The Mamur Zapt and the Men Behind

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gareth Owen, the Mamur Zapt or head of the secret police of Cairo, has a problem on his hands. Fairclough, a petty functionary in the Customs service, has been shot at while riding home on his donkey. Soon, other officials, including Owen himself, report that men are following them, and one, an important Pasha in line for Egypt’s second most important governmental position, is beaten. Adding to the jitters of the British colony as well as the entrenched Egyptian bureaucracy is a mysterious bombing in which two students from the capital’s Engineering School are killed.

The Mamur Zapt, determined to get at the truth behind the killings and the surveillance of various citizens, becomes embroiled in an international intrigue that involves gun-running to the Sudan and the sale of slaves from southern Africa. He has to fend off the unwanted intrusion of the British army and deal with the nonchalance of the Consul-General, who sees the problems as primarily internal ones. At the same time, the Khedive refuses to appoint a prime minister, and students take to the streets in support of the nationalists’ cause: driving the British back to the sea and out of Egypt.

Owen’s mission to solve the mystery of the “men behind” takes him to a remote, dusty village where two other students have been killed while mishandling a homemade bomb. Eventually, the intertwined threads of the narrative come together in a tapestry of life in old Cairo, a city...

(The entire section is 429 words.)