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336 pages, Hardcover
First published June 13, 2017
Cairo is jazz: all contrapuntal influences jostling for attention, occasionally brilliant solos standing high above the steady rhythm of the street. New York may say that New York is jazz, but the whole history of the world can be seen from here, flows past us here, in the Nile streaming from its genesis north and out into the waters of empires and all the brutalities and beauties they bring, emerging riotous and discordant and defiant into something new and undefinable and uncontrollable. These streets laid out to echo the order and ratio and martial management of the modern city now molded by the tireless rhythms of salesmen and hawkers and car horns and gas peddlers all out in ownership of their city, mixing pasts with their present, birthing a new now of south and north, young and old, country and city all combining and coming out loud and brash and with a beauty incomprehensible. Yes, Cairo is jazz. Not lounge jazz, not the commodified lobby jazz that works to blanch history, but the heat of New Orleans and gristle of Chicago: the jazz that is beauty in the destruction of the past, the jazz of an unknown future, the jazz that promises freedom from the bad old times.
Forget New York, the whole history of the world can be seen from here, flows past us here, in the Nile streaming from its genesis north and out into the waters of empires and all the brutalities and beauties they bring, emerging riotous and discordant and defiant into something new and undefinable and uncontrollable.Reading the book in Cairo – yes indeed there is such a riotous and discordant connection with the root of life and passion – and a patina of dust and decay as well. Deeply confusing junction of life and death, perhaps appropriate for this place at the heart of one of the longest-living human civilisations.
This, he thinks, is Egypt. The new, here, does not destroy the old but carries it with it, builds on it, talks to it. The connections, the foundations, are stronger. It’s what you do with the old—that is what is new.Am I getting old? Some of the revolution feels too glib for me. For example:
Incredible mismanagement from EgyArmy. Demand they cede power to civilian rule now!The above may be entirely true and appropriate. But somehow I felt the revolutionaries didn’t have much idea of what it does actually take to manage a country of 100 million people being engulfed by both desert and poverty. So I was left with a lot of sadness, both about the beautiful dreams of the young activists, and the brutality of their suppression, and the loss of hope of an entire nation.
[the army] have made their deal with the Brotherhood and all we have is rocks. The Brotherhood keeps the peace and the army keeps their bank accounts. The elections are upon us, the trap is set.
“But if you don’t ever engage in elections, how do you come to power?”
“I don’t want to come to power! Do you? Do you want to be a politician? We’re the opposition, we’re the disruption, we’re what’s going to keep power in line.”
“We’re crisis!” Malik shouts.
Mariam nods approvingly. “I don’t want power. I want to trust the street."
The army falls and then? Then the Islamists take over? The police? The Americans send a peacekeeping force? We can’t just keep saying everything is shit. We need a new answer. The whole world needs a new answer.