By Rana Khaled
In a society that cultivates the concepts of inferiority, oppression and suppression in girls’ minds and souls from cradle to grave, Egyptian blogger, scriptwriter and pharmacist Ghada Abdel Aal decided to challenge society’s norms and traditions, in the belief that women were created to be something more than a desperate housewife.
“All girls must love themselves, search for success everywhere and live their lives as a life, not a trailer of a TV series that didn’t start yet!” With these words published in her first book, the 36-year-old writer sheds light on one of the main problems that girls encounter in their daily lives, which is, losing the ability to understand or love themselves, because of society’s restrictions and stereotypes.
In 2006, Abdel Aal launched her first blog called “I want to get married”. It attracted attention with her outstanding sense of humour and sarcastic tackling of society’s perceptions about marriage and the suffering girls experience when refusing the term “spinster” that’s widely used amongst Egyptian families.
“I represent 15 million girls ranging from 25 to 35 years old, and suffer daily from the society’s pressure to get married although it’s out of their hands, that they are still waiting,” she wrote, describing her blog.
After the notable success the blog achieved, it was turned into a book published by Al Shorouk became a bestseller worldwide and was translated into 4 languages. The book was then turned into a TV series, starring Hend Sabry as Ola, the girl who searches for her life partner. In 2014, Abdel Aal released her second controversial TV series, “Imbratoreyet Meen”, that criticised the drawbacks of the Egyptian street after the 25 January Revolution.
In a special interview with Daily News Egypt, Abdel Aal revealed some secrets about her literary and artistic works, the fierce attacks she encountered because of her last series and her upcoming projects.
Why did you start posting on your blog “I want to get married” under a pseudonym called “Bride”, and preferred to be anonymous? What kind of criticism and attacks did you expect at that time?
I used to write under a pseudonym or a “pen name”, because it was a mainstream trend at that time, and believe me it would never make any difference if I started writing with real name! None of my friends, colleagues or even family members used to follow blogs, and I wasn’t famous enough to feel ashamed of writing about marriage problems in a blog. As for the waves of criticism, I think they were always less than I ever expected because I never attacked men in my articles. I preferred to explain some situations some girls go through on a daily basis, and allowed men to enter the girls’ vague world with its details that they’ve never been aware of before, and that was really attractive to many of them. I believe that the blogging world had a classy atmosphere and elegant followers at that time, which allowed it to accept that kind of social blogs in a good way.
Every Egyptian house has a girl who has married or even still waiting for her big day, so every girl has great interest in the stories, because she has experienced at least one of them and every guy has a sister, colleague or a relative who’s been through what I was writing about on my blog.
In your writings, you attacked the society’s traditional conceptions about marriage and the way Egyptian males perceive the woman as a house wife who shouldn’t raise her voice, criticise or express her rejection for anything loudly. How do you evaluate these kinds of restrictions the society and men impose on the girl in our country?
A lot of girls and women were suffering from masculine control and domination over their lives. Some of them had to surrender their dreams of leading a happy life with a suitable life partner, which not only makes girls lose their lives but it also obliges society to waste all their efforts, abilities and talents that have been oppressed by the men or even the other women whose masculine way of thinking is their main motivator in life. Such women impose many obstacles and barriers in the girl’s face, trying to convince her that she’s always inferior than the man, and that her biggest dream must go around listening to her husband’s orders and instructions and stick to them with no discussion. Unfortunately, that’s how many girls are raised in our society.
In your writings, you represented a conservative girl who tries to cope with society’s customs and traditions, but at the same time doesn’t want to surrender her dream of choosing the suitable life partner. To what extent do you think achieving this equation between changing and conservatism is applicable in reality?
In Egypt, we’re trying all the time to achieve this equation! The Egyptian people love calling themselves religious and sanctifying what the clerics say about preventing the mixed work environments because it’s haram, although all of us have studied in mixed universities. Our society blames the girl who goes home late, however, most of the girls who work in engineering or medicine careers are obliged to finish their work in the evening and return home late, and sometimes they have even to spend their night at work.
