“Using Life” by Ahmed Nagi

This article is also available in: Italiano

A crazy and revolutionary novel, a representation in letters and drawings of the thoughts of young Cairo people. A book so interesting that it cost Ahmed Nagi two years in prison

Using life

Bassàm Bahgat was hired to produce propaganda documentaries for the “Society of Urban Planners”, a secret organization (widely spread throughout the world) dedicated to the redesign of Cairo. The documentary maker does not know that the subtle intent of the Company is to permanently destroy the city by creating a new one, with a futuristic and commercial form. Bassàm’s life will suddenly change with the meeting of Ihàb Hassan, an eccentric and charismatic character, who, opposing the Society, proposes his revolutionary project: to modify the Cairo metropolis so that urban decay is extinguished.


Nagi’s novel is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most original and interesting experiments in the entire Egyptian literature. In fact, the book mixes text and images, making history unite with continuous suggestions, most of which are decidedly outside the box. In one part of the book, for example, the author imagines the inhabitants of Cairo as new hybrids of living beings, ideas that, thanks to the pencil of Ayman Al Zorqani, take shape, taking the reader into ever new universes.

An illustration from the book

Nagi’s work is a sort of concrete representation of what he imagines as part of the “Egyptian youth”, a sort of flow of thoughts that uses a story to have a body. The author, in fact, aims to tell something but it is the “how” that interests him much more, trying to represent something as unfathomable as the imagination of his own generation.

2 years in prison

As in the case of Mohamed Choukri’s “For The Bread Alone”, however, the editorial history is as interesting as that of the novel, giving us an overview of freedom of expression in Cairo. Ahmed Nagi was in fact sentenced to 2 years in prison because of the contents of the book, considered “an outrage to modesty”, so much so that reading it, the convict would even faint.

Ahmed Nagi

The chapter, let’s say it for clarity, is absolutely explicit and with precise references to sex and drugs, but condemnation could never sound crazier nowadays. Precisely in this historical period, in fact, we are witnessing a generational change between two worlds divided between a pre and a post internet. Nagi’s novel does nothing but show clearly and in no uncertain terms how Cairo is seen by the eyes of a young Egyptian, utterly disappointed by what he sees around. Drugs and the continuous search for a sexual partner, in fact, tend to be a symptom of a lack of trust and perspective, a feature that is increasingly visible also in the Bel Paese (definitely more linked to Egypt than you think).

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