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Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 7. Oktober 2014

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An up-close look at an event US media did not do a good job covering 8. Januar 2014
Von Nathan Webster - Veröffentlicht auf
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It's important to know that author Ahdaf Soueif is not attempting to present an "objective" narrative - she is 100 percent invested in the success of the popular uprising that led to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. That's not a negative in anyway, simply her strong point of view.

While I had some knowledge of the events described here, most of my information came from the generally weak coverage of the US media, which focused on a few big events without much nuance. Since Mubarak was a US "ally" for many years, and our media presented his downfall as a positive event, I was left to wonder why we considered him a good guy in the first place.

Soueif's narrative describes an uprising from the ground floor, and it's a sweeping, often confusing series of events. The government-backed militias willfully shoot and beat people, and Soueif makes pains to draw a distinction between the "good" military (at first) and the "bad" militias. By standing aside, the military enabled the uprising to gain a foothold and drive Mubarak out.

In a 'meet-the-new-boss' style, the post-Mubarak transitional military government is hardly any less brutal, using arrests and beatings of protesters to maintain control. So the protesters aren't fighting just Mubarak, but the entire system, and the system isn't going anywhere.

I had little idea how much Mubarak was despised - although Soueif is focused on her point of view. Just like the Shah of Iran before him, we here in the US often think that because foreign leaders are "on our side" that means the people are too, and that's clearly not the case here. Like most despots, it seemed Mubarak and his cronies did their best to steal and loot the country, and only occasionally throw a few pittances down to the citizens.

I grew a little weary of Soueif's style of often using "we" as a narration - she's doing it to show the scope of the revolution, and how she was part of this vast collective, but it just seemed precious to me (even though I use it too, so maybe I'm internalizing).

This isn't a history of "Cairo," but it is the promised "memoir of a city transformed." Like other reviews have pointed out, this is not definitive. It ends on a necessarily ambiguous note, since the Muslim Brotherhood won the election (that many voters didn't participate in) and we know that the military coup has already taken them out of power.

This narrative shows the hopeful idealism and effort of 'regular' Egyptians to throw out one venal group of politicians, but also shows how difficult it is to actually replace a power structure. We see it in the US all the time - we vote based on a couple hot-button issues, but don't pay any attention to the 99 percent of decisions politicians actually make that benefit their cronies first, and us last. But since we're fat and lazy, it's very unlikely that we'll follow the Egyptians lead in actually doing anything about it. If Mubarak was smart, he would have made an effort to make sure everybody had cable TV and lots of junk shows. But I digress.

Soueif's narrative will fill in a lot of blanks left by media coverage of these events and make a reader appreciate the "little people" behind the scenes. It was a brutal, chaotic's still unclear what Egypt will be left with.
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"I am not unique, but Cairo is" 18. Februar 2014
Von S. McGee - Veröffentlicht auf
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In many ways, this is less of a chronicle of a revolution won and then lost, but of a lifelong, unquenchable love of one particularly eloquent writer for the city of her birth. That it happens to also be the single best chronicle of the events of early 2011 that I have yet read (not being able to read Arabic) is simply the icing on the cake.

Divided into four parts, novelist and essayist Ahdaf Soueif moves back and forth between the mesmerizing and compelling events of January/February 2011 that culminated in the ousting of longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and her later assessment of the political situation six months to 18 months down the road. The result -- no spoilers needed, as anyone can read the headlines -- is one of disillusionment. What makes this a worthwhile and often fascinating chronicle, however, is Soueif's personal connection to events: her family members are intimately engaged in the struggle to create some kind of secular democracy in the wake of Mubarak's kleptocracy. The jury is out on whether that attempt will prove futile -- clearly, Soueif has her own view of the situation.

For me, the standout segments are the first and third, devoted to the events themselves, the 18 days that led to "victory". It's a great reminder of how protests can evolve almost effortlessly into revolts and ultimately revolutions, even when the protagonists themselves have more limited objectives. But Mubarak's departure was just the first step, and Soueif's second and fourth segments, devoted to the months and years that followed, are a more sobering indictment of the divisiveness that has rocked Egypt since then. Winning a revolution, it seems, is not the same as creating a new society.

This wasn't quite a five-star book for me (although it came close) for two reasons. Firstly, while Soueif does a marvelous and eloquent job of the reportage, and of recounting her family's lifelong ties to Cairo throughout its history, at times her analytical approach seemed too idealistic and even naive. After decades of totalitarian rule, without a tradition of the kind of democracy she believed in, with the sole organized opposition being the Muslim Brotherhood, why does she sound so startled by the outcomes and alternatives? What makes the reportage so vivid and dramatic -- her familiarity with the subject and the engagement of friends and family in one wing of the struggle -- also becomes a handicap, to at least some extent. It's as if she can't understand why her fellow-Egyptians don't get it.

