To understand the unrest that toppled the Egyptian government this week, start with a visit to Cairo’s Yacoubian Building.
In fiction, the apartment block is the setting for the widely praised 2002 novel of that name by Ala’a Al Aswany, who described many of the woes that contributed to the uprising in Tahrir Square 2Â½ years ago. In Mr. Al Aswany’s tale, a young man, stigmatized by the fact that his father is a doorman, can’t find employment with the Egyptian police and heads down a route that leads him to violent jihad. On the rooftop, a shantytown sprouts up thanks to a corrupt deal with the landlord.
But the Yacoubian Building is also an actual place, nestled in Cairo’s downtown, a short walk from the Nile. Here, on a once-stately street that has decayed with the decades, people say that life under President Mohammed Morsi and the government of the Muslim Brotherhood only became worse. If the fictional building predicted the revolution of 2011 that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the real building now reflects the sentiments that erupted into Wednesday’s coup.