One way to learn about a culture is to peruse the literature.
Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali. Political instability of the 1950s still resonates in Egypt today. The book is set against this backdrop as well as literary London. It’s been coined the Egyptian Catcher in the Rye.
Love in Exile / Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher. Cairo’s greatest literary secret, Taher is influential in the Arab world. He believes women in Egypt are still not free. The books reflect his frustration at Egypt’s stagnation under Hosni Mubarak, president since Sadat’s assassination in 1981 and now poised to hand power to his son Gamal.
Proud Beggars / The Colors of Infamy by Albert Cossery. Both I found last year in Paris, since the late Egyptian writer lived on Left bank and published books in French. He challenges the social norms by advocating idleness, the deprivation of luxury and simplicity in life.
Zayni Barakat by Gamal al-Ghitani. The book is set in Cairo during the waning years of the Mubarak era. The style is reminiscent of Mahfouz Naguib.
The Levant Trilogy by Olivia Manning. The novel is set in Cairo during World War II and gives detailed descriptions of life in the capital.