National Geographic : 2006 Sep
V0ICES ALAA AL ASWANY made a big sift to the right. The whoe word has shifted to the right in a way.. Ve don't respect free choice anymore. has gone to Saudi Arabia at some point to work. Those workers were often uneducated Egyptians, and the Saudis were rich. The Egyptians were influenced by the Saudi interpretation of Islam and brought it back with them when they returned to Egypt. That interpretation-Wahhabism is very strict and concerned mostly with form, from wearing the veil to enforced prayer five times a day. It is an aggressive, intolerant approach that institutionalizes Islam as a state religion rather than allowing people to interpret it in their own individual ways. The Saudis have spent millions to export Sunni Wahhabism throughout the Middle East, in part because many Arabs in the Gulf States are Shiite. The Saudi princes fear the spread of the Iranian Shiite brand of Islam, which is more revolutionary and allows for more individual rights. Throughout much of Islamic history, Sunni governance has been in the hands of sheikhs who were in league with governments. The Shiites were usually shut out of power, so they had time to think and come up with a new, more humanist interpretation. I'm not com paring Iranian human rights to those in England, but in relation to Saudi Arabia, Iran has more respect for individual political rights and the people's right to know what's happening. And I must remind you that the American administration has been the most powerful supporter of the medieval Saudi regime because of Saudi oil. To support them is like having a tiger in your house. You studied dentistry at the University of Illinois in the 1980s. How did you feel about your time in the U.S.? It was very positive, first because I was in Chicago. Before I went, I had heard about Chicago only in relation to Al Capone and shooting and all this kind of thing. And my impression of Americans was based on American foreign policy. America has supported bad regimes for years, and many Egyptians don't make the distinction between the American government and American people. But I had the chance to see that Americans are very helpful, tolerant people. They have a great ability to tolerate many cultures. I often tell a story about an experience I had one windy Chicago day. I was walking across the campus at the Univer sity of Illinois, holding my thesis, when the wind blew it out of my hands. All the people walking past stopped to help me gather the pages. This is the real American character. What do you think of America now? I believe America has made a big shift to the right. The whole world has shifted to the right, in a way. From the 1950s to the 1980s, people were more liberal. We don't respect free choice anymore. The globe has one superpower, and that superpower has to choose to be either a moral superpower or a capitalist superpower. This choice will influence history.