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Al-Zayni Barakat: Narrative as Strategy Author(s): Samia Mehrez Source: Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, Modern Arab Writers and the Politics of the Middle East (Spring 1986), pp. 120-142

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Al-Zayni

Barakat:

Narrative

as Strategy

Samia Mehrez

The spreading influenceof political andsocialfactsintothe literary

fieldofconsciousnesshas

betweenthe party memberandthe writer,deriving fromtheformeran

ideal image ofcommittedmanandfromthelatterthenotionthata writ-

tenworkisanact .

atthefootofa collective proclamation onehasnotwrittenoneself.

produced a new type of scriptor,halfway

.Writing hereresemblesthe signature oneaffixes

RolandBarthes,WritingDegree Zero 1

Al-Zayni Barakatwas first published inBeirutin 1974.2The novelis consid-

ered one of the most

during the past decade.

(Seuil, 1985) have generated tremendousenthusiasmfrom literary critics world-wide.3 Al-Zayni has succeeded in sustaining this kind of interest because oftheincrediblerichnessofitsnarrative texture, as wellas itsimme-

diaterelevanceto the contemporarypolitical situationoftheMiddleEast in particular, and authority/peopledynamics in general.

significantliterary works produced in theArab world

BoththeArabictextand theFrenchtranslationofit

The novel deals witha period in

becomes that "new

Egyptian medieval history(1507-1518)

that parallelscontemporaryEgyptianreality (1952-1967). Atthesame time, al-Zayni is a manifestationof theartistic maturity of its author,al-Ghitani,

who, in trying to both

present,

memberand the writer."The textof

al-Ghitani's works)4is an "act." Boththestructureand discourseof

are indeed a "silent" statementof the author's political and ideological

strategies.

type of scriptor,halfway betweenthe party

represent and come to termswithhis own historical

al-Zayni

Barakat (as well as mostof

al-Zayni

This paper

willexaminehownarrativestructureand narrativediscoursein

al-Zayni

sis requires thatthenoveland theauthorfirstbe situatedwithintheirhistori-

things.First, the author's generation

cal context This will entail several

(referredto as the

brieflydiscussed, with special referenceto thesewriters' medium,i.e., the

are a meansof strategizingagainst the"authorities."Suchan analy-

"young authors")

in

post-revolutionaryEgypt

will be

SamiaMehrezisAssistantProfessorofNearEastern Studies,Cornell University.

120 ASQ Volume 8 Number 2

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Al-Zayni Barakat

121

Arabic

Iyas'ssixteenth-century chronicleof Egypt underthe Mamluks), inan attempt

to show why al-Ghitanichose to writeaboutthis specificperiod in Egyptian

history, in what ways it relatesto his own present, and finally, and most

in adopting some of the characteristicsof medieval

forms, al-Ghitaniis able to writehisownstatementin theface ofan oppres-

sive system.

significant of all, how,

language.Second,

I willrelate al-Zayni Barakatto itsmodeltext (Ibn

Gamalal-Ghitaniand the "generationof therevolution"

UpperEgypt. The family

thenmovedto Gammaliyah, in Old Cairo, whereal-Ghitaniremaineduntil he married.It is,therefore, no surprise thatOld Cairo servesas a setting for many ofhisworks.From1962 to 1968 al-Ghitanistudied carpetdesign and workedas a designer. In fact, thisshort-livedcareerhas had a great influence

on the way he "constructs"hisnovels.5Al-Ghitanistartedhis

in 1963 and published his firstshort story in the Lebanese literaryjournal

Al-Adib.He began hiscareeras a journalist in 1968, and continuesto work

Al-Ghitani's literaryproduction

for the

includesbothfictionaland non-fictionalworks.6 Among hisworksoffiction

is a collectionof shortstoriesthat may be considered embryonic formsof

many of his longer texts. Awraq Shabb

includesshortstoriesthatdemonstrateal-Ghitani's experimentation withthe

style

narrativeforms.The

whichwe encounter, on a more sophisticatedlevel, in al-Zayni. Influentialon this writing are two contemporary Arab writerswho have fascinatedal- Ghitanimore than any others.In Egypt, he was highly influenced by the

worksof Najib

writerwhomal-Ghitanicitesas one ofthemost important Arabwritersis the

PalestinianImil Habibi. Like al-Ghitani, Habibi has drawnon the Arabic

classical

Gamal al-Ghitaniwas bornin 1945 in

Suhag,

in

writing career

Egyptiandaily

Akhbaral-Yawm.

