The Lack of Female Development in Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

            Unlike the other readings in this semester thus far, a male writes this novel. It is evident through the book that while he may feel he sympathizes with the plight of Egyptian women, he obviously does not. The stories and dimensions of the female characters show Aswany’s true perception of women. While all females are more concerned about providing for their family and less self-centered than the male characters, the women all follow the central plot line of selling their body to a man in power in order to provide for their family or a greater cause.

            The character that exemplifies Aswany’s stereotype best is Busayna. She goes from job to job to try to support her mother and siblings. Each boss expects some sort of sordid compensation from her and she is quickly disillusioned. The other females are older and already have come to expect their fate. Hagg starts to have sexual dreams and essentially buys a beautiful woman, Souad, to sleep with him to satisfy his desires. Taha would never purposely use a woman, but instead his wife uses him to further the goals of her religious group.

While it may be accurate to show the sexual harassment and objectification women go through in Egypt or even the Middle East as a whole, Aswany never delves further than this issue. No female ever fights the issue or voices their concern over being treated this way. It is a shame that a self-proclaimed activist and liberal author lets male characters talk about and show change through terrorist organizations and rigged political parties, but seldom gives women a voice. It seems that when political change, fighting, or rights is concerned, women are rarely considered. Busayna briefly voices her disgust against the conditions her whole generation is under, “You don’t understand because you’re [Zaki Bey] well-off. When you’ve stood for two hours at the bus stop or taken three different buses…then you’ll know why we hate Egypt,” (Aswany 138), but that is the closest a female comes to gaining some dimension.

It is surprising that Aswany makes his female characters less dynamic given his passion for womens rights in his personal life. He has written several articles addressing the topic of lack of women’s freedom in extremist nations. In one article dealing with this issue he addresses that it seems “the extremist view is that they (women) are only bodies and instruments for either legitimate pleasure or temptation, as factories for producing children,” (Al-Aswany, 2009). His argument in this article ties in perfectly with what his characters went through, and yet he never went further with it. If he feels so passionately about it, why did he never have any of his female characters so one-sided and never attempt to address this pressing issue?


Al-Aswany, A. (2009). When women are sinners in the eyes of extremists. The                             

Independent, Retrieved from alaa-alaswany-when-women-are-sinners-in-the-eyes-of-extremists-1810447.html