11 - 17 November 1999
Issue No. 455
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
A spirit of enchantment
Last month Cairo celebrated 100 years since the publication of Qassem Amin's "The Liberation of Women". Fayza Hassan reviews the book and reflects on the model and its inspiration
A new course of action
The full text of Qassem AminOs concluding chapter of The Liberation of Women.
Classical Poems by Arab Women -- A Bilingual Anthology, Abdullah al-Udhari, London: Saqi Books, London, 1999. pp240
Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea, Dunya Mikhail, Cairo and Leeds: Ishtar Publishing House, 1999. pp123
Tashazi Al-Zaman fil Riwaya Al-Haditha (The Fragmentation of Time in the Modern Novel), Amina Rashid, Cairo: GEBO, 1998. pp194
Mulid! Carnivals of Faith, Photographs by Sherif Sonbol, Text by Tarek Atia, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp96
A regard from afar
Les Couleurs de l'infamie, Albert Cossery, Paris: Editions Joelle Losfeld, 1999. pp132
Two literary journals
*Journal of Arabic Literature, Volume XXX, No. 2, Leiden: Brill, 1999
*Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures, Volume 2, Number 2, Basingtoke: Carfax Publishing Taylor & Francis Ltd, 1999
To the editor
At a glance
By Mahmoud El-Wardani
Magazines*Al-Hadatha Al-Tabi'a fil Thaqafa Al-Misriya (Dependence in Modern Egyptian Culture), Sayed El-Bahrawi, Cairo: Mirette Publications, 1999. pp233
*Fi Wada' Al-Qarn Al-'Ishrin (Farewell to the 20th Century), Ramzi Zaki, Cairo: Al-Mostaqbal Al-Arabi, 1999. pp442
*Al-Yahoud fi Misr Al-Mamloukiya (The Jews in Mameluke Egypt), Mahasen Mohamed El-Waqqar, Cairo: GEBO, 1999. pp471
*Misr wa Riyah Al-'Awlama (Egypt and the Winds of Globalisation), Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, Cairo: Al-Hilal, 1999. pp264
*Taw'am Al-Solta wal Jins (The Twin Issue of Power and Sex), Nawal El-Sa'dawi, Cairo: Dar Al-Mostaqbal Al-'Arabi, 1999. pp257
Books:*Al-Kotob: Wughat Nazar (Books: Viewpoints), monthly magazine, November 1999, Cairo: The Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publication
*Al-Arabi, a monthly magazine, November 1999, Kuwait: Ministry of Information
*Mediterraneans: Voices from Morocco: a quarterly publication, winter 1999
*Ahwal Misriya (Egyptian Chronicles), a quarterly magazine, autumn 1999, Cairo: Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies
*Al-'Osour Al-Jadida (New Eras), monthly magazine, issue no. 1, 1999, Cairo: Dar Sinai
*Al-Hilal, monthly magazine, Oct 1999, Cairo: Al-Hilal Publishing House
*Amkena (Places), an occasional publication, 1999, Cairo: Samizdat
*Adab wa Naqd (Literature and Criticism), Monthly literary magazine, Oct. 1999, Cairo: Progressive National Unionist Party publications
*Nour, Occasional Review of Books, Fall 1999, Cairo: Arab Women's Publishing House
To see other book supplements go to the ARCHIVES index.
Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996
To the editorA different history
Sir- I very much enjoyed reading Fayza Hassan's review of Leila Ahmed's book Border Passage in your Books Supplement of last month. I congratulate Ms Hassan on this excellent review, and I also congratulate her on her wonderful stories in Al-Ahram Weekly, which I very much enjoy.
Upon reading the book, and before reading Ms Hassan's review, I had written a letter to Leila Ahmed which I never sent, and now wonder whether it would be possible to publish it in your esteemed paper as an open letter to the author.
Open letter to Leila Ahmed
Your book Border Passage was given to me as a present by an Egyptian American colleague who lives in Albany, NY.
I read the book with great interest and enthusiasm, and once I finished reading it, I decided, for several reasons, to write you this letter. I was not sure which language should I use in writing the letter: Arabic, which, I think, I master, and in which I can express myself clearly, or English, a language I learned in Egyptian government schools, and which I generally use in my professional capacity as a medical doctor. The reason for my hesitation is that I understood from the first half of your book that you did not really study Arabic at school, and that you spoke English even with your siblings at home. From your book, I also understood that you sometimes read Arabic newspapers, as you mentioned that you did not want people to see them during your bus rides. Again, in the last chapter of your book there is evidence of a reasonable knowledge of classical Arabic.
But before going any further, let me introduce myself. I am a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine; I am exactly your age (you mention that you were born in 1940); I come from a middle-class background; and I was educated entirely in government schools. I give you these details to show how different backgrounds can influence our way of thinking.
I was deeply moved by your book, your sincerity and honesty in expressing emotions, and the way you narrated different stories about yourself, family, friends and relatives. I was also touched by your description of your childhood and your relationship to various members of your household, especially your nanny; and finally, of the dramatic changes that occurred under Nasser.
I do not at all doubt the sincerity of what you wrote concerning your life and that of Egypt during those tumultuous years, but I disagree completely with your view of history and the change in the life of the country.