This could have been better had Soueif found a way to step back and be even slightly more dispassionate and analytical. What does it mean to succeed in an immediate objective -- and then to build on it, rather than to cede control to others? What does it mean to "win" a revolution? She's a thoughtful and insightful observer who didn't go quite far enough to make this the brilliant book that it had the potential to be. But that doesn't mean it isn't well worth reading. 4.5 stars.
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Memoir of a Country and Society Under Siege 20. Januar 2014
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I am one who usually does not like to see violent regime change. I also subscribe to the law of unintended consequences, in that the removal of a moderately bad guy doesn't mean that his replacement will not be far worse.

For example:
Shah of Iran>>Ayatollahs, with the Iraq-Iran War and repression far more severe than what SAVAK caused
Tsar Nicholas II>>Lenin, Stalin, et al, with the Civil War, Holodomor, Purges, WWII

I therefor have deep concerns when political vacuums exist in emerging societies.

That all said, Soueif's "Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed" is exactly what the title suggests: a memoir of a city undergoing a revolution, or at least a coup d'etat. And lots of challenges. She is not a political scientist or historian, but an intelligent citizen who wants to see stability and advancement for her family and for her country. In some ways it reminded me of Reed's "10 Days that Shook the World" (about the Russian Revolution)), in that the story is not finished.

I witnessed vicariously the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010, and hope that there is a similar book written about those days in Bishkek.
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A personal view of the changes that occurred in Cairo nearly three years ago during the revolution. 31. Dezember 2013
Von Wayne Klein - Veröffentlicht auf
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It's often been said to truly understand a people and a culture you have to live among them. For those who don't have that opportunity and are curious about the forces that shaped Egypt during its recent revolution, "Cairo: A Memoir of a City Transformed" offers a chance to get inside the head of someone who was there and understands the country/culture.

Ahdaf Soueif constructs his memoir as well as a novel giving us a great amount of detail and a small amount of history. Both give us context for his and Egypt's story for what occurred with the changes that faced the nation before, during and after January 25 2011. Soueif has the advantage of having been there--covering the revolution at the time--and giving us keen insight into the mindset of those caught in the middle of this change.

The only issue I can think of that would have improved the book is, paradoxically, what also makes it so valuable--a lack of distance on the part of the author surrounding the events that occurred. Still, this IS a memior not a book designed to document all the history that unfolded during those days in January 3 years ago.

Ms. Soueif does an exceptional job of detailing what occurred and incorporating her own personal experience in her book. As far as my experience with the book, I would recommend it as it is exceptionally well written and I may, with time, revise my rating up to 5 stars (I'd give it 4 1/2 at this point).

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Gripping first-hand account of the Egyptian Revolution 31. Dezember 2013
Von Q. Publius - Veröffentlicht auf
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Twenty years ago the author was asked to write a book about her beloved birthplace, Cairo. She resisted, but when thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square in January 2011, Ahdaf Soueif was among them, and it was there she felt she had to write her story of the Revolution, the passion, violence and traumatic political events that took place in the city of her birthplace. This book is a memoir of sorts, but also a story of current political events, a story that is still unfinished today. She published a book in the United Kingdom by the name of Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, and it detailed events up to October 2011. But with events still unfolding after the Revolution, this American version of Soueif's book includes the period of about a year after 2011. Much of the book deals with eighteen days of events from January to February 2011 before the overturning of the Mubarak regime. Throughout the volume, Soueif writes a little of her childhood, the places and events in her life that shaped her as a person and led her to later embrace the Revolution. The book is detailed, many of the events described are not what one would read about in the Western press. I did not realize the extent of the violence and torture that was perpetrated against the Egyptian people by the police and the military and what was really behind the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood. Soueif was involved in the thick of it all. Is she biased toward the Revolution? Absolutely. I would say she definitely is, so one must keep that in mind when reading this book. You are reading only one side of the story. The end of the book deals with the elections, the dissolution of Parliament and the first few months of Muhammad Morsi's presidency. But Soueif states that the Revolution is ongoing, the story is not finished. Egyptians have a long way to go for everyone to have equal rights, individual freedom and to obtain a higher standard of living. She writes that protests by oppressed peoples are going on now around the world, not just in the Arab countries and they will continue to flourish. Even in Egypt, the political wind is still very uncertain.

Some good maps of Cairo are included in the book so that reader will have an idea of the locations of the places that Soueif writes about. Also, Soueif provides what she calls "A brief and necessary history"--a few pages of the history of Egyptian government from 1517 to 2011 which provides the reader with a good background.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in modern Egyptian history and political science and politics in the Arab world in general and for those who want a deeper understanding of how a people can hold democratic elections and then shortly afterward, embrace a political Revolution.
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