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Contemporary Egyptian Literature Author(s): Roger Allen Reviewed work(s): Source: Middle East Journal, Vol. 35, No.

1, Egypt Today (Winter, 1981), pp. 25-39 Published by: Middle East Institute Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4326146 . Accessed: 04/03/2012 03:02
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CONTEMPORARY EGYPTIAN LITERATURE


RogerAllen

in the title of this article as opusing the adjective "contemporary"

posed to "modern", I am deliberately restricting the purview to the more recent creative output of Egyptian litterateurs. The use of the latter adjective would, if I understand the term correctly, involve tracing the development of the literary tradition in Egypt back to the beginning of the modern renaissance (nahdah) in the 19th century: the educational policies established by Muhammad 'Ali following Napoleon's invasion of 1798, the changes and adaptations brought about by the fusion of renewed contact with the West and the revival of the ancient heritage of Arabic culture, all this leading to the beginnings of a revived creative tradition of literature which coincides roughly with the final decades of the 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th. In restricting my scope in this way, I am motivated both by limitations of space and also by the fact that details of the earlier developments briefly alluded to above are well documented in a number of other sources.'
1. For general introductions, see: Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939, London: Oxford University Press, 1962; Nadav Safran, Egypt in Search of Political Community, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961; Jacques Berque, Egypt:Imperialismand Revolution,London: Faber and Faber, 1972; P. J. Vatikiotis, The Modern History of Egypt, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969. On poetry, see Mustafa Badawi, A Critical Introductionto ModernArabic Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975; Salma al-Jayyusi, Trends and Movementsin ModernArabic Poetry,Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977. On the novel, see Hamdi Sakkut, The EgyptianNovel and Its Main Trends 1913-1952, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1971; Hilary Kilpatrick, The ModernEgyptian Novel, London: Ithaca Press, 1974; Sabri Hafez, "The Egyptian Novel in the Sixties,"Journal of Arabic LiteratureVII (1976), 68-84. On drama, Jacob Landau,Studies in the Arabic Theaterand Cinema, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958, 1969. On the short story, Sabri Hafez, "Innovation in the Egyptian Short Story," in Studiesin ModernArabicLiterature,ed. R. C. Ostle, Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips, 1975, pp. 99-113. On criticism, David Semah, Four Egyptian LiteraryCritics, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974; Roger Allen, "Poetry and Poetic Criticism at the Turn of the Century," in Studies in ModernArabic Literature, ed. R. C. Ostle, pp. 7-17.

A Roger Allen is Associate Professor of Arabic at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Arabic literature with special reference to fiction and drama. He has also published extensively in the area of Arabic language acquisition.

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If then the invasion of Napoleon and the subsequent assumption of power by Muhammad 'All represent a turning point in the development of modern Egyptian culture,2 more recent times can provide an event of equal moment, the defeat in the June War of 1967, usually described as "the setback" (ainaksah). In choosing this as the starting point for this survey, I am aware of depriving myself of a good deal of historical perspective. However, the impact of the June War on the entire Arab world and, in particular, on Egypt has been so great and has resulted in such a profound reexamination of values and beliefs that it presents itself as a starting point of cogent validity. Jacques Berque, an astute and well read commentator on the Middle East, comments in 1974 that it is still too early to confirrm a process of recoverv within the cultural sector.3 The continuing tragedy of the Palestinians, the brutal civil war in Lebanon, the Camp David Accords and the subsequent isolation of Egypt from much of the rest of the Arab world, all these political factors have regrettably to be added to that complex set of issues within which any assessment of post-1967 Egyptian literature has to be placed. If the historical background of the nah4dah is beyond our scope here, some reference should be made to the Egyptian Revolution and the literature which appeared during its first decade and a half; for that is the basis on which the writings which are the subject of this paper were built. The connection between literature and society is too well known and canonized by too many academic conferences to need elaboration. With that in mind, it is hardly surprising that the decade of the 1940s, which saw the beginnings of that intense political and social unrest in Egypt leading to the Revolution of 1952, should have also seen significant developments in the realm of literature. Indeed, the chaos and corruption in government, the atmosphere of terrorism and violence, and the drastic extremism of both left and right are captured most effectively in the novels of Najib Mahfiiz (b. 1911) written during this decade, culminating in the justly famous Trilogy (AlThulkth?yah-Bayna al-Qasrayn, Qasr al-Shawq, and al-Sukkariyah, 195657). This work devotes a considerable amount of attention to local detail, and from such a realistic perspective there emerges a picture spread over three generations which depicts the rapidity of change, the outside forces which impinged on society, and the tremendous tensions which these and other factors caused within the fabric of Egyptian political and social life. Students, for example, in the writings of Mahfidzand others are the focus of much political activity and the victims of much violence; it is significant that

2. Peter Gran argues most persuasively for an even earlier date. See Islamic Rootsof Capitalism. Egypt. 1760-1840, Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979, especially chapter 3, pp. 57-7 5. 3. Jacques Berque, Cultural Expression in Arab SocietyToday, Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1978, p. 93.