Also, the society always tries to cultivate the idea that the “woman has nothing in this world but her house and her husband” in our minds when we’re little kids. However, many girls try to challenge these norms carrying the responsibility of creating a unique identity and a successful career despite what the major beliefs.
When did you start putting your name on your writings? And did you encounter any criticism from your friends or family members?
I started putting my name after publishing my first book “I want to get married”, as I couldn’t imagine releasing the book with a pen name. Most of my family members and friends weren’t aware of the concept of publishing a book, because we don’t have publishing houses or bookstores in El-Mahalla El-Kobra, my home town. Until now, I think my family still doesn’t understand what happened exactly, because the whole thing was so strange for them.
Did you have any fears turning your blog into a book with the same name? And did you expect the book’s enormous success and the international translations it received?
Honestly, I’d never thought of turning the blog into a book! I wrote the blog using slang language and at that time, it wasn’t common to find books written with pure slang. Because I live in El-Mahalla El-Kobra, I have no relatives or friends in Cairo so I never thought it’s possible to publish the book. Actually, I didn’t expect that the book will achieve any success also because it has the same content of the blog that people can check freely and without paying a penny. Simply, I didn’t expect that people will buy the book.
When the book was translated into many different languages, I was greatly surprised, because I always thought that only famous writers’ books have this chance to be translated and distributed worldwide. However, I realised that “I want to get married” book opened a small window on our lives in Egypt and the whole world was interesting to look through this window to see how we live, think and feel.
When and where did you learn script writing? And did you encounter any hardships to turn the book into a script for a TV series?
I attended many courses and training sessions in scriptwriting when I was writing for the blog, which allowed me to present myself as a scriptwriter to the production agency that was responsible for producing the TV series that carried the same name of the book and the blog. Although the first experience was quite hectic, the results was satisfying, thanks god!
Your second TV series, “Imbratoreyet Meen”, sarcastically criticised Egyptian society after the 25 January Revolution in a critical time when people weren’t open to sarcasm, believing that it wasn’t the appropriate time for it. What are the main drawbacks of the Egyptian society after the revolution from your point of view? And do you regret releasing the series at that critical time?
One of the biggest problems Egyptian’s faced after the revolution is what you said in your question exactly! People became scared of satire and in my opinion, only weak countries and the fragile societies feel afraid of a laugh or a joke that sheds lights on the drawbacks and problems in a sarcastic way. The main objective of sarcasm is ringing the danger bells to warn the society of its problems or drawbacks. In my opinion, this was the perfect time for broadcasting the series. We didn’t want to participate in making the society more fragile and become a supporter for the fake patriotism that floods our country nowadays!
How could you deal with the intensive criticism that the series and its star Hend Sabry encountered? And did you change anything in the content after that criticism?
The criticism wasn’t artistic, which is the type of criticism that concerns us as a crew. Most of the attacks that were directed to the series or its heroine Hend Sabry were completely unfair, as they were a result of crude racism that we weren’t even motivated to take it into consideration. In fact, we finished writing and shooting the whole series before Ramadan, and it wasn’t acceptable to change anything in its content by any means or under any circumstances.
Why do you think your artistic works always attract all these waves of attack and criticism? And do you like being described a controversial lady who challenges the traditions of her society?
I’m so glad that the book and the two TV series I wrote could achieve this feedback. Any artistic or literary work must allow the society to open old topics and issues and pay attention to the new ones and start discussing them as an opposer or supporter. Literary works aim mainly at creating a healthy environment of discussion, debate and controversy.
Although you achieved a great success in the script writing field, why didn’t you leave the pharmacy field?
Girls in Egypt have a very tight life, unlike the men who can travel around the world, sit at cafes and meet a lot of people who we can’t meet. Pharmacy helps me overcome this problem. It allows me to meet new people with new characters and new patterns every day, and it helps me listen to human stories that enrich my human experience especially those relevant to people, their problems, the hardships they encounter and how they can overcome them.
What did fame and success change in your personality? And how do patients deal with you now?
Most of patients have no idea about that, as most people think of the famous person in a way that’s completely different from me. I don’t want to say that fame didn’t change me, as I started to care more about what I write on my social media networks and I’m always anxious about my next work, but on another level of dealing with people, I believe that I didn’t change very much!