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Fictions of African Dictatorship

Cultural Representations of Postcolonial Power


Edited By Charlotte Baker and Hannah Grayson

Fictions of African Dictatorship examines the fictional representation of the African dictator and the performance of dictatorship across genres. The volume includes contributions focusing on literature, theatre and film, all of which examine the relationship between the fictional and the political. Among the questions the contributors ask: what are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy? How does the dictator novel interrogate ideas of veracity? How is power performed and ridiculed? How do different writers reflect on questions of authority in the postcolony, and what are the effects on their stories and modes of narration? This volume untangles some of the intricate workings of dictatorial power in the postcolony, through twelve close readings of works of fiction. It interrogates the intersections between real and literary space, exploring censorship, political critique and creative resistance. Insights into a wide range of lesser known texts and contexts make this volume an original and insightful contribution to scholarship on representations of dictatorship.

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7. The Author and the Authoritarian: Gamal al-Ghitani’s al-Zaynī Barakāt (Alya El Hosseiny)

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7    The Author and the Authoritarian: Gamal al-Ghitani’s al-Zaynī Barakāt

In the early 1970s, Egypt experienced a period of major transformation. The sudden death in 1970 of Gamal Abdel-Nasser (known simply as Nasser), the charismatic leader of the 1952 coup d’état, national hero and defender of the Suez Canal against European powers, and pioneer of Arab nationalism, meant a sea change in the way the Egyptian state operated: from a tightly controlled state-socialist autocracy, proudly leading the non-alignment movement, to a looser police state, and eventually an America-friendly free market economy, under Anwar al-Sadat.1 While the transition was never to a democratic regime, the atmosphere of surveillance and fear did let up, and political opponents, mostly mollified by then, were afforded some breathing space outside Nasser’s notorious prisons.

Critics such as Samia Mehrez, Roger Allen, and Céza Kassem Draz have described the emergence of a ‘young generation’ of writers in the 1960s in the Arab world, a generation that will express its ‘dissatisfaction and disgust with the state of Arab society’ (Allen 57) both before and especially after the Six-Day War of 1967. In the face of widespread censorship and political repression, writers of this generation often constructed symbolic narratives; along with al-Ghitani, writers including Son’allah Ibrahim and ‘Abdel Hakim Qasem drew on historical events, folk culture, and their own experiences of repression – al-Ghitani and Ibrahim had both been incarcerated under the Nasser regime – to compose allegorical tales for the suffocating political atmosphere of their time, taking advantage of the ← 141 | 142 → slim margin of freedom of expression afforded to them. Gamal al-Ghitani’s writings, in particular, were strongly influenced by medieval historiography and sometimes tend towards the mystical, and his best-known work, al-Zaynī Barakāt, stands as a sophisticated example of the parabolic style that he and his contemporaries favoured, as well as of al-Ghitani’s own preoccupation with language, especially medieval historiographical style. Widely considered a masterpiece of Egyptian literature, it was published in 1970–1 in serial form in the magazine Rose al-Yūsuf, and then as a book in the mid-seventies. It is set in Cairo in the years 1506–16, and tells the story of the fall of the city to Ottoman invaders, after a chaotic period of Mamluk rule.2 The story is told through several modes of narration, which include government spy reports, a European traveller’s account, as well as stream-of-consciousness narration from the point of view of students and sheikhs at al-Azhar, a major religious university. Here, al-Ghitani’s choices regarding genre, writing style and narrative strategies are interwoven with the novel’s focus on surveillance and tyranny, in order to produce a text that resists authoritarianism in the author’s own time. Close analysis reveals that themes of authoritarianism and surveillance highlight the interplay between present and past in this allegorical novel and the way in which language is invested with a power far beyond that of an autocrat.

