Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
11 - 17 May 2000
Issue No. 481
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

Sartre in Kamshish

Sir - I read with great interest your coverage and comments on the visit Jean-Paul Sartre made to Egypt in 1967 in your last issue of Books (13-19 April 2000). During the 1960s I was very interested in the philosophy of Sartre. Naturally, when his visit to Egypt was announced I was very excited and decided to attend one of his meetings. I made it to the one which took place in the village of Kamshish, Menufiya.

On our way there, few kilometres from Kamshish, we found that all school children were standing on the sides of the roads waving Egyptian and French flags and were repeating one slogan "Vive Sartre, Vive Simon." The children looked very happy probably because they were sent off schools.

When we arrived to the meeting hall which had belonged to El-Fiki family, we found seats with great difficulty. The hall was packed with farmers. They were shouting all the time with different slogans related to freedom, socialism and Franco-Egyptian friendship. One hour later Sartre, Simon de Beauvoir, Lotfi El-Khuli and several other high ranking officials from the Arab Socialist Union and Al-Ahram came in. At that time there were around two thousand farmers outside the hall who could not find a place inside. They started to force themselves into the overcrowded hall. At that point the police interfered. This terrible scene of disorganisation and police interference was witnessed by all of us including the French guests. It was some time before the police managed to close the door to the hall.

At last, Sartre gave a short speech which was translated into Arabic, and the floor was open for discussion. Several farmers stood up to read questions from pieces of papers they had, asking about the most sophisticated subjects of socialism and existentialism and the books written by Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir. It was very obvious that these farmers had been given the questions to read in correct Arabic. Naturally, Sartre understood that and answered politely but very briefly.

Two hours later, when the meeting was through, I talked to several of the farmers who had "asked" questions to Sartre. Some of them had never heard of the philosopher before.

I left Menufiya frustrated by what had happened and I am sure that this staged performance had a negative influence on Sartre. Unfortunately, similar games are still being played regularly -- though at a smaller scale -- during field visits of Egyptian officials and foreign guests.

Mohamed Aboulghar
Professor of Obstetrics
Cairo University

Philosopher of Egypt

Sir-I read with great interest your review of the memoirs of Abdel-Rahman Badawi Sirat Hayati (Books 13-19 April 2000). I had not been fully aware of the Egyptian contribution to modern philosophy. It would be great if the writings of Badawi were translated into foreign languages so that the whole world could read what modern Egyptian philosophers are producing. Although it is a pity that, as one sensed from your review, Badawi himself is not proud to be an Egyptian.

Youssef Hussein
Faculty of Arts

Argentinian fame

Sir-I discovered your web site through Internet and since my first visit I keep waiting for the following issue. You have enriched my life with a culture I never knew existed. Here in Argentina people think first of all of France when it comes to culture, perhaps even more than Germany or the UK. But now I discovered your paper which is as good as the best. I would like to read Sirat Hiyati by Abdel-Rahman Badawi (Books, 13-19 April). Unfortunately I do not read Arabic.

However, I shall look forward to reading Hassan Aziz Hassan's book in English, as I am interested in the history and architecture of Cairo.

Thank you again for having enriched my life. Many friends from nearby countries are now reading your delightfull newspaper.

Carlos Haigis

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