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several writers who emerge in the early years of the Revolution were involved in such activity. Yuisuf Idris, the famous writer of short stories, was among them. Mahfiiz had been given much encouragement early in his career by Salamah M-usa(1887-1958), a student of the Fabian socialists in England, who advocated in his writings the notion of literature being at the service of the people. In the period immediately before the 1952 Revolution, these ideas were promulgated and discussed with great vigor in a debate on commitment which reached its acme in the early 1950s. In 1953, the literary periodical, al-Adab, was founded in Beirut with the promotion of committed literature as its principal goal. Two years later, two Egyptian critics, 'Abd al'Azim Anis and Mahmiud Amin al-'Alim, published Fzt al-thaqdfah alMisriyah (On Egyptian Culture), a work which contained their contributions to a lively newspaper debate between themselves and a number of other critics, including Taha Husayn who adopted a position close to that of "art for art's sake." The effect of this work was immense; in Mustafa Badawi's words,
From the middle of the 1950s onwards commitment, whether moderate or extreme, seems to have been the rule rather than the exception.4

Tne first decade and a half of the Egyptian Revolution-succinctly termed decades of "nationalism of the 1950s and socialism in the 1960s" by Berque5-saw a tremendous efflorescence in Egyptian literature. Bearing in mind the processes of societal change which were underway, not to mention the prevalence of the idea of commitment in literature, it is hardly surprising that the most spectacular development during these years occurred in the drama. As the literary genre which combines functions of text and performance, it became what one writer has termed "a popular parliament."6 A whole new generation of playwrights emerged: Nu'man 'Ashur, Yusuf Idris, Alfred Faraj, Sa'd al-Din Wahbah, Rashad Rushdi, MahmuidDiyab, just to name some of the most famous. Not all of these dramatistswere committed to the sanme political and/or social goals, but they all made notable contributions to the Egyptian drama during these years which, through its variety and inn'lovations,attracted a wide audience from all segments of society. New theaters were opened, and new troupes formed to perform this growing wealth of drama. And, while many critics tended to feel that the emphasis was more on quantity than quality, the fact remains that this period saw the

4. Badawi, A Critical Introduction,p. 209. 5. Berque, ibid. 6. Khayri Shalabi, in al-Masrah 29 (May 1966), p. 65

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development of an Egyptian dramatictradition which had much popular support and suggested a promising future.7 In the fictional genres too the years before 1967 witnessed a considerable development. Najib Mahfiz paused for a while following the Revolution and devoted himself to the cinema, saying that he needed time to assimilate the ideals and goals of the new society. The tremendous critical acclaim which greeted the publication of the Trilogy in 1956 and 1957 may have helped to stimulate his urge to write again. In any case, following the publication of his allegorical novel, Awl/d Ha-ratina(Childrenof Our Quarter),in serial form in al-Ahrim in 1959 (and its subsequent proscription following pressure from the religious establishment), he turned in the 1960s from the tremendous detail of his early essays in social realism to a more internal and often anxiety-filled vision of the individual within the new society; this is a whole series of novels published in the 1960s.8 Mahfuiz'sworks have been widely read throughout the Arab world, and during this period he undoubtedly became the most famous literary figure in the region. Of his fellow countrymen, perhaps only Ydsuf Idris managed to match his popularity in any way.9 We have already mentioned Idris as a dramatist (and particular mention should be made of his important play, alFarafir"0),but his major contribution to Egyptian literature lies in the genre of the short story, a craft of which he is the master. Idris's novels have, in general, not been as successful, although al-Hara-m(The Taboo, 1959) can take its place among the more successful portraits of life in the Egyptian countryside. Two other prominent novelists are 'Abd al-Rahman alSharqawi whose work, al-Ard (The Earth, 1954),11 betrays all the commitment of the early years of the Revolution, a tendency which becomes even more noticeable in his later works in this genre; and Fathi Ghanim whose Al-Rajul alladhi faqada zillahu (The Man Who Lost His Shadow, 1962)12 shows an effective use of the multiple-narrator technique. Among other writers of fiction, I would single out two, Edward al-Kharratand Ydsuf al-Sh-arini, who have not been as prolific as some of the authors we have

7. I have discussed the recent Egyptian theatrical tradition in some detail in "EgyptianDrama After the Revolution," Edebiyat 4, no. 1 (1979). 8. The last of them, Mirdmdr, is now available in English translation: trans. Fatma Moussa-Mahmoud. London: Heinemann, and Washington: 3 Continents Press, 1978. 9. For anthologies of his short stories, see The Cheapestof Nights, trans. Wadida Wassef, London: Heinemann, and Washington: 3 Continents Press, 1978, and In the Eye of the Beholder,ed. Roger Allen, Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1978. See also my forthcoming article, "The Artistry of Yiusuf Idris," WorldLiteratureToday, Winter 1981. 10. Available in two translations: Farouk Abdel Wahab, Modern Egyptian Drama, Minneapolis and Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1974, 351-493; and Arabic Writing Today: The Drama, ed. Mahmoud Manzalaoui, Cairo: American Research Center in Egypt, 1977, pp. 335-454. 11. Translated as Egyptian Earth by Desmond Stewart, Dehli: Hind Pocket Books, 1972. 12. Available in English translation by Desmond Stewart, London: Heinemann, and Washington: 3 Continents Press, 1980.