The novel al-Zaynī Barakāt opens with the scene of a Cairo in uproar after the Ottoman invasion in 1517, narrated by a Venetian traveller named Visconti Gianti. The narration then switches back to events some ten years earlier, when a character named al-Zaynī Barakāt Ibn Mūsā was appointed in a most powerful post. Although he first declines the position, giving the impression of disinterest in power, he is eventually made muḥtasib of Cairo; that is, the commercial overseer, in charge of regulating prices, preventing corruption, and more generally safeguarding public morals. In a city that was then a centre for merchants, Ibn Mūsā wields enormous power. He proceeds by using the police chief, Zakariyā Ibn Rāḍī, and his agents to monitor and inform on the population. Zakariyā recruits students ← 142 | 143 → and sheikhs at al-Azhar to inform on their colleagues and uses his army of spies to control Cairenes.

As the narrative proceeds, it becomes clear that Ibn Mūsā is more concerned with internal power struggles and with maintaining his popularity, than with the very real threat of foreign invasion. He establishes a system of public announcements for the benefit of the population, in which he regularly proclaims his commitment to the public good and the preservation of morals. However, the rivalries between different Mamluks become difficult to control, and threaten the stability of the regime. As state power disintegrates, the Ottomans invade, sacking the city and terrorizing the people, who had so far been kept in the dark about the foreign threat. By the close of the novel, the regime falls. However, al-Zaynī Barakāt simply transitions to working under Ottoman rule.

Considered a seminal example of Arabic novels in the post-Mahfouz generation, al-Zaynī Barakāt has been addressed by many critics, and I will give here a brief overview of the most important scholarly works analysing the novel. In a 1981 article,3 Céza Kassem Draz has focused on the uses of irony in al-Zaynī Barakāt, arguing that al-Ghitani uses pastiche and parody to create estrangement. In The Arabic Novel: An Historical and Critical Introduction (1995), Roger Allen includes it in a chapter he devotes to the analysis of twelve influential and, at that time, relatively recent novels.4 Allen describes al-Zaynī Barakāt as ‘a work of fiction that uses historical documents’ (196) and also highlights al-Ghitani’s use of strategies of pastiche and irony. By contrast, Fakhri Salih, in his 1997 article in Sutur, chooses to zoom in on the allegorical function of the novel, and argues for al-Zaynī Barakāt as a radical departure from pre-existing Arabic works, due to its use of the historical novel as allegory for the present or recent past.5 In his book The Experimental Arabic Novel: Postcolonial Literary ← 143 | 144 → Modernism in the Levant (2001), Stefan G. Meyer builds on his predecessor’s analyses, highlighting both the allegorical dimension as well as the novel’s use of irony.6

All these works have focused on al-Zaynī Barakāt’s relationship to historical events and texts, underlining its functions as pastiche and commentary on both the historical past and the author’s contemporary reality. While these themes are important and do hold a place in my own analysis of the novel, I am also interested in the text’s techniques and narrative strategies as they relate to the novel’s themes of surveillance and tyranny. Indeed, in contrast to the aforementioned examples, Samia Mehrez’s analysis focuses on the internal logic of the text, rather than simply drawing links with either an historical moment or a corpus of pre-modern texts. In a chapter dedicated to the novel in her Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction (1994), Mehrez, like Kassem Draz, draws on Gérard Genette theory of intertextuality to highlight the potential for allegory in the novel.7 However, her analysis excavates al-Ghitani’s narrative strategies from within a multi-layered text, and is one I find most productive and will be drawing on to inform my own reading of the novel.

The novel is structured into six ‘Pavilions’, or sections, each divided into short chapters, which are told from the point of view of one of six characters. The characters we follow include the title character, who was the markets inspector of Cairo and a powerful historical figure. Thus, we are told the story of the last decade of Mamluk rule in Cairo before Ottoman rule, which was marked by political repression and widespread government spying, and throughout the novel, we are shown how systems of Baṣṣāṣṣīn (literally ‘lookers’), or spies, with al-Zaynī Barakāt Ibn Mūsā at their centre, control the lives and minds of Cairenes.

