The Shifting Limits of the Sayable in Egyptian Fiction


 
 
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Richard Jacquemond
The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies

Since the 1990s, the Egyptian literary scene has been marked by what seems to be at first glance two opposite developments: on the one hand, the growing number of the cases of censorship has generated feelings of harassment and insecurity among writers; on the other hand, anyone who follows these writers’ production cannot but notice that they enjoy a greater freedom of expression than they did at any previous stage during the 20th century.

The main reason for this gap between the actual state of freedom of expression – as regards at least literary writing – and the actors’ perceptions of it resides in the growing unpredictability of the system. As a matter of fact, the two-players game, with strict albeit clear rules, between the state and the writers, that prevailed under Nasser and Sadat has been replaced, under Mubarak, by a game whose rules are indeed more flexible, but also more blurred, especially because of the interference of third parties who seek for themselves an authority as censors, at the margin of, or outside, a legal system to which they oppose superior, moral or religious norms. This is referred to by the literary milieu as “street censorship”, a phenomenon it alludes to in what has become in the last decade the first demand of the Egyptian writers and artists, namely, “the suppression of the multiple authorities which control cultural production” – a formula used in several collective statements and manifestos issued by Egyptian writers in the late nineties. Most of the latest heated debates around censorship were initiated by actors who are neither state officials, nor the now famous Academy of Islamic Research at Al-Azhar, but self-proclaimed censors: journalists, independent ulamas, lawyers, MPs, librarians, publishing houses’ employees, students’ parents, etc.

However, before analyzing some of these controversial cases, let us insist on what they conceal: the Egyptian writers enjoy since the early 1980s a degree of freedom of expression which is unprecedented under the regime born of the 1952 revolution, and is broader than the one they were granted by its predecessor during the “liberal age”.xvi This is the result of two converging evolutions. On the one hand, the present regime remains attached to the “liberal” image it owes to its strategic alliance with the United States (and Europe), its economical orientations as well as the margin of freedom it grants to the intellectual elite and (some of) its political opponents - although it has steadily refused, over the past twenty years, to take any effective step toward democratization. In this respect, the contrast between the book and
(to a lesser extent) the rest of the printed media, which is not submitted to prior censorship, and all the other audiovisual media, where prior authorization from the censors at the ministry of Culture and/or the ministry of Information is the rule, is a good indication of the limits of this “liberal” stand.

It also reveals the elitist nature of this liberalism, since only the small minority of the population which produces and consumes printed materials can take part in the public debate and have access to a semi-autonomous space of cultural production. This margin of freedom granted to professions such as those of artist, journalist or writer has come with a return to a strategy of containment of these intellectual producers within a whole cluster of official or semi-official institutions. The Mubarak regime, having realized the failure of its predecessor’s politics of confrontation with the intelligentsia, has resumed the old Nasserite model of control of the intellectuals and presents itself as the “impartial” patron of the various cultural fields (literary, academic, artistic, etc.), integrating all their schools, trends or genertions within its apparatuses and manipulating, at the same time, the internal struggles within these professional fields according to its own agenda.

On the other hand, these politics have come with a new “revolutionary push” within the literary field. Like its predecessors, the new literary avantgarde known as “the generation of the nineties” is making its way within the field by contesting the boundaries which delimit literary expression and by refusing the interferences of external powers as well as the compromises of
the consecrated avant-garde. Ostensibly turning their back to the “great causes” (al-qadaya al-kubra), these new avant-gardes – where women and men are evenly represented, a radically new phenomenon – give a literary existence to whole areas of individual or society which were either inexpressible or devoid of literary legitimacy. In doing so, they give publicity to self discourses and self images which the dominant moral either condemns or tolerates on the condition that they remain within the sphere of orality and privacy. This new literary generation has also distanced itself from the state’s patronage, as can be attested by the success of its main publishers (the small publishing houses Dar Sharqiyat and Dar Merit, the underground review Al-Kitaba al-Ukhra) – although some of its members prefer to publish under the state’s
umbrella and thus avoid the financial costs of private publishers who often ask the writer to contribute to the publishing costs.