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alreadynamed but whose short stories have alwaysbeen markedby artistic sensitivityand technicalexpertise."3 Poetry has traditionallybeen the most popular of the literary media recent studyshows, the creative among the Arabs,and, as Salmaal-Jayyiisi's period, however, output is still as vigorous as ever.14 In the contemporary evidenceis gainingground,and, althoughquantifiable fictionis undoubtedly not available,it seems reasonableto suggestthatin Egyptat least the fictionwhen comparedwith the vigorCertainly, al genres are now more popular.15 in Iraq and Lebanonin recent times, ous and often radicalpoetic traditions critics that of Egyptis certainlyless in quantityand, as many non-Egyptian would maintain,in qualityas well.16 Two poets do, however, deserve to be to modernArabicpoetry, most especially singledout for their contributions (b. 1931) and as a reflectionof a commitmentto society:Salah'Abdal-Sabuir Ahmad 'Abd al-Mu'tiHijazi (b. 1935). The first collection of the former in My Country,1957), earned him a wide (ThePeople poet, Al-Ndsfi bilhdd reputation,and this was furtherenhancedby his most successfulverse play, Ma'sctal-IHallaj of al-I.Hall/,1965), which,in spite of its overt (TheTragedy to Egyptin the 1960s.17 The prehistoricaltheme, had obvious application dominanttheme of Hijazi'searliestpoetry is reflectedin the title of his first collection, Madinah bili qalb (City With No Heart, 1959), but gradually these concerns of the provincialpoet shifted to a more political stance involving supportfor 'Abd al-Nasirand for the Arab SocialistUnion.18 The decade of the 1960s in whichmuch of this literaryactivitywas occurring was a curiousmixtureof hopeful creativityand premonitionsof things to come. In Egypt,the break-upof the United ArabRepublicwith Syriaand legislation caused significantpolitical the imposition of strict nationalizing and social ramifications, while the increasingpredominanceof the secret the culturalsector, police over many aspects of society and, in particular, momentum of creative produceda climatewhichpermittedthe continuance with regardto the use of symbolism and even acknowledged certain"codes" in order to express controversialopinions, but which did not hesitate to crack down on writers whenever boundariesof tolerance were crossed.'9

13. Al-Kharrat'scollections are HIitn 'Aliya (High Walls, 1959) and Sa'at al-Kibriya' (Hours of Pride, privately printed but recently published). Al-ShMrinr'scollections include al-'Ushshdq al-Khamsa (The Five Lovers, 1954), Risalat Imra'ah (A Woman'sLetter, 1960) and al-Ziham (The Crowd, 1969). 14. Al-Jayyusi, Trends and Movements in ModernArabic Poetry (see note 1). 15. Khayri Shalabi in al-Qissa 6 (1975), p. 10. 16. Jayyusi, pp. 704-6. 17. See Khalil Semaan, "Drama as a Vehicle of Protest in Nasir's Egypt," IJMES, Vol. 10, no. 1 (Feb. 1979), pp. 49ff. 18. Badawi, A Critical Introduction,pp. 218-9. 19. See Raymond William Baker, Egypt's Uncertain Revolution Under Nasser and Sadat, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978, p. 15 1.

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Furthermore, expressionsof doubt concerningthe whole fabricof Arabsociety were being expressed by poets such as the SyrianNizar Qabbaniin "Khubzwa Hashish wa Qamar"("Bread,Hashish, and Moonlight," 1955) and by the LebaneseKhalilHawi in "Al-'Azar 'Am 1962" ("Lazarus 1962"). Criticalcommentsby Mahfiz about the course of the EgyptianRevolution were suggestedin Al-Lisswa al-Kilab(TheThiefand theDogs, 1961) andhad become explicitby Mira-ma-r publishedin 1967. And then came the six days of June in that same year, as if to provideirrefutablecorroboration of these expressionsof doubt and criticism. The June Warof 1967 broughtabout, to quote Faruq'Abd al-Qadir,exliteraryeditor of a/-Ta/i'ah, "a defeat of regimes, foundations,structures,
ideas, and leaders."20 To continue with another Egyptian litterateur,

Mahmu7d Diyab, it was


a fearful blow which made me lose all sense of reason. I was quite unable to write anything. The feelings I had were simply too forceful to record or reflect in a work of art.