The eponymous character, al-Zaynī Barakāt, is progressively revealed to be a secretive, manipulative tyrant, using a carefully curated public image to consolidate his own power, undermining even his closest advisors. The parallel between al-Zaynī and Nasser, at least as the latter is perceived after ← 144 | 145 → the 1967 defeat, are key to a contextualized reading of the novel. Mehrez points out:

Several critics have not failed to note the affinities that exist between the character of al-Zaynī and that of Nasser. Both figures seem to elicit the same controversial questions: are they good or are they evil? Are they working for the people or simply manipulating them? Are they villains or are they heroes?8

But more than simply portraying him as a symbolic titular character, through the representation of al-Zaynī the novel draws a parallel with a painful moment of Egyptian history. The humiliating defeat of Egyptian forces in 1967 was only made worse by the systemic state propaganda which tried to conceal the truth from the Egyptian public for as long as it could. When the news reached the populace, it was a gigantic blow, which fostered disillusionment with Nasser. Even though the Egyptian leader’s popularity kept him at the head of the state (after he stepped down and massive demonstrations demanded his return), 1967 was a turning point in in the Egyptian psyche, and especially in arts and literature.9 Therefore, the themes of propaganda, of lies and concealment were directly relevant to the writer’s present, and al-Zaynī Barakāt, published shortly after Nasser’s death, has been read as a damning indictment of his regime.

The novel revolves around a system of surveillance. The first hint of the spy network is found near the beginning of the novel, shortly after Ibn Mūsā’s appointment as overseer, when we are told the story of a slave girl whom he rescues from an abusive master. Visconti Gianti describes how some people felt about the incident:

But another group felt that he had intruded on the most private matters of people’s lives; and that no one at all could feel safe in his home or about his family, especially after a rumour indicated that the girl had never appealed to al-Zaynī at all; that he had found out about the matter through dubious methods which enable him to acquire information about the minutest details that occur within homes. (25)10 ← 145 | 146 →

In an earlier chapter, whose events occur ten years later, Cairo is compared to ‘a terrified woman fearing rape late at night’ (9). The fall of the city is represented as sexual violence, and as tantamount to the emasculation of its male citizens. Beth Baron argues that ‘[o]nce the nation was envisioned as a family, the concept of family honor could easily be appropriated as the basis for national honor.’11 The latter ‘worked as a concept because at more or less the same time as the notion of national honor emerged, the nation was imagined as a woman’.12 The slave girl’s sexual abuse thus foreshadowed the fall of Cairo.

Apart from the spies’ intimate acquaintance with their subjects, the theme of knowledge emerges as a reflection on the role of the intellectual, through Saʿīd, the Azhar student, and his sheikhs and fellow students. Despite being presented as simple-minded and naïve, Saʿīd goes out of his way to spend more time with the sheikhs, from whom he has excessive respect; in his honesty and desire to keep the moral high ground, he is the opposite of ʿAmr, who works as a spy for Zakariyā, the police chief. Ibn Mūsā and Zakariyā are also defined by their knowledge, but it is excessive, Faustian knowledge, obtained through dangerous and cruel means. They possess precisely the kind of knowledge which enables them to break Saʿīd’s spirit. It might be pointed out here that Saʿīd is from Upper Egypt, an historically poor and under-developed region, and therefore belongs to the poor working class. His growing suspicions towards al-Zaynī Barakāt result in his getting detained and tortured, and seeing the girl that he loves marry someone else (as Ibn Mūsā has arranged). By the end of the novel, he is roaming the streets, driven to madness. The political betrayal and national catastrophe are therefore paralleled by a personal crisis.

