Posts Tagged ‘egyptian history’

Fouad Kamel, frontpiece for éd. Horus. c. 1942. Copyright: Marc Kober. Source.  

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Rateb Seddik, Liliane Brook et son orchestre aveugle. Oil on canvas, ca. 1940. Source is an excellent article on Egyptian surrealism.  

“The extensive reach, the culturally superior caliber and the vanguard shock-wave instigated by the multi-disciplinary enfants terribles: Henein and his longtime allies Younan, Kamel El-Telmisany, Fouad Kamel and painter and illustrator Eric de Némès stired paradoxical pride and loss. To them, Surrealism was a mindset, ideology and milestone that not only “dealt a death blow to academism” but also fought authoritarianism, social injustice and growing conservative thinking. By fighting the “superficial and insincere” artistic establishment, Surrealism mandated the dismissal of neo-classical image making at a time when Egyptian fine arts were still in a nascent phase.

To these 20th-century youth of Tahrir, art could no longer exist merely as “for art’s sake” to “decorate walls and palaces,” be at the command of the religious institution or the academy, or confine itself to an era or geographical space. It should be used as a universal weapon of resistance to salvage “a society that is at this moment sick and failing.” The spirit of provocation becomes visible…as the defining experiment that ruptured established perceptions and was literally foreign to most Egyptians – most but certainly not all. The concentration of so much outstanding, progressive, revolutionary and disturbing art, produced by men and women, Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists, Egyptians and foreigners, from diverse social backgrounds, condensed all in one place, immortalize a lost Egypt and longed-for humanity.”

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“The Reformatory,” from  A. B. De Guerville, New Egypt. E.P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1906. p. 162.  Source.  

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“This is not a thesis. Because a thesis should be written not only with sang-froid and all the usual literary precautions, but also requires an accumulation of references and general statistical data to which I am loathe to sacrifice the reaction of disgust and fury that dictates this text to me. On top of which, the former audience for theses, now deserting all prolonged reflection, wallows in the reading of the many copies of “Digests” in circulation and the stories of intrigue, whether sentimental, diplomatic or criminal, that the press, worn-out by all sorts of ignominy, serves it each morning with breakfast.

This is not a thesis and will not be satisfied with being simply a protest. This is ambitious. This needs to provoke men asleep in lies; to give a sense, a target and a lasting impact to the disgust of an hour, the nausea of an instant. The values that presided over our idea of life and which looked after for us, here and there, those small islands of hope and intervals of dignity, are being methodically wrecked by events at which, to make matters worse, we are invited to watch our victory, to salute the eternal destruction of a dragon eternally reborn. But as the scene is repeated are you not struck by the change that is taking place in the features of our heroes? Even when it’s easy for you to see that, with each new tournament, St. George appears unceasingly more and more to look like the dragon? Soon St. George will be nothing more than a hideous variation of the dragon itself. And then, he will be a camouflaged dragon, an expert in making us believe, that – with a strike of his lance – he will strike the Evil Empire down! August 8, 1945, will remain for some an unbearable date. One of greatest dates of infamy established by History. Newspapers pass on with delight the effects of the atomic bomb – this future instrument of polemic – from people to people. Evening radio shows announce the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against the ashes and the ruins of Japan. Two events, probably of unequal scale, but which both participate in the same horror.

Ten years ago, world opinion was trained into a state of excitement to protest against the use of mustard gas, dropped on Ethiopia by fascist aviators. The bombing of the village of Guernica, razed to the ground by German squadrons in Spain, was enough to mobilize – in a world still proud of its freedom – millions of just consciences. When London was in turn mutilated by fascist bombs, we knew on which side of the fires the values to be defended were to be found. Then when Hamburg burned with the same fire as London, we were taught of the beneficial effects of a new bombing technique called “saturation bombing” under cover of which immense urban areas were destined to be inevitably levelled. These perfected practices, these supreme refinements in murder possessed nothing that could enhance the cause of freedom, the family of man. We were more than a few, here, in Great Britain, in America, to believe them as detestable as the diverse forms of torment perfected by the Nazis. One day, it was an entire city “cleaned” by a terror raid; the next day, a railway station, into which thousands of refugees were packed, was, thanks to a scientific supervisor, riddled to death. These inhuman games appear suddenly derisory now that the atomic bomb has entered service and democratic bombers have tested its benefits on the Japanese people! In effect, what does the premeditated assassination of ten thousand, a few hundred thousand Japanese civilians matter? Everyone knows that the Japanese are yellow, and with extra impudence, evil yellow people (the Chinese represent the “kind” yellow people). Did not a character who is far from being a “war criminal” but rather Admiral William Halsey declare: “We are drowning and burning the bestial apes all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them”? These words so exultant and reassuring about the idea that military chiefs would like to do to human dignity, these words were pronounced in front of a news reporter… St. George exaggerates. He is beginning to seem to us as more repugnant than the dragon.


The point to which we have been carried by the latest developments in politics and war means it is indispensable that the legitimacy of a cause be judged, essentially and before anything else, on the means that it puts into action. In aid of causes that still risk calling on the best of man, it is indispensable to establish an inventory of means that are unlikely to obfuscate the stated aim. The recourse to denunciation when faced with a passing need is quickly translated into a bureaucracy of denunciation. In one section of the population, this quickly forms into a habit of denunciation; in another section, a shame of denunciation. Direct the debate towards the ultimate aims for which people are calling, then we will stand up, check the pillars and appearance of the staircase, before double-locking the door and expressing ourselves only in measured terms and according to a suddenly academic type of thinking. The middle-of-the-road has become an institution – and it cuts the life of a nation, the life of each man, in two. And the same is true of other means that were stolen from the enemy to better dominate and destroy it, but which we discover – at the moment of victory – have been promoted to the rank of national deformities, intellectual defects carefully protected against possible revolts of reason. This is how the cult of the leader’s infallibility, the ecstatic reinforcement of false hierarchies, the seizure of all sources of information and all the instruments of distribution, the frenetic organization of lies by the State at all times of day, growing police terror towards citizens who still wish to remain relatively lucid, have become the generally accepted forms of political and social progress! And it is precisely against such a powerful show of aberrations that we must repeat, without respite, the following obvious truth:

That the proletariat would not consider rising up by recourse to the means by which its enemies debase themselves. That a type of socialism that owes its advent to the marvels of intrigue, denunciation, political blackmail and ideological fraud would be contaminated at its source by the very instruments of its victory and that man and peoples would sin through an excess of candour if they expected anything else from it but a change of the shadows.

August 8, 1945. While the gaping wound of Hiroshima still smokes – that martyr city chosen for the test of the first atomic bomb – Stalin’s Russia strikes a blow to Japan with the famous stab-in-the-back trademarked by Mussolini. Nevertheless he would be wrong to turn in his grave while dreaming of his copyright fees. Because we were not just happy to plagiarize his beaux gestes; we wanted to add to his historical contribution. Indeed, the text of the Soviet declaration of war informs us that the USSR’s entry into the war has no other aim than “to shorten the war” and “save human lives”! A ceasefire of small means – there it is, an end in itself, an end that, none will contest, is difficult to equal in nobility. And during the centuries to come, the troubadours of Outer Mongolia will have the time to provide the epilogue on the pacifist and humanist character of the Master’s decision. August 8, 1945, is one of the lowest dates in the career of humanity.

Many years before the world hurried into a war against fascism, bitter discussions were rife in the movements of the left between total pacifists and militants of the fight to the death against tyranny. One of the themes that returned again and again in this long exchange of ideas and arguments was that of “just wars.” With a still imperfect skill, total pacifists set about proving that no just wars existed; that to pretend to fight tyranny through war was to deliver oneself to the tyranny of a military machine without brakes, to pitiless exceptional laws, and politicians invested with the most arbitrary powers of which they were more or less freed of having to justify. War alone, in and of itself, constituted a tyranny that yielded nothing to the one you propose to defeat – or so said, without convincing us, the theoreticians of total pacifism. They were wrong. Just wars do exist. But the peculiar of just wars is not making them last long. 

Do not forget that “just” wars, if they produce a Hoche or a Marceau, also produce a Bonaparte, which is a particularly diabolical way for them to cease being just. On the other hand – and with the absence of any Bonapartes on the horizon – a “just” war differs from ordinary expeditions of theft in what it imposes on those who lead it, a rhythm and a set of demands that are difficult for them to tolerate. To keep alive an undertaking based on popular fervour, those responsible for running the war must have the clear-minded boldness to let the moving forces on which they draw their strength retain their character of masses on fire – the mass in full progress and conscious of the direction of its élan. But the persistent rule with the leaders of peoples – often even those who appear to have returned directly from the firing line or the factory-floor meeting – is to erode their hierarchical weight by driving the motivating forces entrusted to them into the traditional frameworks of a country at war. And when I say “traditional frameworks” I mean the rationing of truth, the rationing of enthusiasm, the rationing of the ideal. I mean the arbitrary tightening of the moving forces of a nation, on the order of those who fear, in the “movement” of today, the “upheaval” of tomorrow. These traditional frameworks – simple masks placed on the face of whichever war so as to erase the expression of its originality and render it similar to all the others – can sometimes be borrowed from the archives of the War Museum, sometimes from the enemy’s practice. For the former, this is called “being inspired by the lessons of the past”; for the latter, “profiting from what your enemy teaches you.” 

The drabness of the living values of the present that we always seem ready to envelop in old sacramental formulae like a shroud, the transfer of the enemy’s methods and mental routines into the camp of justice, the way this war against fascism has gone, all offer us too many examples. I clearly remember the first Soviet war communiqué that finished by mentioning a German soldier, quoted by name, who went towards a Russian post declaring that he did not wish to take up arms against a proletarian State. The simple sentence of this communiqué gave off, in the face of history, a sound more striking than the motorized exploits that preceded and succeeded it. It bore witness, above the roar of battle, to the fact that the brotherhood of workers takes – and must continue to take – precedence over the division of men into ethnic and national groups. The good to be kept between us all was there – the virtue likely to crack open the worm-eaten framework of war between nations. And yet, once again, the workers were driven towards these traditional frameworks, and led astray. Instead of glorifying the Russian or German popular heroes of the past who had reached out in the cause of similar struggles for freedom, the Soviet propaganda services quickly indulged in a dreadful pathos, from which emerged some of the most sinister figures in Russian history. Prince Alexander Nevsky once again knew all the pomposity of glory because in 1242 he had the good luck to rout the Order of Teutonic Knights. Yet the memory of a Pugachev or a Stenka Razin – legendary champions of the peasant cause – was put on the backburner because they were judged to have been too badly mistreated by the authorities at the time. On November 7, 1941, addressing fighters of the Red Army, Stalin offered up to their courage some strange precursors: “Could you be,” he told them, “inspired by the courageous figures of your ancestors: Alexander Nevsky, Dimitri Donskov, Kuzma Minin, Dimitri Pozharsky, Alexander Suvorov, Mikhail Kutuzov?” 

…That such names of the heroic imagination could be twisted into defenders of the USSR provides enough to render senile a war that some expected to improve the world. What followed was equal to its beginning. The exhumation of Alexander Nevsky brought about a revision of eight centuries of European history. Borrowing not only from the past but the enemy, Stalin placed the Hitlerian theory of Europe’s mobilisation in opposition to an Asian assault, a return – pure and simple – to the most narrow-minded form of pan-Slavism. The debates in the different Pan-Slav Congresses that have been organized on Moscow’s initiative during this war have put back the intellect in the same way as Radio Berlin. The long development of Europe is no longer seen as anything but a pretext for racial divisions, a development prone to an endlessly reborn conflict between Slavs and Germans. The most recent Pan-Slav Congress (Sofia, February 1945) was devoted to the existence of a Slav bloc, the inheritor of a union forged through centuries of battles that date back to the victory of united Slav armies against the Germanic peoples at Grünewald (1410). Thus we end up fighting bloc against bloc, race against race, insanity against insanity! 

And so it is that “just” wars do not resist for long the slanderous contagion of ideas that they were asked to crush. I say that we are currently witnessing a penetration of Hitlerian political behaviour into the ranks of democracy. This penetration scandalizes next to nobody; too many people find in it material convenience and moral comfort. This penetration sprawls across all the newspapers, in all the news that reaches us about the fate being prepared for the world. For example, the annexation of territories without the prior consent of their populations was generally considered as an outrage against the law, part of Hitler’s imperialistic frenzy. Yet, today, look how things are presented in a completely different way, with the only justification being national usefulness. This port is perfectly useful to me and I would like it accorded to me, declares one power – and if it is pointed out that it has always been part of another national unit, the power replies that while that may well be possible it really needs it and anyway victory gives it the right to petty theft. So, from now on, will it get not simply a port or an isolated city, but vast sets of territories that have become perfectly mobile and able to change owner in the space of a night? The transfer of populations also used to pass as a cruel process to which only the regimes of force allowed themselves recourse. These transfers are nevertheless today envisaged on a scale not smaller than that of Nazism’s darkest round-ups. Here, I will allow Louis Clair, one of the principal contributors to American magazine Politics, whose capacity for indignation continues to help us breathe, to speak: 

The people are displaced like cattle; if you give me 500,000 Sudeten-Germans, I will work something out to hand over a certain number of Tyroliens; perhaps we could exchange a few Germans against some machine tools? Hitler, once again, has started up a mechanism that is beginning to take on worrying proportions… The speed with which the victorious powers are haggling over the only merchandise that, in spite of technical improvements, remains more in demand than ever – slave labour – is something truly obscene.

– Georges Henein, The Prestige of Terror. c. 1945. Source.

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“The [Egyptian] citizenship law category consternation just described echoes the confusion of European-trained census takers who worked to measure the Egyptian population in the late nineteenth century. … In a sense, the malleable landscape of nationalities reflected in
these censuses appears a category game, in which the population was reclassified by different criteria each decade. As we will see in the next section,
however, nationality was anything but an abstraction: in the complex legal
landscape of turn-of-the-century Egypt, nationality determined jurisdiction
over the bodies of the territory’s subjects.  The confounding incoherence
of nationality categories in the Egyptian census shows that in a system of
overlapping sovereignty, identification is performative. Egyptians and Otto-
mans were labeled not for their own needs – the labels entailed no access
to rights – but for presentation to their imperial administrators. Like
nationality law, the census provides only unsteady ground for the study of
Ottoman-Egyptian citizenship.

The 1882 census was hardly the first to categorize Egypt’s population
by national type. The 1800 Description de l’Egypte described eight groups:
Egyptians, Turks, Arabs, Moors (specifically, Maghrabis), Greeks, Syrians,
Jews, and Europeans. The 1840 census divided the population between those under local authority (dakhil al-hukuma) and those beyond government authority (kharij al-hukuma).  A contemporary study of the 1855
cholera epidemic differentiated between eleven categories: Europeans,
Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Israelites, Natives, Turks, Maghrabis,
Barbaris, and Blacks.  

The 1882 census employed a new hierarchy of three major categories
(settled native, nomad, and foreigner), each of which was subdivided into
minor categories. The decennial censuses of 1897, 1907, and 1917 reduced
the decisive split to foreign and local. Local subjects (as opposed to foreigners) were subdivided in the four censuses in question… 

…four main groups adulterat[ed] a vision of a purely
Egyptian local population: Ottomans, Bedouins, Sudanese, and local subjects of European origin (such as Greeks). The 1897 census divided the local
population much as the one in 1882, but Sudanese were dropped, and the
divide between settled and nomadic Egyptians was set aside. Sedentary,
Bedouin, and Ottoman were all clearly labeled as “real” Egyptians. In 1907,
Sudanese reappeared, and certain Ottomans were divided into four “local”
nations. The 1907 census was the first since the inchoate Egyptian nationality law of 1900. Perhaps as a result, Ottomans appeared for the first time
as foreigners. Subdivision was extended ten years later: Egyptians were
distinguished according to sect, and four new miscellaneous population
categories were added. But only now, once it was divided in a dozen ways,
did “local” emerge as a distinct, collective category given a cumulative population figure of its own. In previous years, census makers offered an aggregate total of foreigners but never of local subjects. 