However, I'm sureI'll startwritingonce againandit will be aboutthese events in particular, but only when their impacthas diminished.21

In a period in which both illusionsandegos were shattered,there wasmuch anger and intense self-criticism.'Abd al-Nasirmanagedto survive this collective process of indictment not only through his own sense of political acumen, but because of a widespreadperception, not only in Egypt but in other parts of the Arab world as well, that he was the only leader with sufficient status and authorityto face such dauntingproblems.22 The way in whichhe set aboutthe taskat handwasto devote the bulk of his attentionto
reforming the devastated Egyptian army and to work on foreign policy.23

Internal matters were left in the hands of subordinates.In the cultural sphere, this led to a good deal of confusion, of which the chaos in the Theatre Organizationand the unpredictability of censorship are just two In the event, the heavyload of these responsibilities examples.24 on 'AbdalNasir, to which was added the necessity of mediating between various Arab blocs in the wake of "Black September," no doubt contributed to his demise in September 1970; photographs of Egypt's president taken at this time provide visual evidence of the immense strains imposed by these events. Anwar al-Sadat's assumption of the presidency was followed by a period

20. Faruq 'Abd al-Qadir, Izdihar wa Suq,utal-Masrah al-Misri, Cairo: Dar al-Fikr al-Mu'asir, 1979, p. 164. 21. Al-Addb, June 1969, p. 68. 22. See, for example, the description of the demonstrations in support of 'Abd al-Nasir in Beirut to be found in Halim Barakat's novel 'Awdat al-TF'ir ila al-Bahr, translated as Days of Dust by Trevor Le Gassick, Wilmette, Illinois: Medina Press International, 1974, pp. 146ff. 23. Baker, Egypt's Uncertain Revolution,pp. 116-122. 24. See Lewis Awad, "Problems of the Egyptian Theatre," in Studies in ModernArabic Literature, ed. R. C. Ostle, p. 192; and Roger Allen, "EgyptianDrama After the Revolution," Edebiyat4, no 1 (1979).

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of uncertainty, culminating in the "correctional revolution" (Thawrah altashih) of May 1971 when 'All Sabri and others were sentenced to imprisonment. This was also the period of the phony war at the Suez Canal, something well captured in Mahfiiz's novel, Al-Hubb tahta al-Matar (Lovein the Rain, 1973). October 1973 provided the event which brought this period to an abrupt close, with the "crossing"('ubzr) of the Canal by Egyptian forces. Even though the 1973 war with Israel cannot be counted a victory for Egypt, it was, in the words of Tawfiq al-Hakim, the country's greatest playwright,
a spiritual crossing to a new stage in our history . . . and that stage is the

reconstruction of our civilization."25 Bolstered by the success of this operation in psychological terms at least, Sadat has attempted a number of reforms and changes within Egypt since that time: the formation of political parties and a parliament, a diminution of the sweeping powers formerly held by the secret police, and, perhaps most well known in the West, the policy of economic "infitcih" or opening up to foreign investment in the business of the country. This atmosphere and the general perception in the West of a liberalization of public policy in Egypt may lead one to suspect that the environment for creative writers in the country has improved considerably within the last decade. Such would, in general, be a mistaken impression, for a combination of political and cultural reasons. One of the more obvious political factors is that, in the wake of the Camp David Accords and the subsequent isolation of Egypt by many other countries in the Arab world, it has become increasingly difficult for Egyptians to keep in close touch with literary developments in the rest of the Arab world. Also of an essentially political nature is the fact that newspapers, journals, and the publication process are kept under the careful control of the responsible ministry (formerly the Ministry of Culture where literature is concerned, but now the Ministry of Information) which has tended to place cultural figures who support the government's policies in key posts in the publishing sector. In this way, it has been relatively easy to ensure that only those works which the authorities wish to see published in Egypt ever see the light of day. Previous opportunities for publication in Beirut and Baghdad are still available and indeed used by Egyptian writers, but it is now much more difficult for the Egyptian readership to find such publications. The general situation is well described by Sabri Hafiz in discussing what he terms the writers of "the 'forties generation":
Ironically by the 'sixties most of them declined artistically or fell off into silence and repetition, becoming at the same time the pillars of the formal literary establishment, dominating most of the cultural activities in the country.26

25. From al-Ahram, December 7, 1973, cited in Baker, Egypt's Uncertain Revolution,p. 131. 26. See "Innovation in the Egyptian Short Story," in Studies in ModernArabic Literature, ed. R. C. Ostle, p. 102.

