Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
8 - 14 July 1999
Issue No. 437
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Books Monthly supplement Antara

July was always a month rich in revolution. Two recent books shed new light on key actors in the making of modern Egypt

The missing bust
Awraq Youssef Seddiq (The Papers of Youssef Seddiq), ed. Abdel-Azim Ramadan, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp308

The limits of allegiance
Shahadati lil-Ajyal (My Testimony to the Coming Generations), Helmi El-Said, Cairo: Dar Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi, 1999. pp271

Playing the British at their own game
Fayed -- The Unauthorised Biography, Tom Bower. Macmillan, 1998. pp496

Discrepancies of doctrine
Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity, Otto F A Meinardus, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp344 + 24 b/w photographs

From Ottomans to Officers
The Cambridge History of Egypt (2 vols.), volume 2, Modern Egypt from 1517 to the End of the Twentieth Century, ed. M W Daly, Cambridge University Press, 1998. pp464

Functionalising religion
Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics and Religious Transformation in Egypt, Gregory Starrett, Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1998. pp308

Recovered memories
Zaman al-nisaa wal zhakira al-badila (Women's Time and Alternative Memory), eds. Hoda El-Sadda, Somaya Ramadan and Omayma Abu Bakr, Cairo: Dar Al-Kutub, 1998. pp382

The illusion of the journey
Travellers in Egypt, eds. Paul Starkey and Janet Starkey, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 1998. pp318

Soon to appear, Stokely Carmichael's memoirs are themselves a part of history. Al-Ahram Weekly previews the manuscript and talks to the co-author
Rendezvous with history
Michael Thelwell helped Stokely Carmichael write his death-bed memoirs. Visiting Cairo recently, Gamal Nkrumah sounded him out on the political legacy of the Black Power movement
At a glance:

* Tahawulat A'isha (A'isha's Transformations), Abdel-Wahab El-Bayyati, Beirut: Dar Al-Kunouz Al-Adabiya

* Qissas Bihagm Rahat Al-Yadd (Stories the Size of the Palm of the Hand), Yasunari Kawabata, tr. Kamel Youssef Hussein, Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat

* Al-Wusoul illa'l-Bidaya fi'l-Fann wa fi'l-Haya (Arriving at the Beginning in Art and Life), Adli Rizkallah, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation

* Al-Mantiq Al-Ishraqi 'ind Shihabeddin Al-Sahrawardi (The Illumination of Logic in Shihabeddin Al-Sahrawardi), Mahmoud Mohamed Ali, Cairo: Dar Misr Al-Arabiya

* Al-Kutub: Wugahit Nazar (Books: Viewpoints), a monthly review, Cairo: Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publications

Al-Hilal, a monthly magazine, Cairo: Dar Al-Hilal, July 1999

* Ibdaa' (Creativity), a monthly magazine, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, June 1999

* Adab wa Naqd (Literature and Criticism), a monthly magazine, Cairo: Progressive Nationalist Unionist Party Publication, June 1999




Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996

The illusion of the journey

Reviewed by Denis Johnson-Davies


Travellers in Egypt, eds. Paul Starkey and Janet Starkey, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 1998. pp318

Travellers in Egypt consists of 28 essays presented at a conference held at Durham University in 1995. The very first essay sets the scene for the rest, dealing as it does with "The Representation of the Host Culture". In it, Hussein M. Fahim points out that travellers/tourists to Egypt come to see the two contrasting cultures that co-exist side by side. The ancient Egyptian civilisation was regarded as extraordinary and magnificent, while the modern way of life was thought to be medieval and backward. In his short essay he quotes the words of the anthropologist Claude-Levi Strauss: "I can understand the mad passion for travel books and their deceptiveness. They create the illusion of something which no longer exists but still should exist."

This is a fact of life. However, the writer seems to be upset that today's travel agencies promote tourism to Egypt very much along the same lines that dominated the writing of nineteenth-century European travellers. He views the practice as "alarmingly counter-productive" in relation to the country's aspirations and efforts to present itself, both to its own people and to the outside world, as an integrated culture, rather than a polarised society with potentially serious social and political prboems. The sad truth is that tourism to Egypt -- indeed to anywhere -- must seek to satisfy people's illusions. One sells what people want, be it the wonders of Luxor or changing the guard at Buckingham Palace.

Under the heading "Early Travellers", Rosemarie Said Zahlan has written a fascinating essay about a colourful character called George Baldwin. Born in 1743 the son of a London hop merchant, he sailed to Cyprus at the age of 17 and later set up in Acre as a silk merchant. In 1775 he went to Egypt where he was immediately struck by the great commercial and strategic potential of the country. The only English merchant residing in Cairo, he received no support from his own government and was in continual conflict with his French rivals, who, between Cairo, Alexandria and Rosetta, numbered a total of 61 at that time. Eventually he succeeded in persuading the British government to change its attitude towards Egypt and thus came to be appointed as Britain's first consul-general. Baldwin eventually left Egypt a sick and disillusioned man, having failed to achieve the financial success that his adventurous spirit and unique insight should have brought him.

There follow accounts of visits by several early Egyptologists, including that larger-than-life character Belzoni, who switched from being a circus strongman to become one of the pioneers of the new science. The essay on him by Peter Clayton makes for compulsive reading. Belzoni's life was truly the stuff of a novel.

An intersting section of the book is given over to literary figures who visited Egypt, with Mary Orr discussing Flaubert's journey, pointing out that even though his stay was brief, it exercised a very real influence upon his writing.

The book ends with a piece by Paul Starkey, one of the editors, about "Egyptian Travellers in Europe", rightly giving pride of place to Rifa'a al-Tahtawi's book Takhlis al-Ibriz ila talkhis Bariz, in which he recounts some of his experiences during his five-year stay in Paris from 1826.

While some of the names of the writers were known to me already, it would have been useful to have had more information about all those contributing to this book.

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