As the year comes to a close, Ahram Online takes a look back at the ten best books of all genres published in 2016.
In no particular order, Ahram Online’s ten best books are:
1. Al-Thakafa Ka Siyasa (Culture as Politics: The Intellectuals and Their Social Responsibility in the Time of the Monsters) by Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, Arab Institute for Research and Publishing: Beirut
In this very timely book, renowned Syrian thinker and political writer Yassin Al-Haj Saleh tackles the role of intellectuals in the time of tyranny and struggle for power.
Saleh, who has not stopped writing since the Syrian revolution broke out in March 2011, sees culture as a form of political power and of public work that has its own character and dignity.
He argues that it is the duty of intellectuals to intervene in politics at all times, but especially in bloody times like ours, and speak clearly about prison, torture, discrimination, killing, racism, and bigotry. Saleh says in his book that what is worse than an intellectual becoming a practical politician, is when the intellectual claims that his field of work is art -- or thought -- and that he will not contaminate himself with politics and its affairs, refraining from engaging with politics and the problems of the real world. In our current state, this strategy justifies the status quo and nothing but the status quo.
2. Raa Al-Mal Fil Qarn El-Ishrin (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) by Thomas Piketty, trans. Wael Gamal and Salma Hussein, Dar AlTanweer: Cairo
This year the famous and much-debated work on the global economy was finally published in Arabic by two Egyptian journalists. The publication of the French academic’s work caused quite a stir in the Cairo books world, and Piketty himself came to Egypt to speak about the work and to mark its publication in Arabic.
3. Mapping My Return, by Salman Abu Sitta, AUC Press: Cairo
In his memoir, Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta draws on oral histories and personal recollections of the vanished world of his family and home from the late nineteenth century to the eve of the British withdrawal from Palestine and subsequent war.
Alongside accounts of an idyllic childhood spent on his family’s farm estate, Abu Sitta gives a personal and very human face to the dramatic events of Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s, conveying the acute sense of foreboding felt by Palestinians as Zionist ambitions and militarisation expanded under the mandate.
4. Shubra: A Small Alexandria in Cairo, Mohamed Afifi, Egyptian Book Organization: Cairo
Afifi, a professor of contemporary history at Cairo University, draws a picture of Shubra, the Cairene neighbourhood where he grew up which was once a cosmopolitan haven for foreigners in Egypt and an example of tolerance in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century.
5. Rasael Ounsi Al-Hajj Li Ghada El-Samman (Ounsi Al-Hajj’s Letters to Ghada El-Samman), Dar Al-Talia: Beirut
Published posthumously by Lebanon's most famous female writer, Ghada El-Samman, the book reveals her formerly unknown love affair that the great poet Ounsi Al-Hajj (1937 – 2014) in 1963 while they both were entering the Lebanese and Arab literary scene.
The book came as a shock to many people, not just because it raises the question of whether it is ethical to publish letters without the writer’s consent, but also because it reveals a love affair involving Al-Hajj, a star of cultural journalism in Lebanon, never mentioned in his work, nor in interviews. The book has sparked an ongoing controversy since its publication in December and reveals a new side of this renowned and eloquent poet.
6. Intikasat Al-Intifada Al-Arabiya (Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising), by Gilbert Achcar, Dar Al-Saqi: Beirut
Described by the Le Monde as “one of best analysts of the contemporary Arab world," London-based academic Gilbert Achcar continues his updated analysis of the Arab Spring, exploring why the uprisings relapsed and dissecting the powers of the old regimes and of the religious reactive forces, all in a historical context that provides deep insights.
7. Toubaa Fi Beirut (Printed in Beirut), by Jabbour Douaihy, Dar AlSaqi: Beirut
The award-winning Lebanese novelist's new book takes place in Beirut, where its protagonist, Farid, who is in his 30s, is struggling to publish his own book when a publisher offers him a job as a copyeditor. Through the symbolism of Farid's character Douaihy weaves a story of a great collapse of the Lebanese realities, socially, economically and first and foremost, culturally.
8. The Political Economy of the New Egyptian Republic, by Nicholas S. Hopkins, Cairo Papers Vol. 33, No. 4, AUC Press: Cairo
A collection of studies looking at social and political changes following Egypt's 2011 revolution. In 2013, a conference held under the auspices of the Cairo Papers in Social Science examined this issue from the points of view of anthropologists, historians, political scientists, psychologists, and urban planners.
The papers collected in this book reveal the strategies that various actors employed in this situation.
Contributors include Ellis Goldberg, David Sims, Yasmine Ahmed, Deena Abdelmonem, Dina Makram-Ebeid, Clement Henry, Sandrine Gamblin, Hans Christian Korsholm Nielsen, and Zeinab Abul-Magd.
9. Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies, by Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem, AUC Press: Cairo
This book analyses the results of the groundbreaking imaging technology being used to examine the royal mummies of the New Kingdom.
The royal mummies in the Cairo Museum are an important source of information about the lives of the ancient Egyptians. The remains can inform us about their age at death and medical conditions from which they suffered, as well as the mummification process and objects placed within the wrappings. Using the latest technology, including Multi-Detector Computed Tomography and DNA analysis, co-authors Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem present the results of the examination of royal mummies of the eighteenth to twentieth dynasties.
10. Power of the Text: The Discourse of Al-Azhar and the Crisis of Ruling, by Basma Abdel-Aziz, Sesafa: Cairo
The book focuses on the discourse of Al-Azhar under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. The author looks at both statements made by Al-Azhar officials at the time of Mohamed Morsi’s presidency in 2013, and the subsequent deadly dispersal of the Rabaa protest camp.
It also uncovers how the discourse of Al-Azhar has concurred with that of the military and how the latter used the religious institution to empower its own discourse, and to encourage people to accept, even to support, the return of the military to power. It also reveals how Al-Azhar has employed the Quran to serve the military.