Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
10 - 16 August 2000
Issue No. 494
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BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

At a glance

A shorthand guide to the month compiled by Mahmoud El-Wardani


Hayat Al-Sheikh Mohamed Ayyad Al-Tantawi (The Life of Sheikh Mohamed Ayyad Al-Tantawi), trans. Kulthoum Ouda, Cairo: Organisation for Cultural Palaces, Memory of Writing Series, 2000. pp 179

In the 1830s, an Azharite scholar sailed to Russia to work as an Arabic teacher. A few years later he acquired a high-ranking position at a Russian university, spending 15 years there as a professor teaching, helping students with their theses and conducting his own research. In the biography by the well-known Russian Orientalist Ignatius Grachoveski, the life and work of this man, Mohamed Ayyad Al-Tantawi, whose sepulchral monument among the graves of St Petersburg still features an inscription in Arabic, is illuminated from every imaginable angle, making this book an invaluable read.

Warda, Son'allah Ibrahim, Cairo: Dar Al-Mostaqbal Al-Arabi, 2000. pp 415

Warda, the Egyptian novelist Son'allah Ibrahim's seventh novel, signals a new direction in his novelistic world, not only in terms of artistic and structural approach but also because in this novel Ibrahim renders the kinds of experience that largely disappeared some three decades ago. In this novel Ibrahim journeys to Oman of the early 1960s when the Zufar Liberation Front was at its most influential and at the time of the rise of national liberation movements. In this context, the Zufar Front managed to establish its control over Zufar until Iran, the United States and Britain collaborated in crushing the movement. Warda, in Ibrahim's novel, is the alias used by one of the Zufar revolutionaries. Employing his favourite style -- juxtaposing a fictional narrative with real documents to set the scene for characters and incidents -- Ibrahim follows this drama of liberation and defeat through a reading of Warda's journal. In so doing he drives home his polemical point effectively and forcefully, managing his material with impressive prowess.

Al-Mokhatara fi Safqat Al-Hokouma wa Jama'at Al-Unf (The Risk in the Government's Deal with Violent Groups), Abdel-Rehim Ali, Cairo: Merit Publications, 2000. pp 394

This book tackles a number of questions that have recently presented themselves in the political arena. Is there a historical dimension to the activities of armed groups or of religious fanatics? Has the government had dealings with these groups in order to put a stop to acts of terrorism? Abdel-Rehim Ali reviews the initiatives of religiously oriented political formations that have used violence in recent times and looks in detail at the phase of confrontation between the government and violent groups, roughly from 1972 to the Luxor massacre in the late 1990s. Ali also looks at these groups' "doctrines of violence" since the 1990s, studying a number of documents belonging to the gama'at [groups]. Two of these he publishes in full, which is perhaps the book's greatest contribution to the study of the subject.

 Diwan Al-Intifad (Tremor Poetry), Salem Ben Hemeish, Tangier: Shiraa' Creative Series, 2000. pp93

The Moroccan novelist Salem Ben Hemeish has published a number of novels -- "Mad about Ruling," "The Sign," "Agents of the Mirage," among others -- but up to now there has been little to suggest that he is also a talented poet. In this collection of his poems, Diwan Al-Intifad, however, Ben Hemeish uses his narrative talents and wide-ranging philosophical studies to build prose poems of real distinction. "Poetic writing is either a liberating activity, an act of exploration of the possible," Ben Hemeish writes in his introduction, "or it is not at all. Each poem tells of an overflow, a temptation. It induces vertigo and practices an architecture of chaos, creating, for the poet, a state of conflict with poetry itself. It is the sign of life and is life's lantern."

Magazines and Periodicals

Self Portrait by Bikar, 1932

Al-Kotob: Weghat Nazar, monthly magazine, issue no. 19 August 2000, Cairo:" The Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publication

In this new issue of the by now most eagerly awaited monthly appearing in Egypt, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal leads with an article entitled "A book, a meeting, and a remark." The book is John Lukacs's Five Days in London: May 1940 ; the meeting is one between Heikal and late President Nasser on 9 June 1967; and the remark concerns how great nations can confront defeat.

On the art front, the issue includes a special focus by art critic Subhi El-Sharuni on the Egyptian painter and illustrator Hussein Bikar (b. 1912). Bikar, the recipient of this year's prestigious Mubarak Award for Arts, has been very much in the lime light as most publications in Egypt have been dedicating special sections to pay tribute to a long and distinguished career which began more than six decades ago when he graduated from the School of Fine Arts in 1933.

