His New Novel Is Among the Arabic Booker Longlist.
Tunisian El Wad Is Breaking into the Files of Corruption through Novel Writing:
An Article Written by Kamel Riahi and Translated by Ali Znaidi.
Kamel Riahi – Tunisia
Houcine El Wad was known as an outstanding researcher in Arabic literature and a professor in the Tunisian and Arab universities who was preoccupied with Arabic old poetry, about which he authored several research papers and studies until 2010 when he came out on the cultural scene with his novel The City’s Scents under the most important Tunisian novelistic series “Ouyoun El Mouassira” (Contemporary Gists) which is run by the famous Tunisian critic Taoufik Baccar.
With debut novel he won the Tunisian Golden Comar, a prize given to the best Tunisian novel. After one year he published his second novel His Excellency Mr. the Minister under the same series to be longlisted in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Besides, he is the only Tunisian in this year’s contest.
Taoufik Baccar has revealed that Houcine El Wad’s novels that he published were written years ago, but they remained hidden in the drawers, either due to despair of the reality of culture in Tunisia or as a result of fear of publication or appearing with a new identity after being known as a critic and a successful researcher.
Besides, the delay of publishing these works arises from such an audacity through questioning the Tunisian political reality in the former regime against which the Revolution of January 14th was waged, particularly through his novel His Excellency Mr. the Minister.
The Degeneration of Value
Introducing the novel, Tunisian university researcher Chokri El Mabkhout puts a significant title highlighting the theme upon which Houcine El Wad’s novel touches which is “Dégage Ya Issabatou Essourraq,” (O, band of thieves! Go away!) a slogan raised by the Tunisian people during their revolution against the dictator. Thus he gives priority to the people’s outcries over the discourse of the élite.
El Mabkhout said,
Houcine El Wad wrote this novel years ago before the revolution.
And there is no doubt that, at the time of its writing, he was inspired
by what was circulated about the state of corruption and thieves,
and the scandals of its ministers and their leader and his royal family.
The novel narrates the story of someone who found an anonymous manuscript in the National Library. The failure to find its owner induced him to publish it, waiting that its owner would recognize it.
The manuscript includes a plea of one of the ministers who was accused by the regime after lawyers refused to defend him. In it, he wrote his story with his cousin, the corrupted prime minister and the server of the old regime who led him to political doom through appointing him as a minister of natural resources and property, taking advantage of his deteriorated economic situation as a primary school teacher.
The man turned from an opponent of the regime to a server and defender and from an authentic labour unionist to a foe of the labour union which defends the rights of the downtrodden, to the extent that he described the comrades of militancy as “state haters” after calling for a general strike.
The primary school teacher with principles became also a tool of the regime – the party – to sell the properties of the state and recklessly abandon them to the private sector. Though the minister did not steal as it is stated in his plea, he signed all thefts in a legal way bankrupting the state in favour of “His Excellency” through abandoning the properties of the state at the cheapest prices.
The novel looks closely in more than 250 pages at the path of the degeneration of value in front of money influence, as if Houcine El Wad is bringing out the human subconscious to us, reminding of the French saying “a clean hand steals nothing.”
The State of Corruption
A novel that delves into the cellars of politics cannot neglect the reality of moral corruption embraced by the one-party state through several manifestations. For instance, woman is one of the mechanisms of the functioning and management of that corruption – be she a secretary, a politician, or her royal majesty.
There, in the ministries’ offices and palaces, prostitution activates as an essential mainstay that forms a parallel line of political prostitution. All that is framed according to a special view of politics as an intimate foe of morality because the latter, according to the politicians of the state of corruption, is considered as idiocy.
That’s why the prime minister or His Excellency was changing his wives as often as he was changing his socks, paying no heed to their beauty or young age, while he was climbing the ladder of political positions because, according to him, high standing and power are the sole criteria of marriage.
Thus Houcine El Wad’s novel touches upon a new old triad of politics, money, and sex, declaring, as critic Chokri El Mabkhout stated “a radical collusion between these three hypostases.”
Houcine El Wad’s novel supports a new trend in the Tunisian novel which was absent and modest – that is, of “the political novel.” This novelistic pattern began developing in this glimmer of freedom lived by the Tunisian writer, despite the great perils that threaten the Tunisian novelists, many of whom hasted in writing the political in a superficial and sermonical way.
But Houcine El Wad had been safe from that because perhaps he wrote his novel before the revolution, or because perhaps he broke into creative writing and fiction at an advanced age and experience as he was born in 1948.
Despite its originality, seriousness, and its strong language that is sometimes sarcastic due to the insertion, for example, of daily speech and colloquial Tunisian, weak points appeared in it here and there and especially sometimes the reader’s feeling of boredom due to its slow events.
Besides, the novelist did not succeed in the frame story because the novel as a whole is a plea before the court written by the minister to defend himself. And because the reference to this through the required expressions is absent he sometimes narrates chapters without referring to the origin of the text as a plea. And whenever he mentioned that, the technique sounded unaccountable, projective, and intrusive.
This article appeared in aljazeera.net 14/12/2012 by Kamel Riahi.
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.