A case of informal censorship: Samir Gharib Ali’s The Hawker

The latter option was chosen by Samir Gharib Ali (b. 1966) when he published his first novel, in November 1996, in a new collection launched by the state-owned publisher GEBO (General Egyptian Book Organization).

Kitabat jadida, “New Writings”, was the name of the series, with, as its chief-editor, Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid (b. 1946), a seasoned novelist representative of today’s consecrated avant-garde – a move indeed consistent with the “politics of containment” described above.

The Hawker (al-Saqqar) – part of which had been previously published in al-Kitaba al-Ukhra, the unofficial organ of the generation of the nineties – is a short novel standing – as it happens often with first novels – somewhere between the formative novel and the autobiography. Its core intrigue is the turbulent relationship between the narrator, Yahya, a young engineer who
works (or rather does not) in a state-owned factory on the verge of being privatized, and Melinda, a French student who came to Cairo in order to improve her Arabic and work on her thesis on women in the Mamluk era. This turbulent relationship, described in a very direct, if not crude, manner, is bound to be such because of Melinda’s paradoxical position, at once subversive – by her will to reverse the woman’s traditional role in general and to “avenge” the Arab woman specifically – and reactionary, in the sense that by imposing this on Yahya, she reproduces the domination of the foreigner/master, the khawaga, over the autochthon/servant. Long sections of the novel are occupied by stories, told by Yahya to Melinda, about his family,
where several characters were famous for their abnormal behavior. Among them, this story about his grandfather: according to his fellow villagers, this weird man, half wizard, used to seclude himself in a room during the whole month of Ramadan, when he would be fed by demons and “he would relieve himself close to his bed and clean himself with pages of the Koran.” (p. 32)

A few months later, this excerpt and some others were quoted by Fahmi Huwaydi, one of Al-Ahram’s leading columnists, as so many examples of blows against the “fundamental values of society” in the name of “freedom”. Huwaydi’s argument, which he developed in an article entitled “Our need for a new social contract”, can be summarized as follows: each society must
defend its own identity, which expresses itself through certain basic norms and values, and freedom of speech cannot infringe on these values. He goes on quoting what he deems legitimate cases of censorship in other contexts (in Europe and Asia), and then descends on The Hawker, explaining that this novel belongs to a kind of “satanic, nihilist writing that ruins everything that is religious – whether it be Islamic or Christian – and all moral values” and
concluding with an explicit call to ban it. xvii

This article triggered a long debate, while the GEBO discretely withdrew the novel from its stands and spread the rumor that it had sold out. This kind of informal censorship presents a major advantage for the authorities, namely, to pay lip service to President Mubarak’s commitment to the writers and intellectuals: “No ban without due process of law” – a promise he reiterated on various occasions during the 1990s. Informal censorship is very hard to contest indeed, and the authorities want precisely to avoid judicial cases and the bad publicity they make to the country. But whereas the state tries to enforce this kind of silent, informal censorship, the self-proclaimed censors seek to maximize the publicity of their calls for ban, because calling the public opinion to witness the “scandal” is their best weapon. The case of The Hawker’s informal ban also reveals a social diffusion of authority outside the state’s monopoly, something that jeopardizes the relative freedom of the writers, but can also be analyzed as a “revenge” of civil society of sorts.