Asha Mundhu Alf ( Am (1969)

*

of medievalIslamic historiography and his attempt at molding new

general

toneand style of thecollectionresemblesthat

Mahfuz,Egypt's

most prolific modernnovelist.The second

heritage in writingSďid, the Pessoptimist (1974).

the major

eventsin al-Ghitani'slife have been the June 1967

being

some oftheblackestin

ideology thathe had grownup

with.7

Two of

Arab-Israeli war, andSadat's visittoJerusalemin 1977, whichculminatedin

peace withIsrael.He describesthese periods as

his life.For him thesetwo historicalmoments represented the erosionof

principles and thedestructionof an

Al-Ghitani, whowas oneofthe young writers imprisoned in 1966 because of "politicalactivism,"spent six monthsin a detention camp. Thereafterhe refrainedfromdirect political involvement.The choicetoremainsilenton the

openpolitical fronthasbeen paralleledby a verystrongpolitical and ideolog-

ical

statement.As EdwardSaid has pointed out:

delivered through his fiction. Al-Zayni Barakatis thatindirect

message

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122

Arab Studies Quarterly

Every novelistis of his time, howevermuchhis

beyond it.Each novelistarticulatesa consciousnessofhistimethatheshares

witha group ofwhichhistoricalcircumstances (class,period,perspective) make

hima part. Thuseveninitsirreducible singularity thenovelisticworkis historical reality.8

imaginationmay

takehim

itself a

Gamal al-Ghitani belongs to whatwe can referto as jil al-thawrah (the

generation of the revolution). He probably startedhis school days withthe

adventofthe 1952 revolutionin Egypt. One ofthe

Officers' regime was tobreeda new generation fedon a new

rhetoricand a new

ideology, a new

primarygoals oftheFree

self-image.Through a process of standardizing education

mannerthatwould

downgrade the pre-revolution-

generation

the"heart"and

"democratic" regime succeededin molding a

newlyforgedimage of Egypt:

and rewritinghistory in a

aryperiod, thenew

that strongly believedin this

"strongest nation" of the "Arab

regimefully realizedthe politicallysignificant role assigned tothe press inthe pre-revolutionaryperiod.Consequently, one ofthefirstmeasurestaken by the

revolutionwas

world."9On the other hand, the Nasser

censorship ofthe press.

The pressplayed an important rolein pre- and post-revolutionaryEgypt,

newspapers have a veryspecialrelationship not only

insofaras literatureand

in Egypt, butin theArab worldin

the

general. In

speaking aboutthefunctionof

press in Egypt, WilliamA. Rughpoints out:

Cairo

best-known professionaljournalists, as wellas someofthe very best novelists,

playwrights, and

newspapers and

magazines haveontheirstaffssomeofthe leading and

short-story writersintheentireArabworld.

.

.

.These journalists functioninthe Egyptianpoliticalenvironment, whichis

changing, so

overtimetheirfortunes changedepending onhow

notstaticbut

theirviewsand personalities fitwiththetimes.10

The pre-revolutionarypress in Egyptplayed

opment ofmodernArabicfiction.Fromthe1870s untilthe1952 revolutionin

importantpart in thedevel-

an

Egypt, the press fulfilledtwo major functions. Primarily it helpeddevelop a

modernArabic literarystyle thatfreeditselffromtherestraintsof classical

Arabic

foritsown sake; ratherit was a vehicleto communicatea

other hand, the publishers of these newspapers,following the example of

contemporary French newspapers,

consideredthe Arab press one of the proper vehiclesforArab literature.11

Hence, anotherfunctionof the press was the creationof a new

creative writing, whethershortstoriesor serializednovels.12Withthe 1952

revolutionin Egypt therewas a shiftof emphasis in thefunctionofthe press.

The new regime abolished

prose.Language was no

longer an aesthetic object

whichwere

largely

tobe contemplated

message. On the

culturalin content,

space

for

the partysystem, and withthisnew measurea

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Al-Zayni Barokat

123

great numberof partynewspapers were closed down.The remaining ones

were

government. Whereas pre-revolutionarynewspapers had been responsible for

the

were responsible fortheerosionofthatmodernArabic style. The language of

the press became ladenwithclichesthatresounded only withthe theauthorities:

ideology of

placed under very close censorship and became mouthpieces forthe

development ofa modernArabic literarystyle,post-revolutionarypapers

This [authoritarian]system isbasedonthe theory thattruthisnotthe product of

a great massof people, butofa fewwisemen

theirfellows.Commentandcriticismare carefullyguided, and articulated;goals

forthe community conformwiththe goals ofthe regime itself.13

ina position to guide anddirect

This tightly controlled grasp on the media,including radio and television,

remainsin place even today,despite theexistenceof

as al-Ahaliand

Egypt. Thisfactwas demonstrated by Sadaťs crackdownon

and

majorjournalists: "I wantfreedomofthe press. At thesame timeI wantitto

be a dedicated press."14 The Egyptian defeatin the 1967 Arab-Israeliwar had already made it impossible forthelocal mediato maskthe reality oftheArabsituation.The Egyptianpeople enteredthewar backed by an elaboratemedia-fabricated rhetoric:

"opposition"papers such

al-Sha% thatare publishedby thenow existing"parties"

the press in

in

1973

his comments, at the time,"justifying"censorship and suspension of

ItisclearthattheArabmassmedia participateveryactively in

commentaries, how theyreport the news, and what theyreport or omitare

mattersthatArab politicians,government officialson all levels, and many

otherswatch carefully ona

politics. Their

day-to-day basis.15

The defeat brought withit a disillusionment, a sensitivity to the misleading

language thathad

Egyptians:

so farbeen adopted to forge the modern history of the

No Arabcan havebeenimmunefromthe feeling thathismodern history, so

laboriouslycreated, scene byscene, would prove so

test.16

easy tobrushasideinthe

In other words, thewarled to a re-examinationofthe

language that expressed that ideology. On the literaryfront, thewarcaused a

re-evaluationof

the representation of

ideology and the very

existingliteraryforms, theroleofthewriterin society, and

reality ina workoffiction.

The generation of young writers,among whomis Gamal al-Ghitani, was

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124

Arab Studies Quarterly

confrontedwitha complexproblem.First,they weredisowned by theirliter- arypredecessors,many of whomhad been neutralized by theauthorities by

beingplaced in keypositions inthe press (thegovernmentmouthpiece):

This younggeneration thatdoesnotread(Taha Husayn), thatdoesnot study (Muhammad HasanaynHaykal), thatdoesnotseek depth(AhmadBaha'al- Din), this generation ofbureaucratsthatdoesnotknowitsown classics, northe classicsof others, whatwillitwrite?17

Secondly,they were

opinions and accused of

hostile propaganda," and

writershad

Arabic

that medium, and theneedtorefashion"conventional" literary formsthatno

longerrepresented their contemporaryreality.19

persecutedby theauthoritiesfor voicing their political

"aiming

to

destroy the government,""spreading

young

"actingagainst thenationalinterest."18The

to face many challenges,among which were a medium (the

thathad beenrobbedofits richness, a censorthatmonitored

language)

Al-Zayni Barakatand Nasser's Egypt

Al-Zayni Barakat confrontsall these challenges. The novel is set in

sixteenth-century Cairo during the region of

just beforethe Ottomaninvasionof

sixteenth-centuryEgypt

theMamlukSultan al-Ghawri,

in 1517 A.D.Al-Ghitani'smain

Egypt is the medieval chronicle by Ibn Iyas,

source on

BadaT al-ZuhurFi WakaY al-Duhur.Mamlukrulein Egypt was character-

ized by constant instability. In fact, thisis a period in the history ofmedieval Egypt that symbolizes the police state.As many criticshave alreadypointed

out,

medieval police statethatwe readaboutin al-Zayni and Egypt underNasser

(its modern counterpart).

and as al-Ghitanihimself confirmed, thereexistsan analogy betweenthe

Anyportion or groups whichcouldthreaten [the Free Officers']power were

Nasser'slife

In

1954 following an attempt on

severalthousandmembersofthe [Muslim] Brotherhoodwerearrestedandlead-

ersofthemovementexecuted.20

Furthermore, thefactorsthatcontributedtotheOttomaninvasionin 1517 A.D.and the Egyptian defeatin 1967 werenotdissimilar.We knowthatthe

historianIbn Iyas was very criticaloftheSultanandhis corrupt administra- tion and held them responsible forthe defeat.In both cases we have

administrationsthatfailedto live up

have regimes thattriedto maskthe reality ofdefeatfromthe people foras

long as possible. The inherent parallel

Samia As'ad to

totheir images.

Andinbothcases we

betweenthe two situationsleads

interpret the opening lineof al-Zayni, "To every firstthere

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Al-Zayni Barokot

125

is a last; to everybeginning an end," as follows:

