#WITMonth Day 5: Basma Abdel Aziz

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Basma Abdel Aziz is an Egyptian author, journalist, psychiatrist, and visual artist. As a psychiatrist, she counsels victims of torture, and as a writer, she takes on the regimes and political edifices that are often the instigators of such atrocities. She is a long-standing and prolific critic of government oppression in Egypt, which earned her the nickname ‘The Rebel’ for her indefatigable struggle against injustice, torture, and corruption. She distanced herself from the initial jubilation of the Arab Spring, feeling that the early optimism was misplaced, and has later explored the longer-term consequences of the uprising in her fiction. She is the winner of the Sawiris Cultural Award, the General Organisation for Cultural Palaces award, and the Ahmed Bahaa-Eddin Award. In 2016, she was named one of Foreign Policy’s Global thinkers for her debut novel, The Queue. She lives in Cairo.

Abdel Aziz’s debut novel belongs to a strain of post-revolutionary Middle Eastern literature that has an apocalyptic dystopian setting at its core. The Queue is the story of a young salesman, injured during a failed uprising and waiting in an endless line for a permit for treatment. Abdel Aziz has commented that “fiction gave me a very wide space to say what I wanted to say about totalitarian authority”, and that purely factual accounts are unable to truly capture the surreal experience of ordinary Egyptians who lived through the uprisings and subsequent crackdowns. Her novel therefore takes a more universal stance: there is deliberately nothing that ties it to a specific event or historical point in the Arab Spring uprising or its aftermath, yet it is a dystopian setting that reflects the unfolding events in Egyptian society with unnerving familiarity.

With comparisons to Kafka or Orwell, The Queue is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand authoritarianism, power structures and the aftermath of political uprisings.

Recommended reading

The following title by Basma Abdel Aziz is currently available in English translation:

The Queue, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Melville House, 2016)

Elise Williams