Najim Wali on “Souad and the Army” – “My imagination is based on truth.”

A man meets an old friend in Cairo, an American. At that time, it had been three years since the protests in Tahrir Square, and much more since the last two meetings. The friend says that he lived in London for years with his great love Souad, the famous Egyptian actress and singer, in order to save her from the clutches of the army.

Thus begins the new novel by writer and journalist Najm Wali, who was born in Basra and fled Iraq to Germany in 1980. While most of his previous work takes place in his homeland, Wali begins his new work in Egypt, where the army has been the country’s superpower since 1952. Wali says: They go out the door, but come back through the window, as happened after the Arab Spring.”

Speculation about the circumstances of death

In his novel, his great friend’s love then falls from the sixth floor of their home in England. The circumstances of her death fuel speculation: Were Egyptian intelligence involved? Because it was said that Souad was working on her memoirs, which also dealt with the role of the Egyptian army? The army that controlled her life. An American friend gives the narrator eleven volumes of memoirs.

Wali based the novel on a real case in Egypt: “I search for facts and build on this novel so that you can no longer distinguish,” he says of his style of work as a storyteller. “My imagination is based on reality, you can call it a faction.”

Soad Hosni can easily be recognized as the role model of the character in the novel: “She was a simple human being, a loving person and played great roles, as they called her Cinderella.” She fell out of a window in London, after which it was highly speculated: “They say suicide, accident – they say the army was behind it because she wanted to write her diary. But we haven’t seen any diaries yet. I thought so, star, your role is to create these diaries. ”

Mechanisms of hegemony in the army and beyond

In the novel, the army tells Souad that she must become a role model for all Egyptian women. Wali says: Its meaning is: a woman’s support. “When you read the novel, the relationship between Souad and the army is complex: it relates to the mechanisms of military domination,” says the author. Souad should sing for the revolution, work for the revolution, all their lives – they wanted it.

At the same time, he makes it clear that there is more at stake: “Dependency is everywhere in the world, how the artist becomes a subject, how the artist’s life is destroyed.” Then he draws a wide arc: “In the novel, Weinstein is no different from Officer Sheriff.”

In the book, Wally also deals with the language of the army. A friend of the American narrator is working on a dictionary of the language used by the military around the world and wants to discover the similarities. For him: “Military is evil,” says Wali. “The army against the beautiful in the world.”

army language

Wali says, “I was a conscript in the Iraqi army after graduating from university. I learned that the language the soldiers speak is different from the language used on the street. I don’t think it is different in Germany either.”

According to Wali, the same is true of all dictatorships where one almost inevitably interferes in the affairs of the military. It’s about independence and its opposite: “If you become dependent on power, it’s an abuse of power. The army can do it well because it’s in power” – in Egypt for nearly 70 years.

Najm Wali: “Souad and Al-Askar”
Translated from Arabic by Kristen Batterman
Secession Verlag Berlin 2021
346 pages. 28 EUR

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