Al-Ahram: A Diwan of contemporary life (646)
Egypt's relations with the rest of the Arab world has in the main been close. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk tests the ties that bound
The warm cultural relations that tied Egypt to the rest of the Arab world throughout Ottoman history were effectively weakened following the British occupation of the country (1882) and Egypt subsequently turning its cultural orientation towards the region north of the Mediterranean, to the countries of the French, the Anglo-Saxons, and other "Franks" as Europeans were termed at the time. While it is true that this orientation began to develop during the first half of the 19th century, after Mohamed Ali began building a modern state out of Egypt, relations with the Arab world were not significantly weakened until 1882. This change was exacerbated when the rest of the Arab world fell under colonial dominion, whether British, French, Italian or Spanish.
Following the growth of independence movements in all regions of the Arab world and particularly in the period between the two world wars, Arab-Egyptian cultural relations began to regain some of their previous well-being. This was particularly so given that the colonial powers were more prepared to accept a rekindling of cultural relations than they were to accept other forms of political and economic relations.
It seems that such talk should be made with a degree of restraint, however, for British colonial policy, for example, was much more tolerant than others towards these kinds of relations. London's government held that cultural cohesion among the countries it controlled allowed it to tighten its grip on them, a view opposite to that of Paris' government, which tightly enforced a Frenchification policy on the countries it controlled, particularly in the furthest western reaches of the Arab world.
Moreover, each country had its own special circumstances. The Frenchification policy that was followed in Algeria and Tunisia was stronger than that enforced in Morocco because this sultanate had held on to a degree of independence and because French rule did not extend to all of its areas. The countryside of the north remained under Spanish rule, which did not hold the same French orientation towards cultural domination. This same policy was also much weaker in the countries France controlled in the Levant, and there was a great difference in this regard between Syria and Lebanon, the latter of which was more strongly effected for historical and religious reasons. In Lebanon were the Maronites, who had been deeply effected by French culture since the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Moreover, most of them followed the Catholic Church with its Latin, French and Italian culture, as opposed to the case in Syria, the birthplace of Arab nationalist thought in contemporary history.
During the second half of the 1930s, Al-Ahram was full of evidence of a returning spirit to cultural relations between Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries, whether Iraq or others. Several previous issues of the Diwan have been dedicated to this topic. These relations reached an unprecedented level when a move was made from bilateral relations to a new stage of collective relations. This development was made evident by several events in the second half of the 1930s, after Egypt signed the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty and the following year signed the Montreaux Agreement and joined the League of Nations. These events were followed by a large degree of liberation in Egypt's foreign relations, which was made apparent on several occasions.
Among these was the Arab Scouts Camp that was held in Syria during the summer of 1938. Delegations from most of the countries of the Arab East attended, from Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It was organised by the Syrian Scouts under the leadership of someone who called himself Ibn Al-Saqr [son of a hawk]. Its programme was published by Al-Ahram and addressed the manner in which its members would travel from Beirut. Their ship would dock and they would travel to the campground by train at a rate of 14 piastres for first class, nine piastres for second class, and six piastres for third class, with a 30 pr cent discount. The camp was fitted with electric lighting and had running water, baths, a hospital, library, restaurants and shops. It was divided into areas allocated to each of its groups. Finally, it had been decided that every night there would be an event "and it is incumbent upon all groups to prepare to take part in these festivities". Egypt participated in the camp with two scout groups -- the university scouts and the Muslim Youth Association scouts.
After approximately two weeks of outings and all forms of scouting activities, the camp came to a close with a number of resolutions that revealed its Arab identity: the unification of scout training and uniforms in Arab countries, the instilling of Arab nationalist spirit in youth, the convention of regular camps every two years and for the next to be in Baghdad or Cairo, joint trips in the name of Arab youth in Arab and Western countries, the guarantee of communications between scout offices through special committees, and, finally, the issue of a scout magazine every three months.
Another such event during spring of that year was the notion that spread of holding an Arab convention to unify educational curricula in the Arab world. This idea was pointed out by Al-Ahram in a news item about a number of "top Egyptian personalities" being determined to hold this convention in Cairo in order to examine the state of education and culture in Arab countries. They were encouraged by the success of the medical convention that was being held at the time in Baghdad, and the idea arose for teaching staff bodies in Egypt to invite their colleagues in other Arab countries to attend such a conference.
