Ahmed Tawfik’s 2008 Utopia explores the grim and dark side of the Egyptian society, where the middle class collapsed as did the apparatus of the state, leaving only the extremely poor and the extremely rich. Tawfik suggests that the rich will do whatever at their disposal to secure as much of the world’s wealth for themselves, while the poor could only take to the streets and fight the thugs protecting the rich.
Utopia is a US Marine-protected colony created by the rich on the North Coast in the first decade of the 21st century to protect themselves from the waves of anger and poverty outside. The land is populated by the youth of the idle rich, who are utterly pampered and have no respect for religion and traditions. None of them is given Arabic names, thus setting them apart from their history––they wonder why Israel should once be considered as an enemy. They are, however, very bored and, consequently, created a rite of passage known as “hunting”. To pass, one must go outside of Utopia, kills a commoner, and returns safely home with his served arm as a trophy.
The novel is set in the year 2023 and alternates between two main protagonists, a predator and prey as named by Tawfik. Violence is inherent to both characters, the first because he’s bored and spoiled, the other because it’s his only way to survive. One lives in Utopia and the other lives just outside of Utopia.
Consumed by boredom, the first protagonist (the Utopian), an unsympathetic and dehumanized son of a pharmaceutical billionaire, does entirely as he pleases, a behaviour typical of his generation. He wakes up, takes drugs, has sex with the African maid, dances, eats, pukes, and eats some more. The second protagonist, a sympathetic character named Gaber, lives in a land sunk into poverty, where there is no government and no security except for local gangs. In this land, hunger, disease and violence became the norm.
The Utopian and his girlfriend hatch a plant to go into the world of the Others––the less-than-humans in the outside and whose lives are essentially worthless. They aim to find a suitable Other to kill and bring back an arm as a trophy of their hunt. If things go wrong, a simple phone call will bring out the Marines who would safely take them back home.
The couple, however, found themselves at risk of rape, mutilation and death. They are only saved by Gaber, an Other who managed to retain a shred of dignity and self-respect in his barbarous life, but whose act of kindness they ultimately repay with cruelty and malice. They killed him when he safely took them back to where they belong, Utopia.
The novel describes how the ugly and desperate life of the poor has become: its filth, despair, hunger, violence, viz. that sort of violence against women, including rape.
[Sunday 25th September 2020, Durham]