Why does a renowned columnist calling for a “new social contract” care for the first novel of an obscure writer? “How can a novel that will be read by a few dozen readers corrupt a whole people” asks Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid.xviii Regardless of Huwaydi’s motives, his interference underlines (and plays on) the very heavy symbolic power attached to the written word, completely blown out of proportion in comparison with its actual social diffusion and erected as the showcase and yardstick of society’s “fundamental values.” From here stems the censor’s refusal of the aesthetic distance upon which rests the reading of fiction: as usual in such instances, Huwaydi does not make a difference between the author, the first-person narrator and the other characters, and deems the author responsible for his characters’ words and
acts. The other side of this shared belief in the quasi sacred value of the written word is summarized as follows by Samir Gharib Ali:

“I tried to write as simply as we speak, but as I was told by a great poet, what is accepted at the level of oral discourse is unacceptable in writing. I read my novel to a group of workers at the factory [where I work] and no one found anything wrong with it, on the contrary. The problem is within the middle class and its contradictions. They tell us “We support freedom of expression” and then they take opposite positions, they live their lives in a certain way and they think in another one.” xix

In other words, the written word is related to the dominant class and to the system of values it appoints itself as its custodian and censor. This is why literature cannot represent reality in a neutral, “objective” way. The violence, deviancy or immorality inherent in daily life has to be euphemized and/or dissimulated in order not to shock the elite’s “good taste” and not to give
“bad examples” to the masses.

As Samir Gharib Ali hints in the above quotation, the various actors who intervened in the polemic around his novel often reacted in an ambiguous way, often at odds with the positions one would have expected from intellectuals who define themselves as “liberal” or “enlightened”. Several critics and writers converged in blaming the “vulgarity” that, according to them, pervades the writings of the young generation. A common critique addressed to these young writers is that while rivaling in transgressing the religious and moral taboos, they keep aloof of the most challenging, that is the political one – a critique that it would be unfair to address to The Hawker, which is, in its own discrete and low-key way, a very powerful denunciation of
the present state of affairs in Egypt.

Many voices rose against Fahmi Huwaydi’s intervention, accusing him of “inciting the authorities to repress creativity”, or even indirectly arming the “extremists’” hands. However, their apology for the writer’s freedom remains conditional: the interference of authorities “external to the circle of creativity” is rejected, but the writer must question his “conscience” and his “sense of responsibility”.xx Let us police ourselves, the writers seem to say, and the fundamental values of society will be preserved. This compromise is certainly not very mind satisfying, but it might be unavoidable, given the constraints they have to deal with.

Extending the spectrum of literary possibilities

It is interesting to compare the case of The Hawker, a first novel which bears many similarities, both in its artistic content and in its fate with censorship, to Sonallah Ibrahim’s first novel Tilka l-Ra’iha (1966, English translation The Smell of It, 1971), as well as to another novel by Sonallah Ibrahim which appeared few months after The Hawker, namely, Sharaf (Dar al-Hilal, 1997, French translation Charaf ou L’honneur, 2000). Mainly set in a prison in present day Egypt, Sharaf is a merciless attack on today’s Egyptian, Arab, American, etc. political and economical elites. Nevertheless, not only was it published by the state-owned Dar al-Hilal in what is now the oldest Egyptian literary series, Riwayat al-Hilal (founded in 1949), but it was granted the very official prize of “Best novel of the year” at the 1998 Cairo Book fair.xxi Of course, it is much harder for censors to attack a consecrated novelist with an international stature such as Sonallah Ibrahim than a young debutant like Samir Gharib Ali. But why does the establishment go all the way round and bestow upon him such an official reward as this Book Fair prize?

The answer takes us back to the containment politics and reminds us that literary prizes do not necessarily add symbolic value to the selected work or writer, but on the contrary, it is often the latter who adds value to the prize he receives. But there might be another explanation to Sharaf’s value: this novel, no matter how harsh and virulent it reads, remains within the traditional mode of intervention of the Egyptian reformist intellectual: it points a finger at everything that goes wrong – the corruption, the repression, the deviances, the submission to the foreign powers, etc. – and calls for a change. Most probably, Sonallah Ibrahim would not have been allowed to publish such a novel in the 1960s or 1970s; however, it falls perfectly within the realistic-reformist paradigm that has dominated Egyptian fiction since the beginning
of 20th century – precisely since Muhammad al-Muwaylihi’s Hadith ‘Isa Ibn Hisham, whose 1907 edition opened with the following epigraph:

“Although this story presents itself as an imagined one, it is the mere truth disguised into fiction, not a fiction cast in the mould of truth, by which we attempt to expose the manners and customs of our contemporaries and describe the vices that the different classes of men should avoid and the virtues it is their duty to respect.” xxii

“Expose the manners and customs”, “describe the vices” one must avoid and the “virtues” one must cling to: realism and morality are closely linked one to the other and, as a matter of fact, Sharaf does not go beyond this traditional, legitimate frame of modern Arabic literature. If this novel innovates, it is not by contesting this paradigm but rather by exploring it systematically and pushing its limits further. Indeed, Sharaf presents itself as a novel, a fiction, but the acknowledgements the author addresses at the end of book to the ex-prisoners and prison officers for their help confirms, if there was any need for it, that his description of the Egyptian jails is based on field research and claims to be faithful to reality. “Discipline and reform” (ta’dib xxiii wa-islah): this motto of the Egyptian prisons mocked by Sonallah Ibrahim at the beginning of the novel could actually be that of Dr Ramzi Butrus, the Nasserite pharmacist who, by the end of the book, strives in vain to “raise the consciousness” of his prison mates by shouting proclamations from his cell. And one cannot but see in this character a pathetic echo of its creator’s position, an anxious questioning of the social utility of literature. xxiv

The domination of this realistic-reformist paradigm in modern Egyptian writing also offers the key to understand the debate that surrounded Diary of a Country Officer (Yawmiyyat Dhabit fi l-aryaf), the third novel of a writer whose previous works had gone unnoticed, Hamdi al-Batran (b. 1950), also published in the Riwayat al-Hilal series. Like the famous novel by Tawfiq al-
Hakim whose title he pastichesxxv, and with very similar literary tools, al-Batran draws a gripping picture of the police’s work in Upper Egypt in the difficult context of the 1990s (the novel was published in February 1998, three months after the assassination of more than fifty tourists in Luxor, the bloodiest episode in the decade-long confrontation between the state and the islamicist guerillas). In his own manner, al-Batran takes up again with the accurate style, the lively dialogues (in colloquial Arabic) and the art of storytelling of al-Hakim, upon which he has another advantage: while al-Hakim, an urban bourgeois with a cosmopolitan culture, felt totally alienated in the Egyptian countryside, al-Batran is a native of Upper Egypt where he spent his life and career as a police officer.

Upon its appearance, Diary of a Country Officer was presented in a lengthy review in Roz al-Yusuf (23 February 1998) as a “testimony”: while the reviewer correctly qualified it as a novel, he kept quoting its content as if it described real, actual facts. Here are the title and subtitles of the review: “An Officer Tells What Goes on Behind the Police Scenes in Upper Egypt. – The novel reveals daily scandals among officers and their subordinates. – The real boss is the State Security Intelligence chief-officer. – The rivalry between police and justice. – Corruption: citizens’ racketeering, electoral fraud, antiques traffic.” By cutting off the distance between reality and fiction, the Roz al-Yusuf critique was not giving a naïve, non-literary reading of the novel. On the contrary, it was just enforcing the particular reading contract that binds the
realistic writer and his reader since Muwaylihi: according to its terms, the recourse to fiction is nothing more than an artifice used to disclose a “reality” the other instruments of social knowledge cannot or do not want to represent.

