10 - 16 June 1999
Issue No. 433
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Two Moroccan writers set out from Fez and arrived in Paris. But they took two different paths, and speak two different languages
Le Maroc explained
L'Auberge des pauvres, (The Inn of the Poor), Tahar Ben Jelloun, Auberge des pauvres, 1999. pp294
A summer to be reckoned with
Mithl Seif lan Yatakarar: Mahkiyyat (Like a Summer Never to be Repeated: Narratives), Mohamed Berrada, Casablanca: Dar Al-Fenac, 1999. pp235
Better than more
Al-Tanwir Al-Za'if (False Enlightenment), Galal Amin, Cairo: Iqraa' series, Dar Al-Maaref, February 1999. pp151
The canary sings to himself
Dhalik Al-Janib Al-Akhar (That Other Side), Hassan Soliman, Cairo: General Organisation for Culture Palaces, Aswat Adabiya Series, May 1999. pp195
How very high society
The Egyptian Upper Class Between Revolutions: 1919-1952, Magda Baraka, St Antony's Middle East Monographs Series, Ithaca Press, 1998. pp328
A movable feast
The Cambridge History of Egypt (2 Vols.), Vol.1 , edited by Carl F. Petry, Cambridge University Press, 1998. pp645
Terms of conversion
Islam in Britain: 1558-1685, Nabil Matar, Cambridge University Press. 1998. pp297
The movement of the waters
As he approaches his eighth decade, José Sarney can look back on a varied and distinguished career. He is best known outside his native Brazil as the first president to lead the country following the overthrow of the military junta in 1985. A lawyer by training, his true vocation however is literature. Unlike those politicians who turn to writing late in life as a distraction or a recreation, Sarney has been making stories since his earliest years. With his novel, O Dono do Mar (The Master of the Sea), his fame as an artist seems set to spread beyond Latin America. A best-seller in the original Portuguese, the work has now been translated into Arabic. Injy El-Kashef spoke to the author while he was in Cairo to launch the book, which she reviews here
God is here, and the devil with him
Sayed Al-Bihar (O Dono do Mar, The Master of the Sea), José Sarney, Beirut: Dar Al-Farabi, 1999, pp323
At a glance:
Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996
A movable feastReviewed by Fayza Hassan
The Cambridge History of Egypt aims at presenting a comprehensive overview of Egyptian history through 13 centuries, from the Arab conquest to the end of the 20th century. The two volumes embody a collection of chronologically integrated articles forming a continuous narrative written by various renowned scholars selected from among prominent specialists in each of the periods covered. This ambitious endeavour offers an original and in-depth political, socio-economic and cultural insight into the complex past of the world's oldest state. "[T]he very length of Egyptian history has inevitably led to its compartmentalisation and to the increasing specialisation of scholars interested in it," writes Carl Petry, editor of the first volume. "Essential, underlying continuities have sometimes been obscured, while superficial points of demarcation have sometimes been exaggerated." The work has therefore been conceived as an exhaustive historical survey making use of recent advances in the methodology of historical scholarship, and as a synthesis derived from discrete sources -- "increasingly from fields beyond the traditional bounds of history" -- of Egypt's political and cultural history since the Arab conquest.
Although one can deplore in principle the condensation of so much material in two relatively short tomes, the absence of detailed maps and the restricted number of photographs, an extensive bibliography pointing to primary and secondary international sources, and complemented by conveniently located footnotes, contributes to opening new avenues, making of this work a precious reference tool for students of history and the informed general public.
The introductory chapter of the first volume, "Egypt under Roman Rule, the Legacy of Ancient Egypt" by Robert K. Ritner, associate professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, opens with the death of Cleopatra the Great in 30 BC, "[a] pivotal moment in Egyptian history and indigenous culture," and the addition of Egypt by the "conquering Octavian" to the empire of the Roman people. Analysing the far-reaching consequences of this conquest, Ritner explores the general evolution of Egyptian society during the following 500 years. Revised religious practices and changes in the status of ordinary citizens as recorded in the idios logos , "or imperial private account established by the deified Augustus", are discussed at length, uncovering the administrative mechanisms by which the Romans downgraded Egyptians to second-class citizens. New light is shed on the altered status of the local priests, the enforced changes in the legal system and the attempts to curb the use of the indigenous languages, when contemplated in light of the turbulent events of the period, which, writes the author, were instrumental in preparing the ground for the Arab conquest.