From the time of the 1882 census, settlement was the hallmark of a
national population; Bedouins and foreigners were anomalous because they
were mobile. Although the desert and sea hinterlands of the Nile valley
were sites of problematic flux, “real” Egyptians were suitable f(n· counting
because they were tied to the land and isolated from other nations. Turkish
and Syrian immigration had slowed, and Europeans were now the principal
immigrant group. Their “distinct social and political behaviour (al-mukhtalijiyin mashraban/situation sociale et politique apart) prevent[ed]
them being confused with the native population (zummt al-wataniyin),”
which was agrarian and sedentary. The census makers claimed that this
distinction was “social and political”; in reality, it was jurisdictional. Bedouins and foreigners were considered separately because they were exempt from the laws that governed other subjects. The distinction between real
Egyptians and all others made operative sense in terms of 1880s domestic
policy, according to which dangerous Bedouins were to be taken under
government control, foreigners were to be protected, and settled natives
were to be taxed. 

Nonstandard subjects were deficient subjects, and they tarnished the
census project. In an opening apologia, the authors of the 1882 census
distinguished their work, which only measured de facto population, from
the study of resident population that a proper European state required.
Only the systematization of civil status would make such a project possible
in Egypt. In other words, something like “indigenous nationality” had to
be clearly defined if Egypt was to join the community of nations. Subsequent censuses track the progress of this project. By 1917, a full range of
local nationalities joined the foreign diversity previously on display. It is
no surprise that census counts of national groups in Alexandria were as
inconsistent as the categories themselves. Although the overall population
of the city increased steadily from census to census to census, the share
assigned to each group fell and rose and rose and fell. 

Faced with these unwieldy categories, social historians are as otibalance
as the legal scholars cited in the previous section. Daniel Panzac has produced several studies of the population of nineteenth-century Egypt in
which he displays careful critical faculties. His suspicion of uneven growth
rates, for instance, leads him to a radical departure from census figures of
Egypt’s aggregate population.  But where nationality is concerned, his
work is in the thrall of the census and its categories and content to trace a
smooth growth rate for the foreign population, ignoring the fact that Ottomans appear and disappear from the census figures. Other studies of the
censuses avoid this trap, but their critical approach toward statistics rarely
extends to the categories employed.  This remarkable omission manifests
the allure of dividing population into singular nationalities that seem to
possess some inherent validity discouraging critical probing. 

Three pieces of evidence call into question the national categories of
identity used by census takers: the changing stock of categories used; the
inconsistent statistics that they produced; and the calculated, nuanced performances that court documents demonstrate lay behind most black-and-white claims to nationality. Census
makers certainly witnessed the same genre of performance on polling day.
Little is known of the details of their data collection.”

– Will Hanley, “When Did Egyptians Stop Being Ottomans? An Imperial Citizenship Case Study.” in Willem Maas (ed.), Multilevel Citizenship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. pp. 89-109.

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“Ironically, the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 and the Veiled Protectorate that followed did much to bolster notions of Egypt’s national
independence. During the early years of the occupation, the situation of
Egypt vis-a-vis the British and Ottoman Empires was characterized by two
fictions. Public discourse pretended that the Ottomans retained a measure
of control over Egypt and that Egypt retained a measure of independence
from Britain. In official correspondence, Egypt was carefully and consistently referred to as al-qutr al-misri, the “Egyptian region.” It was also
referred to with safe synonyms for “region,” such as tarafand diyar. In
the interests of pragmatism, oppositional political strategy was structured
around opposition to British imperial control. The nationalist discourse
that emerged in the 1890s appeared to instrumentalize (or even marginalize) Ottomanism in order to address the BritishY Nevertheless, it seems
that the Veiled Protectorate instilled its narrative of light, almost imperceptible rule successfully: Britain’s influence over Egypt’s citizens is obscured
in historical memory.

Although Britain drew most nationalist political fire, the Ottoman
Empire remained the key referent for Egypt’s elite political and intellectual
culture, even as late as the turn ofthe century. Egyptians were active observers of, and indeed participants in, the Ottoman reform movements of the
early twentieth century. Egypt is often portrayed as a site of exile for Young
Turks, but it was not merely an inert foreign land. Just as the United
States of America remained (and remains) in the cultural, economic, and
indeed political sphere of the British empire long after independence, so
too did Egypt remain part of the Ottoman commonwealth. This commonwealth was most visible in the writings of a small intelligentsia. The Ottoman Empire experienced a brief episode of constitutionalism and limited
representative government in 1876 and another starting in 1908. Egypt,
meanwhile, had no constitution or elections until the 1920s. Government
was for bureaucrats, not citizens, and political discourse was the realm of
journalists and a handful of elite activists.

A whole literature endeavors to define Ottomanism, and it is by no
means unusual that this elusive label should fail to fit Egyptians exactly. Ottoman citizenship, the central concern of this chapter, had its first legal
articulation in 1869.  The idea of citizenship was foreign to the nineteenth-
century Ottoman Empire; the great Egyptian chronicler of Napoleon’s 1798
invasion merely transliterated the term: sitwayan. The Arabic jinsiya (related to “genus”) came to designate “nationality.” Even the neologism for
national citizen (muwatin) does not designate the rights-bearing liberal
subject of a certain vision of Western citizenship. Subjecthood, on the other
hand, has a more stable Arabic and Ottoman vocabulary, in common usage
during the nineteenth century. The Arabic/Ottoman term tab’iyat/tabiiyet
derives from tabi’/tabii, meaning subject (of a state or sovereign). But the
truly stable term is the eighth-century reaya, for “flock” or “subjects.”

The relationship of shepherd (the Ottoman sultan) and flock (his subjects) was based on protection and loyalty rather than sovereignty and allegiance. This tie was bolstered by the sultan’s role as caliph, or earthly head
of the Islamic commtmity. Even when his secular powers were limited, the
Ottoman sultan maintained spiritual dominion, to which Egypt signaled its
symbolic loyalty. The province was given the right to mint its own currency
in 1834 (a mark of monetary autonomy), but this token of independence
bore the sultan-caliph’s name (his tugra) until 1914. The same name was
invoked at Friday prayers throughout this period. On this basis, more
recent scholarship argues that as late as 1905, “in the final analysis, the
majority of Egyptians considered themselves to be Ottoman subjects,” and
those interested in forging an independent Egypt pursued a policy of de-Ottomanization as a result. Ottoman wars were increasingly defined as
Islamic, and enthusiastic moral and material support from Egyptians during the Italo-Turkish war over Libya (1911-1912) were the last great sign
of Egypt’s Ottoman affiliation. The fact remains, however, that the sultan’s
direct control over his Egyptian flock was definitively supplanted by his
own governor during the 1830s. After that point, Ottoman sovereignty was
reduced to suzerainty and symbolic payment of tribute; no more Egyptian
troops fought Ottoman wars.

If the sultan retained only spiritual and symbolic authority over his
Egyptian subjects, his nominal subalterns enhanced direct sovereignty at
the provincial level. The upstart governor Mehmet Ali and his descendants
used the techniques of modern control to extract ever more military, agricultural, and public works labor from Egyptians. The debt crisis of the
1870s and British occupation of the 1880s transferred much of this dominion to the European comptrollers who directed the Egyptian economy. The
Egyptian state, ftguratively controlled by the Ottomans and literally controlled by the British, communicated with its subjects through its officials.
These agents of the “local government”- tax collectors, police, and local
headmen – articulated economic, legal, and military subjecthood at the
local level.”

– Will Hanley, “When Did Egyptians Stop Being Ottomans?
An Imperial Citizenship Case Study.” in Willem Maas (ed.), Multilevel Citizenship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. pp. 89-109.

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