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The Leader Gets A Haircut by Idris Ali

abstract:I've been looking for a novel that captures the essence of life for the citizens of Libya during the Quadafi regime, and found it in Egyptian author, Idris Ali's The Leader Gets A Haircut. Unfortunately, I cannot read Arabic. If anyone knows of an English translation - please let me know; info @ The Sept 5th, 2011 edition of The New Yorker has a feature by Hisham Matar, a Lybian writer, who describes his own experience under that regime; the disappearance of his father who became a permanent statistic of men who crossed Quadafi's political boundaries and paid the price with their life. Matar explains how Haircut derives its title: it is based on a well-circulated account of the day all the barbershops in Libya were closed by order of Colonel Muammar Quadafi. Apparently the dictator had had a nightmare where he was getting a haircut and a shave at a local barbershop and the razor-weilding barber slits his throat. Convinced that his dream is a premonition of some diabolical plot against him, the ensuing public consequence demonstrates how irrationality became the norm for the citizens of Libya. Arabic Literature in English writes "The 130-page book was based on Aliís four years (1976-1980) as a foreign worker in Libya, and describes Egyptians toiling there under inhumane conditions. According to the the website Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the book 'included testimonies of Libyans about social life there and how it was affected by repression under the rule of Colonel Quadafi.


August 31, 2011
— The consequences don't stop there. The book was released in late 2009 and seized in January 2010 at the Cairo International Book Fair. The publishing house was stormed by Eygptian officals and all copies of the book were seized and the publisher arrested and detained. All this because Colonel Quadafi was due for an official visit to Egypt and no one wanted him embarrassed. A few months later, Idris Ali died of a heart attack.

While Haircut has not been translated into English, two of AliĒs other novels, Dongola (trans. Peter Theroux) and Poor (trans. Elliott Colla), are published in English by AUC Press."

Ironically, Hisham Matar had to flee Libya with his family after his own father's disappearance. He lived in Cairo and published his own account of his family story in his 2006 novel In the Country of Men. When we look back, we realize that Arabs have been fleeing oppression and running to other oppressed Arab speaking nations for decades. The translation of their works into English in a more timely fashion would have been a good way to expose things to the West. Read more

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