Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: An Archive

Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: An Archive

Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: An Archive

Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: An Archive


Interrogating how Alexandria became enshrined as the exemplary cosmopolitan space in the Middle East, this book mounts a radical critique of Eurocentric conceptions of cosmopolitanism. The dominant account of Alexandrian cosmopolitanism elevates things European in the city's culture and simultaneously places things Egyptian under the sign of decline. The book goes beyond this civilization/barbarism binary to trace other modes of intercultural solidarity. Halim presents a comparative study of literary representations, addressing poetry, fiction, guidebooks, and operettas, among other genres. She reappraises three writers - C. P. Cavafy, E. M. Forster, and Lawrence Durrell - whom she maintains have been cast as the canon of Alexandria. Attending to issues of genre, gender, ethnicity, and class, she refutes the view that these writers' representations are largely congruent and uncovers a variety of positions ranging from Orientalist to anti-colonial. The book then turns to Bernard de Zogheb, a virtually unpublished writer, and elicits his Camp parodies of elite Levantine mores in operettas one of which centers on Cavafy. Drawing on Arabic critical and historical texts, as well as contemporary writers' and filmmakers' engagement with the canonical triumvirate, Halim orchestrates an Egyptian dialogue with the European representations.


Alexandria in the twenties was a European city, where Italian, French,
Greek or English were heard far more often than Arabic. the city was
beautiful, and so clean that one could have eaten off the streets. Anything
from Europe could be found in Alexandria for half the price: cinemas, res
taurants, dance halls… But all that was for the foreigners. We could only
observe from the outside. the real inhabitants of Alexandria—the itinerant
vendors, the shoe-shine boys—lived in the popular quarters, in Ramleh.

There used to be an open-air cinema on Saad Zaghloul Street which had
a section reserved for Egyptians. a sign in French read: “for the natives”—
meaning, for the real, national citizens. the cinema no longer exists.

—NAGUIB mahfouz, “Alexandria for the Egyptians”

Alexandria—the last great cosmopolitan center of the Mediterranean—is
special, unique, because people of different nationalities and faiths lived
there, people going about their ordinary, everyday lives. They lived side by
side—Muslims, Copts, Nubians, Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Maltese,
Shamis, Lebanese, Jews, English, French, Spaniards, Germans, Austrians—
they were all Alexandrians; together they made up the whole. They laid the
foundations of the new Alexandria upon the remains of the ancient city.

—HARRY tzalas, “Prologue,” Farewell to Alexandria

Iskindiriyya mariyya; Alexandrea ad Aegyptum; cosmopolitan Alexandria. Far more than the Egyptian folkloric catchphrase and the Roman epithet, it is the link between this city and cosmopolitanism that has acquired the ineluctability of the perennially selfevident. This book asks the questions, Was Alexandria ever really cosmopolitan? and if it was, is it possible to speak of such a thing as an Alexandrian cosmopolitanism? in other words, is there something sui generis about Alexandria’s cosmopolitanism? When, by whom, and why was its cosmopolitanism construed as exemplary?

Well into the nineteenth century this city and that concept had not been so firmly yoked. Certain leitmotifs reappear in the accounts of . . .

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