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Censoring an Iranian Love Story - A Book Review

Shahriar Mandanipour’sCensoring an Iranian Love Story (2009, Translated by Sara Khalili) is one of the strangest and most interesting books I read. You see, I always had a thing for Persian culture, but being an Egyptian today I know it is almost impossible to be able to witness its greatness through my own two eyes. So when I found Censoring an Iranian Love Story, it was like a treasure to me, hoping it would give me an idea about the modern-day Iran without having to visit! So let me tell you a thing or two about this book.

The Story
As Raha Namy puts it in the Quarterly Conversation, Censoring an Iranian Love Story is a multi-layered story. This - more than slightly - surreal tale tries to give numerous details about the Iranian culture and censorship in a mix of real and fictional story layers that continuously intersect, sometimes confusing between what is real and what is fictional, making it hard for the non-Iranian reader to build a real idea about Iran.

Layer 1
The innermost laye…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 15: Expansion

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Wael Ghonim's interview gave an even greater momentum to the Revolution. Tahrir today is full, more than it has ever been. The Square itself could not carry all protesters, thus the protests and the sit-in expand in neighboring streets, reaching the parliament and cabinet buildings. It expands in Cairo and all over the Good Land, and it becomes unstoppable even more than it already was.
Every time we seem to lose hope something happens to make the dream come closer...

First Post - Previous Post

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 14: civil disobedience

Monday, February 7th, 2011

On days like this, when there is no million man protest planned, it's up to those at the sit-in and the loyal protesters to keep the Revolution's momentum going. And these people take their duty seriously. Tahrir Square and other squares all over Egypt are full, yet again. People feel that this may take longer that what we've first expected, and this surely is something to worry about, but to this moment resilience still wins.
The plan to keep people busy with work has failed miserably; they instead have started protesting at their workplace. And instead of having one Square filled with protesters, we now have a full Square as well as many other protests all around Cairo and elsewhere. This has happened without any prior planning, but since it did, calls for civil disobedience emerged. 
Wael Ghonim is finally released, and his first televised interview leaves everyone speechless. It was rational and emotional, it was heart-felt and wise. When he cri…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 13: life and power

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

On a pharaonic temple's wall, our ancestors usually carved this: "the pharaoh is full of life and power". The pharaoh, unlike what is commonly known, in prosperous times the was a just, respected and loved ruler, he was a symbol of Egypt. Thousand of years later, and the Good Land is again filled with life and power. Walking around the squares of liberty all over the country, you feel life dazzling out of every pair of eyes of the young and old, you hear the power echoing in every chant.
Everyone is back to work, but since the curfew hours start at 3:00 pm, it's a half day. The trace of worry that lied in the back of our heads; that people might not be able to protest having to go to work, is now gone. Today is the first of the week's three million man protests, and the call is more the answered. Tahrir Square is full with protesters and festivities.
The Muslim Brotherhood are set to meet with Omar Suliman again tomorrow, to discuss power …

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 12: rhythm

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

After one week of the country's public and private sector being completely closed,  it is now announced that work will resume tomorrow. Protesters ignore the announcement, and make one of their own. There will be a million man protest every other day; on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. If Mubarak doesn't leave by then, there will be another escalation on Friday.
By now, the Revolution has acquired a stable rhythm, and the numbers of protesters have grown all over the Good Land. Everyone now knows the best route from their residence to the Square. They know what's best to wear and what not to wear. They know when to visit and how long to stay. They know what to take to those at the sit-in; it may be something as big as a tent or just a bag of cookies. Those at the sit-in know when to sleep, and where to sleep. They know when they should guard and when to be guarded. They know who they should trust and who not to count on.