We find in the foreword by which the late Fathi Ghanim (1924-1999) introduced one of his latest novels a characteristic expression of this particular reading contract:

“This novel has no relationship with real facts or characters, even though I happen to make mention in it of myself, of the novels I wrote and of my work as a journalist, all of which might lead the reader to think that I relate events that actually took place. This is exactly what I want, for even though what I write is pure fiction, I want the reader to take these facts as if they were real ones, as a faithful recording of reality I deliver him in all sincerity. In other words, I welcome anyone who gives credence to this story and does not believe or questions my saying that it be imaginary!” xxvi

If fictionalization is reduced to a mere artifice, a conniving wink between author and reader, then no wonder that its status remains uncertain and that it be put into question by all those – “naive” readers and censors – who ignore or disregard this reading contract and refuse to make a difference between author and narrator or hold the former responsible for the sayings and
actions of its characters. The same journalist who treated Diary of a Country Officer as a faithful testimony had, one year before, come to defend Samir Gharib Ali’s The Hawker, blaming its censors for ignoring “this truth which is common knowledge to any schoolboy, namely that the narrator of a novel is not its author”xxvii.

It seems that Colonel al-Batran’s superiors were alerted about Diary of a Country Prosecutor through the Roz al-Yusuf review. A disciplinary action was taken against him, on motives such as “disclosure of military secrets”. The police hierarchy, rushing into the breach opened by this review, did not take seriously the paravent of “fiction”. In this particular instance, the literary
corporation manifested a genuine solidarity with the persecuted writer: the Writers’ Union expressed its support in a press release, and so did many writers, individually. This solidarity was based, once again, on the defense of the reformist intellectual’s model and of the social function of the realistic novel. “Truthful literature is a mirror of reality, it can initiate reform and
contribute to correct difficult situations”, wrote Gamal al-Ghitany in a column dedicated to al-Batran’s defense.xxviii As a matter of fact, the state’s sentence was not too harsh on him: colonel al-Batran was sentenced to one month suspension by a disciplinary court of the Interior ministry, a sentence reduced in appeal to seven days deduction in his salary, and the only charge finally accepted against him was that of publishing his novel without his superiors’ prior authorization. Moreover, the novel itself was never censored, formally or informally. However, the outcome of the whole affair has been somewhat gloomy for both al-Batran and his novel. His career in the police has been definitively compromisedxxix and his novel, despite all its qualities, has not received the critical attention it deserves. The Cairo literary milieu, after paying its duty to the persecuted writer, was not too keen on making a place for this newcomer to the field.

For Bread Alone at AUC: which literature should be taught?

These examples, as well as that of Ibrahim ‘Isa’s novel The Assassination of the Big Man analyzed by Samia Mehrez in this issue of the journal, show that critique and censorship, far from referring to two distinct, opposite spheres, more often complete, sustain and explain each other. More precisely, censors and critics, who are sometimes the same persons, are altogether, each in their own way, custodians of the temple, priests of the religion of literature. This appeared very obviously in another “affair” whose main protagonist was my wife and colleague Samia Mehrez: the polemic that arose around her teaching of Mohammed Choukri’s autobiographical novel For Bread Alone (1971)xxx in a literature class at the American University of Cairo.


The ins and outs of the affair are well-known enough to the community of teachers and researchers on modern Arabic literature and culture for me not to have to recall them here.xxxi What matters to me here is to reflect on the implications of the main points of view that confronted each other in the debate. On the censors’ side first, and even though they are not always explicit on this point, it seems fair to distinguish between the partisans of an overall ban on the novel and those who simply contest its choice as teaching material. The latter argue that the teacher cannot enjoy the same freedom as the writer because her/his students, unlike the ordinary reader, do not have a free choice; he must therefore “respect the students sensibilities”. xxxii This is, let’s say, the democratic version of an argument which was usually presented in a more elitist way: students are deemed minors ready to fall under all kinds of bad influences – despite the fact that most of them have reached the legal age of majority and that they happen to be in an institution supposed to develop their intellectual aptitudes and faculty of judgment. One only has to replace the students by “the masses” – those eternal minors – to find oneself back to the elitist mentality that dominates the Egyptian cultural field as a whole. Because literary writing is only accessible to a small elite, it has the right to transgress, up to a certain limit, the norms set for the society as a whole. As soon as it gets read beyond these “happy few”, reserve and censorship are de rigueur.

