‘2 Zobbat’ is the worthy follower of Essam Youssef’s bestseller ‘1/4 Grams’. Hardly on the shelves this one has already emerged to become another bestselling hit.The topic is naturally interesting and it was explored down to its deepest, darkest bits by Essam Youssef. Written with just enough zest and wit to keep a topic as serious as this light enough for his readers. We sat down with him to discuss the book, the pressure and how it all came to shape.
Writing a new book after a great success story is not an easy task at all, “It’s very difficult and that’s what slowed me down at first. I was so worried to the extent that I considered not writing anymore and leaving it at that. Then I said to myself ‘why not? What’s the worst that could happen?’” He then went on to tell us what kept him going, he said “I gave my mother, a journalist – may God rest her – the first three chapters and she said ‘you’re very talented. Continue.’ She told me to continue and so I did. Her asking me to continue is what made me do so”, We are told.
Looking at the title of the book, one might expect a strong political statement. Essam’s approach was far more subtle, however “I believe it’s full of political situations. I just never say anything directly. In the 600 pages of ¼ Grams I never said ‘drugs are bad’. So in this book I am talking politics but I don’t come out and say it outright. I tell the story of the traffic cop who stands all day in the street, the officer who had an accident with a microbus driver, these are all political stories. Politics is indirectly involved and the most important part is the social drama”, he says, What people need to understand is that I said the truth; we have good cops and bad cops but the bad cops usually are the ones that shine. If you are harassed by an officer you will blame the whole police force although another officer at the same moment may be dying as he tries to capture a drug lord”.
The book clearly points out the high level of corruption in the police system. We asked Essam whether he thought this has changed at all in post-revolution Egypt, his response was “There has been change but not in a good sense, it’s a very haphazard change which I don’t consider to be change at all. Change should be based on scientific grounds, but what happened is only a mess”, he continues, “we’re not studying ways to make things right. So we end up with a stressed cop, a nice cop, a disagreeing cop and an agreeing cop! They are confused as well and have no idea what is going on”.
Essam then elaborately explained where he believes the core of this problem lies “corruption starts with us, not them. Don’t you make phone calls in order to avoid going to get your car licensed yourself? Then you’re starting that corruption. Last time I got my car licensed without calling anyone even although I know all officers who work there. I got it done in three hours all by myself. True, it took longer but it was done”, he said, and then pointed out a perfect example for that in 2 Zobbat “Like in the book how Bayoumi tried to offer Amin money when he said he will help Sherif get into Police Academy, then he offered him a car and when he refused again Bayoumi insisted on giving him two Rado watches after Sherif was accepted”, Essam then went on to state that this is not the only reason for corruption “Adding to that the fact that the Police Academy’s way of dealing with the students is flawed as well. The seniors bully the juniors. They humiliate and disrespect each other and think it is the right thing to do”. It is known, however, that this treatment changes once a student is a senior. We brought that up and Essam had something to say about it “It changes to the extreme! So he comes out with a badge, wanting to take out all the humiliation on others, and having been locked up for so long – keep in mind that they are locked up and are only allowed out on Thursdays and Fridays – we end up with an officer who is corrupt before he graduates. So we need to talk about reforming the Police Academy’s system because the beginning is faulty!” he comments.
The book’s main antagonist is an extremely corrupt police officer. The ending carries a grim message where not only is he still a police officer, but is also gaining respect and popularity although from the dates we can tell that this is happening post-revolution. We asked Essam if he thought enough was done by those who were in power since Mubarak’s downfall to fight corruption; he said “I don’t think so at all. They tried to make some changes due to the events, not because we used science in order to develop the police forces”, he explains, “People hated the police and officers were too scared to wear their uniforms. A thug would yell obscenities at an officer on the street and he wouldn’t be able to respond. Then 30/06 happened and the people started liking the police again. We’re a people who only live in the moment, this is our problem. We’re too corrupted and everything around us is confusing and everyone is too loud.”
“I’ve also included corrupt officers in the novel, it’s not like I wrote it glorifying the police, there are plenty of examples for corrupt officers throughout the storyline”, he adds, “there’s Amin, Walid, Abdel Hamid, Islam and Khaled. They were all good policemen. On the other hand, the assistant to the Minister of Interior was corrupt! And those who were under him followed his lead. Other bad examples include Sherif, the officer and the head of the Giza police department”. The good cop bad cop theme runs thoughout the conflict unfolding in this page turning novel.
It must be difficult to please everyone especially when approaching such a delicate subject at this point in time, “both sides criticized me, those with the police think I was too harsh and those against it think I’m glorifying them when all I did was say the truth. I didn’t want any money from drug addicts when I wrote ¼ Grams and I don’t want anything from the police now that I wrote 2 Zobbat. I write about social issues in this country, discussing them through a novel. 2 Zobbat is about the very heart of the police system.”
‘2 Zobbat’ has indeed approached a very delicate topic and surely there is no real answer on how to bury the grudge towards the police, “It will take years, in which we start from the very beginning and teach students in the Police Academy the right way. We also need to rehabilitate police officers. They actually started building walls around their homes and putting up iron gates! So things have been very difficult the last couple years. They also need to receive their rights and from the other end we can tell them what we need from them”, he suggests, “It also needs a very clever Minister of Interior who will tear all this down and start over, building it right this time, someone who wants real reconciliation with the people. And the first part of reconciliation will be done when police officers are given their rights; once that happens they will be psychologically fit to change, the second thing will be to give the people their rights. The people need for a woman to be able to drive down the street and not be stopped by a police officer just because he wants to harass and search her, leaving everything that needs his attention just because he needs her phone number and she won’t give it to him.”
The book touches upon different types of injustice related to the police system. Since this is Essam’s way of raising awareness, we were curious to find out how else he thinks awareness can be raised towards this issue, “We need to have workshops of different members of the society together with police members, starting from Generals down to a student in the Police Academy. All ranks and departments from the police and all different fractions of the society can then discuss their problems and try to figure out how to solve them”, he says, “This is how it should be done. I’m not inventing the wheel, here. Whatever recommendation these workshops come up with should be taken into consideration and put into practice. Otherwise we’ll be heading nowhere.”
As usual this novel is based on a true story, “Yes! They all exist”, “ people like that do exist. Sherif – in the beginning of the story – was a lovable young man. He was sweet but the thirst for money and power got to him. He already had money, so when he had both it drove him mad. He just lost it.”
Police operation details and terminology aren’t the easiest to come by, “I couldn’t get it wrong! Of course, I got help from at least 5-6 police officer friends of mine and I drove them mad”, we learn, “Police officers have no idea how I managed to get all those details. One of them even said ‘the man who wrote this novel is a policeman’ in one of the reviews.” Make sure to grab this pageturner and think of us when you reach the end. Another great book by Essam Youssef.