The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany
Due to his outspoken criticism of various Egyptian regimes, novelist Alaa Al Aswany has been forced to leave his country. Exile has not silenced him though. In his new book, The Republic of False Truths, he maintains his uncompromising stance and is merciless in his depiction of the corruption and hypocrisy rampant in Egyptian politics during the Arab Spring of 2011.
Both darkly comic and tragic, The Republic of False Truths revolves around the occupation of Tahrir Square in the centre of Cairo. The protest ultimately drew millions of ordinary Egyptians onto the streets and forced then President Hosni Mubarak from office. Filled with idealism and hope, Al Aswany’s different characters cross paths at the barricades, as students and ordinary Egyptians are all transformed by the promise of change. Later, as victims of the brutal conservative backlash against the revolution, their narrative threads intersect again in gaol cells and court appearances. Beatings, arrests, humiliating ‘virginity tests’ and shootings diminish and break even the most committed.
Al Aswany’s allegiances are clearly on the side of change. Like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, he exposes the venality of the conservatives as they hijack religion to stymie the revolution. Pious General Alwany ruthlessly supresses the protests after morning prayers; the modest and lovely Nourhan ‘chastely’ marries her way to her own television show; the Muslim Brotherhood makes clandestine agreements with sworn enemies; and religions of all persuasions are harnessed for financial gain.
The Republic of False Truths kept me engrossed until way too late several nights running. It is a novel that compels you to care about what happens to the cast of characters and to have hope even when cynicism seems the only way to cope.