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An unfortunateconsequenceof this phenomenonis thatthe youngergenerin findingthose bureaucratic ation of writershas experiencedgreatdifficulty posts within the culturalsector whichhave often allowedtheir predecessors the time to devote their attentionsto creativewriting.As a survey of such young writersin al-Tali'ah (September1970) shows clearly,many of them are to be found workingas teachersin secondaryschools or as employeesin fertilizerfactoriesand insurancecompanies; some seem to have been unemployed for extended periods. While it has never been possible for even the most eminent litterateursin Egyptto earn a livelihood on the basis of creative writingalone, the present circumstances do seem particularly severe for writersof this new generation. Having discussedtrendsin some detail, let us now turn to considerthose the youngerandlesser knownones, who havemade writers,andparticularly major contributionsto Egyptianliteratureduringthe last decade or so. If it is possible to make an assessmentof the vigor of Egyptianliterature from its literary and cultural journals and magazines-the comparative weight given to the differentgenres in their contents, and the ebb and flow of magazines which specialize in one particulargenre-then the overwhelmingimpressionis of the predominanceof the shorterfictionalgenres in the last decade,and especiallythe short story. In comparison, poetry and the dramafare less well. In particular, the demise of the excellent theatrical periodical,al-Masrah,as an independententity in 1970, and its currentsubordinationto the cinemain the magazine, al-Sinamac wa al-Masrah,is symptomaticnot only of the present diminishedstatureof the theaterbut also of the increasingencroachmentof cinema and television on the theater and even fictionalgenres such as the novel. Producersof seriousdramaare often heard to complain that the country'sbest actors are unwilling to devote themselvesto the taskof rehearsing dramas for the publictheaterwhen they can earn a greatdeal more money in less time by appearing in fare on television whichis often artistically inferior.Furthermore, not a few youngernovelists of recent years have been writingworks whose instantadaptability to the movie screentends to revealthe generallyshallownatureof theircraftas contributionsto the Egyptiannovel tradition.Even the doyen of Egyptian novelists, Najib Mahfiiz, seems to have succumbedto this temptationin recent years.27 We mentionedearliersome of the problemswhichbeset the theaterin the wake of the 1967 War.By 1969 the phraseazmatal-masrah ("theater crisis") was being used on a regularbasisto describea combination of poor administration, in-fightingbetween producers,actors, and dramatists which led to many blunted egos, and censorshipof varying degrees of subtlety which
27. See Roger Allen, "Some Recent Works of Najib Mahfiz,"Journal of the AmericanResearchCenter in Egypt XIV (1977), especially p. 109.

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ranged from the outright banning of plays28to requesting drastic changes in text or title and to a refusal to publish the text of plays after their performance. Many proponents of the theater tradition in Egypt have laid the blame for its current sorry state at the door of what is usually termed the "private sector theater":plays put on by theatrical entrepreneurs using popular actors from film, television and radio which guarantee the public "a laugh a minute." However, historians of the modern drama in Egypt have to admit that the existence of this latter tradition of comedy is nothing new; indeed its origins are as old, if not older, than those of the "serious theater." The current situation is really a vicious circle which seems to involve a number of socio-political factors, a lack of good plays and critics, and a loss of that feeling of dynamism which so characterized the tradition in the 1950s and 1960s. Among the plays which have been published and/or performed within the last decade, it is not surprising that a number can best be described as "occasional." The 1967 conflict produced a large number of them, including the most effective al-Masasmir(The Nails, 1967) by Sa'd al-Din Wahbah, who has since served for several years as Counsellor to the Minister of Culture. Wahbah follows the example of many other playwrights in setting his play in an earlier era, in this case the revolt of 1919, but the message of betrayal by the "notables" of a village was not lost on the audience. Even more acid in its attacks was his Sab' Sawa-qi(SevenWaterwheels,1969) in which the spirits of five soldiers killed in the fighting in Sinai in 1967 return to Egypt but are forbidden entry to the graveyard by the dead of earlier and more heroic encounters in 1919, 1948 and 1956. At the end of the play, the thwarted spirits return to Sinai to redeem the honor of the 1967 dead. Berque reflects the perceptions of most observers in the West in characterizing the 1973 crossing of the Suez Canal as a "semi-success,"29although the psychological factor mentioned by Tawfiq al-Hakim in an earlier quotation should certainly not be underestimated. At any rate, this event too prompted some occasional works of literature, no more so than in 1974 when an October Festival of Drama was organized. A number of noted dramatists presented works on this occasion, including Rashad Rushdi with his Muhakamat 'AmmAhmad al-Fallcoh(The Trial of Ahmad the Peasant) and Wahbah'sRa's al-'Ishsh (the name of a village). In spite of official enthusiasm, none of these works showed the profundity of feeling which marked the plays inspired by the events of 1967; indeed Rushdi's work degenerates into a series of slogans more appropriate to a demagogic speech or a football field. However, in spite of the generally bleak picture painted by critics of this
28. See Lewis Awad, "Problems of the Egyptian Theatre," (see note 24) pp. 191-3. 29. Berque, Cultural Expression,p. 93.

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period, a numberof good plays were presented which were received with considerableacclaim.The earliest efforts of 'All Salim, beginning with a puppet play,an-Nas illifi s-samca' in theEighthHeaven, at-tamina(ThePeople 1964), culminatedin the brilliantcomedy, Bir al-Qamh(The WheatPit, 1968), which provides a telling insight into the operationsof the daunting At its hands,a relativelysimple,if important,archaeEgyptianbureaucracy. ological find is transformedinto an organizational nightmare.Less tied to reality but equallynightmarish is Yu-suf Idris'sal-MukhattatUn (TheMenin Stripes,1970) in whichattemptsby the majorfigureto createan ideal type of governmentalsystem are not a little Orwellian,until, that is, he decides to
turn against his own system.

