Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Books Monthly supplement Antara

In search of an attribution
WhatOs in a painting? The potential for disaster, for one thing. Nigel Ryan reviews Headlong, a tale of vanity and ambition saved only by a thoroughly modern moral equivocation

Sayyid Qutb: Othe right to revoltO
Sayyid Qutb wa Thawrat Yulyou (Sayyid Qutb and the July Revolution), Helmi el-Namnam, Cairo: Meret for Publication and Information, 1999. pp150

Interpretation and beyond
Fate of A Prisoner and Other Stories, Denys Johnson-Davies, London: Quartet Books, 1999. pp222

Questioning the body, questioning the mind
Nawal al-Saadawi, TaOam Al-Solta wal Jins(The Twins of Power and Sex), Dar al-Mustaqbal al-Arabi, Cairo 1999 , pp258

A political scientist among the historians
The Social Origins of Egyptian Expansionism During the Muhammad 'Ali Period, Fred H Lawson, The American University in Cairo Press, 1999 (first published Columbia University Press, 1992). pp215

Ancient Egyptian windfall
* Egypt, Ancient and Modern by Isabella Brega, trans. C.T.M. Milan. The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp135
* Egyptian Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Pharaonic Times. Lise Manniche with photographs by Werner Forman. The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp160
* Ancient Egypt. David P. Silverman ed., The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp255

Intersection points
Al Jadid, vol. 5, no. 28, 1999, Los Angeles, Al Jadid

Sharing the self
Dikka Khashabiya Tasa Ithnayn Bilkad (A wooden bench barely wide enough for two), Shehata el-Iryan, Cairo: Aswat Adabiya (Literary Voices) General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 1999. pp206
To the editor

At a glance
By Mahmoud El-Wardani

* Al-Hilal, monthly magazine, issue no. 12, December 1999, Cairo: Al-Hilal Publishing House
* Al-Arabi, monthly magazine, issue no. 493, December 1999, Kuwait: Ministry of Information
* Al-Kotob: Wughat Nazar (Books: Viewpoints), monthly magazine, issue no. 11, December 1999, Cairo: The Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publication
* Mirrors, Naguib Mahfouz, translated by Roger Allen, illustrated by Seif Wanli, Cairo: AUC Press, 1999. pp186
* Ibdaa (Creativity), monthly magazine, issue no. 10, November 1999, Cairo: GEBO
* Sotour (Lines), monthly magazine, issue no. 36, November 1999, Cairo: Sotour Publications
* Al-Thaqafa Al-Alamia (OWorld CultureO), Kuwait: The National Council for Culture and Arts
* Adab wa Naqd (Literature and Criticism), monthly literary magazine, issue no. 171, November 1999, Cairo: Progressive National Unionist Party publications
* Qadaya Fikriya (Intellectual Issues), occasional book, issues no. 19 and 20, October 1999
* Al-OOsour Al-Jadida (New Eras), monthly magazine, issue no. 2, 1999, Cairo: Sinai Publishing House
* Nizwa, quarterly magazine, issue no. 20, October 1999, Oman: Omani Corporation for Press, Publishing and Advertising

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

Al Jadid, vol. 5, no. 28, 1999, Los Angeles, Al Jadid

Intersection points

The independent quarterly journal Al Jadid -- soon to celebrate its sixth birthday -- describes itself as "a review and record of Arab culture and arts". Based in Los Angeles, California, Al Jadid's target reader would seem to be primarily Arabs living in North America, as well as in Europe, who have little direct access to the cultural scene in the Arab world. Hence the broad geographical span of the journal's coverage; while Al Jadid gives due attention to such prominent Arab capitals as Cairo and Beirut, it is also attentive to Arab countries, like Sudan, whose cultural output is often overlooked by the media in favour of political reporting.

But Al Jadid's readership has not, so far, dictated a focus on the Arab-American experience, although features and reviews occasionally speak to that emergent hyphen. An article in a recent issue of Al Jadid, for example, addressed the question of what constitutes Arab-American literature. Likewise, the current issue of Al Jadid contains a review of the latest issue of the US-based journal Jusoor, dedicated to Arab-American writers, as well as an interview by Kate Seelye with Ziad Doueiri about his directorial debut West Beirut. In response to a comment that the film "feels very geared towards a Western audience," the LA-based Lebanese filmmaker says quite candidly that he wanted "to make a movie that would work in the US", that would "help [American audiences] see that not all Lebanese are terrorists" and that "while writing the script [he] kept 3x5 cards that read "Remember America".

