Bebawi shares his journey from his native Egypt to his adopted home, America, comparing and contrasting the two.
Earlier this year, a new generation of Egyptians confronted their country’s strained, perhaps irreconcilable mix of culture, religion and government. In his new memoir, Bebawi, born in Egypt in 1956, recounts his personal conflicts from a similarly tumultuous time in the country’s history, before he left his homeland in search of a romanticized dream of freedom and enlightenment in Europe and, finally in 1982, America. Despite a privileged upbringing as the child of an eminent judge, Bebawi recalls his formative years as the source of his pervasive disenchantment, underscored by disarming bluntness—“Having been sexually abused, I was never to be well adjusted,” he says of a situation that may also ring true for the alarming number of Egyptian victims he describes. Witnessed depravity and corruption in religion and government lead to similar disillusionment—he’s now an avowed atheist, socialist and cynic, all of which he brings to America. Once there, his cynicism hardens into grumpiness, becoming broader and shallower. For a man who has dedicated much of his life to academia—advanced degrees in Egypt and at Oxford, a teaching position at California State University, Fullerton—Bebawi’s takedowns lack nuance. “Republicans”—the loosely defined American enemy that bears the brunt of Bebawi’s puerile rage—are “mentally challenged.” Also, his logic and persuasive power stutter with a loose grasp of rhetorical craft. Still, buried under the bitterness, genuine insight surfaces. “[E]ducation is a matter of necessity if we [are] to compete in this climate of Globalization,” Bebawi says, while also presenting reasoned arguments against capital punishment and for general social responsibility. But his indignation too often mines a bizarre assortment of complaints in America—corporations, airport security, credit cards, parking—that supposedly parallels, or unrealistically outweighs, the abject inhumanity Bebawi faced in Egypt, the kind that is still causing revolutions there. Bebawi turns with a sanctimonious bent usually featured in letters to the Department of Consumer Affairs or congressmen, several of which are photocopied and included.
While Bebawi’s bluntness offers a honest picture of a man, the book’s lack of tact makes his arguments hard to swallow.