AnotherEgyptian playwright, AlfredFaraj, hadmanagedby the end of the 1960s to earn himself a reputationin manypartsof the Arabworld.That is due, at least in part,to the fact that,of all the Egyptian dramatists of this era, he devoted the most consistentattention to the question of the use of language in drama.Many, if not most, of his fellow countrymendecided to write their playsin one of the colloquialdialectsof Egypt,as being the most directmeansof spoken communication with the local audience.Farajseems to have been more concernedwith the question of the dramaas an artistic phenomenonthroughoutthe Arabworld,and set himself to writeplaysin a languagewhich was as close as possible to the standard writtenlanguageand yet could be acted convincingly on stage.30 In 1964 he achievedconsiderable successwith his play,Ijall/q Baghdard (TheBarber ofBaghdad), whichdramatized a tale from The 1001 Nights along with a supplementalanecdotefrom the great essayist, al-Jahiz(d. 869). In 1969, Farajrepeated his earliersuccess with 'AliJanah al-Tibriziwa tabi'uhuQufa('AliJancdh fromTibrizand Qzfaihis Henchman), once againdrawnfrom The 1001 Nights. In this case, the story is of a merchantwho arrivesat a far-offcity with a story of a fabulous caravan of his which is on its way to the city with all mannerof costly goods. On the basisof this information, he is lavishedwith hospitality,money and even power, and disbursesmuch of the country'streasuryto the people. The possibilitythatthis basicstorycould be transferred to the affairs of contemporary Egyptwas not lost on the astute Egyptiantheaterwatcher, made all the more observantperhapsby the effortsof dramatists to circumvent the often vacillatingdemandsof censorship. Two other dramatistshave not met the popularsuccess of some of the other figureswhom we have mentioned, but they deserve to be cited becauseof theirinterestinguse of both sourcesand theatrical techniques.Both
30. For a good elaboration of this problem, see Jaroslav Stetkevych, "ClassicalArabic on Stage, in Studies in ModernArabic Literature, ed. R. C. Ostle, pp. 152-166. 31. The articles were published in al-Katib in 1963 and are now reprinted along with the play in Nahwa Masrah 'Arabi, Beirut: n.p. 1974.

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Shawqi 'Abd al-Hakim and Najib Surur follow the example of Yuisuf Idris (in a series of articles in 1963 and in his play, al-Farcgfir, of 196431) in finding the inspiration for their plays in Egyptian popular lore and customs. Both writers have made use of the famous tale of Hasan and Na'imah,32in which an Egyptian singer falls in love with a girl but is murdered with the connivance of her parents. In comparison with many other plays of the period, the works of these writers involve relatively little action, but consist in tableaux, with generous use of chorus, dancing and singing. In the case of Suruir's last play, Min ayn agib nds? (WhereWill I Find People?, 1976), there is also some colloquial poetry of extreme sensitivity and beauty. 'Abd al-Hakim has continued to write works in a variety of genres, including a play, Mawlid al-Malik Ma'rtuf(King Ma'rzufsBirthday) which was performed in 1976 but written in 1965. The death of Najib Surur in the 1970s deprived Egyptian literature not only of one of its most accomplished and controversial theater directors but also one of the comparatively few poets who achieved wide recognition, even within Egypt itself. In purely quantitative terms, poetry has continued to play a lesser role in the Egyptian literary tradition than that of the prose genres. The number of diwa-nspublished in Egypt is relatively small when compared with some other Arab countries. In addition, it appears that one of the two famous poets of earlier decades whom we mentioned above, Salah 'Abd al-Sabui7r, has been diverted from creative writing and drawn into the cultural bureaucracy. He is currently serving with the General Egyptian Book Organization and as editor of the literary magazine, al-Kcdtib. Both these tasks are of great value to Egyptian culture, but they would seem to have deprived Egypt and the Arab world as a whole of a significant output by the country's most outstanding poet during the 1950s and 1960s. The absence of these figures has left the field open for a generation of younger poets, among whom Amal Dunqul (b. 1940), Muhammad Ibrahim Abu Sinna (b. 1947), and Muhammad 'Afifi Matar (b. 1935) seem to have earned the widest reputations. All these poets share with their colleagues throughout the Arab world a desire to attempt an "Emigrationto the Interior,, but such introspection has not prevented them from also expressing their views on events in the Arab world in a more direct fashion, as in Abui Sinna's poems concerning the Algerian Revolution, Fidel Castro, and the fidd'qin.34 Of the three, it is Muhammad Afifi Matar whose works seem to
32. 'Abd al-Hakim's play is translated in English in Arabic Writing Today: The Drama, ed. Manzalaoui, pp. 297-334. For a discussion of the popular tale itself, see Pierre Cachia, "Social Values Reflected in Egyptian Popular Ballads," in Studies in ModernArabic Literature, ed. R. C. Ostle, pp. 86-98. 33. The title of a poem by Dunqul, translated in Berque, Cultural Expression,p. 279. See also Ghali Shukri, Shi'runa al-Hadith, Ila Ayn?, Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1968, pp. 189-200. 34. Abui Sinna, Qalbl wa Ghazilat al-Thawb al-Azraq, Sidon and Beirut: al-Maktabah al-'Asriyya, 1965, pp. 51, 89 and 118.