Thenovelcoversa certainhistorical period. It may be similartoa period ora heraldofone yet tocome.21

preceding

The maincharacterinthenovelis al-Zayni BarakatIbn Musa. BarakatIbn Musa is a real historical figure ofthesixteenth century. He was a judge who was appointedby theSultanal-Ghawritothe position ofmuhtasib (supervisor of tradeand prices). The word "al-Zayni" (the one who adorns) is a title bestowed upon BarakatIbnMusa by theSultan.In manyperiods ofmedieval history, the position ofmuhtasibinvolvedfarmorethan simplymonitoring the prices ofmerchandise.This was thecase withboththereal and thefictional BarakatIbn Musa. The noveltracesthe emergence of al-Zayni Barakat, his

riseto power, and hissuccessat

Mamluks. Workingclosely withIbn Iyas's medieval chronicle, twovolumes

ofwhichare a day-by-dayeyewitnessaccount,

remaining in power

even afterthefallofthe

al-Ghitanirecreatesa whole

epoch.Al-ZayniBarakat, to use Ceza Kassem's words, is the "absent/pres- ent."22He never actuallyappears, as a character, in thenovel. However, all theeventsandcharactersinthebookare directly or indirectly connectedwith him.We hearofhimand abouthim throughothers, and he remainsa contro- versial figure tilltheend. Thereexistseveralsourcesof information, inthe novel, on al-Zayni. One of theseis thetextofmemoirsofa Venetian traveler, who recordssome ofthe significant eventsthattook place during hisnumerousvisitsto Cairo before andaftertheOttomaninvasion.He provides theviewoftheoutsiderwhohas access primarily to a publicreality. The othersourcesof informationcan be

dividedintotwo categories. One pole is representedby thechiefof police,

Zakariya, and hisnetworkof

i.e., theauthorities.The other pole is

Sa'id, whoseemsto be thearticulationoftheother component in this world,

namely, the people. Al-Zayni Barakaťs increasingpower

thatof Zakariya.Throughout the novel, thelattertriesto unveilthe myste-

rious history ofthe

self-interestlies in allying himselfwith al-Zayni, he abandons his plans to

destroy him. Sa'id, on

that perfect alliance of authorities (Zakariya and Barakat). He

firmbelieverin Barakat, buthisbeliefis shakenwhenhe witnessesincidents

thatseemto point toBarakaťs corrupt and hypocritical nature.When Sa'id, at

a gathering ina mosque,finally accusesBarakatof being

threatto the authorities (Barakat and

him.

meddlewithSa'id's

for Samah, the girl Sa'id loves.The novelends withSa'id

spies(among

whomis a studentat al-Azhar) -

representedby anotherAzhar student,

poses a threatto

baffling Barakat.When Zakariyafinally realizesthathis

theother hand, is the intellectual, who is destroyedby

Zakariya).They

begins

as a

a liar, he becomesa

decide to eliminate

Zakariya

and hismen capture and tortureSa'id. The "authorities"even

personal life; itis said that al-Zayniarranges a marriage

totallydestroyed,

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126

Arab Studies Quarterly

crying out: "They have made me rot,they have destroyedmy forts" (p. 238).

Any

readerfamiliarwiththe history ofmodern Egypt willnotfailtosee the

theygood

or

simplymanipulating them?

theherooftherevolutionand thenew "democratic regime" was seen

generation of young generation that grew

slogans ofthenew regimeonly tobe oppressedby this very same

affinitiesthatexistbetweenthecharacterof al-Zayni and thatof Nasser.23

Both figures seemtoelicitthesame controversial questions: Are

are they evil?Are theyworking forthe people or

Are they villainsorare they heroes?The same shaykh who supports Barakat's

appointment tothe position ofmuhtasiblaterordersthe people tobeathim.In

1954,

as a "usurper of people's rights."24Furthermore, no one will failto identify

Sa'id, the disillusionedAzhar student, witha whole

Egyptians,among whomis Gamal al-Ghitani himself; a

up

"democratic" regime.

withthe

Parody and pastiche

The above has been a ratherbarereconstructionofthe "story" of al-Zayni

Barakatfroma textthat begins at the end, thatdefiestheidea ofan authorita-

tive voice in the narrative, and

"fictional"

juxtaposition of

reproductions of medieval documentary forms.The questionis,

thatnarrates through the

howdoes itwork?More

strategies thatal-Ghitaniuses to make al-Zayni work.A

would be to examinefurtherthe relationship between al-Zayni Barakatand its model text, the medievalchronicle (which we mustnot isolatefromits

generic and

chronicle provides al-Ghitaniwithan inexhaustible repertoire of historical

data (bureaucraticand populartraditions).Furthermore, medievalhistorio- graphyprovides himwith specificstylistic and formalcharacteristicsofhis-

torical

well.25In an interview, al-Ghitanitalksabouthowhe internalizedthe style of

thechroniclebeforehe started writingal-Zayni

significant,however, are the implications behindthe

good startingpoint

historicalcontextofIslamicmedieval historiography). Ibn Iyas's

discourse, whichhe draws upon constantly in otherof his worksas

I usedtoreadwhole pages aloudandI usedtó copy downin my notebookwhole

pages fromitinan

Iyas.26

attempt to capture theinternal rhythm ofthe style ofIbn

The relationship thatexistsbetween al-Zayni BarakatandIbn

medieval

chroniclecan be

According to Genette, the object of poetics is notthetextin its

ratherit is thetextualtranscendenceof the text, its transtextuality. In other

words, itis thatwhich puts thetextina manifestor secretrelationwithother texts. Hypertextuality is therelationthatunitesa text (B), whichGenettecalls

the "hypertext"(in

thiscase al-Zayni), withan anteriortext (A), the "hypo-

Iyas's

best definedin GerardGenette'sterm "hypertextuality."27

singularity;

