلعته المقعرة. المشكلة أنه وسيم قليلًا، ويديه كبيرتان، وضخم الجثة ولكن قرعته هي الشيء الوحيد في حياته الذي يثير شعور بعدم الآمان بشكل صبياني. يرن جرس التليفون الذي كان في يد المدعي العام في نفس اللحظة التي قفزت فيها يده لتغطية عورة مخه فيسقط التليفون الذي في يده على الأرض (في جيبه تليفونان آيفون آخران على خاصية الصامت) وينقض الذعر على أحشاءه بمجرد نظره على التليفون. يعرف الرقم. يعرف المتصل. يقفز بجسده على الأرض ليمكسك بالهاتف وينسى انكشاف الصلعة.

المدعي: أيوة يا فندم، صباح الخير… نهارك سعيد. إزاي حضرتك….

الصوت الآخر:  [الرقيب الداخلي لكاتب هذه القصة حذف هذا الجزء خوفًا]

المدعي: متخفش يا فندم الكلام واضح، وكله هيمشي زي ما تحب. العيال دي لازم تتربى. أنا بقرا أدب طول عمري بس ده مش أدب. “استغلال الحياة” دي مش أدب، دي وساخة  وقلة حيا… الواد أحمد البلتاجي ده لازم يتربى، عيال منحلة ولا يعرفوا حاجة عن الانضباط دي حتى الرسومات…

الصوت الآخر: (مقاطعًا) تمام كده. شكرًا جدًا معاليك.

يعود المدعي في بطأ مخترقًا النظرات المستغربة على جانبي ردهات المبنى. كان هو يفكر فيما سيفعل، وأما باقي الموظفين والأمن والمجندين يفكرون في ما ضاع عليهم فعله في عالم من أحلام يقظة حول ما سيفعلونه خارج العمل. الآن صار عليهم البقاء الآن حتى يذهب المدعى إلى منزله. يدخل المدعي إلى مكتبه، يدخل ويغلق الباب. أول شيء يقوم به الاتصال بزوجته وإعلامها أنه سيتأخر، ويطمئن بلطف على أبنائه الذين يحبهم، وخاصة “شهندة” التي اقترب امتحاناتها. فكر لحظيًا في الكذب الذي ادعاه وأنه يقرأ الأدب. كل ما قرأه في حياته من البداية للنهاية، روايتين لا ثالث لهما، أحدهما “رد قلبي” ليوسف السباعي والتي أنهاها في يوم اغتيال السباعي البارد والثقيل في ١٩٨٧ بينما كان في نزهة نيلية في أسوان مع زوجته الشابة في ذلك الوقت. قرأ أيضًا أشعار الأبنودي التي يهواها. فكر قليلًا إذا ما كان كتاب جمال حمدان الشهير “شخصية مصر” يعتبر أدبًا–ولو من بعيد. فكر وعزم في داخله على أن يعتبر أن الأفلام الكثيرة التي شاهدها والمستوحاة من روايات نجيب محفوظ، وفيلم دعاء الكروان هي خلاصة الأدب العالمي وزبدته السرمدية . هو قرأ كثيرًا في القانون، وبعض التاريخ الذي خطه هيكل ضمن تاريخيته اللاهوتية. ولكنه صارح نفسه أن كلا النوعين ليسا أدبًا حقيقيًا.

حزم أمره، واتصل بوكيل النيابة المختص بالقضية، وبأستاذ أدب وكاتب عُين بتوصية “من فوق” كرئيس لقسم الأدب الإنجليزي في جامعة حكومية، ومستشار، وقاضي عسكري، ولواء، ووكيل مساعد بوزارة العدل، وهذا الأخير صديق مقرب. اتفق الجميع على القدوم إلى منزله في السادسة للاجتماع للتشاور حول القضية وبالطبع عزمهم على العشاء. كان كريمًا. طلب مأدبة. مأدبة كبيرة غالية. سمك.

