Chalid al-Chamissi

Portrait Chalid al-Chamissi
© Hartwig Klappert

Chalid al-Chamissi was born in 1962 in Cairo, Egypt. He studies politics in Cairo and Paris, worked for numerous Egyptian newspapers and made a name for himself in particular as a critical observer of social circumstances. He writes for the newspaper »Al-Shorouk« and, from February to October 2011 he had a regular column in German newspaper »Süddeutschen Zeitung«. In addition to the above, he is also a producer, director and scriptwriter for feature films and documentaries. He founded the Nusus publishing house as well as the Nile Cultural and Media Support Fund.

His début novel »Taksi … hawadith al-mashawir« (2007; Eng. »Taxi«, 2008) quickly became a bestseller in Egypt and the Arabic world. It was translated into German, English, Italian, French, Greek, Spanish and Polish and will also be released in Chinese soon. In just under 60 episodes, al-Chamissi – as an attentive and investigative listener – lets taxi drivers in Cairo have their say. They are a ubiquitous feature of Cairo life and know the entire spectrum of Egyptian society like hardly any other profession. They sometimes report full of esprit, often using strong language, but always with an unadulterated Egyptian dialect about their views on life, their worries and their hopes. They provide an authentic picture of the mood of the people on the streets of Egypt, who are fed up with the repressive politics of the government, plagued by a feeling of powerlessness. And, as al-Chamissi comments in his foreword, the political insights of the taxi drivers often display a more in-depth view of the situation than many political analysts. The dialogues began at that point at which the taxi changed from being a mere form of transport to become a communication space outside of the influence of the censors – restricted only by the sometimes explicit self-censorship of the author who regrets not being able to repeat the best jokes or certain names for fear of repressive measures. These highly interesting »shorts stories«, which can be read singly or together as a large mosaic of Egyptian society, are a homage to the often scorned »street culture« which document the wit, wisdom and poetry of the taxi drivers. They were seen after the fact as a prophecy of the recent political unrest in Egypt. His second novel »Safinat nuh« (2009; tr. Noah’s Arc) gives a voice to Egyptian émigrés who have left their country to try their luck abroad. Noah’s Ark as a vehicle with which to flee the looming catastrophe is the novel’s main motif. In »Taxi«, »it is the poor people who speak«, in »Arche Noah« by comparison, al-Chamissi has said, »people from all social classes have their say, brought together by their desire to leave their country«. Al-Chamissi once again proves to be an unerring critic of the times and a thought-provoking writer.

Chalid al-Chamissi lives and works in Cairo.