Mattias Tengstrand, one of our young co-
lleagues, talked to Uppsala City’s new gue-
st writer Mamoun Zaidy.
Mamoun, born in Libya, is an Arabic writ-
er, poet, translator and veterinary doctor.
Why are you writing and why did you
- It’s an existential and a philosophical
question. I will try to answer it, but will not
be able to.
The thing is, at some point in life you will
start engaging in existential questions
about cause. Some start at an early age
due to curiosity. Some people then de-
velop writing. For me it also was a way of
talking to myself. You know I was born in
a family with ten brothers, and my father
was not very rich. Our situation was not
very favorable. The writing strengthened
me and helped me to survive and to cope
with these questions and difficulties.
By chance, one of the well-known poets
in my country discovered my writing. His
cousin helped me get an appointment with
him in his office. He published my first wri-
ting which was a short story. That was very
surprising to me. That I am now not only
talking to myself but to other people.
It forced me in some way to control what
I would write and not write. For me I still
look back at the old days when I was talk-
ing to myself. Then when the stories were
complete I would tear the paper apart and
the writing would get destroyed.
But with publishing I discovered that writ-
ing could be a beacon for explaining the
life of all human beings. That gave me a
new reason to write. I stopped only caring
for myself but for all people. Regardless of
country or other religion than me.
Writing therefore becomes something
unifying. We are all humans. We can’t
understand religion, countries but we can
understand being human. Writing is a way
of sharing it with others and speaking for
them; it is not about expressing yourself
all the time. It is a way of communicating
what it is to be human.
So I started writing at about 16 or 17 and
was first published in 1988 in a newspaper.
It was my last year in veterinary medicine school.
Those were short stories, and after that I
started loving experimental writing. That
is mixing genres. Short stories with poetry,
history, science and so on.
What languages are you writing in?
I began with Arabic which was the langua-
ge spoken in my family and society. When
you later in life learn different languages
you start to love them and write with them.
For me French, Russian and Italian. I now
write in English which more people can un-
derstand than arabic. Arabic is thou more
capable of exhibition than english. Every
language has a unique character. But the
English language lacks the variability of the
Arabic language. I hope to learn Swedish
Would you like to tell us about your
days in Uppsala?
I’m here as a fristadsförfattare you know. It
is a long story but I will try to make it short.
Our country was governed by a
dictator who controls everything. He used
satanic techniques to control people. He
inserted his followers everywhere. At that
time I started to engage in public life. I
made my commitment as a writer, intel-
lectual and an educated person. That is the
responsibility of the intellectuals in the so-
ciety. To express what you think is in favor
of society. To encourage effective progress
and develop society in a good manner.
One day the dictator banned the English
language. The faculty stopped teaching in
English. We students had studied in English
for five years and where in shock. We only
had two years left, but now the previous
five years were not taught anymore. That
was very psychologically confusing. So I
wrote an article about the importance of
learning other languages.
That article was bought by the news and
published. For that article I got punished.
The faculty deprived me of my degree. I
was a good student and did excellent but
in the final year they deprived me from
sitting for the final exam. After negotiation,
they finally let me complete my degree but
condition I would only get half the points
of my actual degree.
Despite hating the dictator I stayed away
from being one cow in the herd. I exposed
myself for the misious. I started to
attack this committee who was born from
fear. From 1990 I was constantly creating
enemies. I was deprived from working for
nine years. Although I was the first vet-
erinary doctor in my area. After 2010 when
Gaddafi had fallen and the papers disco-
vered the files and exposed them to every-
one. Some of my friends informed me that
there was an agenda with my name in the
files of the people in control.
After this aggression and humiliation
another story began. Because the Islamist
gained the power again. These islamist are
from a small sector in islam called whabi.
This religious group started in the 1700
century and were educated people. But in
Saudi Arabia because of the political fight
between Saudi and Iran, the group was
revived. Saudi gave it money and it rose
in power. They are anti any other under-
standing of islam. So I started questioning
In 2012 I started to
establish the culture saloon. It is a
gathering for poets and writers to have
a place to sit, read,
listen and negotiate. But the place was
under control of those people. They might be
hidden but they were secretly in control.
After three gatherings they discovered we
had these saloons and brought a religious
group to book every night in that place. We
could not go there anymore.
They said I was a secular. Secular in my
country means you are infertile. They insist
you are not allowed to stay. They stormed
my house because I was expressing my
opinion. They wrote things on my door
telling me I will face bad consequences.
Sometimes when I visited shops they stop-
ped me to ask about their animals because
I’m a veterinarian. They then in front of
other people asked me why I didn’t go to
the mosque. They told me I’m a secular
doctor. We will destroy people like you.
I soon discovered I can’t do anything to
myself or my country with those people. I
found the place of Uppsala and I will be for-
ever grateful to them. They invited me to
be here. After finishing setting up my new
life in Upsala I plan to help the people in
my home-country. To help their voices be
heard. Life must go on, life is very precious.
No one should be able to freeze me with a
gun, my dreams or my life.
That is the story. I will stay in Uppsala as
a fristadsförfattare for two years. That is
a great chance of learning about Sweden,
their people and their culture. Although
I think Sweden now faces some barriers
socially and politically. But change is the
nature of the human being. We should
always cope with the change and find a
way to survive.
What are you writing now?
Writing is a continuous process. It is a way
of living. Writing is also a living creature in
some way. I work with translating books.
That is also another way of writing and
reading and knowing about cultures and
other people. I just finished three books.
The first one is Socrates in love. It is the
teenage years of Socrates, who is most
known for what he accomplished as an
adult. How he fell in love and lived as a
I also finished a book called the Maps of me-
aning about Jordan Peterson. It is about the
architecture of believing. How our beliefs,
who we hold strong and fight for are form-
ed. Briefly he talks about our objection
to the anomaly or the change. We usually
live in the past and the wisdom of our fore-
fathers in an area called the discovery area
which is the culture of the mother and
father. Then we face something strange
and new due to the continuation of life.
Our objection to the anomaly is promising
and threatening at the same time. Prom-
ising because it’s new information and
threatening because we have to live with
this new change.
So we are one of three people. He calls it
the fascist which is a strong believer of his
past and not able to agree to a new thing.
And the divergent which is totally agreeing
with the new. The good one is the Hero
who fights the dragon and then goes back
to his family. That means he deals with
the anomaly, learns it and remakes his old
Beside these books I translate the systemic
view of life. It’s a new scientific book about
I also write some shorter stories. Yesterday
I wrote a poem about mining gold in San
Francisco in the 1800 century.
Which one of these three personalities
from Peterson’s book are you?
It’s not up to me to decide. But because
I am here in Uppsala, that means I am a
hero. In fact if I was the fascist type I would
stay in my country. I am voluntarily engagi-
ng with the anomaly. By definition I am a
All the mythology is examples of heroes.
You know Achilles and other people from
Greek mythology. The monster is the sym-
bolic meaning of the unknown, your life is
the known. If you encounter the unknown
you need to overcome it and make it good
for you. If you succeed and integrate with
the new situation, you are a hero.
- Mattias Tengstrand