It’s a pity, though, none of these journalists, even Egyptian ones, ever ask Hani Abdul Mourid what he thinks. Why might they?
Mourid worked for four years teaching IT in a youth centre in the Zaraib, one of Cairo’s poorest neigbourhoods. His third novel,Kirieleison, published in 2008, takes that district for its backdrop. The Zaraib is home to Cairo’s rubbish-collectors – pick-up trucks roll along its uneven streets, bundles of reclaimed cardboard or plastic bottles swaying in the back. It is home also to the huge tenth century cave church of Simon the Tanner. The area is Christian.
So is some of the novel’s imagery. The tormented main protagonist (a Muslim, as is Mourid) sees himself at one point as a Christ-like figure and the story of Simon the Tanner is a leitmotif. But it is Mubarak’s dictatorship and it is poverty, it is bitterly disappointed hopes and sexual frustration of all kinds which determine these lives, not religious affiliation. The ‘conversion’ of a drug-user who has spent a year in Saudi Arabia is treated with scepticism. Christian and Muslim characters are portrayed as equally complicit in the wider corruption. His theme is plainly not only the Zaraib but, in microcosm, the sorry state of the entire country.