Egyptian Novelist To Vote 'No' On Referendum

Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany appeared on a panel with Egypt's recently appointed prime minister, and told off the politician so forcefully for his connections to the old regime that the next day the prime minister resigned. Aswany talks with Steve Inskeep about his country's future, and a constitutional referendum expected this weekend.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's hear a little more of Egypt's political discussion right now. A couple of weeks ago the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany appeared on a TV panel and talked politics. He joined the prime minister, in fact. The last one appointed by President Hosni Mubarak. And it was not a gentle discussion.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: Aswany attacked the prime minister for his connections to the old regime. And the next morning that prime minister resigned. Aswany, a fierce opponent of Mubarak, wrote the novel "The Yacoubian Building" and a book of essays called "The State of Egypt." He's also a dentist and spoke with us near his dentist's chair. When Egyptians vote on those constitutional amendments this weekend, Aswany is voting no. he says too much of the old rules would remain in place.

Dr. ALAA AL ASWANY (Author, "The Yacoubian Building"): You see, the president, according to this revolution is the president of life. He's the president of everything. . He is the president of the army, of the navy, of the police, of the judges, of everything. Probably except dentists, he's not the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: And maybe there's a minister of dentistry somewhere...

Dr. AL ASWANY: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...that even that would be under his control.

Dr. AL ASWANY: You cannot make reforms on this terrible constitution. We made this revolution to make a new constitution - to make elections, to make a new constitution.

INSKEEP: So much of this revolution has been so remarkably public. It's happened on the streets. It happened in Tahrir Square, not very far from this dentist's office where we're sitting. It's been in plain view. Now it seems to be moving into a different phase.

What do you think might be happening behind the scenes that is not obvious to us?

Dr. AL ASWANY: The enemies of the revolution, I think we would be mistaken of if we think of them as only the big figures. I mean you have the little people who are corrupt, they are going to fight back.

INSKEEP: We're talking about people that might be university professors who might have government jobs; maybe not the worst people in the world but they have accommodated themselves to the old system.

Dr. AL ASWANY: If you're talking, for example, about the presidents of the universities, about the dean's of the faculties; all these people got their post through the security state. So it means simply that they have been cooperating, reporting their colleagues for years...

INSKEEP: To the intelligence service.

Dr. AL ASWANY: So they don't expect them at all to be happy with the revolution. And then you go to the security state officer who was ruling the country, who was very rich, everything was for him and now he is hiding. You see? And at some point he's going to be brought to justice. So this guy is going to fight back to destroy the revolution. And you could get lower and lower till you reach the very little police, soldier who used to have bribes.

I think the counterrevolution has many layers. You still have remnants from the old regime in power.

INSKEEP: Are there so many people who found a place in this regime, who supported the regime that you can't get rid of them all? You just can't do it.

Dr. AL ASWANY: No, I'm not going to kick them out all. I don't like these people to be decision-makers because they are going to decide against the revolution. But the ordinary corrupt person, this is another story. But you cannot leave, for example, the highly-ranked responsible Egyptian TV are security state spies. And nobody touches them because they are going to manipulate and they are going to tell lies in the news. And this is what is happening now.

INSKEEP: Let's remind people: There's still state TV, it still broadcasting, it's still many of the same people.

Dr. AL ASWANY: Yes. Yes. Yes, the same broadcasting and they still get instructions from the security state people. So these people should be changed.

INSKEEP: How will you know when democracy has been fully won?

Dr. AL ASWANY: A new constitution...

INSKEEP: Brand new constitution, not an amended constitution.

Dr. AL ASWANY: Of course. Of course.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Dr. AL ASWANY: Of course, nobody did that in the world. You're not going to make a surgical operation for a dead man. You see? It doesn't make any sense.

INSKEEP: You don't do that in a dentist chair.

Dr. AL ASWANY: I don't do that in dentist either. You see? So they are doing that. They are trying to operate a dead man.

INSKEEP: Alaa al-Aswany is the author of "The Yacoubian Building" and a new book on the state of Egypt.

Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.

Dr. AL ASWANY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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