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have attractedthe attention of the widest audience, althoughwhether the publicationof so many of his diwa-ns in Damascusand Baghdadreflectsthis in findinga publishingoutlet in Egyptis not clear.At any fact or his difficulty rate he puts into words in an interview in Mawaqif (the journaledited in Beirut by Adiinis, the Syro-Lebanese poet who seems to have exercised some influenceon his writing)his feelings on the currentsituationin Egypt and the Arab world as a whole, and his views on poetry:
I reckon myself one of those who are particularly involved with the process of arousing that humane streak in the Arab world which now seems like a rotting corpse lying there

defeated,decayingunderthe beatingsun of so manydefeats,lies, andinanities,together with a total lack of a comprehensive vision of mankind or the future. ... to talk about modernpoetryas bringing aboutsome changein realityis to discusssomething well nigh impossiblein this Arabworldof ours. Self-esteemandarrogance mightboth lead me to wishfor sucha thing.However,I believe thatall modernpoetryhasbeen ableto do is to changethe poetic map. No more than that.35

We suggestedabove that the shorterfictionalgenres were once againbecoming the most popularin Egypt, after a period in which the dramahad seemed to hold almostequalsway.When we turn to considerwritingin the novel and short story genres, we are indeed presented with a plethora of names and works. Magazinesabound which are preparedto publish short stories and even short novels (usuallyin serial form, as has been the case throughoutthe modernperiod).It need not be emphasizedthatthis quantity of publicationneed not be concomitant with quality,andindeed muchmaterial of a lower artisticlevel does appear.36 The same phenomenonoccurred in the theaterin the late 1960s, leadingto a decisionto reducedrastically the numberof playsproducedeach year (the so-calledkam["How many?"} versus kayf ["How good?"Idebate). The principalfeatureof this period has been the non-appearance of works by the famous writers of the previous generation.Among more romantic writers, Yuisufal-Siba'iwas killed during the course of his administrative duties within the culturalsector, while Ihsan 'Abd al-Quddu-s seems to be concentratingon journalism ratherthan his extremely popularattemptsat socio-sexualrevolution throughfiction. Little too has been heard from famous contributors to realisticfictionsuch as Yuisuf alIdris, 'Abdal-Rahman Sharqawi, and Shukri'Ayyad.The majorexceptionto this is Najib Mahfiiz, who has produced a steadystreamof novels. I have alreadycommentedon the close affinityof these shortworks with film scripts(of whichMahfuiz has
incidentally written many37): the multi-episodic nature of the plots, the
35. Matar interviewed by Saniya Salih in Mawaqif 13-14 (January-April 1971), pp. 187-8. 36. For similar opinions, see al-Qissa 5 (September 1975), pp. 138ff., and al-Tali'ah, February 1976, pp. 166ff. 3 7. See Hashim al-Nahh.s, Najib Ma4f,z 'ald al-Shdsha, Cairo: al-Hay'ah al-Misriyah al-'Amma li alKitab, 1975.

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LITERATURE

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abundance of dialogue,andthe relativelylittle emphasisgiven to description of place. It is perhaps possible to view this trend as yet anotherphase in Mahftiz's writingcareer,but the recent news from Cairothathis latest work and the Veil/38) is selling very (called, I believe, al-Hubbwa al-Qina' [Love poorly for a major novelist, some of whose earlierworks are in their ninth printing, suggests that the Egyptianpublic is now reflectingin the bookstores views which manycritics,includingthe present writer,have been expressingfor some time.39 One might suppose that this situationhas left the field wide open for a young generationof writers,and such is the case up to a point. Once again, Sabri Hafiz, one of the most persistent and astute observers of fictional productionin Egypt,gives an accuratepicture of the situation:
The new generation was unique in the modern history of Egypt; it was debarred from all political activity, surrounded with a potent and deceptive propaganda, brought up on a

diet of illusiveslogansandstatements, andaskedto sacrifice its freedomfor a fragileand And despite all this, the most talentedmembersof this unfortucorruptestablishment. nate generationsucceededin arriving at, and expressingin their novels, a deep understandingof the real pulse of Egyptin the sixties.40

This "realpulse" takes a varietyof forms. For San'allah Ibrahim,a young writerwho has spent manyyearsin prison and outside of his homelandbecause of his political beliefs, his novella, Tilka al-Ra'ihah (That Smell, 1964)41 is the opportunityto paint a gruesome picture of the life of a man releasedfrom prison, an existencepunctuatedevery few hoursby the intrusions of the secret police checkingon his whereabouts.The air of irreality which the man feels on reenteringthe "outsideworld"and the regularity of the police intrusionsgive this work a rhythmandpulse whichis both sinister and fascinating.Quite different is the world of 'Abd al-HakimQasim in Ayyaim al-Insa-n a/-sab'a(The SevenDays of Man, c.1969) which is almost
certainly, as 'Abd al-Muhsin Taha Badr points out,42 the finest in a series of

novels (commencingin 1913 with MuhammadHusayn Haykal'sZaynab) whichportraylife in the provincesof Egypt.However, the wonderfully vivid an portraitof Egyptianvillage which this novel containscan almostdistract the readerfrom whatis the majoraspectof the author'sartistry: the workis a kind of bildungsroman in a mirror,in that the events of the novel (as a group of dervishespreparefor theirannualvisit to the shrineof the greatSufisaint,

