Lucette Lagna­dos most recent book, The Arro­gant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brook­lyn, is now avail­able. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture for her mem­oir The Man in the White Shark­skin Suit: A Jew­ish Family’s Exo­dus from Old Cairo to the New World. She will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.

I couldn’t seem to escape Egypt this year – though I nev­er set foot out­side New York.

For months, I worked fiendish­ly to fin­ish The Arro­gant Years, my mem­oir which takes place in Cairo and New York. But when­ev­er I’d put the book aside, I would fol­low news of the revolt unfold­ing on Tahrir Square. The rev­o­lu­tion was addic­tive – I couldn’t seem to get enough of it. I found myself con­stant­ly click­ing on online news of Cairo, or tun­ing in to CNN. It was all so exciting.

And ter­ri­fy­ing. Even as I wit­nessed the eupho­ria, I felt a strange sense of alien­ation – I couldn’t feel much joy or pas­sion, couldn’t quite cheer the pro­tes­tors as the entire rest of the world seemed to be doing.

As I not­ed in an essay for The Wall Street Jour­nal this week­end, I have been feel­ing uneasy since the start of the upris­ings. Yes, I sup­port­ed calls for democ­ra­cy and believed that strong­man Hos­ni Mubarak had far out­stayed his wel­come. I sim­ply thought that view­ing him as the cause of all of Egypt’s woes – even as the mil­i­tary that had ruled the coun­try with an iron hand for 60 years was being embraced as sav­iors – was bizarre and misguided.

Nine months after the protests began, Mubarak is gone, on tri­al, and pos­si­bly on his way to being exe­cut­ed — but Egypt seems no clos­er to democ­ra­cy. Worse still, it has descend­ed into a kind of law­less­ness, marked by occa­sion­al real­ly scary inci­dents – attacks on Cop­tic Chris­tians, the bru­tal sex­u­al assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan, and, most recent­ly, the storm­ing of the Israel Embassy in Cairo, which forced the depar­ture of the Ambas­sador and his staff.

All of this has made me ter­ri­bly sad – and brought back some awful mem­o­ries to boot. Some­how I have found myself trans­port­ed to an Egypt I didn’t real­ly know, when I wasn’t even born — the Egypt of that first rev­o­lu­tion of 1952, when King Farouk was over­thrown, the mil­i­tary took over, and the world as my Egypt­ian-Jew­ish par­ents knew it turned mean and fierce. There was a cer­tain wild­ness, ter­ror to the peri­od, I was always told. Egypt’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, once com­prised of 80,000 Jews or more, left in droves until there were only a few Jew­ish fam­i­lies, includ­ing mine, try­ing to hang on.

We left in 1963 and set­tled in New York. My par­ents spoke lov­ing­ly of the Egyp­tians they had left behind, with one excep­tion – the dic­ta­tor Gamal Abdel Nass­er who was charis­mat­ic, arro­gant and bom­bas­tic, and gal­va­nized the pub­lic with a rhetoric of hate. The expe­ri­ence taught my fam­i­ly – taught all of Egypt­ian Jew­ry, I think – to be watch­ful and wary of rev­o­lu­tions and all they promise.

Hence my lack of excite­ment at a time every­one – even my moth­er-in-law – seemed to be cheer­ing Mubarak’s ouster and the events in Tahrir Square and the promise of it all.

It is rather stun­ning to me how inef­fec­tu­al the Egyp­tians have proven to be at nation-build­ing. They were ter­rif­ic pro­test­ers, the world was riv­et­ed by the dai­ly protests and every­one raved about the Google guy” and the Face­book rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.” Yet none of these orig­i­nal lead­ers with their lofty promis­es of democ­ra­cy and their slick use of the Inter­net has emerged to date to take the coun­try to the next phase. Instead, the ones to watch have been the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, who seem deter­mined – despite their mod­er­ate pati­na – to take Egypt in a dif­fer­ent and fright­en­ing direction.

This past year I could always find com­fort in my book, and the very dif­fer­ent Cairo I was con­jur­ing up – my mother’s Cairo, the Cairo of the 1920s and 1930s, when there was gen­uine polit­i­cal debate and a tol­er­ant soci­ety. Egypt was ruled by a monarch, yes, and yet to my mind, look­ing back, King Fouad seems so much more benign some­how than those mil­i­tary guys who came to pow­er in 1952. The Cairo of my book is par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing because of the love­ly sta­tus Jews enjoyed – in the same peri­od that they faced per­se­cu­tion in Europe, they were ris­ing to the top of this Arab society.

There were even Jew­ish Pashas, the most pres­ti­gious social title that an Egypt­ian could enjoy.

It seems to have been such a promis­ing soci­ety, tru­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al, where Jews and Moslems and Chris­tians seemed to co-exist with a con­sid­er­able degree of har­mo­ny. What I find myself won­der­ing is why the Egyp­tians, as they cast about for a mod­el of nation-build­ing – Turkey, Iran, Hamas – don’t sim­ply look back to this hal­cy­on peri­od of their own history?

Lucette Lagna­do will be blog­ging here all week.