Walter E Kaegi, professor of Byzantine History at the University of Chicago, takes over to describe "Egypt on the Eve of the Muslim Conquest" relying mainly on new papyrological discoveries and informed by "a new understanding of the larger Byzantine context and of late Roman history overall." A tentative chronology of important events during the Muslim conquest concludes this chapter, which is followed by "Egypt as a Province of the Islamic Caliphate", 641-868 by professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of St Andrews Hugh Kennedy. A thorough examination of the reign of the Umayyads, the policies they established, the intense rivalries and open hostilities which marked the end of their rule in Egypt, takes the reader to the summer of 750, when Salih Ibn Ali and the Abbassid troops entered Fustat, ushering in the dawn of a new era which, writes Kennedy, ended with the collapse of the early Islamic system towards the middle of the ninth century.
Recapitulating the century beginning in 868, Thierry Bianquis, professor of Islamic history and civilisation at the Université Lumière-Lyon II, writes in "Autonomous Egypt from Ibn Tulun to Kafur, 868-969," that "[those years] marked a turning point in the history of Arabic Egypt...Until that time, it was essentially passive... dominated and colonised by the Arabs -- as it had been previously under the Aechemenids, Persians, Ptolemies, Romans and Byzantines. During this century, Egypt gradually becomes a centre of power radiating outside its territory..."
Retracing the career of Ibn Killis, a Jewish merchant born in Baghdad and employed in Kafur's private service, Bianquis describes his role in the imminent Fatimid conquest: "Ibn Killis travelled to Fatimid Ifriqiya in September 968, where he espoused Ismailism... and provided vital assistance to technical preparations for the conquest of Egypt," thus setting the scene for the following period, studied by Paul E Walker, a research affiliate of the Middle East Centre at the University of Chicago, under the title "The Ismaili Da'wa and the Fatimid Caliphate". This chapter, which is very useful for the understanding of the events which caused the generally Sunni Egyptians to be ruled by the descendants of Ali and Fatma for over 200 years, from 969 to 1171, discusses at length the Ismaili doctrine and its spread in the Arab world before analysing the reasons and circumstances of the conquest of Egypt by Jawhar, and the reign of the caliph Al-Mu'izz over this long-coveted prize.
"The Fatimid State", by Paula Sanders, associate professor of history at Rice University, Houston, is especially noteworthy for its vivid description of life in Alexandria during the Fatimid period as well as its discerning analysis of the character of Fatimid rule. "As in other regimes of the same era, Jews and Christians sometimes served in highly visible positions at court, and Sunnis, especially in the latter years of the dynasty, often held high positions in the Fatimid administration," she writes. "After the middle of the the eleventh century, even the chief judge of the Fatimid state did not have to be Ismaili. For a time, these non-Ismaili judges were constrained to follow Ismaili law, but by the end of the of the eleventh century there is evidence to suggest that this was no longer the case. And while the Fatimids maintained their...da'wa in other parts of the Islamic world, they do not seem to have emphasized [it] in Egypt. The reason for this remains obscure and constitutes one of the most difficult and unresolved interpretive issues in Fatimid history."
Terry Wilfong, assistant professor of Egyptology in the department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, and Norman A Stillman, Shusterman/Josey professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Oklahoma, respectively address the history of the Christian and Jewish communities in Egypt during the middle ages, while in the following chapter Michael Chamberlain, associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin details the main events of "The Crusader Era and the Ayyubid Dynasty", with a special emphasis on urban politics.
"The Bahri Mamluk Sultanate" is the topic of a long and fascinating study on the origins and evolution of the famous military slave institution, too often perfunctorily addressed in histories of Egypt.
"The regime of the Circassian Mamluks... formed a bridge between Egypt's most brilliant medieval period and the beginning of the sixteenth century, which we, in Europe, see as the beginning of modern times," writes Jean-Claude Garcin, professor at the Centre des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Université de Provence, Aix-Marseille I, in the introduction to a chapter devoted to the last of this caste of medieval rulers. "The formation of a military aristocracy, which soon had no thought but the defence of its privileges... grew up to destroy the system. When the Circassian state collapsed in 1517, what disappeared was a political and military structure in crisis and too burdensome for its resources," he concludes.
The remaining chapters are devoted to a wide variety of themes, but each would require a review of its own to do it full justice. An idea of the topics discussed can be conveyed by a brief list: the monetary history of Egypt; art and architecture in the medieval period; culture and society during the late Middle Ages; historiography of the Ayyubid and Mamluk epochs; Egypt in the world system of the later Middle Ages; military institutions and innovation in the late Mamluk period; and the Ottoman occupation. Each of these sections contains a full, detailed and erudite discussion of the subject at hand. For those seeking an informed yet accessible approach to Egypt's history -- and an unprecedented effort to gather in a single book such a wide variety of specialised studies -- the Cambridge History of Egypt is a must.
Review of Vol. 2 will follow next issue.