The demands of the Revolution a…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 11: the spirit

Friday, February 4th, 2011

When you've faced death more than once in ten days, you acquire strength that overcomes fear, and when this happens, nothing really matters anymore. When this happens, you can stand against army tanks and fighter jets and continue to be as resilient as can be. When Egypt faced death on January 28 and February 2 all walls came down, one by one, fear died, talk of reconciliation dissolved, and the unpredictable feature was not a reason to worry anymore.
And so, on February 4th, the turnout in Tahrir Square and all other squares of the Good Land is far higher than that of the previous days. The spirit too is higher, much higher than the helicopters that keep hovering over our heads and are met with chants that our louder than usual.  Spirits are much higher that the last floor of the State Television building where an ugly old man sits trying to figure out what else to say to turn people against the Revolution. And they're definitely higher than voices of…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 10: unity

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

After the battle the Good Land becomes calm, but it's a fearful, angry calmness. Everyone remains in their place; those in the Square remain in the Square, those at home remain at home, but those who support Mubarak disappear. The Square that was yesterday divided between those who are full of hope and those about to give up is now united under faith that they will topple Mubarak, and fear of what may happen on this day or the next day. To bring back the spirit, protesters call for another million man protest on Friday.
The Internet finally being back leads people to see what others think. Yesterday everyone was fearful, angry, or at least dumbstruck. Today they are able to speak their mind more easily. To this day, many may have thought that there is unity, that everyone was supportive of the revolution, at least until the "emotional speech", but social media make the difference in opinions clear. Opposing pages emerge, and on each, discussion…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 9: the battle

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

The Internet blockade is finally over, we're back to the 21st century, or so we think...
The "emotional speech" that Mubarak gave had a powerful effect, even in Tahrir Square. Especially since the reconciliation dialogues were attended by several groups, including parties, popular figures and the Muslim Brotherhood. Having no leaders, protesters don't necessarily listen to what they're being told, except of course for the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, after a million-man protest, The sun rises on the Good Land to relatively empty Square.
Outside Tahrir people say we had enough gains, protesters should end their sit-in. They say Mubarak's an old man who should be respected. They say that these "kids" have nothing better to do. They simply turn against the Square. The Internet brings more discussions and disputes between families and friends, those with and those against the Revolution.
Mubarak's supporters decide to …

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 8: art

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
They asked for a million, and more than a million they've got. Tahrir Square is full and so is El Qa'ed Ibrahim Square in Alexandria and several other squares on the Good Land. Yesterday's organization actually paid back; it's one of the few times when we, Egyptians, manage to be in a crowded area without disasters happening. We don't hear of pick-pocketing, sexual harassment or fights. It's a festive revolution, teaching the world how to have fun while revolting.

The Good People were always known to be creative, bringing beauty to life in the hardest of times. For 30 years this creativity was hidden under hypocrisy and fear, under acceptance and silence. Then the volcano of arts erupted with the Revolution; a stage is set in Tahrir, and every few minutes a new chant is voiced, then a new poem, and a new song. Jokes are made, and stories are told, people draw on the ground and elsewhere. The Revolution is not an act of anger anymore, i…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 7: rumors

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The sit-ins and protests on the Good Land continue to grow and so does the will of protesters. In Tahrir Square and Alexandria, protesters call for million-man protests tomorrow. The square becomes much safer, and now that protesters are not worried about their lives, they start organizing themselves for tomorrow. There is a place for the tents, and a media area, and restrooms. All square entrances are secured by people's committees who check IDs and search whoever gets into the square. Then there are different routes for entering and exiting the square. As the Internet remains blocked, protesters rely on international media to relay their messages of encouragement and reassurance to attract more people to join the protests.
Mubarak is given until Friday to resign, after which there will be a million-man protest by the Presidential Palace. At home, which is pretty close to the Palace, Mubarak's residence and several military areas, we're locked in …

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 6: neighborhood committees

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

As the night falls and up until next morning neighborhood committees are in control of guarding the Good Land. All night we hear gunfire and shouting every few minutes, but the looters fail to get into the area. Our committee and the ones around it cooperate together to ensure the whole area is safe; the ones closest to the main street act as the frontline, if looters succeed to pass this line they're met by several other committees. The cooperation is also in the type of weapons, at the frontline there may be molotov cocktails, followed by pieces of cement from the sidewalk, then glass bottles. And, for everything there's a philosophy.

If someone enters our neighborhood after the curfew, they're stopped by a middle aged lady leading the area's frontline committee. If she doesn't know you, she'll ask for your ID to make sure you live in the area. Then you'd pass through barricades set by the committee (may be big 4*4 cars or trucks)…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 5: revolution

Saturday, January 29th, 2011 

After Rage Friday ends, it becomes clear to everyone that we're witnessing a revolution...

