cover image My Egypt Archive

My Egypt Archive

Alan Mikhail. Yale Univ, $26 (184p) ISBN 978-0-300-26099-1

In this insightful and intimate account of the events leading up to the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Egypt, Yale historian Mikhail (God’s Shadow) reveals how the inefficiency, corruption, and tyranny of President Hosni Mubarak’s government was replicated within the bureaucratic hierarchy of the Egyptian National Archives in Cairo. Drawing on a journal he kept during his research at the archives between 2001 and 2010, Mikhail conveys the social, economic, and political strife in Egypt during this period through the lens of his own experiences. From the chicanery required to obtain access (“The best strategy for a researcher applying to work in the archive was to meet vagueness with vagueness”) to the capricious application of rules and security protocols, the petty despotism of archive officials mirrors the Egyptian elite’s efforts to maintain authority over the masses. In Mikhail’s sharp character sketches, Madam Amal, the head of the reading room, emerges as the epitome of the Egyptian bureaucrat: focused on maintaining her authority (which she achieved in a sexist society “through her skill and sheer force of will”), strongly conscious of her image, fawning to her superiors, and merciless to her underlings. Through immersive prose and astute analyses of social customs and scholarly practices, Mikhail makes readers feel his own frustrations as well as those of ordinary Egyptians. The result is a visceral and perceptive study of life under autocracy. (Jan.)