Ambassador and writer Muhammad Tawfiq: The patterns of human life have changed in “A Flower of Stone”

Ambassador and writer Muhammad Tawfiq: The patterns of human life have changed in “A Flower of Stone”
Ambassador and writer Muhammad Tawfiq: The patterns of human life have changed in “A Flower of Stone”
  • I am interested in writing history from a human point of view. I read international literature as a child.
  • The influence of my studies in engineering appears on my writing in my interest in the building element and in the logical sequence of events
  • I learned a lot about literature through my diplomatic experience

Talking to him makes you feel for a moment that you are in a classic dialogue with the greats of the beautiful time..Culture and linguistic discipline are two features that envelop the dialogue with the writer and ambassador Muhammad Tawfiq, who held the position of Egyptian Ambassador to the United States of America during the most tense and turbulent period of modern Egyptian history between the years 2012-2015 AD, and his A busy and distinguished career in diplomatic work.

In an interview with Al-Ahram, he said: My study of engineering and my work in the diplomatic corps did not constitute an obstacle to my literary formation, but rather contributed to the maturity of this experience at the level of time and space, and this is what made me take the human being as an entry point for me in all my literary works, because we cannot escape from our cultural references and social .. and to the details of the dialogue.

Sharp shifts seem to be a clear feature in your educational career, from studying engineering and working in it for five years, to studying international relations and international law and then diplomatic work, when did your literary personality begin to appear during this career?

My passion for reading dates back to my early childhood. At that time, I did not only read books intended for children, but rather read international literature as well as various scientific and human fields. I turned to literary writing at the beginning of my enrollment at Cairo University, although my field of study was engineering, and therefore the diversity in my academic and career path It did not come at the expense of my literary formation, but rather it complemented and supported it, which ultimately added variety to my literary production and contributed to the widening of events in my stories and novels in time and place.

From any doors knocked the world of the story and the novel?

I started with the story, then turned to the novel, and then returned to the story in my recently published book, entitled “A Flower of Stone.” In both cases, my input was the human being. I do not imagine that literature deals with major events in isolation from people: it must be asked: How does the movement of history affect ordinary people, especially those who did not realize the causes and stages of major transformations, did not expect them or imagine themselves concerned with them, so that they would be taken by surprise .. They suffer because of them and pay the price for them. They struggle to cope and survive without fully realizing what has befallen them.

Do you write literature with the logic of engineering or diplomacy?

The influence of geometry on my literary writing appears in my interest in the element of construction, as well as in the logical sequence of events and ideas, and also in connection with linking the various pillars of the work with solid, albeit invisible, threads.

My engineering background is also reflected in my interest in new technologies, which would completely change human lifestyles, which is the subject of my story book “A Flower from Stone”, especially with regard to how traditional societies interact with successive technological developments. Scandalous situations, while social networks provide an opportunity for the development of romantic relationships with people we know nothing about, which leads to uncalculated results when the relationship is transferred to reality.Then how do our societies deal with robots… and how does a robot interact with us? Do developments in the holographic virtual world bring about a complete fusion between reality and imagination.. Will this solve our problems or multiply them? And what about cloning… Will the rich succeed in cloning their injured or deceased loved ones?

As for the diplomatic dimension, there is a mutual influence between it and my literary career. My diplomatic activity has always relied on the element of communication, culture, and soft powers. As for my literary production, it relied on a certain understanding of international relations and global policies and their reflection on our societies. I am convinced that literature and the arts interact with issues of man and society, either directly or implicitly, so the true creator is aware of major issues and follows their developments. The Corona epidemic dealt a painful blow to the global economy, and the Russian-Ukrainian war raised food prices regardless of the country’s proximity or distance from the combat zones. Quite a few island countries, although these countries did not play a significant role in environmental pollution. So how does all this affect the lives of ordinary people?

Some see in your novel “A Night in the Life of Abdel Tawab Tutu” that you hid behind its characters in order to express your distress or anger over a period of time that you went through?

Literary work usually includes glimpses of autobiography. Some writers enter this dimension directly, narrating real events that they went through. One of the most prominent examples of this trend is the French writer Annie Ernault, who won the Nobel Prize for the year 2022. Others, such as our writer Naguib Mahfouz, for example, They employ imagination in creating characters and events, but they cannot escape from their own experiences, observations, opinions, and visions, and I count myself within the second orientation.

As for the novel “A Night in the Life of Abdel Tawab Tutu,” it is the first in a trilogy that also includes “A Naughty Child Named Antar” and “The Candy Girl.” Together, the novels form a trilogy that deals with the development of Egyptian society during the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first century.

“A Night in the Life of Abdel Tawab Tutu” begins with the assassination of Sadat on October 6, 1981, and then returns chronologically to the end of the nineteenth century through the history of an extended Egyptian family. The novel aims to explore the transformations that occurred in Egyptian society, leading to the rise of extremist currents and the platform incident.

As for the second, “A naughty child named Antar,” it deals with the last months of the twentieth century, the broken dreams, and the dominance of the new rich, ending with a noisy New Year’s party to welcome the new millennium.

As for the third, “The Candy Girl,” it begins with the execution of Saddam Hussein on the day of Eid al-Adha in December 2006, and explores the blatant American intervention and its effects on the region, as well as the growing dominance of the virtual world and social media platforms over people’s lives, and how to use them to achieve the purposes of developed countries, as a way of looking forward to the future. Our troubled region.

As I said, the most important thing I look for in my work is how people are affected by the movement of history, without necessarily being aware of the big picture and its drivers, they are only its victims.

As a writer who has practiced diplomacy, have you succeeded in formulating a literary work that can address the outside in a way that does not lose its internal content?

