PARIS — On the way to Tunis tomorrow, a thoroughly ecstatique Parisienne dimanche. Our long gabby review of the Arab Spring with Amin Maalouf — he calls it “the upheaval” — turned to a tasty lunch with his wife of many years from Lebanon and two of their grown mid-30s sons. And then Parc Monceau in the cool bright green afternoon is full of Paris’ extra dimension, the feeling of an extreme cosmopolitanism: young Africans, North Africans, Middle Easterners, Russians, other Northern Europeans, even a few Asians and Americans out and about among the Proustian Parisian elders.
In our conversation the Prix Goncourt novelist Maalouf (of Leo Africanus and others) is confirming an important suspicion of mine from reading the Cairo novels of the late Naguib Mahfouz. The suspicion is this: that the engrained habit of patriarchy in the Arab home is in every way related to the habit, now crumbling, of tyranny in public life. “It’s true,” Amin Maalouf observes with a rueful smile, “that the society in most countries of the Arab world was based on the principle of tyranny — until now. Now it is beginning to change on the political level… But it’s still a long process, and it’s not enough because there are aspects of social life that are not solved only by giving people the right to vote. There are deeper problems, but the political process is a good way of beginning.”