Zakariyā himself, the police chief and chief spy, is eventually made to think that al-Zaynī Barakāt has been spying on him as well, using a personal spy network, thus doubling the levels of surveillance and creating a structure of concentric circles around the leader. However, that impression is revealed to be an illusion, carefully planted by Ibn Mūsā, in order ← 146 | 147 → to maintain his control over his subordinate. The illusion of surveillance therefore acts as a real threat, breaking down the barrier between reality and fiction, in the internal narrative of the novel. In this instance, too, al-Ghitani is taking the opportunity to comment on his contemporary reality: Nasser’s spies were rumoured to be everywhere, and yet at the same time many were convinced the regime planted those rumours in order to keep the population in check. By giving credence to the latter narrative, al-Ghitani evokes a form of literary resistance.

The very idea of resistance literature has been widely contested. Indeed, in Resisting Novels, Lennard J. Davis argues that the novel form is inherently conservative, because it emulates life without being life itself.13 Opposing the novel to political resistance, Davis classes it as a form of psychoanalytic resistance, a ‘defensive reluctance or the blockage of change’.14 Even what he calls the ‘overtly political novel’ cannot, according to him, change the world, only its representation.15 However, in Resistance Literature, Barbara Harlow argues that the novel does participate in reality: ‘the resistance writer, like the guerrilla of the armed liberation struggle, is actively engaged in an urgent historical confrontation’.16 Never strictly separated from life, the novel becomes ‘an indictment’.17 Harlow ties this to ‘the resistance writer’s demand for a politicization of interpretation’.18 As we will see below, the role of allegory in al-Zaynī Barakāt is essential to its political project. However, language itself is also a powerful force that builds up and tears down tyranny. In his study of Latin American dictator novels, The Voice of the Masters, Roberto González Echevarría shows how language becomes a manifestation of power, identifying the author with the dictator.19 Echevarría argues that in post-Boom novels, language is also the means by which authority ← 147 | 148 → is demystified: ‘what the new literature is doing is dismantling Literature itself, not replacing a relation of power with another within an unchanging concept of literature’.20 I will show how both dynamics operate in al-Zaynī Barakāt, language being a key to both authority and resistance.

The history of Arabic literature has long been a history of orality. Indeed, poetry, considered the preeminent genre and appearing much earlier than prose, was passed down orally, with the exception of the very best qasīdas [odes], which were written down and reportedly hung on the Holy Ka’ba, a sacred site of Islam, in use since Pagan times. In reference to that honour, those poems were called al-Muʿallaqāt [the hung ones]. Thus, while orality was the principal medium of transmission of literature, writing conferred an honour upon the work being physically preserved for future memory. After the rise of Islam, and with the death of its Prophet, an oral tradition of ḥadīth was born, passing down the prophet’s words with a complex system of attributions (isnād). In Arabic historical thought in the classical period, Tarif Khalidi chronicles the emergence of adab (literature) out of this tradition, brought about by the bureaucratic system of the Abbasid caliphate:

But perhaps the most important political impulse to the systematic development of interest in the sciences of the Arabic language came from the Arabization of the administration, undertaken by the caliph ʿAbd al-Malik and carried through by his successors. This policy resulted in a gradual and far-reaching transformation of the bureaucratic structure, the creation of new routines of government and the rise of new classes of bureaucrats and a new secretarial ‘style’. The new bureaucrats were soon to become skilled professionals who were trained to express the finest shades of mood and meaning in the letters and directives of their masters and frequently passed on their jobs and skills to their descendants. As court procedure came to be imitated in provincial capitals, a corps of state secretaries with a highly developed art began to occupy a distinct and influential position throughout the empire and to be associated in the popular mind with a particular style of literature, to which we shall return below.21 ← 148 | 149 →

Adab, which is often translated as literature but corresponds more to Belles-Lettres, therefore rose from the spread of literacy and from the need for textual models in prose. Al-Zaynī Barakāt, emulating the language of sixteenth-century historiography, inserts itself into the lineage of early modern adab, emphasizing the power of language. Ibn Mūsā’s spy network collects oral stories, and we see them transformed into written reports that can condemn a person to jail and torture. Thus the word, spoken and written, is invested with a power. In its oral form, the word serves as a source of information for the state’s spies; written, however, it becomes a weapon to use against Ibn Mūsā’s adversaries.

