Look to See

Sara Mohamed Shehata .

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The novel “Sadam City,” is written by a well-known Iraqi writer, “Mahmoud Saeed,” and it was issued in 2007, for a second time, by Dar Al-Hilal in Egypt.  Before reading this book it must be known that the author took more than fifteen years in order to make his dream, publishing a novel, come true.  He spent many years moving between the Arab countries in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  In his novel he spoke about the rule of the Baathist Party of Iraq and Saddam’s regime.  Although he did not mention Saddam’s name specifically, he described the qualities of the “tyrant” or “narcissist.”

            He is not like the writers who curse the oppressive rulers after their departure, as in several books published after the occupation of Iraq and the killing of “Saddam.” He did not curse Saddam’s regime, but he simply described the reality of the situation in prison.  “Mahmoud Saeed,” wrote the novel in 1981, immediately after his release from prison, during the height of the “Saddam” regime.  He found a courage rarely seen, and he was brave enough to leave the country in order to publish his novel. If he was captured leaving with writings like this, the punishment would be more chilling than that stated in the chapters of the novel by the witness behind bars!  

The novel began by depicting the life of the protagonist who was a teacher in Basra, Iraq, a father of two children, and a good husband. He never caused harm to anyone, and never talked politics to hay the quality of characters. Although he did not oppose the regime, what was happening to the people in his country due to the oppression made him discontent.

 One day, one of the Baathists came to ask him to join them.  Tactfully he refused, pointing to his chest, he said to his wife that, “they can spoil his life, but they can not spoil his spirit.”  Soon informants came to his work at local high school, took him to their secret police office, beat him, and detained him. So the chapters of tragedy opened both torture and horror, which any human being could not tolerate.  The novel speaks of the atrocities and violations that occurred during the police investigations: where the investigator played the role of the executioner, and the accused had no role to play at all.

            First of all, when they detained him, he thought it was a mistake because the investigator called him “Mustafa Ali Othman,” but his name was “Mustafa Ali Numan.” He became hopeful, but was soon distressed when he brought this to their attention and they replied: “It does not matter!” He witnessed the shocking arrests of citizens who mostly, like they, had nothing to do with politics.  It was a strange thing for him to see people in prison because their car licence plate fell off or because they worked in the goldsmith profession.

If one escaped from this hell and he did not return after a specified period of time, the secret police would hold his parents as hostage until he came back submissively to his country! No body could criticise the situation in the country because the secret police were everywhere.  Mahmoud explains that, “One man was arrested after his small daughter said in the bus that she heard her father criticizing the regime.”  They were like detectives lurking in every corner, disguised as anyone, perhaps even the closest person to you.

            After long months of events the protagonist saw worse forms of suffering, worse treatment and fabricated charges.  They fabricated his pictures, creating false images of him in association with rebels, tortured him, and kept him behind bars in horrible prisons. He lived with the voices of detainees who were tortured there.

The protagonist heard many detainees speak of how the tyrant spent millions of dollars to make the people like him and worship him. He paid high wages to have his biography written and his personnel life represented through film.  He even established fairs that adored him with poetry and songs to celebrate on his behalf.

            He continued to describe his experience behind bars for a whole year.  He did not know what he was accused of nor how long his sentence.  He believed thousands of innocent Iraqis were behind bars, exclaiming: “No one could stay alive after such tortures and he was one of them. One day they tortured somebody heavily and he died three days later. ”

            He was finally released and after more than a year had passed when he went home to Basra.  He began to write his novel that same year and took it to Jordan to publish it.  He concealed the novel between the folds of his clothes during border inspections, explaining in his novel that: “Iraqis are most afraid of being caught with him something written against the political status, they’ll take his skin to leather factory to manufacture it.”

His attempt to publish his manuscript failed in Jordan and Lebanon.  In the novel he explained a few of the scandals he encountered in Syria.  One scandal in specific, a professor who translated stories from French language to Arabic as a career, would sel the titles of these translations to university professors who put their names on the translations.  On of the translation rights were sold to a restaurant owner who began his career as a vendor of falafel.  He could barely write in Arabic let alone translate a book.

            The publication of his book was suspended in Syria because he refused to cooperate with the Syrian Government.  He tried to go to Algeria to work, but Algerian authorities refused him from entering into Algeria.  Algerian authorities did not exclude him alone but also other Arabs and French children who had been treated cruelly.  They often deported them by force, and they did not give special treatment to children, even those whose parents were waiting for them in Algeria.

            Finally, in 1995 “Mahmoud Saeed,” published his story for the first time.  The first novel described the horror of Baathist rule at the time which was like voluntary suicide for a writer.  He concluded that he was “pleased” with his story and questioned: “When will be the Arabic countries act like normal countries?”  But now the situation after the American occupation of Iraq has grown worse: the torture machine was moved from the hands of Saddam to the hands of Americans.  When you read the novel, bitterness will increase in your chest, and you’ll ask yourself again: when will we be real countries?


About mahmoudsaeediraq

I am an Iraqi writer. I came to the USA in 1999, and I got politic asylum. Since that time I am living in Chicago, Illinois. I have written more than 20 novels and short story collections and hundreds of articles. Some of my novels were destroyed by Iraqi regimes. I have won awards in Iraq, Egypt and the United States. I also have won awards for short stories, one in Iraq and the second in UAE. I worked in Iraq as a high school teacher teaching Arabic literature. I was imprisoned six times between 1959 and 1980. I was dismissed from my job for three years, so I went to Morocco and I worked there as a high school teacher. I wrote about last time in prison as novel titled, "I am the one who saw." This novel was translated to English by Dr. Sadri (a professor of Lake Frost University) and published in Al Saqi house publishing company in London by the name of "Saddam City." The New York Public Libraries listed my novel as one of the best novels of the last century. Amnesty international chose 37 writers from all over the world, including me, to celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wrote short stories, and the collection was published in London, USA, Canada, Spain, and Turkey. It was translated in more than 20 languages. MAHMOUD SAEED, Chicago, Illinois
This entry was posted in مقالات نقدية بالإنكليزية عن أعمال محمود سعيد - Reviews in English About Mahmoud's Works. Bookmark the permalink.

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