It was five years ago, on January 25, 2011, when a larger-than-expected Police Day protest took over Cairo’s Tahrir Square, sparking even larger events across Egypt on January 28 and the days that followed.
It’s still hard to know how this period will resonate in Egyptian literature, whether these days and years will become a pivotal creative marker — reshaping the Egyptian novel as the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) has reshaped the Lebanese novel — or whether it’s just a historical moment among moments: remembered, noted, but not influencing the essential shape of Egyptian literatures.
1) Ezzedine Choukri Fishere’s Exit Door.
This book was interesting for a number of reasons: It was a serial novel, published in installments. As Sherif Abdel Samad notes in his Mada Masr review, “His novel is…enthralling…because it was published while the political developments were still unfolding on the ground. In Fishere’s brilliant parable, the Brotherhood, the military and leftist revolutionaries each take a turn in power and uncompromisingly push forward their exclusive ideas on reform and statesmanship, thereby annihilating each other.” In a 2012 interview, Fishere said the desire to publish serially was “Madness, simply. I wanted so much to write and publish immediately; it was an irresistible urge, almost physical.”
2) Basmaa Abdel Aziz’s The Queue.
This novel has been translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and will be available in May. In a 2015 interview, Abdel Aziz said, “In all my writing I try to destroy different faces of dictatorship and of totalitarian authority, whether political, social or religious.” Also important Abdel Aziz’s book on torture, low likelihood that it will be available in English because of translation patterns, but pick it up in Arabic.
3) Ahmed Naje’s The Use of Life.
Probably coincidence, but literature after 2011 has included more experimentation with graphics and illustration. Naje’s 2014 novel makes the list for its portrait of life in Cairo, but also because it’s become the poster child for what’s sayable in post-2011 Egypt. An excellent translation by Ben Koerber is under way; the controversial excerpt is on ArabLit today.
4) Muhammad Aladdin’s The Season of Migration to Arkadia.
This is one of the best short stories about the initial “18 days.” The story decenters the revolution and focuses on one man’s desire for a particular leather jacket; it has not yet been published in translation. From the post-18-days world, Youssef Rakha’s short story “The Boy Jihadi” is a brilliant exploration of “counterterrorism.”
5) Tahrir Plays and Performance Texts from the Egyptian Revolution, ed. Mohammed Albakry and Rebekah Maggor.
The ten plays in this collection offer a variety of perspectives on Jan 26. It’s sett to appear in English from Seagull in June 2016.
Also, on The Guardian: ‘I was terribly wrong’ – writers look back at the Arab spring five years on.
Marcia Lynx Qualey, behind the valuable resource for translated Arabic literature ArabLit, wrote this to be shared on both platforms. Find much more about Egyptian fiction on her site, and follow her on Twitter.