Three weeks ago, Nubian writer Hagag Adul was designated part of the 50-member committee tasked with crafting Egypt’s new constitution. Since then, he spends five days a week in Cairo and returns during the weekends to his place of residence, Alexandria, to work on writing his new book. Although Adul believes that he needs to dedicate all of his time to this book, given its epic nature, he currently prefers to put it on hold to write the constitution.
Before this important task, Adul spent nearly 20 years defending the Nubian cause. For that, he paid a high price. According to him, he was the target of a “moral assassination” carried out by southern cultural elites who allied with the state security agencies, which were not happy with his dedication to this issue.
Born in 1944, Adul began his literary writing in 1984. The author of The Nubian Awakening, he won the Sawiris Cultural Award for Egyptian literature in the category of short stories in 2005. During his youth, Adul worked for the project of constructing the Aswan Dam, known as the High Dam, in the south of Egypt. During the 1967 and 1973 wars, Adul served as a soldier in the Egyptian armed forces.
He won the state’s Encouragement Award for his fascinating novel Layali al-Misk al-Atika. The late critic Faruq Abdul Qader was the first to shed light on Adul’s narrative talent. He defended Adul against campaigns against him that considered the issue of Nubian literature Adul set forth a move toward separatism serving colonial goals. Adul has always mocked this accusation; nonetheless, he could not escape its effects. Years back, he was subject to a wave of criticism when he won the cultural award given by the Coptic Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris for Egyptian Culture. Articles were published about the link between Adul winning the award and Sawiris’ religion. His winning this award was also linked to Adul’s participation in a conference about the Coptic diaspora held in the United States. During that conference, Adul discussed the rights of minorities in the Arab world. As a political activist, he called for tackling the Nubian issue in Egypt.
The villages of the Aswan Dam
We spoke to Adul following the session he attended to discuss the constitution’s articles on the freedom of press. During the interview, he remembered how, back then, the daily Akhbar al-Adab accused him of “cutting open a wound in the heart of the country,” as part of a campaign in which Nubian writers took part. He believes that they stood against him because they were “jealous of his literary success and courage.”
“Before the publication of my first literary works, there was only one writer representing Nubians on the contemporary literary scene, the late Ibrahim Fahmi. The concern prominent critics showed toward my work has catalyzed other Nubians to write and express their identity through an artistic medium. The late Idriss Ali was among them. Additionally, Yehya Mokhtar began to write again after a long hiatus. Therefore, a broad discussion about Nubian literature and the particularity of those who present it was opened,” Adul added. Because of the competitiveness, Adul believes that his political stances have subjected him to attacks. He dared any of those writers who attacked him to “visit his village and gather as many as 10 Nubians around him.”
Adul continues, “I faced the campaign targeting me with courage. I didn’t perceive my travel to the [United States] to take part in the general conference on the rights of minorities as a betrayal, because my history is well known. I have never been a separatist. I am an advocate of unity with Sudan. How would I be calling for secession from Egypt when I fought for the victory of our military for seven years?”
Adul is proud of being Nubian. He has been living in Alexandria, situated on the Mediterranean coast, where he learned the value of racial and ethnic diversity. Based on this beliefs, he sees the relationship between Nubia and Egypt as a relationship of “rapprochement rather than separation.”
He says, “When I started to publish my articles on the Nubian issue, Nubians were gathered around me. Some sought to appoint me as a leader. I chose, however, to work with them instead of becoming their leader.”
“Despite this, there was a Nubian writer mocking me and saying, ‘You are not appointed to talk about our cause.’ In 2006, the residents of some villages, however, collected more than 5,000 signatures to appoint me.” Adul notes that his concern with Nubia “has put other writers in an embarrassing position. This why I was subject to two wars: the first from the part of security agencies and the second from writers and intellectuals in the literary field. This is why I preferred to retire from political action and dedicate my time to creative writing as of 2010.” The eruption of the revolution, however, led him to reconsider his stance.
Nowadays, Adul believes that his designation among Egyptian elites to write the constitution after the toppling of the regime of former President Mohammed Morsi is some sort of “restitution.” He spoke of his long struggle to incite public interest in the Nubian cause. He came up with the term “right of return,” considering the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s to be the cause for the forcible displacement of residents from Nubian villages. The residents of the latter are still struggling to return.
