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-author info, book rubric, history of modern Egypt, Arab Springs,

Yacoubian Building (real and Al Aswanys), dichotomies, film, questions

Alaa Al Aswany:
Born 1957 in Cairo, only child
Wealthy, educated parents father lawyer to Automobile Club
Govt officials on both sides of family
French lyce education in Cairo
On fathers advice, trained as dentist, because father believed it
impossible to make a living as a writer (even Nobel winning Naguib
Mahfouz had a job as a civil servant) first office in Yacoubian Building.
I have been able to make my living through dentistry. I was never paid
one Egyptian pound by any govt, and that enabled me to say what I
2002 The Yacoubian Building
2004 Friendly Fire- short story collection exploring lives of contemporary
Egyptians, including his 1990 novella The Papers of Essam Abdel Aaty
2007 Chicago - a group of Egyptians who are doing their postgraduate
studies in University of Illinois at Chicago, they face many obstacles
during their stay in Chicago, including Arab/West relations post 9/11
2013 The Automobile Club of Egypt - story of a family swept up by social
unrest in postWorld War II Cairo.
All critiques of Egyptian society. BUT:
Al Aswany: literature is not a political strategy. If you want to change the
political reality, be involved in activism
After fall of Mubarak regime (Jef&Munty will discuss), he became an
unofficial spokesman for the revolutionary movement. In 2011 grilled
Egyptian PM Ahmed Shafik on TV, Shafik resigned next day. 2014 Columns
suspended (criticized the current presidents election campaign) seminars
shut down by security forces (2015),
The Yacoubian Building:
2002 Arabic publication
2004 English translation (Humphrey Davies- Midaqq Alley (Mahfouz) Gate
of the Sun (Khoury))
35 languages
Film adaptation

The Real Yacoubian Building:

Built in 1934 by Armenian owner Hagub Yacoubian. Art deco, clearly
European faade
Its heyday, in 30s & 40s it was home to Italian, Greek, Armenian residents
and prominent Egyptian figures.
1953 revolution all these people fled and the apartments were
occupied by military officers and their family, who were often of a more
rural background and lower social caste than the previous residents.
Nowadays, its a mixed bag of relics from the past, middle class
professionals and downtrodden low income families and individuals. A
mixture much like Al Aswanys YB. Some real residents even suing Al
Aswany for libel!

Al Aswanys Yacoubian Building:

We are told about the history of the building, so that one can chart the
social, economic, ethnic and politics changes over the past 5 decades.
the cream of society of those days took up residence in the Yacoubian
Building p11
A metaphor for the deterioration of Cairo :
p162 Zaki: I lived through beautiful times, Busanya. It was a different
age. Cairo was like Europe. It was clean and smart and the people were
well mannered and respectable and everyone knew his place exactly. I
was different too. [] There were lots of foreigners in Cairo. Most of the
people living downtown were foreigners, until Abd el Nasser threw them
out in 1956
Urban Space in Contemporary Egyptian Literature by M Naaman: the
presentation of these once modern buildings into a collection of ruins
marks the present state of downtown Cairo
Its name and location is familiar to Cairos residents, and therefore many
of the original readership
A microcosm of society:
An array of life in one small space. Eid Mohamed, Arab Occidentalism
provides a microcosm of modern Egypt, especially with respect to the
East-West dichotomy that is very much in evidence in the country
Munty looking at

Building as a microcosm for the nation, vertical representation of class

Can it be read as a National Allegory? F. Jamesons argument, all 3rd
World texts are necessarily National Allegories. Roman a clef, novel with a
key to real life, overlaid with faade of fiction. Qu at end.

