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Saturday, 25 September 2021

The bookish best of 2011

As the year comes to a close, Ahram Online Books asks prominent Egyptian intellectuals what their favourites reads were of 2011

Mohammed Saad and Mary Mourad, Saturday 31 Dec 2011

Emad Abou-Ghazi, former minister of culture recommended

Al-Nizam Alra’simaly wa Mostaqbalouh (Capitalism and its Future) by Hazem El-Beblawy, Dar El-Shorouk, Cairo

Written by the economic expert and former minister of finance Hazem El-Beblawy, Capitalism and its Future provides a simple definition of capitalism, explaining its relation to the modern state and the problems the economic system faced the global financial crisis of 2008. Abou-Ghazi chose the book as it deals with this important issue, key to the building of financial future of Egypt.


Novelist Gamal El-Ghitani recommended

Falsafaet Alwalaa (Philosophy of Loyalty) by Josiah Royce, translated by Ahmed Ansari, National Centre for Translation, Cairo

Written by an American philosopher in the early 20th century, the recently translated Philosophy of Loyalty is still relevant today. Investigating the concept of loyalty, the book focuses on the complex relationship between a leader and his subordinates. To El-Ghitani this book is a game changer.

Al tanshe’a Alsyasia leltoroq Alsohpya Fi Masr (The Political Upbringing of the Sufi Orders in Egypt) by Ammar Ali Hassan, General Organisation of Culture Palaces, Cairo

This second edition of the celebrated Egyptian political writer Ammar Ali Hassan’s book is all the more significant after the Egyptian Revolution, which saw the rise of the Islamists in the Egyptian political arena. The book looks at how Sufis were quick to find a voice in Egyptian politics whilst tracking Sufi political involvement and the transformation of their religious values.

Asl Alalfaz AlA’amia Menn AlLogha Almasrya Alqadeema (Origin of Slang Phrases from the Hieroglyph Language) by Sameh Maqar, General Egyptian Book Organisation, Cairo

Origin of Slang Phrases connects Egypt’s past with its present through language. Tracing the genealogy of the country’s slang, the book uncovers the origins of colloquial Egyptian Arabic in the ancient pharaonic writing system of hieroglyphs.


Khaled Fahmy, historian and chair of the Department of History, American University in Cairo recommended

Al-Fatawa Al-Mahdya (Mahdyan Fatwā) by Sheikh Mohammed El-Abbasi El-Mahdi, edited by Mohammed Hassan Ismail, Dar Al-Kotob Al-Elmia, Beirut

This recently re-printed book written by Egypt’s then Grand Imam of Al-Azhar sets out the Sheikh’s Fatwas (juristic ruling concerning Islamic law). Fahmy stresses the importance of this book because of its unique insight into 19th century Egypt and how this is key in making sense of the development of Egyptian society.

Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental Historyby Alan Mikhail, Cambridge University Press, New York

Nature and Empire is the only environmental history of Egypt. Investigating Egyptian historical use of irrigation, the Nile and the control of plagues and epidemics, the book is set against the backdrop of the Ottoman Empire. This setting is partcularly important, Fahmy adds, as it is impossible to separate the history of Egypt from the Ottoman rule, during which time many key transformations of Egypt took place.


Historian Sherif Younis recommended

Al-Dawla wa Al-Kanessa (State and the Church) by Tariq Al-Bishri, Dar Al- Shorouk, Cairo, 2011

Although arguably not the best book written by controversial Egyptian writer Tariq Al-Bishri, State and the Church looks at the relationship between the Copts and the Egyptian nation. Al-Bishri, who headed up the constitutional amendment committee after the January 25 Revolution, tracks the changes in this relationship over the last 40 years.

Thawart Al-Arab: Khitab Al-Ta’sees (Revolutions of the Arab: Constitutional Discourse) by Ali Mabrouk, Dar Al-Ain, Cairo

According to Mabrouk, professor of Islamic philosophy at the University of Cairo, the Arab Spring destroyed the traditional discourse of the modern Arab state that has maintained a stranglehold on the region since the 19th century. Centred around authority and dependence on formal modernisation procedures, the traditional “State of Power” came to an end with the revolutions, signally the transformation into the “State of Right”. Powerful, if not a bit heavy, reading.


Ayman El-Sayyad, Editor in chief of Weghat Nazar, recommended

Fil Thawra wal Qabeleya lel Thawra (On Revolution and the Susceptibility to Revolution) by Azmi Bishara, Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, Doha

El-Sayyad considers this book, by the eminent Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara, as essential because it challenges western perspective on events throughout Egypt and Tunisia. Rather than establishing a new theory of revolution Bishara uses historic events to read the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring.

Tweets From Tahrir edited by Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns, Or Books, New York

Tweets from Tahrir promises to tell the story of the Egyptian revolution as it unfolded, in the words of the people who made it. A documentation of twitter interactions from key protesters during the first wave from 25 January to 11 February, the book includes a forward by novelist Ahdaf Soueif.


Mahmoud El-Wardani, writer and winner of Sawiris Cultural Award recommended

Al-Ketaba Al-Okhra (Other Writings) edited by Hisham Eshta, Cairo

El-Wardani considers Other Writings as one of the best revolution books published so far. The book collates the testimonies of writers from differing generations and ideological backgrounds who took part. The stories were documented so soon after the events, they read as observations rather than analysis providing a rich and detailed accounts of events.

Enak ala jisr Brooklyn (Hugging Over Brooklyn Bridge) by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, Dar Al-Ain, Cairo

This work illustrates the depths of Chourki’s capacities, according to El-Wardani. The birthday party event around which the novel revolves offers a different view of estrangement and separation for Egyptians abroad. The book was nominated for the Arabic Booker prize.


Ahram Online Team recommends

Kol Regal Al-Pasha (All the Pasha’s Men) by Khaled Fahmy, translated by Sherif Younis, Dar Al-Shorouk, Cairo

Following the fall of Mubarak and the consequent rise to power of the military, the second edition of this social history of the Egyptian Army comes at a particularly telling time. Fond of debunking myths, Fahmy questions the common assumptions about the military offering a better understanding of this crucial institution.

Fusûs al-hikam (The Gemstones of Wisdom) by Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, Editor: Abderrazaq AlQashany, General Organisation of Culture Palaces, Cairo

Considered to be one of the finest examples of the 12th century Arab poet’s work, The Gemstones of Wisdom was reprinted this year by the GOCP. Its 27 chapters are dedicated to the spiritual meaning and wisdom of the prophets making it an essential part of the Arab literary canon.  

Kamees Samawy (Sky-Blue Shirt) by Mohamed Amr El-Gammal, General Organisations of Culture Palaces, Cairo

This debut novel by an unknown newcomer El-Gammal impressed the Ahram Online team back in August. The mastery of the writer is most evident in the characterisation of the hero of the novel: a small town North of Cairo, which the narrator rarely leaves. Beautifully written, the town itself tells the story, set against the backdrop of a changing Egypt.

Ahram Online Books team would like to wish you all a happy New Year and is looking forward to hearing about your favourite reads.

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