38. 1 have only seen extracts from it published in the London-based periodical, al-Majallah. 39. As, for example, in my article cited in note 27 above, first given as a paper in Cairo in 1976. 40. Sabri Hafez, "The Egyptian Novel in the Sixties,"Journal of Arabic LiteratureVII, p. 77. 41. Published in Lebanon in 1968 after being banned in Egypt and later published in Egypt, 1969 and 197 1. It is available in English translationas The Smellof It, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies, London: Heinemann, 1971. 42. In al-RiwX'l wa al-Ard, Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1971, pp. 226-7.

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in Tanta)are seen throughthe eyes of 'Abdal-'Azyz, the al-Sayyid al-Badawi, son of the dervishes'leader,al-HajjKarim.The pictureof the dervishesand of the events in whichthey participate changesas the novel proceedsandthe boy grows up, moving from initialadorationvia outrightrejectionto a final sense of resigned pity and frustration.In the broadestterms, this splendid contributionto the traditionof the Egyptiannovel may be regardedas a study of change which uses the village, the city and educationas its major symbols. One of the most originalcontributorsto the fictionalgenres is JamalalGhitaniwho has writtena numberof novels and short story collections.One of the most interestingfrom the technicalpoint of view is al-ZayniBaraka-t (c.1971). The novel is at firstappearance entirelyhistoricalin focus;indeed it is set in the decade immediately before the Ottomanconquestof Egyptin is the muhtasib 1516. Barakat responsiblefor the supervisionof public morals, and his presence is felt by everyone althoughhe never actuallyparticipates in the action of the novel as a character.Al-Ghitani chooses this format,withits use of actualhistoricaltexts,parodiesof religiousandsecular pronouncements,to put togethera montagewhichgives an accurate picture not only of an earlier period in history but also of Egypt in the 1960s, a country, as Sabri Hafiz noted above, "askedto sacrificeits freedom for a fragileand corruptestablishment." Al-Ghitaniis more directin his concernwith the present in his collection of short stories, Ard..Ard(Groundto Ground, 1972). Several of them are concerned with soldiers at the front, while "al-Mughull" ("The Mongols") combines a reference to past history with an applicationto the present in much the same way as al-ZayniBaraka-t does. Many other authors deserve to be mentioned, but limitationsof space must restrictmy choice to two: MajidTuibiya, who managesto breakdown walls of time and space in his collections, includingVostok yasil il/ al-qamar the Moon,n.d., c. 1965) andKhams (Vostok Reaches Jara-'id LamTuqra'(Five UnreadNewspapers, 1970); and Yahyaal-TThir 'Abdallahwho bringsto his fiction the unusualvision of someone born and raised in Upper Egypt and who makes most effective use of the stream-of-consciousness technique in his stories, two collections of which are ThalathShaj'arat KabiraTathmur Burtuqal (ThreeLargeTreesProduce an Orange,1970) and al-Daff wa alSunduiq (The Tambourine and the Box, 1975).43 The period with whichwe have been dealingin this articlehasbeen one of immense upheaval and change for Egypt, some of it expected and even
43. A comprehensive survey of writers of fiction (which I hope to undertake within the next year as part of a continuing series on contemporary Egyptian literature in Edebiyat)would also include discussion of the works of such writers as Sulayman Fayyad, Ibrthim Aslan, Sabri Musa, Salah Mursi, Mahmud Diyab, Muhammad Yusuf al-Qu'ayyid.

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planned for, but much else as a result of forces beyond the control of its leaders and people. The years which have followed the terrible defeat of June 1967 have been difficultones for Egyptianliteratureand litterateurs, and that has been reflectedin both the qualityand quantityof works published. In 1974, Berque was somewhatskepticalaboutthe extent of a recovAs 1980 drawsto a close we can speakwith ery and of a sense of dynamism. a little more optimism,at least insofaras the fictionalgenres are concerned. And, if the output in the othergenres has yet to matchthatof formertimes, it should also be rememberedthat the domestic problems of Egypt-and especiallythe ever growingsize of its population-are enormous,andthatits with Israelhavein every case involvedthe commitmentof its confrontations citizensand the sacrificeof lives as well as warmwords. Culturehas been as much affectedby these issues as any other segmentof the society. The signs of resilience are alreadyto be found, and it is to be hoped that, with the advent of a more favorablepolitical climatein the Middle East, Egypt will once againassumeits centralrole in the production,dissemination and criticism of modern Arabicliterature.