This essay proposes that “circulation” is a useful rubric for thinking about the twenty-first-century Egyptian novel and its relationship to democracy. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, a new generation of Cairo-based writers employed innovative forms and linguistic experimentation drawn from a global cultural palette while exploring domestic or local themes. Like their Egyptian literary forerunners, these young writers addressed social and political questions, but both the urban and the geopolitical context within which they worked had altered dramatically as a result of the impact of the digital revolution. Much of the new Egyptian literature employs or invokes American forms or is in dialogue with American literary genres, software, and popular culture, all made newly or more easily accessible via digital and Internet technologies. The ways in which foreign or outside forms are taken up in the work of these writers is, in turn, more complex than simple appropriation and requires developing a method for reading that takes circulation into account. By way of example, the second part of the essay focuses on the comics of Magdy el Shafee (1961–), whose 2008 work Metro is generally considered the first Egyptian graphic novel, and includes shorter discussion of fiction by Ahmed Alaidy (1974–) and literary nonfiction by Omar Taher (1974–). The essay argues that readers must take questions of circulation and the interplay of transnational and local publics into account in order to appreciate the changed contexts within which Egyptian literature operates in the twenty-first century.

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