Literary work expresses the conscience of the creator and represents the outcome of his thought and artistic vision, and it is directed to his society in the first place, but people of different cultures are able to absorb honest literature regardless of its source, because the human issues in their diversity are common to all human beings, as the global necessarily stems from the local, and I Basically an experimental writer, I am always interested in exploring new forms of narration, and producing non-stereotypical or repetitive works, and I make sure that every work I write is a new, exciting and different experience from my previous works. Realistic, historical, police, espionage, science fiction, and desert literature. This adds another dimension to the foreign reader, which I sensed from the critical and individual reactions to my translated works of fiction and fiction.

Your novel “The Candy Girl” takes on an epic character and monitors a painful, dramatic reality, part of which may be the homeland. How do you see that?

The story of the candy girl takes place in one of the slums surrounding the capital in January 2007, in light of the execution of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the fragmentation of Arab reality on the one hand, and after the Egyptian society reached an advanced stage of deterioration on the other hand. Despite this, it is one of the rare novels in that period. It includes positive personalities from young people, or let’s say young personalities who have not lost their idealism, and the truth is that Al-Mukhaykh (the fiftieth scholar hiding in this region to escape from foreign intelligence organizations trying to assassinate him) would not have been able to withstand the challenges he faced without the presence of three young personalities from different backgrounds ( The university student Taher, the emerging actress Didi, and the prostitute Condoleezza), and thanks to the audacity and sacrifices of the three of them, the novel ends with hope despite its tragic events.

Literature is not required to provide solutions, but good literature motivates the reader to think and reflect, which is the beginning of reaching a solution. In conclusion, I go on to stress that self-searching is an emotional journey necessary for every artist, but it is not limited to them. Every person must find his voice… To feel his distinction… his special mission… his vital role for the success of his society… and good manners will always be the most sincere companion in this adventure that is life.

Your production reveals that history constitutes an important part of your literary starting points. Which of the historical tracks did you find difficult to write?

My interest revolves around writing history from the human point of view, and of course there is no integrated way to write history, and while the modern historian resorts to technical tools that were not available in the past, and applies a more accurate and comprehensive research method, there are always dark areas, whether because they are not documented or because The sources are conflicting about it, or because the official narrative has actively sought to obliterate it, which are the areas that the historical novel explores through the employment of imagination, so it puts a more stereoscopic image in front of the reader, and it is important for the reader to realize that the novel is not a historical research, or a reliable source for judging the characters of history Or its events, but rather a literary vision inspired by historical issues to project it onto contemporary reality. Nevertheless, it is important for the novelist to ensure the credibility of his work through painstaking research and attention to the validity and accuracy of the details, while unleashing his imagination in the psychological construction of the characters, and in criticizing and challenging official narratives whenever necessary. The most important is the role of the novel in showing the human dimension of historical events, which is an important message, whether in terms of de-sanctification of historical figures, or highlighting the price incurred by ordinary people to achieve the glories of which official historians sing.

Who is the diplomatic personality that wanted to weave a literary work that embodies it?

In the novel “Whispering the Scorpion”, I dealt with the personality of Ahmed Hassanein Pasha, who is a unique personality because he is the son of an Azhar scholar and studied at Oxford, worked with the British occupier of his country, then worked in the royal palace until he reached the position of chief of the royal court, and he undertook many and varied adventures, whether in his desert trips or in Flying planes or his sporting achievements, and of course his female relations. But what many do not know about him is that he was also a diplomat at our embassy in Washington.

Wasn’t it insisting that you, as a diplomat, produce a literary work that talks about a national issue related to your intellectual and ideological convictions?

Yes, I did, in the novel “Whispering the Scorpion”, as it is inspired by a desert trip undertaken by Ahmed Hassanein (who later became head of the Egyptian Royal Court) and the British explorer Rosita Forbes to the Kufra Oasis in the Libyan desert in 1920-1921, and for this we can actually consider that it deals with The relationship of the East with the West, although I would prefer to say that it explores the different dimensions of the fascination of the elites in the Third World with the culture and achievements of the colonizer on the one hand, and the romantic view of the West towards traditional cultures on the other hand.

And if we deal with the eastern fascination with the West, we will find that it is balanced by the elites’ awareness of the colonizer’s intentions, which are often not innocent, and their pride at the same time in their history and culture, and their eagerness to preserve their national identity, as well as the independence of their political will and economic choices. In this context, the novel is specifically keen to shed light on the psychological contradiction of the members of these elites, and the contradiction between different sectors of the colonized peoples, which is necessarily reflected on the political and social levels, and this intellectual rupture remains influential even after achieving independence, because the relationship of the center to the parties described by the thinker The great Samir Amin is still the main feature of the international community, at least with regard to its cultural and technological centrality.

How did literature add to you as a diplomat, and how did diplomacy add to you as a writer?

In general, there is a close relationship between literature and diplomacy. If I first dealt with literature with diplomatic eyes, I will admit that I learned a lot about literature through my diplomatic experience. For example, during my work in Australia, I learned about the culture of its indigenous people, which is the oldest continuous human culture so far (referred to Some scholars to sixty thousand years) that the tale is the most important tool for transferring human knowledge in societies that do not know writing, including morals, religion, law and science, and it precedes the discovery of agriculture and the wheel by thousands of years, and literature is then the cornerstone of any civilization and is not a luxury or product. for the luxury classes.

As for if I moved to diplomatic practice through the eyes of a novelist and touched on the method used by the American administration in mobilizing public opinion and directing its message abroad, taking advantage of the mechanisms of storytelling and modern means of communication, I would find that I used the same methods to confront the Brotherhood’s propaganda in the United States and respond to the media that was biased against us in the aftermath of June 30. 2013.

permanent link: