Egypt And The Arab Papers And Beans

Egypt And The Arab Papers And Beans

Even a few months ago, a foreign intellectual passing through Cairo and interested in meeting the city’s intellectuals, would have been introduced to people whom the war at one stroke deprived of all meaning to the country. Ten to one, they would have been members of minorities, Copts, Jews or Lebanese, in Egypt for less than a century; or very likely they would have belonged to one of those hybrid groups designated pejoratively in Arab slang as “Bazramites.” Sallow, sunburned or pale, with that weary and ivory-like pallor which is seen in the East, they, or the majority of them, would have spoken an exquisite French (taught by the Jesuit fathers of Faggalah) or a remarkably Oxfordian English (acquired, no doubt, in the black province of Assiout from British governesses). One would have found them up on international politics, readers of Foreign Affairs or Botteghe Oscure, people who had assimilated authors as unlike as Marx, Heidegger and Sterner, and people, by the way, who had read Hallaj and Djabarti, which is something not so common. One would have found among them—if one had visited Egypt in more serene and democratic epochs —a Georges Henein, a Mounir Hafez, a Magdi Wahba, a Loutfallah Soliman or an All El Chalakini.

These denizens of a new St. Petersburg claimed to be capable of something more than the assimilation of new ideas developed elsewhere. During the first years of World War II, for example, Georges Henein, an exceptionally gifted poet and the friend of Andre Breton, launched a newspaper in Arabic, Al Tattauvor, in which communism and surrealism were the dominant tendencies. A surrealist movement at that time brought together all those whom Egypt, rich in refugee intellectuals, considered the best artists and writers to be found there. It is true that, except for those we cited above, plus Cossery, none of the talents which developed in this hot-house atmosphere (where the most inspired wrote revolutionary verses or went to prison with equal zeal) survived the break-up of this circle. The blaze had been superficial. Economic matters, the deadly peace and daily life had doused it with cold water.

Later, a periodical appearing only occasionally, and entitled From the Sands, tried to connect the survivors of the former epoch and certain western philosophers, Jean Grenier, Jean Wahl, Henri Michau, and Ponge for instance. The review published three issues devoted to commemorations, one to Nietzsche, one to Kafka and the third to Kierkegaard. It was then, in the light of political events, that the real flaw which had inspired the editing of the review showed itself: artificiality. Published by a very restricted group, and intended surely for no more than a happy few, these anniversary issues corresponded to no necessity and were addressed to no definite public. As for relevance and topicality: while these writings were provocative in the extreme, after all, they were edited in a foreign...

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