Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
14 - 20 September 2000
Issue No. 499
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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


Valley of the Golden Mummies, Zahi Hawas, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2000. pp224

Golden masks
and chest plates

On 25 September the AUC press will host a book and author festival at the Mubarak Library. The highlight of their recent publications includes Zahi Hawas's Valley of the Golden Mummies. This glossy volume is published by arrangement with Harry N Abrams, Inc., New York and printed and bound in Japan. In this book Hawas, director of the Giza Pyramids, shares his experiences in excavating the valley of the golden mummies, an oasis 230 miles southwest of Cairo. These mummies -- perhaps as many as 10,000 in all -- date back to the first and second centuries. Unlike many other ancient Egyptian grave sites excavated, these are not mummies of members of the royal family but rather of wealthy individuals who were perhaps merchants of the oasis. The graves were discovered in pristine condition indicating they were not subjected to the looting of grave robbers as most ancient Egyptian burial sites were. The elaborate golden masks and chest plates, bas reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions survive almost intact. The site thus offers a unique opportunity for Egyptologists to study various aspects of social, political and religious life in ancient Egypt. Since the excavation site remains closed to the public -- only five mummies excavated are currently on display at the Bahariya museum -- this book is for the time being our only peep-hole into the magnificent site.

The first part of Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour's trilogy on the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain some 500 years ago, Granada (1994), has just been translated into Spanish and published by the Universidad de Catilla-La Mancho Press. The novel depicts the plight and flight of Spain's Arab inhabitants in the face of the Spanish Catholic Reconquest. This translation of Granada by Mar’a Luz Comendador offers Spanish readers an alternative -- Arab -- reading of those tumultuous events and a rewriting of the history of Spain's Muslims and Jews. On writing the trilogy Radwa Ashour says:

"I wanted to write about people who would look and sound familiar to the reader...All the historical accounts talk of Andalusia as a civilization of the senses but without mind, without intellect. How could that be? Clearly something was wrong in that presentation. And the tragedy of that terrible moment, 1492.... No one had written about how people's lives must have been devastated by the defeat. And I suppose I was drawn to this period because I, too, know what it means to be defeated, to lose hope. It was my generation in Egypt, after all, that came of age in 1967."

Al-Islam wa Usul Al-Hukm(Islam and Governance), Ali Abdel-Razeq, Cairo: Kitab Al-Hilal, 2000. pp178

First published in 1925, this book remains extremely controversial as it raises a wide range of religious, political and intellectual issues. Al-Islam wa Usul Al-Hukm was written by a young judge who graduated from Al-Azhar and went on to study at Oxford University. Ali Abdel-Razeq was also a member of one of Egypt's best-known families and brother to the thinker Mustafa Abdel-Razeq. His relatively short book on Islam and government was written in the political context following the dissolution of the Ottoman Islamic Caliphate, which had previously ruled the Arab World spiritually as well as politically, at the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk following the First World War and revolution in Turkey. The British occupying power sought an alternative that it could use to manipulate the Muslim world and hoped to persuade Egypt's King Fouad to take on the title of Caliph, arranging a conference in Cairo to discuss the possibility. In the midst of these preparations Abdel-Razeq published his book, which sought to show that the Holy Qur'an and the Sunna had not laid down the specific form that a Muslim government should take, arguing that in fact the choice of government and of political system had been left to the Muslims themselves and denouncing attempts to turn a political authority into a religious symbol.

Such was the book's fame at the time of its initial publication that King Fouad had Al-Azhar's High Council of ulama dismiss the young scholar from his job, stripping him of his degrees. Abdel-Razeq remained isolated for another 25 years, yet his book lives on while people have forgotten King Fouad, the British, and Al-Azhar's High Council of ulama.

 Rashid Reda wa Al-'Awda ila Manhag Al-Salaf, Sayed Youssef, Cairo: Mirette, 2000. pp160

The life of Sheikh Rashid Reda (1865 -1935) represents an important stage in the history of Islamic thought. Originally an immigrant to Egypt, Reda accompanied Imam Mohamed Abdu in the latter's attempts to reform and to rejuvenate Islamic thought, gradually gaining in independence after Abdu's death and returning to the Salafi textual tradition on which he had been brought up in Syria. Reda rose to prominence among conservatives who opposed reform, and he was one of the most zealous in his accusations of apostacy and atheism directed at opponents. Reda's position concerning the end of the Caliphate and of the Ottoman empire following the First World War was a reactionary one, and he played a key role in calls to convene a conference in Cairo to establish King Fouad as Caliph of all Muslims. The book's author, Sayed Youssef, is a leftist researcher who has devoted much of his previous work to the study of Islamist political movements.

