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Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed

Two years after the Tahrir Square protests, an insider examines life in Cairo.

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Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed,
by Ahdaf Soueif,
Knopf Doubleday,
272 pp.

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From the outside looking in, modern Egypt is a puzzle: a running conflict between soldiers and Islamists taking place on the foundation of a great civilization, revolving around a relationship to the West that the word “complex” doesn’t even begin to describe.

To understand the currents and undercurrents of Egyptian society and politics, it helps to have a local guide. Few are more qualified than Ahdaf Soueif, author of the newly released Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed. Soueif, who has been an author, a political commentator, and an activist amid Egypt’s change and turmoil, is able to take readers back behind the headlines to see the individual Egyptians whose decisions help to shape the country.

“Cairo” is a story of struggle against sometimes brutal authority, but it’s also a tale of people talking – the kinds of conversations that happen in the street amid moments of great social upheaval. Arriving on the second anniversary of the Tahrir Square protests that helped to overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, “Cairo” offers many keys to understanding the ongoing turmoil. Soueif delves into the physical and emotional centrality of Tahrir Square to Cairenes, the role of government thugs (known as “baltagis”) in Egyptian daily life, and the profound sense of shame that many Egyptians feel about their government’s friendly – some would argue servile – relationship with the United States and its allies.

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