Throughout the novel, as readers, we have access to certain documents that are used to tell aspects of the story. A major role is accorded to historiography, as the novel contains several pseudo-translations of imaginary writings: most of them are excerpts from the travelogue of Visconti Gianti, a fictional representation of the European travellers of the time. As well, in the Fifth Pavilion, we see a summary of papers from a report on a conference between Chief Spies from various places, which one of the protagonists participates in. This report is followed by appendices of which we see only the cover pages – translations of papers presented by other Chief Spies. What role do these pseudo-historical documents and their pseudo-translations play in the narrative? In fact, the multiplicity of points of view is essential to this work’s novelistic – and anti-novelistic – project: the implosion of the unit, confusion, and alienation of the reader all function as a commentary on the difficulty of making sense of history, both ancient and modern. To quote Mehrez, the novel includes ‘a very elaborate form of pastiche, wherein al-Ghitani imitates several kinds of documents. He draws on a repertoire of medieval conventional forms’.22

Such a hybrid pseudo-documentary identity is in fact central to al-Zaynī Barakāt. The insertion of imaginary historical documents lends the novel what can be termed an imagined intertextuality, which complements the strong intertextual links it entertains with a historiographical text from the period – Ibn Iyās’s Badāʾiʿ al-Zuhūr fī Waqāʾiʿ al-Duhūr ← 149 | 150 → [The Wonders of Blossoms in the Events of the Ages], which the novel borrows from heavily. Mehrez comments that ‘[t]he relationship between al-Zaynī Barakāt and Ibn Iyās’s medieval chronicle can best be defined in Gerard Genette’s term ‘hypertextuality’. This relation of hypertextuality is therefore used to reattach al-Ghitani’s novel to a canon of classical Arabic prose, and inscribe it within the Arab literary tradition.23

In her chapter, Mehrez goes on to expand on the themes of parody and pastiche, relying on Genette’s work on hypertextuality to show how al-Ghitani uses those strategies to efface the speaking subject:

Hypertextuality operates on two levels: parody, which is the transformation of the elements of the hypotext, and pastiche, which Genette identifies with imitation of the hypotext. In al-Zaynī, parody is identifiable on the level of style, where some of the most prominent stylistic characteristics of medieval Islamic historiography are reused to create the ‘fictional world’ of the novel. Here I am referring especially to the use of narrated discourse and the passive voice.24

Mehrez therefore points out that ‘[t]here is no responsible ‘I’ at which a finger can be pointed.’ While she does argue that ‘the absence of the ‘I’ is a way in which the historical text can reflect a collective consciousness’, one cannot help but wonder if al-Ghitani’s use of these devices be a kind of ‘disguise’ that absolves the writer from his political responsibility.25

In analysing the fictional documents that al-Ghitani presents us with in al-Zaynī Barakāt, Mehrez divides them into ‘authority-people documents’ and ‘authority-authority documents’.26 These two categories correspond roughly to oral and written documents, which we will return to shortly. The former are accessible to the characters of the novel at large, but the latter are only seen by some of them (usually Zakariyā or al-Zaynī himself), and the reader; some of them are not even available to us, as with the case of the reports of which we see only the title. This device gives us as readers direct access to the poles of authority in the text. Therefore, the ← 150 | 151 → reader not only witnesses the spying, but becomes a spy her- or himself. In complicity with the writer, our informant, we mirror, albeit in a fragmented and incomplete fashion, the voyeurism which, as a theme, pervades the novel. In an increasingly televised world, we can all think of ourselves as being watched and watchers: we are all baṣṣāṣṣīn as well as the people they spy on. However, by witnessing events and texts that are inaccessible to ‘normal’ characters, we are made complicit with Zakariyā and, especially, with al-Zaynī Barakāt. Their authority is thus subverted, making the written word a weapon of resistance against oppression.

