Past Tahrir Square
Halfway through The Egyptians: A Radical Story, Jack Shenker recalls a moment of solitary meditation that for him brought home the Egyptian revolution. “My notebooks are as raw as my memories … the pen’s nib has punctured the paper.”
Shenker, former Egypt correspondent for The Guardian, is at his finest chronicling events in which he was caught up. This finely researched book, marked by careful reflections of the author’s experiences, comes five years after the rupture of the Arab world, an upheaval that saw millions demanding their dignity. The world was entranced by the magic of Tahrir Square, though Shenker notes “there is a danger of projecting too much of the revolution on to this single square”.
Shenker offers a grounded analysis of how a revolution was engendered in politically claustrophobic conditions. This book has a cinematic quality in how it pans in and out of historical tracts, marrying them to recent events with skilful nudging of dispatches from one chapter to the next.
He marks specific sites and then diverts to explain how the state effaces places with toxic politics that uproots communities. He tracks a mythical oasis in the western desert called Zerzura. He refers to a 13th-century Syrian governor’s description of it, adds a footnote about Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, a quote from an ageing man he interviewed in the western desert and then ties it all to how