CAIRO: Bestselling Egyptian novelist Alaa El-Aswany, after trying his hand at portraying a slice of US society after Sept. 11, said on Sunday that he believed in the values of humanity, not in conflict between civilizations. El-Aswany, in his latest novel Chicago, might have made much of hardships and discrimination suffered by Arab and Muslim immigrants in America. But he steers clear of the obvious and shows good and bad from both American and Egyptian cultures. I feel that many people in the West are much closer to me than some Arab dictators, because we have the same vision of life, El-Aswany said in an interview. El-Aswany, an outspoken liberal and a founding member of the Egyptian opposition movement Kefaya (Enough), said he objected to the black-and-white vision of the world promoted by US President George W. Bush in his war on terror . The real division of the world is very different, between the human side and the inhuman side. On one side I see artists, writers, the human left and minorities, and on the other side dictators, imperialistic governments and fanatics, he said. Many Egyptians seem to agree. His 450-page novel has sold 25,000 copies in Egypt in a few weeks – a massive amount for a work of Arabic literature – and the publisher has not even started selling in the Arab world or in foreign languages. The book, strong on plot and action like El-Aswany s acclaimed novel The Yacoubian Building, tells the story of Egyptians studying medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where El-Aswany, a practicing dentist, himself studied dentistry. The Egyptian characters range from the despicable Ahmed Denana, who spies on his fellow students for Egyptian intelligence, to idealistic leftist Nagi Abdel Samad, who tries to rustle up signatures for an opposition statement timed for a visit to Chicago by the Egyptian president. One of the main characters, American histologist John Graham, is an aging activist who confronts the racism in US society, shelters a black American woman and sympathizes with Nagi s campaign against an authoritarian Egyptian government. El-Aswany said the choice of an American setting was risky for an Arab author because it is so unusual in Arab literature. But I asked myself Why not? I know many Americans very closely, and this is one of the missions of literature – to present people as human beings, not to label people according to their backgrounds, he added. El-Aswany defended his work from Egyptian critics who have faulted him for the prominence and explicitness he gives to sex throughout Chicago, which includes oral sex, masturbation and a detailed discussion of vibrator usage. Sex is a kind of human language … If you are taking about characters and real life, then you cannot ignore it, he said. To test out audience reactions, he chose 20 male and 20 female readers and asked them what they thought of the sex scenes. I had a very interesting result. The 20 women said it was not too much and it was necessary for us to feel the characters. Five men objected and they all said they could read these details but they did not like their wives to do so, he said. He also dismisses criticism that he has sacrificed depth of character for the sake of the strong plots which have helped to make his stories such a popular read. This is the bad experience of French experimentalism, he said. Being simple does not at all mean being superficial, and being complicated does not at all mean being deep.