In addition, the inserted texts sometimes operate against authority. For instance, one of the texts for ‘the meeting of the world’s police chiefs in Cairo’, authored by the police Chief, Zakariyā, details various forms of torture that he uses on suspects. Such a detailed description reveals the subject of physical violence to the reader. al-Ghitani himself has commented on the role of pain: ‘the pain felt by a soldier in the Hellenic, Pharaonic, Babylonian, Assyrian or Mamluk era in war, is the same pain that a human being can feel now, and this is what I call the unicity of human experience’.27 Therefore, pain gives us access to other peoples’ struggle and a way into solidarity and resistance.

Indeed, the historical novel generates an intersection of two or more times: as Faisal Darraj explains in his chapter titled ‘Gamal al-Ghitani and the aesthetics of the novelistic experiment’, the time of the events and the time of the writing of the novel are brought together.28 Moreover, as we read the text and participate in the creation of meaning, the time of our reading is superposed to those two:

The historicity of reading produces the historicity of the text that is read. For the text that is sought by a reader from a different time encounters questions that its writer never conceived of, and it divides itself between silence and speech. However, divided between silence and speech, it finds new life because life is found in renewed imperfection, and not in imagined perfection.29 ← 151 | 152 →

There is thus a parallel drawn between several historical moments by the very process of writing and reading a historical novel, and that parallel emphasizes the temporal gap between writer, subject matter and reader. Darraj says of al-Ghitani that he ‘took from history a document with limited temporality and a single meaning and transformed it through the novel’ (Darraj 232). Therefore, al-Ghitani’s text is not only a transparent allegory for Egypt in the 1960s, and the fall of Mamluk Cairo a medieval counterpart for the 1967 defeat, but at every moment of reading it creates its own allegory to reflect the reader’s contemporary reality.

This novel straddles historical, documentary, allegorical and fictional genres. It also operates an internal ‘cultural translation’: the sixteenth century is used as an allegory for the twentieth. However, it is also pitted against it; in a world of polymaths and fluid identities, our modern categories do not apply; the novel itself is an anachronism. al-Zaynī Barakāt may thus be read as a formal contestation of the most authoritative genre of modern literature. In her analysis of parody in the novel, Kassem Draz explains:

Parody as a particular type of transtextuality aims at imitating a text, it is a device which emphasizes the ‘literarité’ of literature since its main aim is to destroy the mimetic illusion and does not aim at imitating nature but at imitating literature; by doing this it destroys the realist illusion and comes as a reaction to the realist concept of art.30

Similarly, the superposition of medieval and modern Cairo puts in question the mimetic role of the novel. Coming on the heels of Mahfouz’s realist chronicles, al-Ghitani’s novelistic experiment is a bold re-imagination of what ‘fiction’ can be, when drawn from historical chronicles, and superposed so transparently to a present reality.

As Cairo falls prey to the Ottomans, only one of the Mamluks, Sultan Tumanbay, resists. However, history tells us that Tumanbay will be defeated, captured and executed. al-Zaynī Barakāt, on the other hand, persists in his administrative duties after the defeat, showing that corruption is more powerful than heroism. Through the examples of Saʿīd the student and ← 152 | 153 → Sultan Tumanbay, the novel presents us with a narrative of failed resistance, whether against the invaders or against the corrupt and oppressive state. However, in its narrative strategies, it uses the medieval historiographical form to veil the ‘I’ while simultaneously implicating reader and writer deeply into the political transgressions. It implodes the authority of the narrator and of the tyrannical characters by making readers into spies, and juxtaposes the medieval defeat with the author’s and reader’s contemporary realities, creating an infinite allegory that functions as a constant indictment of tyranny. al-Zaynī Barakāt therefore exchanges literal resistance with literary dissidence, and simultaneously revises the meanings of author and authoritarian. While resistance fails in the narrative, al-Ghitani’s novel itself becomes a form of resistance. By using it to challenge state authority, official historiography, and even the unity of the novelistic genre, the author creates a space of freedom from authoritarianism.


al-Ghitani, Gamal, al-Zaynī Barakāt (Cairo: Dar Ma’mun li-al-Tiba’ah, 1975).

