Kafka in Cairo

Helen Fitzwilliam on a novelist capturing a descent into chaos

The World Today Published 1 June 2017 Updated 24 November 2020 3 minute READ

Helen Fitzwilliam

Journalist and filmmaker

When the regime of Hosni Mubarak fell during the 2011 revolution, many diaspora Egyptians returned home, bringing with them the latest ideas in science, technology and medicine to build the nascent democracy. But when that modern state failed to materialize, they ran for the exit, returning to America, Canada or the Gulf states.

‘The middle class is disappearing,’ says the award-winning novelist Basma Abdel Aziz, who is also a working psychiatrist. ‘The people who could really change the country are no longer staying. Egypt is exhausted – economically, politically and socially. We’re losing our creative thinkers in every field.’

One person who is not running for the exit is Abdel Aziz herself. Tiny and full of energy despite a limp caused by a car accident, she exudes warmth mixed with a sense of purpose.

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