Al-Hilal, cultural monthly, issue No. 8, August 2000, Cairo: Dar Al-Hilal

The latest number of this prestigious Cairo monthly offers a special file on the recently announced State Awards, contributed to by, amongst others, Sabri Mansour (on artist Bikar), Said Abdel Fattah Ashour (on Raouf Abbas) and Shams El-Haggagi (on Ahmed Mursi). For the issue's greatest surprise, however, credit must go to Ambassador Mamdouh Abdel-Raziq, the nephew of Sheikh Ali Abdel-Raziq, who in his article uncovers the conditions under which Abdel-Raziq's well-known work Al-Islam wa Usoul Al-Hukm [Islam and the Principles of Government] was written. Elsewhere, Abdel-Rahman Shakir warns of "the plight of the Egyptian Left," while a typically humorous Hassan Soliman similarly warns that "If you are in a hurry, look for a real estate agent." For her part, the critic Safinaz Kazim offers "variations" dating back to the period of her earliest writings, while Assem El-Desouqi contributes an article marking the first anniversary of the death of the Egyptian critic Shukri Ayyad.

Arabi, cultural monthly, issue No.501, August 2000, Kuwait: Ministry of Information

The most-recent issue of this well-known Kuwaiti monthly includes, among other things, an article by Ramzi Zaki in which he asks whether oil is still "a weapon in the hands of the Arabs," another by Mohamed El-Sayed Said in which he asks why "we haven't learned the lessons of the Gulf Crisis," as well as an exposition by Qasim Abdou Qasim of the "literature of complaint" written by members of Europe's Jewish communities. Critic Gaber Asfour, in his monthly column, divulges his memories of the Egyptian critical and literary magazine, Fosoul, which he edited for many years. Elsewhere in the issue, Zahida Darwish writes on Taher Ben Jelloun's recent essay-dialogue Racism Explained to My Daughter, which was very well received in the Moroccan author's adopted country of France, as well as elsewhere, while Samir Gharib takes stock of the last pottery biennale in Cairo. In addition to its usual array of short stories and poems, the magazine also includes two opinion polls, one on Kuwaiti oil and the other on political developments in Algeria.

Nizwa, cultural quarterly, issue No.23, Summer 2000, Oman: Oman Institution for Press, News, Publication and Advertising

Old Omani seaports, Edward Said's memoir Out of Place, "the poet's humiliation" and "the philosophy of place" in Sudanese novelist Tayeb Saleh's classic novel Ors El-Zein (El-Zein's Wedding) constitute the briefest of samplings of the topics dealt with in this issue of Nizwa, which also includes a wide variety of literary texts from across the Arab World. Other highlights include an interview with Iraqi musician Nasser Shamma, a translation of Jean Genet's writings on Giacometti, Hanaa Abdel-Fattah on science-fiction theatre and a brief sample from the correspondence between Luis Bunuel and Octavio Paz.

Al-Fan Al-Mo'asir, quarterly, issue No.1, Summer 2000, Cairo: Academy of Arts

"Modernism in the folk arts" and "cultural multiplicity in its many guises" may seem rather portentous and heavy-handed titles, despite the relevance of these subjects to Egyptian and Arab culture. Yet -- to mention but one example -- Hanan Mo'awad's more than adequate translation of the German philosopher Ernst Bloch's essay on "Looking for meaning in a meaningless world" included in the present issue is -- when taken with the profoundly Arabic vitality with which she imbues her endeavour -- sufficient to allay any fears the reader may have had.

Amkina, an occasional book, issue No. 2, Alexandria: Samizdat

Published in Alexandria as a joint project by a number of intellectuals, the second issue of this occasional book dedicated to "the culture of place" resumes its commendable attempt to promote an alternative and liberated culture, publishing a number of pictures alongside its remarkable, hand-picked texts. This issue includes sections on the old Cairo district of Mar Girgis, home to some of the country's oldest churches, the desert and "the necessity of imagination." In the first of these, Alaa Khaled, the magazine's editor, conducts a series of delightful and illuminating interviews with inhabitants of Mar Girgis. The second includes conversations with the writer Sabri Moussa as well as with a resident of Siwa, while the third includes a translation of a remarkable essay by Susan Griffin entitled "The Necessity of Imagination," as well as an interview with artist Hassan Soliman. The issue ends with an interview with Clare Sayigh, an old Alexandrine and Alexandria lover of Levantine origin, who offers her unique view of this great city.

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