لإبنة المدعي العام “شهندة” صديقة إسمها “سارة”. سارة، والتي تدرس أيضًا في حقوق فرينش جامعة القاهرة، سنة ثالثة، تقضي أوقاتا كثيرة في بيت المدعي العام. سارة إبنة لوكيل مساعد بوزارة العدل صديق المدعي العام، ولكنها، على العكس من شهندة والآخرين من حولها، كانت “ثورجية”، في مجتمع معاد للفكر الثوري والإبدع النقدي. أتيتا كلاهما للتو من نادي القضاة على النيل حيث كان يدرسان معظم الوقت ويلعبان على هواتفهما المحمولة بين الحين والحين. سارة والتي تعشق الأدب المعاصر وخاصة كتابات الشباب من فئتها العمرية  قررت اليوم أن تقوم بخطتها “الشريرة” اللعوب والأجرء. هي توقفت عن مناقشة أي من الناس حولها في السياسة والشأن العام بشكل جاد وصريح منذ أكثر من عامين. لا شهندة ولا أمها، برغم أنهما أقرب الناس إليها. تعلم وتعيش بأريحية مع إنعدام الأمل في التغيير، مع إنعدام الأمل في التأثير. لكنها دائمًا وبتسخير ذكائها وطابعها المسالم وسمتها البريء، تحاول أن تعري أفراد مجتمعها الضيق من أبناء السلك القضائي والعسكري أمام أنفسهم، متقمصة أسلوبًا سقراطيًا في طرح الأسئلة والتظاهر بالجهل وإجبار من تناقشه على الوقوف على عيوبه بقوة حجيتها التكتيكية. تلذذت بهذا واتقنته. لا تزال تذكر عندما جعلت جميع العائلة يضحك على أبيها عندما كانوا يناقشون تدخل الدولة في القوائم الانتخابية.

اليوم هو يوم كبير، اليوم قررت سارة أن ترتقي فوق كل أفاعيلها اللعوب السابقة. هي متضايقة من الجو العام ومن النقاشات حول قضية “محاكمة الخبال” كما يسميها الكتاب في مقاضاة البلتاجي. قررت الانتقام للأدب والخيال والحرية، ولكن بأسلوبها، وبفكرتها عن أهمية الانتصارات الصغيرة والشخصية. قررت ودفعت مبلغ صغير لصديقها أحمد جابر المصمم المحترف وجعلته يطبع نسخة “خاصة” ومزيفة من رواية أحمد البلتاجي “استغلال الحياة” وأن يجعلها في غلاف جديد يحاكي تصميمه تصميم كتب السبعينات من الهيئة العامة للثقافة. طلبت منه أن يغير الترويسة وكل شيء ولكن أن يبقى النص كما هو، “زي ما هو… هو هو!” أكدت على جابر. ولكن الاختلاف الوحيد هو وضع إسم “إدوار الخراط” الأديب الألمعي الذي توفي منذ عدة شهور بدلًا من اسم أحمد البلتاجي، وغيرت العنوان إلى “هالة والديناصور”.

فكرتها بسيطة. تريد أت تثبت أن ما يؤرق القضاة والعسكريين الخوفستانين ليس الكتابة الجنسية الصريحة، فكل “قامات” الأدب الخوفستاني من العواجيز لهم كتابات صريحة عن الجنس في بعض روايتهم. ما يضايقهم–وما من أحد يعلم بحقيقتهم أكثر منها–هو ببساطة كرههم الشديد والغريزي للشباب الليبرالي المنفتح والمتحرر. فكل عواجيز السلطة الخوفستانية عاشوا حياة صارمة خاوية–أو هكذا يرونها–بالمقارنة مع “انفلات” شباب جيل الثورة. هم يكرهون المثقفين، بلا مواربة، كما قال الرجل الأكبر والقريب من السلطة فريد جمعة، وخاصة إن كانوا صغارًا في السن. وبخاصة المتحررين منها.

سارة قرأت رواية “استغلال الحياة” ولم تعجبها. تتفق تماما مع محتواه كأفكار ومغزى وخط فكري وتتفهم الاتساق الداخلي للغة مع المشروع الفكري للمؤلف. تتفق مع السأم والضجر وضياع الأمل، تتفق مع الواقع الديستوبي. تتفق أن عاصمة خوفستان زائلة، ستنفجر داخليًا لا محالة. ولكن رواية “استغلال الحياة” لم تعجبها، بل لم تكملها، وليس ولا يجب أن يكون لإعجابها من عدمه–وفق لمنظورها–دخل في مبدأ عدم مقاضاة الكتابة والرأي بالسجن. هي لا تعارض الكتابة عن الجنس ولكنها أيضًا لا تحب البذاءة وتعشق اللغة الأكثر إبداعًا، من دون تكلف عتيق الطابع بالطبع. هي محافظة ومتدينة… بعض الشيء. ولكن سارة شديدة الإعجاب بمقالات البلتاجي، وخاصة مقاله عن نقده لمنح الضبطيةالقضائية لنقيب الموسيقين شديد ثقل الظل، الذي جعلها تضحك كثيرًا أثناء قرائته، ومقاله الأهم عن أن أزمة البلد هي أزمة أجيال فعليًا، والتي قرأتها أكثر من مرة لإعجابها به واتفاقها معه. ومقاله عن نقد القبح المستشري في الفضاء العام.

