October 4, 2011
By Farah Halime
The cover of the children’s book is illustrated with a smiling child – but attached to his chest is a bomb, with 58 seconds remaining.
It is not a typical image to find on a title aimed at youngsters. But Egyptian children’s author Ahmed Zaghloul, who used it for the front of a book of short stories dealing with the brutal realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is now producing a similarly jarring series on his country’s revolution.
Much like his tale of the Palestinian suicide bomber, few details are spared for the young revolutionary eager to learn about the mass movement that forced veteran president Hosni Mubarak to step down after three decades.
Mr Zaghloul dismisses claims that his stories encourage violence in children, saying that “resistance literature” is crucial for the next generation who will take up leading positions in the country.
“We’re used to children playing in gardens, laughing and being generally at peace, but the reality is [that] there is war and terror,” he says. “And the story of war and the revolution is strong.”
Little Rebel, one of six books that will be published in February next year on the anniversary of the revolution, tells the story of a boy, Yasin, who decides to go to Tahrir Square to join in the protests.
“I will go to the revolution! [Where] everyone cheers loudly and say in voices like thunder; the people want to overthrow the regime!” Yasin explains to his younger sister, Noor.
The 11-year-old writes a banner demanding justice, equality and eradication of poverty, before heading into the protests, where sniper bullets fly and suffocating tear gas fills the air.
“My heart was with them that cold night, tearing their skin in order to improve the situation in our country, to force the dictator who destroyed our country to leave,” Yasin writes.
Mr Zaghloul – who was awarded a prize from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture for a story about the Nile river – says he believes that the young must be schooled in democracy so they can help shape a better Egypt for the future.
In part, Mr Zaghloul was inspired by the actions of his eldest son Omar, 14, who gathered with other children on the street to protect the community’s houses when protesters were facing the wrath of Mubarak’s feared security forces.
He saw young children fashioning their own weapons, including Molotov cocktails made from empty Pepsi bottles, and wielding wooden batons and stones to resist attack.