In this regard, Adul stressed that last year, during the process of writing the constitution amid the presence of an Islamic majority within the Constituent Assembly, whose work was stopped due to the protests of June 30, he sought to support activist Manal al-Tibi representing Nubians in the assembly. Tibi resigned because of the animosity against women and civil powers.
Adul reiterates that Tibi deserves this task more; yet, the new form of the Constituent Assembly, known as the 50-member committee, has encouraged him to move forward, accept his designation and have this experience. He noted that he was chosen to be part of this committee after Nubian parties put his name on a list of many others. He was found to be a universally acceptable figure among Nubians.
Adul continues, “I felt suspicious when I found the name of writer Massad Abu Fajr, who was imprisoned during the Mubarak era because he adopted the demands of the Sinai bedouins. The representation rate of intellectuals and civil powers in the committee, however, has abolished these suspicions and allowed a glimmer of hope. The designated members are known for being subjective and having clear consciences.”
Adul describes himself as a three-dimensional member, saying, “I participate in my capacity as an Egyptian citizen, a Nubian activist and a creative writer. Every capacity augments the responsibility and the hope of writing a constitution that meets the dreams of advancing and achieving a genuine alliance comprising the powers of the working people.”
When it comes to the Nubian issue, Adul believes that Nubians have to acknowledge the leadership of former President Gamal Abdul Nasser. Nasserists, however, have to acknowledge the mistake the regime committed when it accepted the displacement process. On the level of freedom of creativity, Adul does not believe that the issue of resisting censorship in all its aspects will be controversial, explaining that the majority of the committee’s members support freedom of speech. The number of Islamist members is far too low to let them negate the articles supporting freedom of creativity. Adul affirms that the work of the committee is taking a consensual, reassuring course, making his withdrawal unthinkable. He noted that he is working on the Nubian issue as a representative of a team comprising dozens of activists, because he cannot individually agree on any proposal. Therefore, he prefers to inform the team about the proposals of the committee, ensuring that Nubians are being heard.
Adul does not believe that Nubians are separatists, as some seek to depict them. Nubian elites know for a fact that any ethnic group secluding itself is dooming itself to death. He says, “We are smart, and we are calling for additional integration, not more isolation.” Adul did not expect a specific article on the rights of the Nubian population to be included in the new constitution, and pointed out that he is working with others on adding articles recognizing cultural and ethnic pluralism in Egypt, and preventing forced displacement. This is provided that the law regulates perceptions to resolve outstanding issues linked to the residents of the Sinai Peninsula and Nubia, in order to preserve national security.
He noted that January 25 revolutionaries have prepared for a meeting between former Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and a group of Nubians who raised the idea of the right of return for the first time. The term was recognized by the government, and according to Adul, this makes the Nubian cause and Palestinian cause equal! He pointed out that he made efforts to break the silence on this file, and unveil discriminatory practices that border on persecution and ethnic cleansing. According to him, these practices included forced evictions and a failed attempt (Operation Bashaer al-Kheir) to establish 18 villages behind the High Dam, where none of the Nubians were allowed to reside.
Adul, the author of People of the River, gives an example about the persecution that Nubians allegedly have suffered. He pointed out that so far official TV channels have not allowed any dark-skinned anchors to appear, and the media and drama discourse contains expressions that disparage them. A famous novelist experienced a crisis because his recent novel included a description of the Nubians with clearly degrading expressions, which were paraphrased in a TV series aired last Ramadan, and no one was able to stop it.
Adul explained that he has sought to warn of the risks of ignoring the Nubians’ demands, as the new generation is more aware than his generation of these rights. Voices have emerged to reject “negotiations with the central state” and to seek solutions that despise this state.
“Some have said that Egypt, which does not take our rights into consideration, is no longer our country. Thus, it is necessary to develop solutions to counter this growing discourse.”
Adul confirmed that he suggested to former Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni to hold an African culture festival in the Abu Simbel temple in order to restore the African essence of Egypt. Yet, the state rejected this suggestion, despite Hosni’s enthusiasm, because the idea of returning to Africa was not one of the regime’s priorities. Yet the crisis of the Nile waters may make this the top priority of the current regime, he said.
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