Alexandre SaroukhanBy Fayza Hassan
Alexandre Saroukhan (1898-1977) was born in the city of Batoum by the Black Sea. He spent his adolescence in Istanbul; after the massacres of the Caucasus, he escaped to Vienna, where he studied drawing. He was lured to Egypt with false promises of a good job.
Arriving in Alexandria in 1924, he survived with the help of the Armenian community and later moved to Cairo in search of employment. He was hired to teach drawing at the Armenian school of arts in Bulaq. During that period, he met Mustafa Amin and El-Tab'i in the atelier of an Armenian friend, the engraver Barbarian. El-Tab'i, then editor-in-chief of Rose El-Youssef, was struck by Saroukhan's talent and eventually hired him.
Al-Kashkoul, Rose El-Youssef's greatest competitor, owed its success to the collaboration of the famous caricaturist Sintes. El-Tab'i reckoned that Saroukhan could become his worthy contender. There was a slight problem at first, however: Saroukhan spoke no Arabic; nor was he acquainted with the ins and outs of Egyptian politics. The editors had to explain to him the message which each caricature was expected to convey. Saroukhan penned in various characters, amended according to instructions, erasing and starting once more from scratch until El-Tab'i was finally satisfied and ready to compose the text and the punch line.
The character of El-Masri Effendi, born on 7 March 1932, was the result of this collective effort, Rose El-Youssef's apt rebuttal of Sintes's Goha, who appeared in Al-Kashkoul.
When Mustafa Amin left Rose El-Youssef, taking El-Tab'i with him, Saroukhan followed and attended to the creation of Akher Sa'a, then Akhbar Al-Yom. He had dreamed of going back to Armenia one day, but the country was by this time under communist rule. He applied for Egyptian nationality, which was granted to him after the 1952 Revolution. By then he was 60. He died in Egypt in 1977.
Years later, commenting on the history of Egyptian caricature, another famous Egyptian caricaturist, Mohieddin El-Labbad, was prompt to acknowledge Saroukhan's Egyptianness : "We can acclaim Saroukhan, an Egyptian after all," he said, "but maybe we, the Egyptian caricaturists, should have celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the Suez War, which allowed us to rid ourselves of the stupid foreigners (khawagat), who took up, in our newspapers and in our minds, more space than they deserved."
Charles Vidal: Cairicature, IFAO, 1997.