Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Biography: The Making of an Egyptian Arab Nationalist: The Early Years of Azzam Pasha, 1893-1936

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Biography: The Making of an Egyptian Arab Nationalist: The Early Years of Azzam Pasha, 1893-1936

Article excerpt

The Making of an Egyptian Arab Nationalist: The Early Years of Azzam Pasha, 1893-1936, by Ralph M. Coury. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 1998. viii + 472 pages. Appendix to p. 486. Bibl. to p. 511. Index to p. 528. L35.

Reviewed by Vernon Egger

The book under review focuses on the early career of Abd al-Rahman `Azzam Pasha, the first secretary general of the Arab League. The book is the product of prodigious research that was carried out over a period of more than a quarter of a century. Ralph Coury interviewed `Azzam as early as 1970, read a wide variety of the Arabic journals, newspapers, and memoirs of the first half of the 20th century, and combed the Public Record Office for British assessments of developments within Egypt. After summarizing `Azzam's childhood and adolescence, the author devotes over 100 pages to `Azzam's crucial period in Tripolitania (January 1916-December 1922), and offers a judicious assessment of `Azzam's role in the Tripolitianian struggle against the Italians. The remainder of the narrative examines `Azzam's transition into participation in the political life of newly-independent Egypt, his role in the Wafd Party and his subsequent defection from it, and his efforts to promote Arab nationalism in Egypt prior to 1936.

The book is required reading for anyone who wishes to know more about `Azzam's early career, and offers useful interpretations of certain features of inter-war Egyptian political life. The narrative of `Azzam's "early years," however, is sandwiched between an introduction and a concluding chapter which claim more than the book can deliver. Coury states that this study "...seeks to provide a richly textured portrait of [`Azzam's] life in this period, a portrait that concentrates upon delineating the origin and principal features of the Arab nationalism which he and other representatives of the Egyptian political and intellectual elite adopted well before the establishment of the Arab League" (p. 1). The problem is that he cannot accomplish his task by ending the study in 1936. He agrees that `Azzam, Makram `Ubayd, and a handful of others were exceptional in holding such views as early as they did, and he acknowledges that neither the Wafd nor the Palace became committed to Arab nationalism prior to 1936.

In order to try to accomplish his goal, Coury has had to juxtapose a detailed treatment of the first half of `Azzam's life with a revised version of his influential article of 1982, "Who 'Invented' Arab Nationalism? …

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