Over the course of our coverage of the revolution in Egypt, I was especially grateful for the dispatches that started appearing on the New York Review of Books blog by the Egyptian journalist Yasmine El Rashidi. As far as I could tell they were unequaled in their combination of eloquence and thick, streetwise grasp of what was going on minute-to-minute. New York Review Books, the Review‘s publishing arm, has just released an e-book that collects El Rashidi’s reports from Tahrir Square: The Battle for Egypt: Dispatches from the Revolution. It includes a short preface by Timothy Garton Ash, the British journalist and scholar of civil resistance, which does a nice job of describing what made reading her during the chaos of revolution such a treat:
[S]he gives us more than just the immediate picture of what it was like to be there, with memorable vignettes such as the female soldier wearing a rose behind her ear. Unlike most of the foreign correspondents present, she knows the language, places, backgrounds, social forces, and, not least, individual people. At one demonstration, she spots Hazem Moussa, the son of Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League; at another, karim El Shafei, whom she identifies as CEO of one of the country’s largest investment funds. Such details matter.
She shares with us the emotional highs and lows, the confusion, the frantic rumors. She also documents the humor and spontaneous creativity characteristic of many revolutions. One protester’s placard calls on Mubarak to resign soon “because my arm is aching from holding up this sign.” She translates some choice passages of revolutionary rhetoric. An Imam at Friday prayers, for example, praises the country’s youth calling for democratic rights and, yes, free speech. But she does not omit the more worrying parts. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi—the Muslim Brotherhood guru who as recently as October 2009 called for a “day of rage” against the Danish cartoons of Muhammad—appeals to the assembled crowd to pray for “the Muslim reconquest of Jerusalem.”