Letters to the editor
Speaking to the People
With reference to your recent dossier on the legacy of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser (Cairo Review of Books, September 2005), readers may be interested to learn of comments made on Nasser by Farouk Mardam-Bey and Elias Sanbar, two francophone Arab intellectuals, one Syrian and one Palestinian, whose book Ítre arabe (Being Arab) has recently been published in France by publishers Actes sud. Sanbar may also be known to readers of your review as the editor of the monthly journal Revue des études palestiniennes, a leading forum for discussion of Palestinian affairs.
Ítre arabe is described as an attempt to think about what being Arab might mean at the beginning of the 21st century, the authors reviewing 20th-century formulations of Arabism and Arab nationalism in so doing. Of Nasser's programme in Egypt, they comment that "from the technical point of view, what happened on 23 July 1952 in Egypt was only a coup d'Etat. But it was one that opened the way to a profound revolution and to deep-seated social, political and cultural change that affected not only Egypt but the rest of the Arab world as well."
They write positively of Nasser's agricultural, economic and social reforms. Regarding education, for example, they comment that "the democratisation of education confirmed the [regime's] desire to enhance social mobility, one of the most important objectives of which was to improve the position of women. It is a fact that the number of female students in the universities, including in faculties previously reserved almost exclusively to men, grew massively, and that women's access to the labour market also made significant progress in the same period."
Mardam-Bey's considered position is that "Nasser was the only 20th-century Arab leader working in the conditions necessary for real advance. He was the president of Egypt, the state which, as a result of its history, geography and population, is at the centre of the Arab world. He had undeniable personal qualities, such as great courage, a sense of statesmanship, a pragmatic way of working, and above all he had a special relationship with the people, knowing how to speak to them and how to listen to what they said. The conditions of the Cold War probably placed obstacles in his path, but they also offered him opportunities."
Nasser, "beyond his perfect personal honesty," had the merit "of having worked without cease in order to ensure that the Arabs would become the actors of their own history." The "saddest thing about him is that when Nasser died we let the positive things that he did run to ruin, while jealously keeping the rest, from the omnipresence of the secret services, to the cult of personality and the popularist gestures."
It is interesting how close this estimation is to some of the thoughts expressed in your recent supplement.
I enjoyed reading your special issue commemorating 35 years since the death of Nasser (Cairo Review of Books, September 2005). But given that you appear in Egypt -- your newspaper's principal edge as an English-language publication, I may add -- I was surprised and somewhat upset by the absence among the books you review of any recent Arabic, let alone Egyptian publication on Nasser. Such an omission would be relatively excusable if not for the fact that many such books have appeared, especially now as global conditions are prompting a reassessment of the contribution and character of "the last Arab", as Said Aburish called him in the title of his recent book. Which point brings me to the second main gripe I have with an otherwise accomplished issue: absent also from its pages is any coverage of a most interesting debate that erupted in Egypt following Nasser's death -- on which there are many books, let it be admitted, whether old or recent -- concerning his ultimate role in the life of the country, a role whose nature and extent are perhaps more relevant now than ever before. One would have appreciated reviews of books attacking Nasser, for example -- such as those written in the mid-1970s by Tawfik Al-Hakim, Galal Al-Hamamsy, Mostafa Amin and Tharwat Abaza. Equally, one would have liked to see some form of record of the plethora of books that performed the counter attack, as it were, like those written by Mohamed Oudah and Mohamed Hasanin Heikal.
I found Amina Elbendary's review of Tariq al-Bishri's book The National Group: Isolation and Integration (Cairo Review of Books, July issue) to be very informative regarding the present situation in Egypt and particularly the relationship between what in the jargon of the 1919 Revolution was referred to as "the two elements of the Egyptian Nation". And yet I was ultimately dismayed to discover, as the reviewer says, that al-Bishri, "uapologitic about Muslim supremacy... places the responsibility for integration squarely on the shoulders of Christians". And it is in this sense that, duly congratulating Elbendary on a tightly structured and competently written article, I would like to join her in reiterating the notion -- evident throughout her text -- that it will always take two to tango..
I am a PhD candidate at Columbia University working on contemporary Egyptian literature, visual arts and popular culture. I am writing to you regarding the possibility of submitting book reviews to the Cairo Review of Books. Please let me know more about how the process works and if you accept proposals for reviews. I would very much like to review Modern Egyptian Art 1910- 2003 by Liliane Karnouk, which was published recently by AUC Press. I look forward to hearing from you and good luck.
Is it possible to subscribe to just the hard copy of The Cairo Review of Books ? I would love to be able to have copies at my bookstore for customers to read, browse and maybe buy. Let them, at the least, read a different perspective. Also, would it be possible to purchase a few back issues?
Thank you, and good luck with your work.
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Could you please connect me with your subscription section for information on prices and terms? I would very much like to subscribe to your Cairo Review of Books as I find it very informative.
All the best and good luck.
University of Stockholm
The Cairo Review of Books welcomes potential review contributors to its pages; please contact the editor regarding specific proposals or e-mail reviews which will be assessed and responded to in due course. For subscription details please refer to page 2 of the print copy or to the relevant link on the Al-Ahram Weekly Internet site. Many thanks for your interest and encouragement.