يدخل المدعوون واحدًا تلو واحد، ويأتي أبو سارة أيضًا، ترحب به يتفقان على أن تنتظره وتبقى مع إبنة المدعي العام، حتى ينتهي الاجتماع والعشاء، وعندها يذهبان معًا إلى المنزل. ستستغل الوقت وستسكمل دراستها. تتحسس شنطتها والتي بها النسخة المزيفة من “استغلال الحياة”–أو رواية “هالة والديناصور”. تلمع عيناها من دنو المأمول وتقلق. يغلق الكبار عليهم حتى انتهاء الاجتماع الذي لم يدم طويلًا ثم يذهبون إلى غرفة السفرة بعد وصول السمك الذي أتى به ثلاثة من “طياري” خدمة التوصيل المنزلي. غابة من الجرجير والبصل الأخضر وبحيرات من الطحينة تحيط بحديقة غناء من الفواكه البحرية. الرائحة تملئ المكان والتوقع يسعد النفوس. “هنحضر الشاي كمان… اتفضلوا” يقول المدعي العام محركًا يداه في حركة دائرية تفيد الترحيب.

هنا وهنا فقط ستسطيع سارة استراق السمع بل أن تشهد وتشترك في الحديث. الآن والآن فقط ستضع بخبث الرواية المزيفة فوق كتبها الثلاث التي كنت تدرس منها وتقترب من أستاذ الأدب المخترق أمنيًا.

“إزاي حضرتك. أنا بحب الأدب أوي وبحب كتاباتك جدًا. مقالك الأخير في اليوم الثامن كان روعة. هو أنت بتحب مين من الكتاب؟” عاجلت سارة الأديب الأدباتي قبل أن تتسخ يداه برائحة السمك الدسمة.

“الغيطاني… أنا بعشق حاجة اسمها الغيطاني”

“وأنا كمان يادكتور. بتحب يوسف السباعي”

“الله يرحمه. ده كان حبيبي”

“بتحب إدوار الخراط؟”

“طبعًا… ده قامة من قامات الأدب… أنا قريت كل شغله”

“بجد. حضرتك إيه رأيك في الرواية دي. حضرتك ممكن تقراها بصوتك؟ أنا بحب أوي لما تطلع في التليفيجين وتقرا مقتبسات أدب وشعر”

يتبسم الحاضرون، ويتذكر بعضهم ممن لا يحبون الأدب أن من الآفضل غسيل اليدين قبل الأكل.

“أوي أوي… خلي القعدة تروق شوية على ما التربيزة تجهز. هالة والديناصور… هالة والديناااصور دي… دي من أجمل أعماله، قريتها أيوة”.

 بالطبع لم يقرأها ولكنه اختلط عليه الأسم لقربه من رواية “رامة والتنين”.يقرأ بإجلال وببطأ ويتنغم الجميع بينما يسترقون لقم السلطات. يقرأ لمدة دقيقتين ثم يجد نفسه أمام مشهد جنسي. يتلعثم. يتوقف. يفكر. يقرر. يعلق “وبعدين في مشهد جنسي… بس شوف بقه القامات الكبيرة لما تكتب… حتى لما يتكلموا عن الحب والغريزة البريئة [يقصد الجنس الصريح] بيتكلموا بأدب جم وتحضر إزاي. شوف…شوف.. بس أنا طبعًا مش هأقراه دلوقتي علشان حوالينا بناتنا الفاضلات”.

تشكره سارة وتجله بصوت عالي أمام الجميع وتطلب منه أن يكتب لها كلمة أو تمنيات مع توقيعه على ظهر الكتاب. يقوم بهذا على عجل لجوعه. توشش في أذنه وهو يكتب وبكل جرأة “بص كده كويس يا دكتور، ده كتاب أحمد البلتاجي. أنا غيرت الغلاف. الخراط عمره كما كتب حاجة إسمها هالة والديناصور. يا بأف”.

تخرج لتتحدث مع شهندة وتحتفل في داخلها بانتصارها الأكبر، بينما الديناصورات يفرحون بملذات الأكولات البحرية، وبخيالات تأثير الفسفور على أجسادهم العجوز الليلة. يظل دكتور الأدب واجمًا باقي الليلة.