The Egyptian Revolution and its Discontent: al-Ṭābūr by Basmah ʻAbd al-ʻAzīz and al-Tamāsīḥ by Yūsuf Raḫā

in La rivista di Arablit, a. V, n. 9-10, dicembre 2015, pp. 38-53.

This paper focuses on some peculiar ways in which Egyptian literature describes the aftermath of the Arab Spring. While a relevant trend has been documentary, other works searched for different perspectives. The two novels which I will discuss here, al-Ṭābūr (The Queue, 2013) by Basmah ʻAbd al-ʻAzīz and al-Tamāsīḥ (The Crocodiles, 2013) by Yūsuf Raḫā, divert their attention from the events forging the first turbulent post-Mubarak (Mubārak) years to something else. al-Ṭābūr sets Egypt in a dystopic present/near future, where citizens’ lives are controlled by a sinister centralizing authority named al-Bawwābah (the Gate).
al-Tamāsīḥ traces the seeds of the Tahrir Revolution, by following – from 1997 to 2001 –  the experiences of the members of a peculiar group of poets, Ǧamāʻat al-tamāsīḥ li ’l-šiʻr al-sirrī (The Crocodiles Group for the Secret Poetry), which was established on the same day a leading Egyptian activist committed suicide. Both novels offer a bitter evaluation of a doomed revolution by producing a counter-narrative that attempts to dismantle the revolutionary rhetoric through which the new rulers had been acclaimed. On another level of analysis, they seem not content with mere representation, but aim at unsettling generic boundaries while seeking both rupture and continuity with the narrative modes and strategies characterizing earlier and contemporary generations of writers. At the same time, they question the relationship between the text and the narrated reality, which appears instable and almost cryptic. While it may be too early to identify the features of a post-revolution Egyptian fiction, by analyzing these two novels this essay intends to contribute to developing a framework for reading Arabic and Egyptian literature in the present context.

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Alessandro Buontempo |