Egypt in Transition

By Jean Lacouture; Simonne Lacouture et al. | Go to book overview

II
In Search of a National Culture

Egyptian books and newspapers are eagerly read throughout the Arab world. The voice of her famous singer Umm Kulthum entrances a hundred million Arabs and Moslems. It is surprising, then, that friends of Egypt find such a dearth of material in cultural matters. Is it because the language does not invite translation? Taha Husain, the most outstanding Egyptian writer today, informs us, on the contrary, that Arabic can easily go into French without losing anything in the process, and referred to the success of his own works in translation.1

There are at least two reasons for this relatively small output: the neglect of folk-lore and ancient Egyptian works, which ought to be the main and deepest sources of a national art; and inadequate teaching, both in quality and quantity. The Arab-Moslem source of inspiration is still strong, but it is no insult to Islam to say that through poring over one Book and concentrating so much on its sacred text, more encouragement is given to repetition than to creation. Moreover, by forbidding any portrayal of the human body, Islam killed off the Egyptian genius for drawing and painting of which evidence can be seen in the decoration of ancient tombs.

There are few countries in the world where the Egypt of the Pharaohs, the oldest civilization in the world and the creator of art and of statecraft, has left less spiritual imprint than on modern Egypt. Everyone has some claim on the art, science and thought of the pupils of Imhotep or Chephren's ministers, if only by way of their Greek followers. The paintings in the tombs of the Nobles are being acclaimed every day with renewed enthusiasm, while the discovery of any new sarcophagus moves public opinion all over the world. But only three out of a hundred Egyptians who can afford the trip to Luxor ever bother to go there. When the colossal statue of

____________________
1
Not knowing Arabic, perhaps the author should hesitate to raise such a subject. Perhaps he will be forgiven for not mentioning such remarkable writers as Edmund Jabès, who are writing, in Egypt, works that are completely un-Egyptian in their origins and inspiration. As for novelists like Mme Qut el Qulub, who writes her works in French, they are hardly part of the 'national' culture.

-413-

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Egypt in Transition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 5
  • Contents 7
  • Illustrations 8
  • Introduction - Egyptian Continuity And Revolutions 11
  • Part One - The Awakening of Egypt 37
  • I - The Advent of Bonaparte 39
  • II - Mohamed Ali Creates a State 50
  • III - The Cotton Boom 56
  • IV - A Revolution in Irrigation 60
  • V - The Adventurous Khedive 63
  • VI - The Arabi Revolt 69
  • VII - The Reformers 74
  • VIII - British Technocracy 78
  • IX - The 1919 Revolution 82
  • X - The Wafd 86
  • XI - Making the Best of War -- 1939 97
  • XII - The Burning of Cairo 105
  • Part Two - The Officers' Republic 123
  • I - A Short History of the 'Free Officers' Movement 125
  • II - Power -- to What Purpose? 160
  • III - Neguib's Fall 179
  • IV - The Structure of Nasser's State 192
  • V - The 'Diplomacy' of Small Nations 196
  • VI - The Political Parties 240
  • VII - Revolutionary Tendencies, 1952-57 275
  • VIII - Not a Real Revolution. 292
  • Part Three - Working Life in The Valley 307
  • I - The Land and Its Men 309
  • II - The Agrarian Reform 340
  • III - The Problem of Over-Population 357
  • IV - Economic Growing-Pains 362
  • V - Industrialization and Social Problems 367
  • VI - The Aswan Dam Problem 388
  • Part Four - Forging a Society 397
  • I - Cairo -- City of Convulsions 399
  • II - In Search of a National Culture 413
  • III - Egypt, Islam and the Modern World 430
  • Part Five - The Great Test 451
  • I - Nasser as He Really Is 453
  • II - The Suez Crisis 467
  • III - The Franco-British Invasion 481
  • IV - Egypt Carries On 493
  • V - The 'United Arab State' 505
  • A Chronology of Modern Egypt 515
  • Reading List 519
  • Index 523
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