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Ai-Zoyni Barakat

127

text" (in thiscase

levels: parody, whichis the transformation of theelementsof the hypotext,

and pastiche, whichGenetteidentifieswithimitationofthe hypotext. In al-Zayni, parody is identifiableon thelevelof style, wheresome ofthe

most prominentstylistic characteristicsof medievalIslamic

are re-usedto createthe"fictionalworld"of thenovel.Here I am referring especially to theuse ofnarrateddiscourseand the passive voice. It is impor- tantforus toconsiderthefunctionofthesedevicesinhistoricaltextsinorder

to appreciate the significance oftheir prevalence in al-Ghitani'sfiction.Both

narrateddiscourseand variationson

whicha historiancandemonstratehis"detachment"and "objectivity." Atthe

same time they are

reliablesourceofinformation.Thereis no

can be pointed. The historiancan hidebehindthatabsent"I" and inject the

textwithhisownbiasesand

opinions without assuming direct responsibility.

On theother hand, theabsenceofthe"I" is a wayby whichthehistoricaltext can reflecta collectiveconsciousness.Whatdoes it mean,then, fora fictional narrativeto be written usingpredominantly thesetwodevices?

Pastiche (the otherdimensionof hypertextuality) is likewiseevidentin

al-Zaynl

tionof complete textsof"fictional"medievaldocuments.Even thecharacters

rarelyspeak directly, but are

their respective namesas

thedocuments.What theysay and thinkis "told" ratherthan"shown."We

knowthecharacters through theirindividualnarrated monologues, while they

themselvesremainsilent throughout, each lockedwithinthe

himin a section. They are isolated units,imprisoned in their respective con-

sciousness, a gesture thatfurther emphasizes the police state.

medieval historiography).Hypertextualityoperates on two

historiography

passive constructionsare means by

do not allow fora

"non-incriminating"devices; they

responsible "I" at whicha finger

Eventsinthenovelare

"narrated" primarilythrough the juxtaposi-

presentedthrough narrativesections bearing

headings. Al-Ghitanimakes his characters part of

space

ascribedto

significantpoint,namely the

Al-

Here it is important to establisha yet more

relationship betweenmedieval

Ghitaniis a journalistbyprofession ina system thathas censoredthefreedom

arounddirectconfrontationwiththe authorities,he, like

themedieval historian, must adopt certain strategies. In TheArabPress, Rugh

ofthe press. To get

historiography and the modern press.

enumeratessomeofthe games a journalist can play withthe system:

.byomittingparts ofthe story,byemphasizing other partsbyputting themin

paragraph or headline,byjuxtaposing elementsofthe story tocreatea

unattributedfactinformationfrom only one

controversial issue,byuncriticallypublishing informationfroma

thelead

certain impression,byprinting as

sourceon a

doubtful source, or byoutrightfabricating.28

The

used to ensurethe

strategiesRugh

listsabove act as a

double-edgedweapon. They can be

security ofthe "authorities," or they can instigate a revolt

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128

Arab Studies Quarterly

against

ourmodernhistorian! Al-Zayni Barakatusesboth edges ofthe weapon. Ituses the language and strategy ofthe authorities,only to raiseconsciousnessand

instigateagainst

fromthetextinordertodemonstrate mypoint.) Another important dimension

to Rugh'squotation is the question itraisesaround "reality," a central question

in

the juxtaposition of"fictional" documentary formsin al-Zayni have on tory" as the presentation of "reality"?

the

"authorities,"depending on the allegiances of the journalist,i.e.,

the

verylanguage ituses. (I will presentlyanalyzepassages

al-Zayni Barakat.Do we haveaccess tothe"real"? What implications does

"his-

In discussing thetextof al-Zayni

Barakat ' inorderto demonstratehowits

structureand narrativediscoursecan help us understandal-Ghitani's

very

politicalstatements, I will present twolevelsof analysis: (1) the significance of the juxtaposition of the major blocks (memoir sectionsand surdaq sec-

tions); and (2) theinternal organization ofthe surdaq sections.

