As the year comes to close, Ahram Online book staff asked five writers, critics and journalists to join them in recommending the best books of 2014.
Emad Abu-Ghazi, former culture minister and Sayed Mahmoud, editor of Al-Qahira's Cultural Newspaper recommend:
Al-Mothakaf Al-Intikali (“The Transitional Intellectual: From Despotism to Rebellion”), by Sherine Abul-Naga, Cairo: Rawafed, 2014. 243pp.
In this book, professor of English literature Sherine Abul-Naga aims to explore the roles of the Egyptian intellectual during a transitional, post-revolutionary period with the question: Why has the intellectual lost the ability to have a real impact on the people in the region and the street while religious discourse gained ground over other cultural discourses? In addition to exploring the role of the intellectual during the transitional era, Abul-Naga also explores the interaction of the intellectual and power in the pre-revolution era.
Sayed Mahmoud, also recommends:
Adagio, by Ibrahim Abdel-Meguied, Cairo Al-Dar Al-Masriah Al-Lubnaniah, 2014.
The latest novel by the well-known Egyptian novelist, Ibrahim Abdel-Meguied tells a love story, yet also shows the extent to which a breach in values has taken root in every aspect of Egyptian life and reflects the transformations of Egyptian society.
Writer and critic Shaaban Yusuf recommends:
Zakerat El-Kahr (“Memory of Repression: A Study of the Matrix of Torture”), by Basma Abdel-Aziz, Cairo: Dar Al-Tanweer, 2014.
This book traces and documents hundreds of torture incidents in Egyptian police stations and prisons through testimonies of the victims, interviewed by the author, analysing the traces of torture left on them — psychologically, physically and socially. The book provides a brief history of torture in the world, and its aims, while also addressing an Egyptian law that bans all its forms and is not implemented.
Writer and novelist Ahmed El-Khamisi recommends:
Qais w Nelly (“Qais and Nelly”), by Mohammed Nagi, Cairo: Ahram Press, 2014.
This novel was published days after novelist Mohammed Nagi died in November. It narrates a love story, where the two people in the relationship are not the main characters in the thread of events. Qais and Nelly take on a supporting role in the story as Nagi weaves more complicated threads about the lives of too many other characters, leaving the rhythm of the love story between Qais and Nelly fragmented all over the pages of his novel.
Political analyst and political science professor at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa recommends:
Afaq Al-Asr Al-Amriki (“Prospects for the American Age”) by Gamal El-Sewdy Abu-Dhabi: ECSSR, 2014, 850pp.
Gamal El-Sewdedy is head of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research. This book traces the emerging "New World Order," outlining its concepts and the main turns that led to it, exploring changes in economy, trade and power, and attempting to foresee changes in its future.
Ahram Online’s Book sectionrecommends:
Al-Bahth an Khalas Azmet El-Dawla w Al-Islam w Al-Hadatha fi Masr (“Looking for Salvation: The Crisis of State, Islam and Modernity in Egypt”), by Sherif Younis, Cairo: GEBO. 2014
This volume, released in the Political Library Series, presents a radical historical critique of the Islamic and nationalist narratives of modern Egyptian history, the two of which, the author argues, dominated between them the minds of most Egyptians over the past seven decades. Both narratives, according to the author, tell the story of a hero — a sole hero — who has no partner, be it "the people" or the "nation of Islam." Both narratives aimed at designating the identity of the Egyptian people and forcing them to identify with this one hero, and distrust and disbelieve any other narrative that dares to differ.
Younis argues in his book that the two narratives asserted that their dictatorship is the only path to salvation and compensation for every failure and defeat. The book consists of five chapters divided as follows: Religion and State in Pre-Modernity, Khedival Egypt and the Formation of Modernity, Royal Egypt and the Formation of the Nation, Age of the Republic and the Crisis of Authoritarian Modernity, and The Degradation of Idealism.
Misr Al-Thawra, Shaaratha w Shababha (“Revolution and the Slogans of Egyptian Youth: A Linguistic Study in Spontaneous Expression”), by Nader Srage, Doha: ACRPS, 408 pp.
The book provides an engaging linguistic analysis of revolutionary slogans. The author begins with a comprehensive analysis of the language used by protesters, the main actors behind the slogans (such as activists and ordinary citizens), the role of these slogans in galvanising Egyptians and thus enabling collective political action, the films, songs and theatrical productions from which some of the slogans are quoted, and the significance of the term Irhal — “Leave” in Arabic — the anthem of Egypt’s revolution.
Al-Tataowr Al-Omrani leShawari’ Al-Qahira (The Urban Development of Cairo Streets), by Fathi Hafez El-Hadidi, Cairo: Al-Dar Al-Masriah Al-Lubnaniah, 2014. 526pp.
The book traces the history of Cairo’s most famous streets, providing rare and old photos of Cairo's thoroughfares and buildings since it was planned in the mid-19th century to the beginnings of the 21st century.
The book is considered an urban encyclopedia that contributes to the writing of the history of the old city. The 526-page book contains rich archival material that the author collected throughout his life, taking advantage of his position as a clerk in the public works ministry (now the Ministry of Irrigation), which was responsible for planning and building roads and had all the old blueprints and maps of the city. The author also depended on records kept in the Egyptian National Library and Archives.
The novel reveals the nature of the buildings of Cairo, including villas, mosques and palaces, and tries to trace the changing urban identity of the city.
Shawq Al-Darwish (The Longings of a Dervish), by Hammour Ziada, Cairo: Al-Ain Publishing House, 2014.
The novel, by the Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada, which won him the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, narrates the love story of a Sudanese slave in the world of the Mahdist movement in 19th century. It was praised by the Naguib Mahfouz Medal jury for its wide-ranging palette of characters and events, and the gradient and dexterity of Ziada’s writing.
Fiqh El-Umran (“Jurisprudence of Urban Cities: Architecture, Society and State in the Islamic Civilisation”), by Khaled Azab, Cairo: Al-Dar Al-Masriah Al-Lubnaniah, 2014.
This large illustrated volume by the well-known historian Khaled Azab is a comprehensive study of the relation between Islamic architecture and society. The book consists of eight chapters and an annex with Islamic architecture terms. The author sees Islamic architecture defined by two frames: first, Sharia politics applied by the ruler; second, a style of architecture emerging from the gathering of people. The book won the "Most Valuable Arabic Book Award" from the Arabic Thought Foundation.