Finally, someone noticed the homo-hatin’

…of the Yacoubian Buildings. Raouf Moussad in El-Ahram Weekly:

By comparing the Arabic original to the English translation, by Humphrey Davies (American University in Cairo Press, 2004), I noticed a remarkable difference in the terms used for same sex practices. The Arabic uses terms like ” shuzuz ” (meaning deviancy or abnormality) and its derivatives, which correspond to English usages such as “fag”, “faggot” and “poofter”. By contrast, the English translation replaces shaz and shuzuz by “homosexual” and “homosexuality”, which do not imply sexual practices that are deviant from the social norm. It’s as if the Arabic original urges the reader to condemn people who practice same sex, whereas the English version sympathises with them.

The treatment of homosexuals at the hands of Al-Aswany is similar to the treatment of Nubians and Christians — two groups marginalised in Egyptian society — in the novel. With all three groups, we need to ask why it was that Al-Aswany chose to represent them only to vent his venom against them. Is it because they cannot answer back, because their complaints will fall on deaf ears in a society that consistently ignores them, or casts them outside?

4 thoughts on “Finally, someone noticed the homo-hatin’

  1. Hi Randa
    I watched the movie last week and was very pissed off by the audience reaction to the homosexual scenes. There was continuous laughter. I’m sure it was a cause of both uncomfort, ignorance, as well as hatred. The same thing occured with scenes dealing with sexual abuse/rape.

  2. Hi Randa and Donia,

    I just finished reading the novel tonight on the way back home from Alex and saw the movie last week too.

    I have this to say about Hatem’s portrayal in the novel and the movie:

    Hatem in the novel is a plausibly realistic gay man. Although I think it’s pretty ridiculous to suggest that homosexuality is a habit learned from childhood behavior, at least the novel doesn’t portray homosexuality as a post-traumatic afflicition caused by child abuse.

    I’ve had to think about this novel and this movie way too much this month. It’s really a mediocre story and I’m appalled that it’s garnered so much attention. Congratulations to Dar Madbooli for exploiting the gullibility and bad taste of the Egyptian middle class.

    Al-Aswany is actually coming to AUC Wednesday for a private talk with us CASA students. I’m afraid I’m going to make a lot of people very angry if I show up.



  3. You should def. show up! Since when are you afraid of making people angry?

    It’s interesting to hear that Hatem can be portrayed realistically through language but not through a visual medium.

    As for the book’s mediocrity, it’s not just the Egyptian middle class that gets exploited. The American public gets exploited and condescended to all the time by its own presses and media; I mean, the Da fucking Vinci Code?

  4. I changed my mind about Aswany today after hearing him talk. He’s not the lazy thinker I thought he was, and I couldn’t really hold him to blame for the popularity of his novel. He’s not a particularly humble guy, but he doesn’t seem to blame himself for the novel’s success either.

    I’d like to add something about Moussad’s condemnation of the portrayal of homosexuals, Copts, and Nubians in ‘Umarat Yaqoubian: it is simply a fact that in current Egyptian society these groups are tolerated but marginalized. Very marginalized. To have written about Hatem as “mithlee” or any other p.c. terminology would be pretty unnatural and inartistic writing (not that it’s a particularly, natural or artistic novel in the first place).

    The shameful thing about Hatem and Abduh in the novel is that it has become a pretext for condemning a novel/movie that had managed to smuggle a pretty powerful critique of the Egyptian political regime past the censors and now the film is in danger of being banned or expurgated here.

    Furthermore, every character in the novel is marginalized in one way or another (Zaki, Hatem, Buthaina, Absakhroon, Suad, Abduh) or operates on the fringes of society (‘Azzam, Malak, and maybe Taha).

    I also object to the idea that the DaVinci Code and Yacoubian Building exploit anyone. The middle class is not innocent and shouldn’t be treated like children (by the mass media or the cognoscenti like ourselves). They’re bad, bad people and they should be held responsible for their bad taste and for propelling mediocrity to the position of “high culture.”

    Also, apparently none other than Gamal al-Ghitani declared el-Aswani “Naguib Mahfouz al-thani.” I’m not sure if he means to insult himself, Mahfouz or al-Aswany by that statement.

    Final thought on Yacoubian Building: it proves that the Arabic novel is flatlining.

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