In 1999, Ahdaf Soueif’s second novel, The Map of Love, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, eventually losing out to JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. The next year, the Guardian commissioned her to travel to Palestine – her first visit – and write about her experiences of a people increasingly marginalised and oppressed by the Israeli state. Thus began a decade-long crusade in cultural activism, in the shadow of her friend and mentor Edward Said. ‘This conflict has been a part of my life all my life,’ she wrote in December 2000. ‘But seeing it there, on the ground, is different. What can I do except bear witness?’ Since then, she has put fiction to one side, reluctantly, and grown into Egypt’s – and perhaps the Arab world’s – foremost political voice in Britain.
In 2008, she launched the Palestinian Festival of Literature, an annual event dedicated to bringing Palestinian and international writers and artists to audiences across Palestine. Her latest book, Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, is a passionate and engaged chronicle of the events before and after the fall of Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011. A few days before the 25 January demonstration marking the anniversary of the revolution in Cairo, Soueif invited me into her south London home to discuss her writing career, Palestine, and the progress of democracy in Egypt. Below is a short extract from the interview, which can be read in full in The White Review No. 4.