Put in contact with the West by the expedition of Bonaparte from 1798, Egypt is brutally confronted with the philosophy and the European literature. The intellectual challenge opens a period of literary renaissance, the Nahda, which places Egypt in preeminent position in the Arab intellectual world since the early nineteenth century. However, it will be necessary to wait until the dawn of the twentieth century to see the birth of a real Egyptian literature. Gestation involves a simplification of the language, the development of a specific literary criticism and a veritable proliferation of essays.
The first Egyptian novel, with a social theme, Zaynab, was not written in Egypt, but in Paris in 1914. Its author, Muhammad Haykâl, remained in the purest line of the teary tales of the Egyptian folk tradition. Zaynab recounted the misfortunes of an agricultural worker, a prototype of the Egyptian woman, who died "consumptive" like the heroine of the Lady with Camellias. Some writers, Zaydan, Muhammad Haddad Abu-Haddid, 'Ali al-Jarim, Muhammad al-'Uriyan, then devoted themselves to the historical novel, more by attachment to Western taste than by true inspiration. Others, Taha Husayn, Muhammad and Mahmud Taymur, Tawfiq al-Hakim, tried the psychological novel. But the inspiration always came from Europe.
Until a generation incarnated by Mahfûz, al-Sibà'ï, Yûsuf Idrîs, makes the novel a typically Egyptian art. Tawfiq al-Hakim appears as the leader of this generation with his book the diary of a campaign substitute. In this autobiographical work, this former prosecutor denounces the absurdity of Egyptian administrative reports. This book was a great success as soon as it was published. Subsequently, Tawfîq al-Hakîm confirmed his talent with the found Soul that told the popular uprising of 1919, then the Flower of Life, inspired him by the mixed memories of his studies in Paris.
With Taha Husayn, blind by birth and future minister, the Egyptian novel takes a more revolted turn. His Kairouan Call is analyzed as a refusal of submission and expresses hope for a better world.
With al-Charqawi, the new generation criticizes the bourgeoisie resulting from the revolution. For the first time, in an Egyptian novel, the Life of darkness, of Muhammad Kamil, appears the word mutammarid, the rebel. Literary research explores new narrative paths, analyzes the imaginary, the dream and the unconscious with al-Chârûni, Kharrât, al-Ghitànï; Ahmad Hashim al-Charif.
The leader of this new literary wave is, without question, Naguib Mahfûz who publishes his first book, a collection of stories, at twenty-seven years. His verve denounces the waste of the middle classes and the appalling misery of the people. Social injustice continues to inspire him in New Cairo, Khân at-Khaltlt. In 1949, in Beginning and End, he announces the rise of a politicized youth who refuses decadence and foreign occupation.
The Egyptian literature of the 50s tries to go beyond the naturalism of Mahfû, sometimes to express a despair to the Camus, sometimes to reach a dialectical realism. In the wake of the Plague, Adil Kamil publishes Mitlim the Great. This is the time when symbolism alone allows escape from censorship. Then, with Idrîs, Faraaj, Nù'mān'Achûret al-Charqâwï, language and style become more aggressive. The national and political awareness became more precise with the six-day war and intensified until the aftermath of the October war (1973). Mahfûz expresses well this double shock in the Man having lost his memory twice.
Since then, the trend has returned to realism. Priority has been given to popular traditions, to everyday concerns. The novel gains in psychology what it loses in violence. At this stage of Egyptian literary history, the Mirrors that Mafnùz publishes in 1973 are attached.
At a more recent time, young authors have emerged. Their voices rise against society, against institutions, against the political police. Among this highly politicized generation emerges Charif Hitata with his trilogy: The Iron Eyelid, Two Windward Wings and the Defeat.
If the miseries and hopes of the people are still the fabric of Romanesque literature in Egypt, the novel gradually evolves towards a political commitment. He also continues to spread this note of hope, this touch of humor in the misfortune that springs from the very soul of Egypt.
In the land of storytellers and a very ancient culture, poetry is based on many trends.
Three schools group together modern Egyptian poetry: The neo-classics, al-Bârûdî, Chawqi, Hâfiz Ibrahim, maintain the poetic tradition until the middle of the 20th century and initiate with Mutrân a sort of romantic renewal. The Apollo group, created in 1932 by Abu Châa and 'Alï Mahmûd Taha, is halfway between romanticism and symbolism. Finally, the intimate and pessimistic tendency of 'Abd al-Rahman Chukri - in the Light of Dawn, for example - announces a romanticism strongly influenced by the West. This trend continues with many disciples, especially al-Mâzinï and al-Aqqâd.
The political commitment and literary renewal that corresponds to the revolution of 1952 influence the poetic form. We see the birth of the prose poem with the works of Tawfîq al-Bakri and free poetry, like the Syro-Lebanese poets of al-Mahdjâr.
The revolution of July 1952 saw the birth of another resolutely modern poetic movement. Not content with tackling new themes, 'Abd al-Sabûr and Hidjazi seek a more spontaneous form of expression. They break with rhetoric and turn away from classical rhyme. 1967, the year of the Six-Day War, sees what has been called the "generation of rejection". Henceforth poets revolt against fatalism and resignation. This awareness is becoming clearer with Ibrahim Aslân, Yahyâ 'Abdallah, Djamâl Ghïtânï and' Abd al-Halïm Qâsim. It remains valid with three representatives of the new intimist and symbolist generation: Matar, who combines the stripped writing with the dramatic intensity; Dunqûl, poet of rejection and rupture; and Abu Sanâ, who at first romantic, evolved into didacticism and dreams of a world where freedom is synonymous with love.