Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed

Ahdaf Soueif – Pantheon Books (2012 and 2014)

Honestly, when I downloaded this book onto my Kindle before leaving the U.S., I thought I might be getting something much different. From my urban planning background, I was half-expecting (hoping?) for an account of this amazing city’s development from a physical design perspective. I know Cairo has been called the Paris on the Nile, but I don’t know much about the history of the city. Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed was not the book I was expecting.

Instead, the book is a fascinating account of the tumultuous days of the people’s revolution in Egypt that overthrew Mubarak from the perspective of a well-known and privileged Egyptian writer and political commentator, Ahdaf Soueif.

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Ahdaf Soueif

Soueif doesn’t write as a dispassionate observer, but from her first-hand experience joining the protesters on Tahrir Square, the Midan. The book has been both praised and criticized, but I will add my two-cents on the side of praise.

As an outsider who observed the January 2011 revolution from my couch in the USA, I’ve been very puzzled about how Egyptians feel today (December 2015) with President Morsi ousted and the military back in control. Every Egyptian I know supported the 2011 revolution but I’ve met Egyptians (in Cairo and in the USA) who have different perspectives about the coup in July 2013.

Many condemn the July 2013 coup and believe that, despite his many mistakes, Morsi was legitimately elected and should have remained in power until the next election. Others believe Morsi was dangerous because he wasn’t acting independently for the benefit of all Egyptians, only serving the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood. I was very curious to see how this Westernized Egyptian writer would feel about the events in 2013.

Soueif admitted that she voted for Morsi while holding her nose. The choice was untenable — either a crony from the Mubarak regime, or Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood, or purposely spoil her ballot. She opted for Morsi. She had high hopes that a new constitution would help the country navigate its way to the goals of the revolution: “bread, freedom, social justice.” It soon became apparent that Morsi didn’t have the experience to lead the country, and the author chronicles the mistakes he made during his year in office, up until the day before his ouster.

I would love to sit with the author today as the 5th anniversary of the Revolution approaches in January 2016. What does she think about the current events in Egypt, and what is her prognosis for the future?

Perhaps the only thing that Egyptians from all political perspectives can agree upon is that the revolution continues, it has not ended. I hope.

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Martyrs – Tahrir Square – January 2013

 

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