A Reading List for the Egypt Crisis ,Demonstrations in Egypt

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It took only a few days for Egyptian protesters to bring the regime of Hosni Mubarak to near collapse. But it took decades for the conditions for revolt to ripen. A range of widely noted books offer clues to the country’s accumulated discontents and thwarted desires. Max Rodenbeck’s Cairo: The City Victorious is a cultural and social history of the Arab world’s largest city, written by the Economist’s Middle East Correspondent. Mary Anne Weaver’s A Portrait of Egypt examines Egyptian society in the 1990s, with an emphasis on Islamist opponents of the Mubarak regime.
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Dispatches From the Book Review

In recent years, scholars have fervently debated the evolution of Egypt’s main opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Does it seek to drastically remake Egyptian society along strict religious lines, or has it entered a “post-Islamist” phase characterized by moderation and tolerance? The latter argument is made by Carrie Wickham in her study of grass-roots activists, Mobilizing Islam. More jaundiced views of the movement in Egypt and its offshoots elsewhere can be found in a new collection edited by Barry Rubin entitled The Muslim Brotherhood. Even as the Brotherhood moderated its message and perhaps its worldview, some of its former members turned to acts of spectacular violence. Their doings are the subject of Giles Kepel’s Muslim Extremism in Egypt, and Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, which suggests that Mubarak’s torture cells radicalized Egyptian Islamists such as the future al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and helped bring about the Sept. 11 attacks. Lee Smith’s The Strong Horse explores the Mubarak government’s cynical efforts to manipulate popular sentiment and maintain power.

Though Egypt’s cultural prominence has faded, it remains the home of important literary figures, many of whom work in the shadow of the late Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy and Cairo Modern examine the ideological and erotic entanglements of Cairenes in the last years of British imperial rule. Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubin Building is a popular novel about a Cairo apartment house whose fortunes reflect those of the country at large. Among the most admired Egyptian novels of recent years is Sonallah Ibrahim’s Zaat, which turns an office worker’s aspirations to become a world-class consumer into bitter comedy. A many-layered picture of 20th century Egypt emerges in the novelist Taha Hussein’s memoir The Days, which follows a poor, blind village boy who makes his way to Cairo, acquires an education, loses his university post for his controversial writings on Egypt’s pre-Islamic past, and eventually becomes a cultural hero.

Readers interested in assessing American influence in Egypt might turn to Master of Games by the longtime CIA officer Miles Copeland Jr.. Copeland, the father of Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the Police, and Miles Copeland III, the record producer, relates (and perhaps embellishes) his elaborate efforts to keep General Nasser from slipping into the Soviet orbit. In his classic Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, the historian Albert Hourani looked back further to a time in the early 20th century that seems especially relevant now — a moment when Egyptian and other Arab thinkers steeped in Enlightenment ideals hoped to see a robust democracy emerge from a moribund dictatorship.