The concern about censorship, seen in a previous issue of Al Jadid in the report on the controversy surrounding the banning of Mohamed Shukri's For Bread Alone, is witnessed in the current issue's extensive coverage of the case of Lebanese singer and composer Marcel Khalife. It was in October that "Beirut's newly appointed Chief Investigating Magistrate, Abdel-Rahman Chehab" filed charges against Khalife for allegedly blaspheming against Islam. The charges centred on a verse containing a Quranic allusion -- "Of eleven planets I dreamt, and of the sun and the moon all kneeling before me." The words occur in a Mahmoud Darwish poem, "Oh My Father I Am Youssef", which Khalife has set to music, according to the overview on the subject by Al Jadid editor Elie Chalala. Al Jadid's reporting on the range of reactions to the case is supplemented by a number of statements in defense of Khalife and freedom of expression, written by Adonis, Abdo Wazen, Shawqi Bzay and Sahar Baasiri, as well as by an English translation of the Mahmoud Darwish poem.

The current issue of Al Jadid also includes a review of the defamatory attack on Edward Said's memoir Out of Place, launched last September by Justus Reid Weiner in the New York magazine Commentary. In its report on the controversy, Al Jadid questions Weiner's own claims, such as his allegation that Said had written the memoir in order to pre-empt "the impending unmasking Weiner was researching and planning", and his affiliation with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, "the leading benefactor [of which] is 'junk-bond king' Michael Milken, convicted in 1991 in a massive insider trading scandal". This issue of Al Jadid also includes an English translation of an interview with Edward Said by Syrian poet Nouri Jarah. In response to a question about how Said feels about his "best Arab readers [being] intellectuals who belong to the neo-Islamic groups", the Palestinian scholar says that he is concerned about the misinterpretation of his opinions, and reiterates that his position is a secular one and that he disagrees "with these movements' methods, means, analyses, values and visions". On the question of Orientalism's influence on the Arab world, Said regrets the reductionist reading whereby the term is equated with an insult, without adequate attempts being made to develop "analytical thought based on [the] ideas" in the work. Thus "Orientalism" was read more profoundly in other places than in the Arab world." Said contrasts this state of affairs against the prominence and vitality of Indian post-colonial discourse, as seen in the Subaltern Studies group, which, influenced by Orientalism, has in turn come to exert a strong influence on the US academy.

In a celebratory, if somewhat confused, piece, Dunya Mikhail takes the recent publication in Beirut of Mahmoud Said's Bin Baraka Alley (second edition) as a starting point to take stock of the two-decade long banning of the novel and of its adulatory critical reception. One irony brought out in the article is that, despite the fact that Bin Baraka Alley won an Iraqi Best Novel of the year in 1993, the year of its first publication in Jordan, it was not distributed in Iraq. The novel, which was written in the wake of Said's three-year sojourn in Morocco and is set in various Moroccan cities, incurred the displeasure of Arab regimes by its breaching of taboos related to sex, politics and religion, according to the novelist's own account. Related issues of political outspokenness and artistic exile are explored by Sondra Hale, UCLA professor of anthropology, who charts the biography and career of Sudanese artist Mohamed Omer Bushara. Born in Omdurman and a self-taught artist who was consequently not taken seriously by leading artists who are graduates of the Khartoum Technical Institute, Bushara nevertheless won a scholarship to the Slade School in London in the mid-1970s. With the Numeiri regime, Bushara was exiled to Saudi Arabia where he was "culturally buried for nearly two decades", before moving in 1999 to Oxford. Hale's article traces the development in Bushara's art from the early Omdurman-inspired vocabulary to the politically anguished "images of soldiers devouring people, of cadavres embracing" of later decades where the sense of waiting bespeaks both his own exile and "the suggestion of a politically immobilized population".

As part of the trend in the Arab world of rediscovering "pioneering" women writers and feminists, the works of the early twentieth century Syro-Lebanese writer Mai Ziada have recently been the subject of much critical attention. Only this autumn, the Cairene publishing house Al-Hilal reprinted two Ziada books in one volume, introduced by critic Safinaz Kazem. In a similar gesture, Al Jadid publishes an English translation of the introduction, written by Syro-Lebanese novelist Ghada Samman, to The Unknown Works of Mai Ziada, which Al-Majmaa Al-Thaqafi of Abu Dhabi brought out in 1997. In this trenchant piece, Samman speaks of the two-fold victimization of Mai, first during her lifetime when the many literary figures who flocked to her salon saw her as a mere "intellectual ornament", and after her death by critics who wrote at great length about Mai's love life and her eventual psychological imbalance while overlooking her literary works. To Samman, "doing justice to Mai is essentially doing justice to all women novelists", a task that has so far been hindered by "Arab 'masculine' criticism". Happily, though, Samman feels that a change is in the air and that there are "already some contemporary critics who have broken away from evaluating books as midwives used to describe newborns: male or female".

In addition to obituaries of Egyptian belly dancer Tahiya Carioka and Iraqi poet Abdel-Wahab Bayati, the journal also contains a book review section, as well as a number of Arabic poems in translation.

Reviewed by Hala Halim

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