 Al-Arab min Al-Hadatha ila Al-Awlama(Arabs from modernity to globalisation), Saleh Al-Senoussi, Cairo: Dar Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi, 2000. pp232

"The Arabs and Modernity" and "The Arabs and Globalisation" are the two main themes around which the author has tried to group the main concerns of the Arab World in the 21st century. Saleh Al-Senoussi, is professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science in Libya, receiving his masters degree and Ph.D in France. In his book he deals with the problems of modernisation as these have been perceived since the beginnings of the Arab nahda (renaissance) in the 20th century, and he emphasises that this movement came as a reaction to and rejection of Western concepts of modernisation. He deals at length with issues that have long preoccupied Arab political thought, such as the shock of globalisation, the political dimensions of this for the Arabs, the globalisation of culture and American perspectives on Arab culture.

 Quwat Al-Haqa'iq Al-Basita(The power of simple facts), Ezzat Amer, Cairo: Hay'at Qusur Al-Thaqafa, Aswat Adabiya Series, 2000. pp282

Ezzat Amer's experience with writing prose poetry goes back to the mid-sixties, when he was one of the first and most original practitioners of this then revolutionary form. This, his latest collection, includes poems written during the sixties and seventies, notably Madkhal ila Al-Hada'iq Al-Taghuriya (1), published in 1968, as well as poems which are published here for the first time, namely Quwat Al-Haqa'iq Al-Basita and Madkhal ila Al-Hada'iq Al-Taghuriya (2). The importance of these poems goes back to the poet's experience and his innovative poetic diction and register.

Magazines and Periodicals

Al-Kotob: Wughat Nazar[Books: Viewpoints], a Monthly Magazine, Sept. 2000, Cairo: The Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publication

Unlike previous issues, this month's has no overriding theme around which articles are arranged. It is also one of the few to which the magazine's most prominent columnist, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, has not contributed. It opens with an article by Sadeq Jalal Al-Azm concerning changes in Syrian diplomacy since the death of late President al-Assad and the rise to the presidency of his son Bashar. Later, there is an important piece by Galal Amin on "Arab Music and the Cultural Threat Posed by Israel," an essay by Abdel-Wahab El-Messiri on the French philosophy of Deconstruction and a piece by Magdi Youssef on the late Egyptian painter Sabry Ragheb. David Blanks writes on "Pre-Orientalism," John Banville writes on Nietzsche and Sabri Hafez writes from the Avignon Theatre Festival in France. The issue also includes the text of a previously unpublished play by Tewfiq El-Hakim, Rusasa fi Qalbayn [A Bullet in Two Hearts], recently rediscovered by Ibrahim Abdel-Aziz.

Ahwal Misriya[Egyptian Chronicles], a Quarterly Magazine, Summer 2000, Cairo: Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies

This issue's central theme is that of "Education in Egypt," introduced by Magdi Sobhi's essay on the question "Is National Education a Failing Project?" Further on in the issue, Amani Saleh writes on "Education and the Human Being: A Personal Experience," while Mohamed Abdel-Rahman writes on computer education in schools and Said Okasha conducts an interview with Farag El-Antari on education and music. Abeer Mohamed Yassin investigates the possible future of education, with Mohamed Salaheddin Sabet writing on the sometimes controversial issue of private tutoring. However the volume's main pieces are by Abdel-Wahab Bakr, who writes on Egyptian society and transgression, and by Mohamed Hassan Ghanem, who writes on students' psychological problems. In the magazine's Arts section, Hani Guwayli reviews recent exhibitions by Ahmed Nawwar, Adli Rizkallah, Farghali Abdel-Hafiz, Rabab Nimr, Salah Enani and Georges Bahgory. The proceedings of a seminar arranged by Sayed Said on the crisis in Egyptian cinema are also included, and directors Mohamed Kamel El-Qalyubi, Ali Badrakhan, Ayman Makram and Farida Erfan, as well as the Chairman of the Syndicate of Cineasts, Youssef Othman, participate in this.

  Ibda' (Creativity), July & August 2000, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization

In common with other publications from the General Egyptian Book Organization, Ibda' has begun to appear very irregularly. Thus the July and August issues of this venerable literary magazine have been published together in one, slim volume. Despite disappointment with regard to its size, the issue does include interesting pieces by Al-Afif Al-Akhdar on "Who is the Arab Intellectual?", by Mourad Wahba on "The Philosopher and the Billionaire," and by Mohsen Khidr on "The Crisis of Arab Culture." As was the case in previous issues, this one also includes poems and short stories, on this occasion by Naim Attia, Shamseddin Moussa, Wahid El-Tawila, Walid Munir and others.

The magazine's Art File is edited by the Tunisian poet Nizar Sha'roun and concerns the Egyptian painter Abdel-Razeq Okasha. Also as part of the file, Nagwa Shalabi contributes an interesting piece on "Arab Miniatures."

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