Memoirsectionsand surdaq sections

On the firstlevel we have two major blocks thatare juxtaposed against each other:thetextsofthememoirswritteninthefirst personby theVenetian traveler, and the surdaq (pavilion) sections.The Venetiantravelerdoes not

have totalaccess tothe

sections, whichcontain"fictional"documentsand thenarrated monologues

ofthe major characters. Thereare fivememoirsections carefullyplaced withinthetextof al-Zayni The firstsectionofmemoirs appears on thefirst page ofthenovel:

"reality" we privileged readersare given inthe surdaq

Rajab

oftheVenetian traveler, Visconte Giante, whovisitedCairomorethanonce

during the

memoirsrecordtheconditionsin Cairo during themonthof August 1517

a.D.- Rajab 922 a.h. (P. 7)

travelingthroughout the world.These

922 A.H.- August to September 1517A.D.An excerpt fromthememoirs

sixteenth century while

The othersectionsare foundon the

The

followingpages: 121, 169, 187, and239.

orderofthedatesthat appear withthememoirsectionsare as follows:

Page

7

121

169

187

239

Hijra (A.H.)

A.D.

922

1517

914

1509

920

1515

922

1517

923

1518

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Al-Zayn¡ Barakat

129

The second through fifthmemoirsectionsarein chronological order.The first

section,withwhichthenovel

cal order, an act ofdislocationthathas specialsignificance and relevanceto thenarrativestructureof al-Zayni On a purely historical level, the year 1517 A.D.is the highlyimportant date oftheOttomaninvasionand thefallof the Mamluk dynasty in Egypt. Placed at the beginning ofthe novel, thememoir

section,bearing that significantdate,gives

of thesituationin

period in whichthenovelis set.In thefirstsectionof memoirsthetraveler

portrays theconditionsinCairo immediatelybefore thedefeatoftheMamluk

Sultanof

after theOttomaninvasion. Al-Ghitanisetsthe general moodof

ofthememoirsections.He introducesthedate 1517

thenovelto highlight thehistorical significance of the

thenovelis set. Despite thefactthatthememoirsection appears on thefirst

page ofthetextof al-Zayni, itis notthe beginning ofthenovel.If

is a false beginning. Placed at the beginning, the firstmemoirsection is

followed by a intime.The

firstmemoir section, dated 1517,however, mirrorsa

and unrestand captures the spirit of thedeclineand

rule:

begins, has been uprooted fromthe chronologi-

thereaderan "afterthefact"view

significance of the

Egypt.

It draws our attentionto the

Egypt. The lastsectionof memoirs, dated 1518 A.D., portrays Cairo

al-Zaynibydisplacing the chronology

A.D.at the beginning of

periodduring which

anything, it

surdaq dated1507 A.D.,whichcarriesthereaderten years back novel actuallybegins ten years beforetheOttomaninvasion.The

generalfeeling ofterror corruption of Mamluk

Conditionsinthelandof Egypt aretroubledthese days. Cairoseems strange to

me;notwhatI hadknownon myprevious visits .1see thefaceofthe city sickly, onthebrinkoftears.(P. 9)

The firsttimewe hearof

al-Zayni Barakatis through theremarksmade by

theVenetiantravelerinthefirstmemoirsection.Giventhetraveler'slimited

analytic and interpretiveperspective,al-Zayni is presented in highly contro-

versialterms.The controversy over al-Zayni Barakat is,indeed, withthereadertilltheendofthenovel:

whatremains

The peopleof Cairosee al-Zayni,everyday, at leastonce.The processional

drums precedehim, attendantswalkinhistrain. Al-Zayni isforever supervising

the prices ofmerchandise.He searchesoutdensof

visitto Egypt;al-Zayni Barakatwas strong and sturdy. I don'tknowwhathas

becomeofhim.I saw al-Zayni himselfdismountandtalkwiththevendorsof

pastries, cheesesand

forhim.I rememberwhatI wroteabouthimafterour

neverseen anything likethe gleam thatis inhis

intelligence inhisfeatures.Theblinkofhis eye isfulloftendernessand compas-

sionwhich captures thesoul.Atthesametimeitevokes fear.(P. 11 ; myitalics).

immorality.

.On my last

I

.1knowofthe people'srespect for him, theirlove

have

eyes.

