Advanced Seminar 2403
Versions of Egypt

Brian Kiteley
Spring 2013

Classroom: tba Class times: tba Office hours: tba  303-871-2898 My Office: SH 487C


TEXTS:  Hatem Rushdy, 18 Days in Tahrir: Stories From Egypt's Revolution (this book won't be available until the second or third week of the term); Karima Khalil, Messages from Tahrir: Signs from Egypt's Revolution; Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of OilAlaa al-Aswany, Yacoubian Building; Naguib Mahfouz, Miramar;  Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North; Alifa Rifaat, Distant View of the Minaret; Max Rodenbeck, Cairo: The City Victorious.


ATTENDANCE and CLASS PARTICIPATION:  Participation is crucial in this class--when you ask questions or make comments, you will be much more likely to understand the material we are discussing.  We do not know our thoughts well until we speak them or write them down.  Talking will also pass the time more quickly.  I hope you will try to speak up occasionally, when I call on you and even when I do not call on you.  I expect you to attend class regularly.  You are allowed a total of two absences for any reason during the quarter.  Each absence after that second will lower your course grade by one letter grade.  If you miss more than four classes, you will fail the course.  If you must miss a class, email me ( in advance.  You should remember that just attending class is not enough.  You will engage with this course only if you do the required reading.  By the time you come to write your first essay you should already know enough to approach the subject confidently.


COURSE DESCRIPTION:  In Versions of Egypt we will read foreign and native descriptions of Cairo and Egypt.  I have taught this class for ten years.  I taught the first class on September 11, 2001.  Last winter, when the class was a few weeks old, the Egyptian uprising began.  It is still going on.  This year, we will try to understand the unfolding story in real time, but you should also realize that we cannot devote all of our time in the course to contemporary events, much as I would like to do that.  In other words, this class will only partly touch on the recent events in Egypt.


All reading is a form of travel, and the readings in this course circle around the subject of Cairo and Egypt.   Why is the course called "Versions of Egypt"?  There are many different versions of Egypt, just as there are many different versions of Denver or Kansas City or Guadalajara.  The image below at left shows an Egyptian man smoking a cigarette, dwarfed by a billboard painting of the iconic American image of the Marlboro Man.  Cairo is full of McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chickens, even Roy Rogers restaurants; much of its modern architecture is borrowed from France and the west.  Egyptian peasants are called baladi, a kind of insult, although it means literally "country people."  Egypt has also had the good and bad luck to be a magnet for tourism for centuries, which has created quite a few permanent misreadings of the country.  Even the English name Egypt comes from the ancient Greeks.  The Egyptians call their country and capital city Masr.


We will study the effects and aftereffects of colonialism and the way Europeans and Americans understand themselves in relation to Islam and the Middle East.  We will compare creative and critical approaches to thinking about a subject.  An unusual aspect of the course will be the travelogues you write, as if you had been to Egypt yourself, built slowly out of exercises triggered by images, the readings, and even sensory experience (smelling Egyptian perfumes, for example).  The course will train you in both creative and expository writing methods, exploring the relationship between these two apparent poles of thinking and writing.  You will learn some of the essential component parts of fiction, anthropology, history, and travel writing, looking at the ways these genres and disciplines differ and interact when the subject is Egypt.  You will write critical and creative essays on what you find in the readings, from documentary and fictional films, and from slides.  We'll discuss parts of the fictional travelogues you write in something like a fiction workshop, looking simply at how the writing works and does not work, and how the writer has incorporated intriguing details from the readings.


ASSIGNMENTS and GRADES:  Three papers, minimum 1200 words (about five pages double-spaced).  One of these essays will be an attempt at imaginary travel writing (to be set in Egypt some time during the original January-February 2011 uprising, at or near Tahrir Square); two will be expository essays on a synthesis of the readings and the experience of writing travel prose.  You will read an average of 70 pages per class session.  The three papers are each worth 25% of your grade.  The first paper will be about one of the first three books you'll have read.  The third paper will be about two of the final four books you will have read.


For 15% of your grade, you'll write three sets of questions about the books we have read for class those days before some classes.  I will select the best of these questions to use for paper topics.   For each of these question assignments I want you to write three questions.  This may not seem like much, but I expect you to work hard on the questions.  You'll write a total of nine questions during the term, and I will mark each question Pass/Fail.  You must pass six of the nine questions during the term (you may rewrite them as many times as you wish) in order to receive a D for this portion of your grade.  Passing seven of the nine questions will give you a C, eight of nine a B, and passing all nine of the questions will give you an A. 


For the final 10% of your grade, you will post one 200-word commentary (on one of the books we are reading).  You will post these commentaries on Blackboard some time during the discussion of these books (not afterward, and not before the last day of discussion).  I will provide discussion boards for this, and I may assign specific books for each of you to respond to.  This section of the requirements will be pass/fail.


Late papers will count as a class absence I want both hard copies and email attachments of papers.  I want only emails of the sets of questions in hand the day of class they are due.  Discussion during class will not be graded, but if you do talk, and if I become familiar with your thoughts and reading habits during the term, you will very likely receive a slightly higher grade.  I am human--I feel sympathy for students I have gotten to know personally during the term.  Attendance will affect your grade differently (see above, ATTENDANCE AND CLASS PARTICIPATION above).  Here is some advice on writing papers.


