” Whenever I enter or exit Egypt, the authorities pull me to one side and make me wait as they go through my suitcase twice before letting me go. Had they found material for a book, they would have confiscated it and had it examined by a commitee of officers and I would then have, most probably, been hauled off to court and seen levelled against me yet another charge of “slandering the institutions of state”.
This kind of censorship is just one of the many reasons why I believe that we, now more than at any other time, need to understand the dictatorship syndrome. The victims of dictatorship worldwide outnumber those struck down by any disease. “
Dictatorship : a chronical disease affecting both individuals and societies.
Dictators : individuals who take advantage of a fragile political and social situation of a nation in order to manipulate it.
Causes for the development of this disease : social, economic and political crises, need for an almighty ruler who could regulate everything, whatever that means and whatever the costs.
Symptoms : a great deal of trust in that absolute ruler, intolerance towards social and cultural difference, fear of change.
Alaa Al Aswany presents the reader the “dictatoship syndrome” in a radiography-like essay : with the medical precision echoing the author’s initial profession, dictatorships are analysed, diagnosed and hopefully cured just as one would do with diseases. Indeed, Al Aswany’s thesis is that dictatorships are a form of social, political, and cultural disease affecting peoples and nations.
This analysis joins together the author’s literary talent and his sharp observation of people’s lives and societies. From friends’ stories to historical phenomena, Al Aswany revisits the evolution of dictatorships in several countries through the lense of both an individual, a writer, a medical doctor and a committed citizen. His observations pay respect to his critical view of political excesses which prevent inidivudals as well as societies from thinking freely.
If Al Aswany supports his arguments with examples from several countries with their own social and cultural specificity, thr overall message is to urge the reader to favour freedom over (apparent) safety, criticism over ideology, education over obedience.
Prevention and possible cure : being informed and developping critical views. In short, thinking freely.
The Dictatorship Syndrome by Alaa Al Aswany
978-1-912208-59-3 / Haus Publishing (2019)
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in African Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She is the author of a collection of short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She is trilingual in Romanian, French and English, and teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.