.Thereis a striking

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130

Arab Studies Quarterly

The traveler reports whathe hearsfromthe people, whathesees ; andhowhe

feels; without synthesizing theinformation.His description of al-Zayni Bara- kat leaves the reader withthe two conflicting elementsof the muhtasiVs

character:he is

traveler'sdetachmentin reporting occurs immediately aftertheabove pas-

sage. Once morehis detachmentaccentuatesthecontroversialcharacterof al-Zayni Barakat. VisconteGiante recordsa story thathe hears fromthe people, in whicha young slave girlappeals to al-Zayni for help whenher masterabusesher sexually.Al-Zayni ordershismentostormintotheaccused man's house. They take the slave girlaway and abuse the man. The story

circulates among the people, and a debate arises about the legitimacy of

al-Zayni's

compassionate,yet

he

inspires fear.Another example

of the

interference:

Peopledisagreed about al-Zayni's Barakaťsbehavior.One

groupsupported

whathehad done,especially as the girl hadsenttohim asking for help whenshe

feltshecouldbearnomore.Butanother group feltthathehadintrudedonthe

most private mattersof people'slives; andthatnooneatallcould feelsafe inhis homeorabouthis family,especially aftera rumorindicatedthatthe girl had

never appealed to al-Zayni at all;

dubiousmethodswhichenablehimto acquire informationabouttheminutest

thathehadfoundoutaboutthematter through

detailsthatoccurwithinhomes. (P. 13;myitalics)

Historicallyspeaking,

theconventionalformof thememoir belongs to a

genre,namely, travelliterature. However, withinthecontext

largerspecies or

of

objectivecommentary that provides a different point ofviewontheevents. By

thesame token, itsauthoritativevoice is underminedbecause thereaderhas anotheraccess to the "real" in the surdaq sections.The memoirsections always interrupt thetextafteran important eventhas been presented in the

surdaqs.Very oftentheinternal organization ofthe surdaqs includesdetailsof

whichtheVenetiantraveleris

totallyunaware,making thememoirsections

seemat timesnaive.In otherinstances they are complementary tothe surdaqs because theyprovide a different perspectiveby recording scenes thathave

Such instances downplay

the authority of the surdaqs.

only been mentionedin

al-Zayni, the memoir acquires a new,fictional function.It becomes an

passing withthe surdaqs.

An

example of

this complementary functionis

theincidentwith 'Ali, who was muhtasibof Cairo

Barakat.

The first surdaq includesa royal decreefor'Ali's arrest, whichis followed by

oral

followsthefirst surdaq is an eyewitness recordofthat public torture. The remaining fourmemoirsectionsoccurafterthe followingmajor inci- dentsin

before al-Zayni

proclamationsannouncing his public torture.The memoirsectionthat

al-Zayni :

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Al'Zoyni Barakat

Event

1. The nominationof al-Zayni Barakat as theGovernorofCairo.

2. Al-Zayni'spublicappearance at the

mosque, wherehe

is interruptedby a

voice thataccuses

himof being a liar.

3. A quotedpassage fromIbn Iyas's

chronicle.The

passage theSultan's procession on his way to Greater Syria to meettheOttomans. VisconteGianteincludesthis passage

in his memoirs, he being Ibn Iyas's friend.

describes

4. RumorsofthedefeatoftheSultan

131

Memoirdates

1509 A.D./914A.H. sectionII

1515 A.D./920A.H. sectionIII

1517 A.D./922A.H. sectionIV

1517 A.D./922A.H.

and al-Zayni'sdisappearance fromCairo. sectionI

5. AftertheOttomaninvasion.A descrip- tionof al-Zayni's usual procession.

1518 A.D./923A.H. sectionV

The external juxtaposition ofthetwo and surdaqs, generates whatSamia

history: thenovel begins attheend.This

to al-Ghitani's interpretation ofthemovementof history. The circle

re-occurrence, and thedefeatof theSultanin 1517 is Egypt's defeatin the

war against Israelin 1967.29

another level,however, thetraveler'smemoirsreflecta verypublic

versionofthesituationin Egypt. He records congregations at mosques, cof-

feeshops, conversationsthattake place betweenthe

othercharactersinthe novel, remains ignorant ofthe privatecomplexities of

thesituation.He neverrisesabove the people's

question theirvisionor to commenton thecontroversiesthatsurroundthem.

thememoirsections

majorblocks,i.e.,

As'ad refersto as a feeling of cyclical

symbolicgesture, she suggests,points

suggests

On yet

people- but he, like all

immediate understanding to

We, as

we have access to moreinformation.Whilethetraveleris

readers, are in a position tosee through thetraveler'snaivetébecause

summit meeting is being

heldfor

police

chiefsfromall

busydescribing Sultanal-Ghawri's procession on his way outof Egypt to meetthe Ottomans,

thereaderturnsthe page tofindthat somethingequallysignificant is happen-

ing within Egypt. A overtheworld.

May Godbestow peace ontheselands. Top secret.Notaccessibleto anyliving soul.