——, Zayni Barakat. Trans. Farouk Abdel Wahab (London: Penguin, 1988).

Allen, Roger, The Arabic Novel: An Historical and Critical Introduction (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1982).

Baron, Beth, Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

Darraj, Faisal, Naḍhariyyat al-Riwāya w-al-Riwāya al-ˁArabiyya (Beirut: Arabic Cultural Centre, 1999).

Davis, Lennard J., Resisting Novels: Ideology and Fiction (New York: Methuen, 1987).

González Echevarría, Roberto, The Voice of the Masters (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985).

Harlow, Barbara. Resistance Literature (New York: Methuen, 1987).

Kassem Draz, Ceza, ‘In quest of new narrative forms: irony in the works of four Egyptian writers’, Journal of Arabic Literature 12 (1981): 137–59.

Khalidi, Tarif, Arabic historical thought in the classical period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). ← 153 | 154 →

Mehrez, Samia, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1994).

Meyer, Stefan G., The Experimental Arabic Novel: Postcolonial Literary Modernism in the Levant (New York: State University of New York Press, 2001).

Roundtable discussion: al-Riwāya w-al-Tārīkh. Fusūl 17.1 (1998): 405–34.

Salih, Fakhri, ‘Al-Riwāya al-’Arabiya wa Ashkāl al-Sard al-Turāthiya’, Sutūr 2 (1997): 76–8.

1 While I follow standard transliteration for most Arabic words, including names, in the case of historical figures and internationally known writers I have opted for a simplified transliteration already widely in use.

2 The Mamluks were slave-soldiers that were originally brought to the Middle East from the Balkans, and who eventually rose to power in the fourteenth century.

3 Ceza Kassem Draz, ‘In quest of new narrative forms: Irony in the works of four Egyptian writers’, Journal of Arabic Literature 12 (1981): 137–59, 144.

4 Roger Allen, The Arabic Novel: An Historical and Critical Introduction (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1982), 195–208.

5 Fakhri Salih, ‘Al-Riwāya al-’Arabiya wa Ashkāl al-Sard al-Turāthiya’, Sutūr 2 (1997): 76–8.

6 Stefan G. Meyer, The Experimental Arabic Novel: Postcolonial Literary Modernism in the Levant (New York: State University of New York Press, 2001), 55–9.

7 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 96–118.

8 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 101–2.

9 Allen, The Arabic Novel, 59.

10 While my analysis at large is based on the original Arabic text, I quote from the beautiful and faithful English translation by Farouk Abdel Wahab.

11 Beth Baron, Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 7.

12 Baron, Egypt as a Woman, 7.

13 Lennard J. Davis, Resisting Novels: Ideology and Fiction (New York: Methuen, 1987).

14 Davis, Resisting Novels, 12.

15 Davis, Resisting Novels, 225–7.

16 Harlow, Resistance Literature (New York: Methuen, 1987), 100.

17 Harlow, Resistance Literature, 98.

18 Harlow, Resistance Literature, 77.

19 Roberto González Echevarría, The Voice of the Masters (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985).

20 Echevarría, The Voice of the Masters, 85.

21 Tarif Khalidi, Arabic historical thought in the classical period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 84–5.

22 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 109.

23 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 102.

24 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 103.

25 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 99.

26 Mehrez, Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction, 110.

27 ‘Roundtable discussion: al-Riwāya w-al-Tārīkh’, Fusūl 17.1 (1998): 405–34.

28 Darraj, Naḍhariyyat al-Riwāya w-al-Riwāya al-ˁArabiyya, 231.

29 Darraj, Naḍhariyyat al-Riwāya w-al-Riwāya al-ˁArabiyya. Beirut: Arabic Cultural Center, 1999, 231.

30 Kassem Draz, ‘In quest of new narrative forms’, 140.