Al-Ahram commented by saying, "the idea of holding an eastern convention on education would bring the educational curricula of each country closer to one another and prepare the way for a shared culture between nations whose destiny and capacity have become one. The political events that are taking place in the world today confirm the necessity of such growing closer, so that the nations of the Arab east form a strong unit that can defend its being and its independence."
The Egyptian Ministry of Education adopted the project and wrote to the rest of the eastern Arab governments to inquire about the extent of their desire to participate in the convention. It suggested that the countries were in dire need of such conferences "that are many and varied in European countries in which the foundations of education are based and which have been adopted in many states and kingdoms." Yet it seems that the enthusiasm of the Egyptians was not matched, causing the issue to be delayed until further notice.
Cultural relations between Egypt and other Arab countries were most apparent on the bilateral level. It was previously noted that they had been limited to relations with the Levant and Iraq, but then later revealed, by Al-Ahram, to have included other countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Morocco. This was unknown until recently.
IT IS WELL KNOWN that relations between Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began to improve following the decease of Egypt's King Fouad in 1936. The reign of this king saw a number of crises between the two countries, the most serious of which was the 1926 incident of the mahmal. The most drawn-out of them concerned King Fouad's desire to revive the caliphate and sit upon its throne, an idea ferociously fought against by the Wafd Party as it might have increased the despotism of the palace once its lord sheathed himself in sacred, or nearly so, religious cloaks.
This improvement was made obvious through Al-Ahram and all the other Egyptian newspapers being intent on publishing the statements of Saudi officials that were characterised by a pan-Arab orientation.
In its 9 August 1938 issue, Al-Ahram published an article titled "The statement of the Saudi Kingdom's crown prince -- Prince Saud -- on the issue of Palestine and Arab unity." It opened with this final concern, the prince stating, "we, thank God, have agreed to implement it -- Arab unity -- in practice by establishing an Arab alliance composed of the government of His Majesty, my father, and the governments of Iraq and Yemen. We still hope to widen the scope of this alliance so that the desired unity will be completed through it, God willing."
On 3 November of that same year, in a statement made by King Abdel-Aziz himself, Al-Ahram printed the following: "My advice to the Arabs since the beginning of my reign has been to unite, whether in defence of their shared interests or in activities that raise their status abroad. Unfortunately, however, none of my hopes or wishes have come true until now. Most Arabs are proceeding in the directions they see fit, independent from one another although their aims and goals are one."
During this same period, the degree of diplomatic relations between the two countries was raised to the level of minister plenipotentiary. On 15 December of that year, Abdel-Rahman Azzam Bey (later to become the first secretary-general of the Arab League) submitted his authorisation papers for this post to Prince Faisal, the king's deputy in the Hijaz and the Saudi minister of foreign affairs. According to Al-Ahram, this took place "in a splendid ceremony in which the feelings of friendship that bond the two peoples were manifest and in which expressions of close friendship between the two governments were exchanged."
Al-Ahram was so interested in this event that it printed on the front page of an issue published a week later a photograph of the Egyptian legation staff following the submission of its authorisation papers. Next to Azzam Bey were Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, the first secretary; Seifeddin Khalifa, the medical attaché; Abbas Abed, the archives secretary; Ali Attiya; and Khalil Ibrahim. Al-Ahram 's correspondent in the kingdom, Abdel-Aziz Fathallah, did not forget to get himself into the picture as well.
Commentary was provided by Um Al-Qura newspaper, which wrote, "the exchange of love and the tightening of Islamic bonds are commanded by our noble Islamic religion. These ties grow closer as individuals and Islamic governments exchange benefit and culture. This is in addition to the sacred tie that connects all."
In this new general atmosphere of improved relations between the two countries, Egypt once again played a role in the cultural affairs of the kingdom, although this was practically limited to the Hijaz. This was natural, however, given the traditional relationship between Egyptians and this region of the kingdom, a relationship essentially governed by pilgrimage and trade, bonding the two countries in all ages and under all circumstances. Cultural relations were also geographically limited in terms of employment, essentially being limited to a number of teachers practicing their profession in schools in the Hijaz. Among these schools was the Mission Preparatory School in Holy Mecca. The Saudi government sent a memorandum to the Egyptian legation in Jeddah asking since the teaching curricula in this school greatly resembled Egyptian courses of study with the exception of geography, history and patriotic education, what the value of the school's final diploma was and whether the Egyptian government considered it equivalent to a baccalaureate diploma, allowing its holders to enter the matriculation year without testing. The Saudi memorandum did not forget to point out in this connection that the Hijazi students received their lessons from Egyptian instructors.
