From a noted journalist who has spent much of his life in Cairo, here is a dazzling cultural excavation of that most ancient, colorful, and multifaceted of cities. The seat of pharaohs and sultans, the prize of conquerors from Alexander to Saladin to Napoleon, Cairo--nicknamed "the Victorious"--has never ceased reinventing herself.
With intimate knowlege, humor, and affection, Rodenbeck takes us on an insider's tour of the magnificent city: its backstreets and bazaars, its belly-dance theaters and hashish dens, its crowded slums and fashionable salons, its incomparably rich past and its challenging future. Cairo: The City Victorious is a unique blend of travel and history, an epic, resonant work that brings one of the world's great metropolises to life in all its dusty, chaotic beauty.
From the awesome artistic trove of its 5000-year-old civilization to the high-rise buildings that dominate the skyline today, Cairo is evoked in all its dizzying variety in this rich, surprisingly concise history. Rodenbeck, the Economist's Middle East correspondent, has lived in Cairo since childhood and is not shy to admit that he has, on occasion, fallen "out of love" with his chaotic, noisy adopted home--the largest city in Africa, the Mediterranean and the Islamic world. He's especially dismayed at the city's current past-obliterating rush toward the trappings of global capitalism. But he notes, with characteristic wryness, that "not one generation in Cairo's five millennia of incarnations had failed to whine about decline." Eleven loosely chronological chapters fuse history with a contemporary travelogue. These include looks at Cairo's most ancient known civilization, On (credited with creating the modern-day solar calendar), of which virtually nothing remains today; medieval Cairo, "a prosperous and astonishingly cosmopolitan trading society" boasting a legal system far more humanistic than its European counterparts; and British-occupied Victorian-era Cairo, a chic stop for tourist hordes. He also examines the influence of 20th-century rulers, from King Farouk's corrupt reign to Anwar Sadat's nationalistic (and decidedly not pan-Arab) vision. Finally, Rodenbeck explores Cairo's current identity crisis and flirtation with Islamic fundamentalism: even in this most tolerant and bawdy of cities (it is, after all, the "belly-dancing capital of the world"), women are likely to don "retro seventh century" robes for the streets. Rodenbeck's tour brings this and other such quintessential Cairene paradoxes into rare focus.