One reason may be that your background is totally different from that of the vast majority of Egyptians. I lived in a big flat in Doqqi; we used to go to Alexandria for a month every summer. My sisters went to a French school. But none of us spoke English or French at home; all of us enjoyed Arabic music; we all read Egyptian newspapers and magazines; and none of us ever thought of going to Cambridge as undergraduate students. This by no means implies that going to Cambridge is not a good thing; we simply could not afford it.
While as an adolescent you read British and American authors, I and many like me were reading Salama Moussa and Tawfiq El-Hakim, Taha Hussein and El-Mazni. Although like you, I did not experience personally the misery and poverty of the majority of Egyptians, I still feel that an Egyptian who could not read the language, did not speak it at home, and did not listen to or enjoy the national music cannot give a fair account of what happened in Egypt in this period.
I am sure that you have read a lot about the modern history of Egypt, but in the first pages of your book, where you discuss political movements before the Revolution, you mention only the Muslim Brotherhood, completely ignoring the very influential leftist movement, which had a strong influence on intellectuals, and the fact that Egypt had its own brand of Fascist organisations (Misr Al-Fata). I know that your book is not a history text, but neglecting these two movements does not give the right image of the political turmoil prevailing at the time.
One incident you wrote about at length is your painful struggle to obtain a passport and visa in the 1960s. You give the impression that this was personal punishment due to your family background. You fail to mention, however, that this was the general rule; except for a very few privileged people, all Egyptians encountered great difficulties in traveling outside the country. You were fortunate enough to get a passport and an exit visa with the help of an influential relative; most Egyptians who would have liked to travel for one reason or another were not as fortunate.
You also write about your father, of how he was forced to retire and silenced in the press. But your father was not jailed. Hundreds were, simply because they expressed their point of view loudly. I am sure that your father was a great engineer, with vast experience of the Nile and irrigation, and I know that all irrigation engineers in Egypt have an excellent education and wide-ranging experience. But when it comes to the High Dam, even the most experienced engineers express conflicting views. All the points you mentioned against the project are valid, yet recent history (the past 40 years) has shown that the Dam saved Egypt from a series of very low Nile floods, which would have been disastrous given current population figures. Whatever the final verdict, we must, I think, wait for at least another century before we can pass a final judgement of any project the size of the High Dam.
I was also astonished that you learned of the Dinshway incident quite late. We learned about it as children, having read about it in newspapers and in our schoolbooks.
Now let me be frank. Your father was elected to parliament as a representative of the Saadi party. I imagine that this was between 1945 and 1950 -- the only parliament in the history of modern Egypt to complete its term (my maternal uncle was also elected for the same period, representing the Saadi party). You do not mention, however, that the Saadi party, and many others, enjoyed no political support from the people. In 1945, moreover, the king rigged the elections to give the Saadis a majority, as they were his great supporters. The Wafd, which was a truly popular party, obtained a majority only briefly in a period of 26 years. As your father said at home, the king was corrupt; but your father represented the party that supported the king.
Other important points are mentioned in your book: first, the European communities that gave Egypt a cosmopolitan atmosphere and were forced to leave between 1956 and 1961. I would have loved Alexandria to be a great cosmopolitan city and the European communities still happy and prosperous. All these communities, apart from the Greeks and a few Italians, however, lived isolated lives, speaking their languages and mixing only with the Egyptian upper class. Most of them were rich; when the socialist laws were implemented and their Egyptian friends lost power, they had to leave. This was a sad but inevitable result of changes in Egypt and the whole region.
You are completely right in your statement that there was no negative attitude in Egypt towards Zionism for a long time during the 20th century. However, from the mid-'30s on, public opinion steadily became aware of the Zionist movement and the threat it posed to regional stability.
As far as Egyptian intellectuals and writers are concerned: Lutfi El-Sayed's participation in the opening of the Hebrew University was a very logical step at the time. He was participating in the creation of a new academic institution. Nobody thought of what would happen afterwards. You speak of four individuals who supported Zionism. First, Saad Zaghlul: he died in the '20s, before any clear picture of Zionism had emerged, and his impressions were formed by the fact that one of his close supporters was a wealthy Egyptian Jew. Taha Hussein was a liberal thinker; at the time, he belonged to the liberal democratic party. He opened his publication to all points of view, including some Zionist writers. Soon, however, he joined the Wafd and backed its clear stand against Zionism. I do not know of anything Tawfiq El-Hakim said or wrote in support of Zionism. Finally, Naguib Mahfouz never supported Zionism; he backed the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and advocated a just and peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli struggle.
Finally, I believe that classical Arabic has changed and is changing. If you read newspaper articles or Arabic novels written since the '60s and '70s, you will find a simpler and less flowery language.
Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to enjoy your book and its fascinating description of your life and family.
Wish they were
Sir - This is definitely not an advertisement for the Folio Society in London! But I have just bought 12 beautifully bound books from them: Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (8 vols), Julius Caesar (Christian Meier), Hannibal (Erule Bradford), Nero (Michael Grant) and Procopius's Secret History and I cannot help wishing that we had just one publisher in Egypt who could do the same and produce well-known Arabic works in beautifully bound books using superior paper.
Is this too much to ask for? Must we forever face paperbacks with ghastly, unimaginative covers? To take just one example, isn't Mohamed Hassanein Heikal's The Suez Files worth a beautiful hardback cover? Perhaps other Egyptian book lovers can join me in encouraging this trend.
Mamdouh El Dakhakhni,