It appears that the experience of those teachers was not that desired for a response to the Saudi memorandum, however. At about the same time, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a letter from one of these teachers in which he expressed his opinion of English language education in Hijazi schools. He wrote that these schools "are not a fit environment enabling Hijazi students to straighten out their tongues in correct pronunciation and sound expression of this language, or to be precise in its phonetics, let alone other factors students require to be able to speak any language."
The Egyptian teacher, whose name the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not reveal, added that this produced undesirable results to the point that the teachers themselves had lost many of the factors of correct pronunciation due to a lack of practice with others. "And as a group of citizens from the Hijaz are among those the government of their country has prepared to receive an education from the Egyptian University," he requested that the Ministry of Education include the names of those selected in lists of summer educational missions sent each year to England. In this connection, the teacher recommended that Egyptian teachers with poor English pronunciation be included in these missions as well.
Also among these schools was the Falah School in Jeddah. It differed from the previous school in that the Egyptian government did not send teachers to it but rather took on the costs of the Egyptian teachers who worked there. This is made clear by a news item about the monthly salaries of Abdel-Aziz Fathallah and Hussein Matar, teachers at this school, being raised by LE2. Al-Ahram commented that they "held their positions without being delegated by the Ministry of Education, according to the system followed when an eastern government requests a teacher to work in its schools, a lovely custom the government should be thanked for."
Yet these cultural relations were not limited to dispatching teachers. Rather, they extended to bringing students to receive an education in the Egyptian University, some delegations of whom were brought to study technical arts in particular. This was the case when the Saudi government sent five individuals to learn printing in the Egyptian royal printing press. Some of them learnt coloured and embossed printing, while the others learnt binding and covering of all kinds, machine work, and other activities related to printing.
Among the interesting unknown facts about Egypt's cultural relations with Arab countries is that they also extended to Yemen. In May 1938, the Egyptian minister of health received a letter from his Yemeni counterpart requesting the selection of a skilled Egyptian pharmacologist to cooperate with the Yemeni government in reviving this science and to educate and train Yemeni pharmacists in return for compensation from the Yemeni government. The Egyptian government immediately agreed and sent one of its pharmacologists "to be given a monthly compensation from the Egyptian government during his stay there in addition to the salary and compensation paid to him by the Yemeni government."
That same year, the Egyptian Ministry of Education decided to accept in its schools 15 students from Aden in southern Yemen who were delegated by the Reform Club. A native of Aden residing in Egypt visited the minister of education and informed him that the education system in his country was in many ways incongruous with the teaching approaches used in Egypt. He expressed his hope that the ministry would overlook some requirements in order to facilitate the mission's arrival, a wish the ministry fulfilled.
THE COMPILER OF THE DIWAN has personal experience in working with the history of relations between Egypt and Morocco, for 30 years ago he participated with a Moroccan colleague, Mohamed Muzin of Fez University, in writing a book called The History of Egyptian-Moroccan Relations in the Contemporary Period. Yet we stopped at the declaration of the French protectorate over this sister nation in 1912, as we found nothing that supported the continuation of these relations.
We remained of this conviction until writing this issue of Diwan, when Al-Ahram revealed to me a collection of news items about the resumption of these relations on a cultural level in 1938. Before presenting them, however, it is necessary to point out that the Moroccan sultanate had been divided at that time and that the largest portion of it was under French protectorate while the northern region was under Spanish protectorate and Tangier port and the surrounding area was a free zone.
The first of this news of the resumption of Egyptian- Moroccan relations was that a delegation consisting of eight students from Morocco had arrived to study in various Egyptian institutes. "They have brought with them a letter to the Egyptian minister of education from the High Council of Education in Morocco and they are students from the Free Institute, having being sent by this institute to complete their studies in Egypt."
In a long article, Sayed Qutb affirmed that Egypt, which had stretched its hand out to Palestine, Iraq, and the Hijaz, would not delay in also stretching out its hand to Morocco. He noted that the Egyptians had responded to the request made by the governor and sent from the Al-Khalifa region, and that it had been decided to send a mission of instructors to teach in the Al-Khalifa Institute and to accept a mission of Moroccan students to all the Egyptian schools and colleges.