GOALS:  You will come to understand by the end of the term how these three different types of books work--travel writing, fiction, and history.  We will spend a good deal of the class on relatively simple definitions and descriptions of these genres.  We will also try to make clear the distinctions between expository and creative writing.  All writing is creative writing, but the writing you do on the readings (two of the three papers) is a form of applied reading.  The creative paper will be another form of creative reading, using skills you may not think you had at the beginning of the term.  I will have you do many brief exercises in class well before the creative paper is due, to work on those muscles.  We will also do a good deal of talking and writing about how to write the expository papers and how to pose the questions you need to ask yourself in order to write these papers.




January 4--First class


Mitchell: Oil (and coal) and democracy.


January 9--Read Mitchell 1-108

January 11--Mitchell 109-172

January 16--No Class (Martin Luther King day)

January 18--Mitchell 173-254


SalihThe Heart of Darkness and its mirror; the novel and travel; politics and fiction; colonial and postcolonial life; miscegenation.


January 23--Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North, 1-58
January 25--Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North, 59-95--three questions due
January 30--Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North, 96-139


Rodenbeck: history, travel writing, literature of place by a life-long resident alien (an American who has lived in Cairo most of his life).


February 1--Read Rodenbeck 206-267--first paper due (here is some advice on writing papers) (this paper must be about Mitchell or Salih)


Mahfouz: The first Egyptian Revolution; the history of the Egyptian revolution and the British in Egypt before that; Socialism and the Pan-Arab movement.


February 6--Mahfouz 1-86

February 8--Mahfouz 87-129

February 13--Mahfouz 130-181


RifaatFeminism and tradition; Islam and women; the novel vs. the short story; the rituals and customs of Islam; love and death and the death of love.


February 15--Read Alifa Rifaat, Distant View of the Minaret, 1-4, 13-16, 23-28, 29-38, 39-46, 55-60, 77-88, 113-116--three questions due


Rushdy: Tahrir square and the 2011-2012 revolutions of Egypt


February 20-- Alaa al Aswany, The Yacoubian Building, 3-106

Febraury 22-- Alaa al Aswany, The Yacoubian Building, 107-175

February 27-- Alaa al Aswany, The Yacoubian Building, 175-246--second (creative) paper due


al AswanyThe novel; allegory and character; the history of the Egyptian revolution and the British in Egypt before that; Socialism and the Pan-Arab movement; Islam and contemporary life; Emergency Rule; Mubarrak and democracy.


February 29--Rushdy, 18 Days in Tahrir, 13-89

March 5--Rushdy, 18 Days in Tahrir, 90-173--three questions due
March 7--Rushdy, 18 Days in Tahrir, 178-294

March 12--Last class--third paper due (March 14 at noon at the very latest)


Egypt links


A very important essay in Foreign Policy by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy

A PEN interview with Mona Eltahawy and Elias Khoury

Graham Harman's blog about Egypt

A New York Times op-ed piece on Egypt’s revolution

"What Egypt's Military Doesn't Want Its Citizens to Know" in Foreign Policy

An interview of Wael Ghonim, one of the leaders of the Egyptian uprising on 60 Minutes (there are some advertisements)

A review of Liberation Square in Salon

A piece on Alaa al-Aswany in the Guardian newspaper on the after-effects of the Egyptian revolution

A piece in Granta on police torture in Egypt during the Mubarrak era

A conversation with an Egyptian historian at AUC about the voting in Egypt in December 2011


Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent newspaper in Egypt

The Daily News Egypt (a government paper)

Al Ahram newspaper, Egypt’s largest daily (also a state newspaper)


Lonely Planet guide to Egypt

The Rough Guide pages on Cairo

The map of Cairo

A map of Egypt


Youth Quake in Cairo after the Revolution

A story about a film (678) about sexual harassment in Egypt

The Tragedy of Hosni Mubarak, a long, intimate story on him in Newsweek

On Hosni Mubarak in The London Review of Books

Jokes about Hosni Mubarak in Foreign Policy

From the Guardian, Flaubert in Egypt

Cairo 2010: After Kefaya, from This Is a Public Space

A brief history of the Mubarrak regime

Recent Arabic novels in translation

An article in The New Yorker about an Egyptian-born al-Qaeda operative who has rejected violence

An op-ed piece in the Washington Post (registration required) on political repression in Egypt

An essay on religious freedom in the Muslim world, by Christopher Dickey, in the Washington Post

About Lila Abu-Lughod's Dramas of Nationhood

A review of Dramas of Nationhood in Egypt's English language newspaper Al-Ahram

A brief piece on Alifa Rifaat (scroll down to nearly the end)
A piece on the military governments in Egypt, Turkey, and Algeria

A New York Times Magazine article on an Egyptian preacher

Front Line Egypt web photo essay
American University in Cairo (AUC) home page
AUC’s Islamic Cairo walking tour page
A huge source of photographs (type in Cairo, Egypt)
American Embassy in Egypt

Notes on Travel and Theory by James Clifford
The introduction to Clifford
s Predicament of Culture


Brian Kiteleys home page