A deeply personal, engaged tribute by the far-flung Egyptian novelist and journalist as she returned to witness the revolution in her hometown.
When the conflicts broke out in Egypt at the end of January 2011, Cairo-born Soueif (Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground, 2005, etc.), having made her home largely in London since her marriage to the London critic and author Ian Hamilton (d. 2001), quickly returned to join the protests in Tahrir Square, as did her sons and many of her relatives. Tahrir is the Cairenes’ “Holy Grail,” Soueif writes, the locus for demonstrations against the government since 1972, when the author took part in protests against Anwar Sadat’s oppressive regime. It has taken the next generation, her children’s, to prevail, and Soueif declares gallantly: “We follow them and pledge what’s left of our lives to their effort.” Early on, the author offers an in-the-moment account of the crucial first days of street action, often messy, confused and involving violent clashes with the police, though undertaken by friends, family and strangers alike with heartwarming camaraderie. Then she moves to October 2011 to show how the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces hijacked the revolution without keeping President Hosni Mubarak’s decapitated regime from “growing a new head.” Soueif then moves back in time to the period of February 1-12. While being jostled in crowds, blinded by tear gas, harassed by the paramilitary thug militias, the dreaded baltagis, the author passionately evokes the spirit of the beloved city where she was born, through neighborhoods and buildings long-suffering and dear to her—e.g., pleading with police to cease torturing prisoners in the iconic Egyptian Museum.
Soueif offers both an extraordinary eyewitness document and a sense of the historical import of the revolution.