Politics, freedoms and spirituality in Alaa Al Aswany's Yacouian Building
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Although set in the 1990s and published in 2002, Alaa Al Aswany’s novel The Yacoubian Building conveys the corruption and brutality that led to explosive revolutions in Egypt from 2011. Moreover, his depiction of Cairo-dwellers with diverse class, cultural and gendered experiences functions as a microcosm of the dense forms and histories of contemporary Egyptian socio-political processes. This article argues that the novel’s power derives not only from its prophetic insight into Egyptian neo-colonial politics, but also from its expansive exploration of personal and collective freedoms. Connecting ideas about freedom to his scrutiny of how Islamic discourses have been represented and appropriated, Al Aswany shows that aspects of Islam have played a vital part in liberating personal and political struggles. The article therefore demonstrates that Al Aswany challenges Western-centric, orientalist and narrowly rights-based conceptions of social justice by exploring the interconnectedness of sexual, spiritual and political freedoms.