The 12-hour curfew ends at 6:00 am, that's when we leave. Mobile networks are finally working, but data is still blocked, so we turn on the radio to hear the news and I finally understand why I kept hearing gunfire last night. Several prisons were opened and prisoners, criminals and otherwise, are set free. For some reason, criminals who are let loose decide not to go hide, or rest. They decide to go directly to work, and the looting and vandalism begin. 

We pass by the ring road, there are burning tires and burnt vehicles. As the radio anchor explains what happened last night, we see it happening. We pass by Carrefour and we see the looting as it happens; people are carrying whatever they can and walking without any concern, a bus is waiting for some of them. What we see happening in Carrefour has happened elsewhere, in banks and ATMs, malls and different shop…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 4: rebirth

Friday, January 28th, 2011 
The country wakes up to a total digital blackout; mobile networks follow the Internet, leaving hundreds of thousands of families not knowing what the fate of their loved ones will be in hours to come. I'm not able to overcome my fear, but my family and I decide it won't be possible not to be part of this. We join the rally leaving from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandeseen...
People say the moment you join a protest fear dies, they lie. The moment I join the Rage Friday protest my fear dissolves in a much bigger and deeper awe, one that overcomes all other feelings. It's a collective dread that screams out of every heart, deep with worry that this revolution won't make history...
On our way to the mosque following the prayers we see CSF trucks and personnel everywhere, helpless, but ready to kill. We reach the mosque and people start to gather, CSF leave us be, for now. Tens gather, someone starts to chant, numbers grow, chants become louder. T…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 3: anticipation

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 

Anticipation, excitement, and fear get us through the day. Tomorrow is either the beginning of a revolution or shall put an end to one. Two days have passed and both parties now have time to think. Protesters set their plan last night, another day of rage, Rage Friday. They call protests after Friday prayers, the plan is so detailed that it's worrying. On Thursday evening the rallies' meeting points and routes are announced on the Facebook event. Now everyone, government included, know exactly where every protest will be, and when. How risky can this be? No government officials speak all day, but the CSF presence keeps increasing.
Suez is still on fire, but elsewhere protests get smaller in preparation for tomorrow. Rumors fill the country; the army will take control tomorrow, all protesters will be shot or detained, a curfew/martial law will be imposed. In days to come, we shall know that rumors is one of the regime's strongest weapons.
A list o…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 2: not this time

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 

In the city that never sleeps, the few who choose to go to bed before 1:00 am like me wake up to an empty Tahrir Square. Through social media it becomes known that some time after midnight, amid a dark square alive with chants from Tunisia and ones that have for long been voiced by a few, CSF were given the order. At 12:35 am, the CSF trucks' sirens fill the darkness, then loud shots outweigh the chants. Tear gas and rubber bullets everywhere, in just 15 minutes, the few-hours long sit-in is cut short. People run to side streets, chased and outnumbered by supposedly humans in a devilish uniform. Detains are random, some go home, others disappear.
The CSF didn't use live ammunition in Tahrir Square, but they did in Suez, thinking that international media will only focus on Cairo, thus this is the only place where they should play it smart. Rightly so, in our extremely centralized Egypt the focus is mostly on Cairo. Where they were mistaken, however, i…

The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 1: faith shall always win

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
On that day I am one of the many who don't think of joining the protests, I choose to be one of those following the events on television and social media rather than taking a positive action. Yes, I want to, but I am scared. Other people are not scared, thousands take to the streets in Cairo and elsewhere. The number of deployed Central Security Forces is probably unprecedented, but demonstrations coming from different parts of Cairo still make it to Tahrir Square, where it all began. Suddenly there are thousands of protesters, enough to call for something bigger, and so the chants for ousting Mubarak and bringing down his regime fill the air.
Television, as one would have expected, is a failure; there is almost no coverage of the protests. It is only Al Jazeera that is worth watching, but knowing that the Muslim Brotherhood are not taking part on that day, even Al Jazeera's coverage is far from sufficient. By midday, it becomes clear that social media …