Café owner allegedly threatened to end weekly meeting
For years, Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswani held a weekly literary forum on Thursdays at Downtown Cairo’s Al Nadwa Al Thaqaffiya café. Last Thursday, however, the artists and writers – who meet to discuss themes like the influence of various literary eras on contemporary Egyptian fiction – were all but thrown out of their regular meeting place.
According to Al Aswani, half way through the forum, their long serving waiter began to shout, switched off all the lights and ushered everyone out.
A French television crew attending the event caught the whole incident on camera.
Al Aswani told The Daily Star Egypt that when he confronted the waiter, a man he’s known for years, the waiter alleged that a State Security officer accompanied by a police officer from Abdeen police station, had paid him a visit. They threatened to close the café down if it continued to host the weekly meetings.
Author of bestseller “Yacoubian Building which was recently adapted to film and became a local hit last summer, Al Aswani told The Daily Star Egypt that he found the whole affair ridiculous, especially considering the nature of the discussions. The incident reflected badly on the incumbent regime, he said.
He added: “Our discussions have very little to do with politics. We discuss literature and art. What happened was very stupid because the French crew filmed everything and it gave a terrible image of the regime. The regime cannot tolerate a few intellectuals sitting in a café talking about literature and art?
When asked why a literary discussion of the kind he describes would be banned at a time when the regime tolerates Al Aswani’s regular contributions to the independent and party-affiliated press that take the it to task, he replied: “I think it has to do with a lot of university students attending the forums. But it could also be solely directed at me.
Al Aswani told The Daily Star Egypt he believes that many undercover security officers attend the discussions. “They come to the forums and we don’t mind. Most everything we say goes over their head, he said.
There are no plans to return to Al Nadwa Al Thaqaffiya café. Al Aswani wryly notes that the café’s name translates into “The Cultural Forum Café .
He said: “We had peaceful discussions but we won’t go back again because we don’t want them to harm the proprietor.
Perhaps the only silver lining to the whole sordid affair was the many offers Al Aswani received to host the forum elsewhere. “I’ve had calls from many places, and some private citizens even offered the use of their homes and offices.
He is currently ironing out an agreement with Al Sawy Cultural Center and expects to hold the forum there in the future.
In a final comment, he says: “This is democracy.