Qamous Ashik li Misr (The Egypt Lover Dictionary) by Robert Solé, translated by Asaad El-Meery, Cairo: National Centre for Translation, 2012. 495pp.
Robert solé, the French writer, has once again expressed his deep fondness for Egypt – in a new book, confirming that the situation in Egypt does not permit a conflict between the authorities and Islamists, unlike the case in Algeria in the 1990s. solé deals with many books, springs leading into one stream, which could be termed the Egyptian spirit or the Egyptian character. He states that what runs in Egyptian veins is not blood, but Nile water, and so we need not worry about the danger that the Islamist movements pose to the future of Egypt.
Citing the German writer, Emil Ludwig, solé says that what has united Egyptians since the earliest times is control of the river as the source of water and, with the sun, also the source of life. The sun and Nile gods became the most important. solé also recalls Geanville writing, after Luix IV 's disastrous Crusade on Egypt in 1249, that the Nile river’s "flooding brings wellness, and that cannot come without the will of God."
solé was born to a Lebanese family who lived in Egypt in 1946 and left for France in 1962.
His most famous book is Egypte, Passion Francaise. He continues to express this passion for Egypt in this new book, noting it was not unique to this generation but dates back to ancient times, when Romans brought Egyptian obelisks back to Rome and adopted many Egyptian beliefs; France later caught the same passion for ancient Egypt starting from the renaissance of the 15th century.
The book was translated to Arabic by Asaad El-Meery and includes some 144 articles describing on history, geography, mythology, travellers, characters, popular figures and religious monuments. Speaking of obelisks – most of which are now located outside Egypt where there are only six left, as opposed to Rome – solé cites the fact that the ancient Egyptians believed that obelisks connected the earth to the sky. The largest obelisks, he indicates, is a 42-m tall structure that has never left is home in Aswan (some 900 kms south of Cairo) where the granite that the ancients used for sturdy building is widespread. Due to some cracks discovered before it was finished, the obelisk remained where it was.
As far as Islamic fundamentalists are concerned, solé concedes that Egypt may be considered the home of modern Islamic fundamentalism, referring to the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt, and the introduction of the slogan, “The Quran is our Constitution”: despite their current image as moderate and democratic, it is the MB that gave way to Jihadis and Salafis.
The book, published one year after the outbreak of the revolution, was written at the height of the rise of fundamentalism before the fall of Mubarak; and the author feels that fundamentalists are unable to present a project applicable to all fields of society, especially in the economic sector.
Although the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, won over 45 per cent of the parliamentary seats, followed by Al-Nour Party, solé is not concerned. “Egypt,” he says, “isn’t Algeria, where the struggle between the state and the Islamists (during the 1990s) turned into a civil war. Egypt’s position is different from that of Algeria which is still searching for a sense of identity since independence its in 1962: Arab, Islamic, Amazing, French... But Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs, is very old,” referring here to the unity of Egypt in one central state over 5,100 years old.
“Egyptian society has a strong core where the civil state inside it has a strong base, though religious authorities are rising. The society is very stable, and its homogeneity is what facilitates the mingling of the Christian minority among the population,” solé continues, mentioning that the MB is present in all organisations, including the unions, to the extent he feels like, “The army is the only Egyptian organization that doesn’t have any of them.”