By Rana Khaled
“Every lie has three legs. The first is to have a good ability to create a lie, the second is to have enough number of idiots who will repeat your lie unconsciously, and the third is to have a good number of people who know the truth, but they are cowardly enough to remain silent and don’t face others with what they know about your lie!”
In his latest novel, “Al Asyad” or “The Masters”, writer Hassan Kamal takes you on a journey over thousands of kilometres and dozens of years in Daja, a small city located in the south of Egypt far away from Cairo. In this isolated city that doesn’t exist on the map, people breathe lies, myths and legends in the air. The ruling system there depends on “Al-Mashyakha”, and the one who is selected to be the next “Sheikh” has no right to refuse this sacred onus. If he does, he will be killed by another, to whom the authority will automatically move.
Aiming to escape away from this big lie, the character of Basheer spends four years studying philosophy at Cairo University, hoping to forget everything about his past in Daja. However, its curse still chases him everywhere. Basheer was brought back to Daja to receive the reins of power where he was shown the complete process of creating a major dictator.
The novel presents a good example of how one enlightened person can swim against the current, challenging all the myths that control people’s minds and souls, and struggling hard to urge their brainwashed minds to work again after years of manipulation. Here, a series of conspiracies and conflicts begin when Shehly, the Sheikh’s assistant, Basheer’s aunt Oda, and Basheer’s brother Nando start a bitter war to win “Al-Mashyakha”.
The novel tells how changing people’s way of thinking after years of manipulation is a hard process that needs refusal or confrontation from one brave person. It also needs a group of alert people who have the tendency to start a war against stupidity, ignorance and oppression. The novel also focuses on how liars can dominate and rule idiots, and the techniques they use to achieve their greedy ambitions.
Instead of putting cuffs around people’s hands, mind cuffs are always stronger and more effective. The novel gives you the steps of creating a cruel dictator anytime anywhere. The first step is to spread myths among people generation after generation until they become an unquestionable part of people’s subconscious. In Daja, the rulers were claimed to be the sons and grandchildren of ‘Daoo’, one of the kings of the Jinn who joined the human world where his skin changed from white to black. Thus, the rulers were always considered to have extraordinary capabilities and unusual physical abilities that make them completely different from the ordinary people they rule.
Ignorance is fertile soil for spreading rumours. Over years, the people of Daja took magic, charlatanism and quackery as their professions, which made their logic even more fragile and their minds more vulnerable for manipulation.
The third step was adopting a caste system, dividing the society into three segments, the great Daoo’s grandchildren who are the finest breed of humans, Al-Sahalek the rich people, and Al-Agwash the poor slaves. This divided system guarantees you the continuous conflicts between the different social classes that will distract people from paying any great attention to the ruler’s decisions and mistakes.
The fourth step involves selecting the assistants whose role goes around obeying the ruler’s orders, supporting his decisions and spreading certain rumours on his behalf. Here, Shelhy played the role of the sheepdog that’s not responsible for guarding the sheep but for helping the grazer confirm his authority over them.
The fifth step is about considering all the surrounding people as enemies. Bear in mind that they deserve all the evil, wickedness and harm you do to them and every good thing you do for them is a great generosity from you. Through the story, Hussien Kamal showed how the blind obedience for the oppressive ruler caused many psychological disorders for huge numbers of Daja’s residents causing higher rates of suicide between Daja’s people who suffered from depression and frustration for long years.
Throughout the pages of the novel, new truths are revealed about Daja and its origins. We see Basheer’s inner feeling of alienation and confusion between the customs, traditions and his roots that are strongly attached to the dark world of Daja and the bigger life he got used to in Cairo where people are more educated which make their logic less vulnerable to legends and myths. What’s interesting about the novel’s name is that it blends the idea of domination with the issue of the Jinn and demons as the word Al-Asyad is relevant to both rulers and quackery in the Egyptian slang.
When you read “The Masters”, you’d definitely remember George Orwell’s animal farm novel that showed how power is accumulated slowly through a step-by-step progression. The animals dreamed of living free from the tyranny of their human masters. However, when the animals of the farm rebelled against the farm’s owner and kicked him out, they never thought they’ll in turn be manipulated, brainwashed and oppressed by their own kind.
Napoleon, the power-hungry pig, did not suddenly emerge as the dictator, but implemented minor changes along the way to make his rise of power seem more logical to the animals. He enlisted the services of Squealer, a pig with the ability to persuade the other animals that the pigs are always moral and correct in their decisions.
At first the Seven Commandments of Animalism were imposed to guarantee equality between the different animals. Over time, Pigs’ passion for authority made them break and manipulate all the seven rules. By paraphrasing rules, spreading rumours and using complicated words, they could portray themselves as god in the minds of the rest of the animals. At last, Napoleon’s lust for power increases to the point where he becomes a totalitarian dictator, forcing “confessions” from innocent animals and having the dogs kill them in front of the entire farm.
The novel ends with humans sharing drinks with the pigs in Jones’ house sharing a card game in which both of them try to play the ace of spades. As other animals watch the scene from outside the window, they can’t tell the pigs from the humans!
On the book’s inside cover, Hassan Kamal sent the message of the novel for those who challenged the retarded traditions of their societies and defended their innovative convictions saying “For those who are chirping outside the flock, those who are buried in the stranger’s tombs.. because they could see”.