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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2018 6:52 pm  |  Posted from: Australia
  

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‘Change’ From The Top, Mahfouz.

I hadn’t realized that Mahfouz did some overt political writing - Before the Throne: Dialogs with Egypt’s Great From Menes to Anwar Sadat (published as Amam al-‘arsh: hiwar ma`a rijal Misr min Mina hatta Anwar al-Sadat in 1983)

An article profiles the book, but may use Mahfouz to wander off on a personal theory. For example that most change in Egypt for thousands of years have not been done with popular support but rather takeover/invasion or top down command.

Apparently the purpose of Mahfouz’s book is:
“The most important question asked in Before the Throne is clearly the one most crucial to Mahfouz’s own worldview. That is, what is good for Egypt? How Mahfouz defines what is good for his country, and even who is really Egyptian, provides a fascinating glimpse not only into the author’s psyche, but into the historical consciousness of Egypt herself—one that is clearly relevant today.”

Very unusually the book is a series of trials/speeches, and judgments on Egypt’s rulers through the ages

Some extracts from the article:
“Addressing Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the book’s penultimate trial, Abnum opens with admiration but closes with a chilling admonition:
“Permit me to hail you in my capacity as the first revolutionary among Egypt’s poor,” began Abnum. “I want to testify that the wretched did not enjoy such security in any age—after my own—as they did in yours. I can only fault you for one thing: for insisting that your revolution be stainless, when in fact the blood should have run in rivers!”

Also on Nasser:
“Mustafa al-Nahhas, Zaghlul’s successor as head of the Wafd Party, thus the chief initial target of Nasserist repression, berates Nasser for what he has done to Egyptian democracy: “You were heedless of liberty and human rights,” al-Nahhas resumed his attack. “While I don’t deny that you kept faith with the poor, you were a curse upon political writers and intellectuals, who are the vanguard of the nation’s children. You cracked down on them with arrest and imprisonment, with hanging and killing, until you had eradicated their optimism and smashed the formation of their personalities—and only God knows when their proper formation shall return. Those who launched the 1919 Revolution were people of initiative and innovation in the various fields of politics, economics and culture. How your high-handedness spoiled your most pristine depths! See how education was vitiated, how the public sector grew depraved? How your defiance of the world’s powers led you to horrendous losses and shameful defeats! You never sought the benefit of another person’s opinion, nor learned from the lessons of Muhammad Ali’s experience. And what was the result? Clamour and cacophony, and an empty mythology—all heaped on a pile of rubble.”

One of the interesting things about Mahfouz’s book is that unlike Egyptology and popular Egyptian history of the ancient period he thinks many rulers horrid – and takes a knife to them. The current Junta on the other hand either blocks out the past or thinks it uniformly glorious and never criticizes it. Oddly our view of Ancient Roman history is clear – many were monsters and most views of the past are mixed – but not in Egypt so maybe lessons have not been learnt.

It seems clear that aspects of the far past in Mahfouz’s book were guarded references to the rulers in the period after 1952. His positions on popular uprisings/how popular will should be expressed against bad rulers are described in the article as a bit mixed but maybe that is the problem of this article.

Stock, the author of the article is a translator of Mahfouz and mentions the political suppression of Mahfouz, which was more extreme that I knew. He also states that Mahfouz’s opposition to Nasser and others was stronger than often propagandized in Egypt. https://www.fpri.org/article/2011/05/eg ... b-mahfouz/

I can’t find that AUC had it translated the book or sells it in any form in Egypt which should surprise no one. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Before-Throne- ... 0307742563. However its available for sale in suburban Australian bookshops.

Stock is an authority on Mahfouz. I think knew him personally, and this anecdote is interesting in showing the Arabs, in this case the craziest of them, knew early on they could never defeat Israel and also how divided the Cairo intellectuals were on the subsequent treaty:

“Mahfouz is justly lauded in the West for his early backing of Arab-Israeli peace—a position he began to edge toward as early as winter 1973, when he asked Mu`ammar al-Qaddafi– (many months before the 1973 Yom Kippur war) then meeting with the writers at al-Ahram–if the Arabs could beat Israel? When the otherwise irrational Libyan dictator answered, “No,” Mahfouz declared that the Arabs must therefore negotiate with Israel for peace. This opinion led to much abuse at the time, and later to boycotts of his books and films. It was largely in response to the huge split that the 1979 treaty with Israel caused among Egypt’s intellectuals (most of them opposing it, Mahfouz and a few others endorsing it) that he wrote two key chapters about ancient Egypt, as well as the two final trials—those of Nasser and Sadat—in Before the Throne.”

The Mahfouz class of thinker is now long dead replaced entirely by careerist bootlickers – or those who got out. The above conversation with the Libyan leader would never happen nowadays, people like Mahfouz wouldn’t be given access or if they were would be arrested after asking any, but not this out of date one, ‘disloyal’ questions.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2018 3:45 pm  |  Posted from: Australia
  

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Left this out:

To me it reads unlike anything I know in modern Arabic literature (not a lot) and utterly unlike the fictional plots and wordy verbal styles of Mahfouz’s novels. Rather it reads like a pointed debate accusation/defense piece of philosophy which is closer in didactic/rational style and content to Classical Athens than anything else.

If so this is a big shift back to a past that Egypt ignores/loathes – the five to six centuries when Alex was the center, or near center, of Western Civilization. All they can do now is build a not much used library and ignore the fact that what made Alex great was its liberalism/superb schools which we would now call universities/brilliant teachers (including women)/marvelous secondary schools/respect for all learning/wealth a deal of which went on learning and teaching (unlike modern Egyptian billionaires) and the fact that if you were rich you sent your son there even if you lived in England. Its library was the least of its many achievements and the focus on it shows how limited people’s brains are and how they miss the issues that change the country/world. This is a bit of a stretch of an argument.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:21 am  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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I've only just found tine to read this lengthy OP, Hafiz.

I've downloaded Mahfouz's book "Before the Throne" and look forward to reading it. Likewise the Raymond Shock article. Thank you.

I've read many of the Mahfouz classics although it's difficult to equate them with the Egypt of today.

"The question remains, how will this history really end? How would Mahfouz try Mubarak, who will probably be facing judgment both on earth and in the hereafter soon? After five millennia of mainly authoritarian rule, will the new Egyptian democracy be a real one—or at least the sort of secular liberal version that was the heady, widely touted goal of the January 25th Revolution? Will it go back to war with that other, more established democracy watching nervously from across the oft-bloodied sands of Sinai? Of course, we cannot answer for Mahfouz (or anyone) with certainty now how all this will turn out. Yet, to be sure, more than just Egypt’s fate alone shall turn on it."

Indeed!

Such a shame Mahfouz died before 2011 et seq.


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