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132

Arab Studies Quarterly

letter prepared ontheoccasionofthe meeting oftheworld's police chiefsin

A

Cairo, themotherofthe world, and garden oftheuniverse.This meeting isheld

to

andbenefits.Thisletterwas prepared intheDiwanoftheMamlukSultan's

police

forgive himand guide his way.

study conditionsandmethodsusedand

force.It was read

developed to exchangeknowledge

by theGreat Shihab,Zakariya Ibn Radi,may God

Cairo JamadiFirst922 a h. (P. 189)

This letterheadis followed by thetextof theletterthat Zakariya read at the

meeting. The textis fullof

techniques thatwould allow theauthoritiesto maintainan even

on the people. Zakariya

humantortureand concludes:

describesall his own experiments in the fieldof

tightergrip

horrifying detailsof recentlydeveloped torture

In this way I transformlifeintoan

Deathbecomesa longed-forhope andmuchdesired luxury.(P. 201)

Inferno padded with spikes so thateven

All this happenssimultaneously as thetravelerrecords"conditionsintheland

thetraveler's memoirs, whichdescribe very

of Egypt!" The juxtaposition of

public things, withthe

surdaq sections, renderstheinformationin the memoirsectionsironic.Al- Ghitani silently createsa commenton thediscourseoftheVenetiantraveler.

In hisbook Irony, D. C. Mueckediscussesthat aspect of irony thatconsists

horrifying textsof these top-secret documentsin the

in thecontrastof reality and appearance:

Theironist presents an appearance and pretends tobeunawareofa

thevictimisdeceived by an appearance andisunawareofa reality.30

reality while

The above definitionof

Venetian traveler.It is the traveler's genuine unawarenessof the contrast

between appearance and reality thatmakes himironic.On theother hand,

al-Ghitani, thesilentironist par excellence, makes thetravelerthevictimof

simplejuxtaposition ofthelatter'smemoirsandthesecretlettersof

theauthorities.As readerswe have this totality ofvisionbecause we havethe

ironyby a

irony

describesal-Ghitani's gesture towardsthe

text.

If

awarenessofcontrastisa necessary conditionofthe recognition of irony.31

a contrastof an appearance and a reality is a basic featureof irony, an

Internal organizationof the surdaq sections

The surdaq sectionsconstitutethe second major block in al-Zayni. The

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Al-Zoyni Barokot

133

word surdaq meansa pavilion or

al-Ghitaniattributesa newfictionalfunctionto this spatialconceptbyusing

the surdaq tocreatea large umbrellaunderwhicheventsand charactersexist simultaneously withinthesame space. In al-Zayni thereare sevensuchsur- daqs, each bearing a numberindicativeofits temporalsequence withinthe text.The clusterof nonfictional documentary formsand charactersections withineach surdaq is organized aroundone centralevent.

al-Zaynirepresent a very elaborateformof pastiche,

whereinal-Ghitaniimitatesseveralkindsofdocuments.He drawson a reper-

toireofmedievalconventionalforms.Each ofthesemedievaldocumentshas

itsownhistoricalfunctionandcharacteristics.In orderto"narrate"theevents

in al-Zayni,

sections according to theirhistoricalcharacteristicsand function.All seven

surdaqs

centraleventin thenovel:thearrestoftheold muhtasibof Cairo, theriseof

al-Zayni Barakatto power, and so on.The centralor topical eventthatis the

subject ofeach surdaq is presented to thereader throughbasically

of entries.The

andoral.The secondarenarrativesections bearing as

nameofa character (followedby thatcharacter'snarrated monologue), orthe name of a place (followed,generally,by a section presenting the people's point of view). On the level of historical function, themedievaldocumentsincludedin

al-Zayni can be dividedintotwo majorcategories:

1. Texts of documents (oral and written) presented froman authority (the

large

tent.Withinthecontextof al-Zayni,

The surdaq sectionsin

al-Ghitani organizes thedocumentswithineach of the surdaq

have thesame heterogeneous internalstructure.Each deals withone

twokinds

firstare fictionaltextsof medieval documents, bothwritten

sub-headings eitherthe

thechiefof the police force) to the people of

Egypt. This first category of authority/people documentsincludes the following:

a. Royal decreesfromtheSultan.

b. Oral proclamations fromtheSultan.

c. Oral proclamations from al-Zayni.

Sultan,al-ZayniBarakat,

e. Fatwas , whichareIslamic legal statementsmade byprominentshaykhs.

f. Reports fromtheSultanon a given situation.

Each

formal, rhetoricaland stylistic characteristics.Al-Ghitani reproduces all such

medieval stamps of theconventional forms, so thatthedocumentsare period-specific.

2. Texts of documentsthat are presented fromone authority to another