For the first time, this article made reference to what was known as the House of Morocco. "This is the headquarters of the mission that will be delegated to Egypt, and it has been prepared to accommodate 40 Moroccan students, the symbol of Morocco's tie to Egypt. Yet this house is more than a mere mission headquarters, for it will also include an office for cultural communications between the two countries, as well as a gallery for Moroccan art."
Qutb added that there were many things Egyptians should know about Morocco. "There's is a young nation that is attempting to revive itself after a long slumber, craning its neck towards the Egyptian renaissance, trying to acquire its light. This country grasps every opportunity to be in contact with Egypt and to send a number of its citizens to us from time to time, whenever circumstances allow. The House of Morocco is a tiny kernel of Egypt's relations with Morocco, and in the cultural exchange office those wishing to learn about the conditions of this sister country will be able to expand their knowledge and open the door to communication."
On 16 September 1938, Mohamedin Al-Yamani Al-Nasseri, the head of the Moroccan mission, arrived in Cairo. "He is among the prominent men of science and literature in Morocco and was previously an Islamic judge in Rabat." As usual on such occasions, an Al-Ahram reporter rushed out to meet the man, who had not even yet rested from the discomfort of travel. He was the first journalist to obtain the decree of the Moroccan sultan's deputy in the Al-Khalifa region ordering the establishment of the House of Morocco in Cairo. This decree consisted of seven paragraphs, as outlined below:
"In the sister Kingdom of Egypt, a purely cultural Moroccan institution will be established that will be affiliated to our Al-Khalifa Institute in Morocco and placed under its direct supervision. It will be called the House of Morocco in Egypt."
"This institution will consist of three departments: a department focusing on all cultural and spiritual relations called the Office of Cultural Exchange between Egypt and Morocco, a department for sheltering the students studying in Egyptian institutes, and a department for exhibiting the marvels of our Moroccan industry and arts."
"The director of the House with all of its departments is the same director of the Al-Khalifa Institute in Morocco. He has full authorisation to appoint an assistant director to take his place when absent, as well as all necessary staff required for running this institution in the best manner."
"There will be a special assistant assigned to each of the departments within the House."
"The department of the Moroccan mission's headquarters is charged with preparing everything the individuals of this department need with regard to their studies and living, as well as monitoring their personal and academic behaviour."
"Another special assistant will be assigned to the department of the cultural exchange office, and this assistant's duty will be to undertake the necessary measures to select specialised teachers and commission them to teach in the schools and cultural institutes of the Al-Khalifa region."
"A special assistant will be assigned to the department of Moroccan art exhibitions and will be the contact point between our region, Al-Khalifa, and the Egyptian kingdom with regard to art and industry."
Four days later came news that the Moroccan mission was on its way to Port Said and that it consisted of 40 students, "all of whom are from distinguished families. Among them are children of the ministers of religious endowments and finance in Al-Khalifa region. It was previously determined which colleges two of them will enter -- Idris bin Kairan will enroll in the college of law, and Omar Al-Rifi will study in the college of medicine."
In early October, a committee was formed of the assistant supervisor of high school education, a ministry inspector, and the secretary of the college of religious fundaments. Also participating was the director of the Moroccan mission to orient students towards the fields of study appropriate given their level of preparation. It was decided that the mission administration would establish a special forum for them in which they could spend their free time and meet with their Egyptian colleagues.
On 14 October, the House of Morocco was officially opened in the presence of Mohamed Hussein Heikal, the Egyptian minister of education. He spoke of the advancement of relations between the two countries, and made reference to Egypt's central position among the Arab countries in the East and West, making it a destination for the citizens of all those countries. He focused on the issue of cultural relations, saying, "Our role is the development of a shared culture that we draw from two sources, one being Arab scientific culture that has spread throughout the world, and the other the revivification of our sciences and our civilisation, for we have a shared civilisation that spreads from East to West, and we have a history in culture and science that is worthy of reviving. I fear the West beating us to it."
The opening of the cultural office followed this speech. One of the endearing Moroccan surprises was that the House's director announced that it had been decided to grant the presidency of this office to Ahmed Amin, a professor in the college of arts. He stood up and said a word on the intellectual and cultural wrangling between different nations and peoples and was effusive about academic relations between Egypt and Morocco. This ceremony and all that preceded it was previously an overlooked page in the history of Egypt's Arab relations.