A cast of characters:
Aswany says these personal and individual stories are where his strongest
interest lies:
In any fiction, you have what we call the now element, dealing with the
problems of now. But the most important element in fiction is the human
element, and this is why we are able now to read Dostoevsky, Dickens and
Balzac, because the now element is no more relevant but the human
element still exists.
Divisions still exist: while the poor live in squalor on the roof, the last of
the old-world rich such as Zaki and the flamboyant newspaper editor
Hatim Rasheed enjoy sumptuous apartments below.
Vertical tension
new community on the roof that entirely independent of the rest of the
Looks at the intersection of the fates of his privileged and disadvantaged
characters that cohabit the same space.
On the one hand, there are the rich in all their manifestations: old
aristocracy, colonial bourgeoisie and nouveau rich. On the other hand
there are the poor, again in all their manifestations. Rich live stately
apartments, poor occupy rooftops.
The building, with its walls, separates people literally. But there are many
dichotomies that exist between those who inhabit/use the Yacoubian
Dichotomies of:
- Class
- East vs West
- Religion
- Sexuality
Andr Raymond- historian of the city of Cairo:
Cairo's impetuous growth in the past half-century complicates any image
one might try to form of it. [] the faces of the city blur; its centres are
many and mobile. But this 'fragmented' Cairo can still be reconstituted
into more or less coherent wholes, each clearly revealing deep social
Within the Yacoubian Building, there are people from different classes in
On the roof, there are the most disenfranchised, which is one indicator of
a vertical tension. These roof dwellers are poor, unemployed. However,
they are not the remnants of a time gone by, they are the people
impoverished by the system that drew them into the city in the first place.
The poor who live on the roof in the Yacoubian Building are a part of the
system, both central and marginal, they exist in what Raymond refers to
as the blurred face of Cairo. They are not being driven into obsolescence,
they are participating in the same system that created them, and being
exploited by the same system that excludes them.
Money talks- Taha doesnt get a job with the police because his father is a
doorman- Busayna: if you had 20000 and used it to bribe someone, do
you think they wouldve asked you your fathers job?
Busayna cant love Egypt, because the state has failed her when bridging
class difference. Years of neoliberalism, extensive privatization etc.
2 classes intersect on one principle: exploitation.
Samia Mehrez, Egypts Culture Wars: based on one principle exploitation
specifically that of the bodies of the poor by the rich
Wealthy older men exploiting poorer women for sexual pleasure, via
marriage or illicit sex
Wealthy men who keep poor men for homosexual encounters
Islamist movement which sacrifices bodies of defiant politicised poor
young men for jihad/martyrdom.
Rich exploit newly rich: Kamal el Fouli demand 1million to get Hagg
Azzam a seat in Parliament.
Poor exploit newly poor: Hamid Hawwas reports his neighbours to
authorities, and Malak illegally sets up and expands his shop in the rooftop

Is it playing up a stereotype?
Is it demonized?
Will now look at both ideas, but discuss further in Jefs Qu.
2 quotes on slide suggest stereotyping.
Or is Al Aswany just complimenting?
Aswany gives his two main homosexual characters occupations that do
not even directly relate to beauty or taste and makes a heterosexual
character a shirt maker, proving that he does not believe that
homosexuals talents are limited or that career choice and sexual
orientation are that strongly correlated.
This view is further proven in this description: Hatim Rasheed is not
merely then an effeminate but also a talented and inquiring individual who
has learned much from experience and whose competence and
intelligence have brought him to the pinnacle of professional success.
Moreover, he is an exquisite intellectual (pg 180).
The author identifies Hatims homosexuality, but does not let it define or
confine him intellectually or professionally.
It is raised in workplace, but Hatim comes out on top: p179- Hatim
Rasheeds argument with an employee:
My dear educated gentleman, Egypt has not fallen behind because of
homosexuality but because of corruption, dictatorship and social injustice.
[] The discussion is closed.
Also, because of his sad and lonely childhood, we sympathise with him.

The homosexual partner is denied his humanity, thus demeaning the
homosexual representation A bestiality between Hatim and Abduh, which
renders the moralistic and religious judgment of homosexuality all the
more scathing.- Out of the Closet, moodle article
Despite his progressive belief that "social injustice," not homosexuality, is
the reason for the country's moral decline, Hatim is guilty of practicing the
same social injustice on his sexual partners that his newspaper
Hatim is the only one who gets a childhood backstory. And in this
backstory he is molested over a number of years by Idris, the manservant
who essentially raises him because Hatim's parents are wealthy
workaholics. While it is never said outright that Hatim is gay because of
Idris, I have heard too much anti-gay rhetoric to be able to overlook the
implications of Idris having sex with Hatim, who very quickly enjoys Idris's
attentions even though he suspects it is wrong.