However, the most significant contributions to the debate came from two other colleagues of Mehrez at AUC. In Al-Ahram Weekly, Ferial Ghazoul, professor of comparative literature gave a reading of For Bread Alone that sounded like a plea for this “classic of modern Arabic literature”.xxxiii The core argument of Ghazoul is in conformity with the realistic-reformist theme: the immorality of the literary work is explained and justified by reference not to art’s autonomy, but to a social reality itself immoral – the debasement imposed by colonial domination. She roots this argument in language:

“The entire work as I read it is an exfoliation, a literary play on the multiple and ambivalent shades of meaning latent in a triliteral Arabic root verb harama (to deprive/to prohibit) which gives rise to such commonly-known derivations as harem and ihtiram (respect). The essential replay is, to my mind, between haram (taboo) and hurman (dispossession), both related to denial. There are plenty of references to these words -- the forbidden, haram, and exclusion, hurman -- in a multitude of situations. I believe Choukri's message is that there is an interconnection between the two, and that ultimately one can bring oneself out of this circular hell, just as the ‘living come out of the dead ... out of the rotten and the disintegrated,’ as he says in his introduction to a 1982 edition of this work.”xxxiv

And this individual liberation is connected to a collective one:

If some day the people decide to live, fate must bend to that desire There will be no more night when the chains have broken.

Listening to these famous verses by the Tunisian poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabbi, read to him in prison by a cell-mate, Mohammed Choukri decides to learn reading and writing, the first step toward bringing himself out of the “circular hell.”

In short, Ghazoul legitimizes For Bread Alone by inserting it within the realistic-reformist paradigm. Like in the novels of Hamdi al-Batran, Sonallah Ibrahim and so many others, the realistic, crude description of social deviance, of the real (under)world’s immorality contains a reference – implicit in most of Choukri’s book, explicit toward its end – to a superior, moral
norm whose realization is hampered by political oppression and social injustice. In this respect, she situates herself on the same ground as her colleague and opponent in the polemic, Galal Amin, a professor of economics at AUC, but also an intellectual in the grand Egyptian tradition,
that is to say someone who intervenes regularly into public debates of all sorts, including literary ones.xxxv In his answer to Ferial Ghazoul, he intends to prove that no implicit moral can be deduced from the immorality of For Bread Alone’s hero/narrator:

“A novel can be humanistic while describing theft,debauchery, drunkenness or drug addiction, but of course under certain conditions. The most important of them is that the hero, the narrator of the story, he through whom we see the novelistic facts taking place and through whose eyes we judge these facts, must be fundamentally noble (…), intrinsically clean, however dirty be the actions he is led to commit, despite his own will. (…) As a matter of fact, there is not, in the one hundred and fifty pages of For Bread Alone, the faintest indication that its hero is intrinsically clean.” xxxvi

The main merit of Amin’s distressing intervention is that it underlines the insufficiency of the “moral” argument used by Ghazoul. Of course, the moral referred to by Ghazoul and that of Amin are not identical, and one may add that she deliberately chose to give an analysis of the work in terms that would be acceptable within the boundaries of the Egyptian context. However, the only consistent defense of the work of art against censorship is to reassert its
autonomy, that is to say, the necessary rupture between art and morality.

This was the task Edward Said undertook in a piece published in Al-Ahram Weekly, which contained no direct allusion to the Choukri/Mehrez affair but was obviously meant to be his contribution to the debate.xxxvii Leaving aside, for once, political commentary, Said spelled the question out with a clarity and an eloquence that remind us that he was, first and foremost,
a literature teacher before becoming a “global intellectual” in Sartre’s or Chomsky’s way. From Plato’s Republic to the 18th century, says Said in substance, literature and critique have been guided by “what the Roman poet Horace considered the beautiful and the good together.” In contrast with this classical representation, romanticism and the following modern ideologies of
art have imposed the idea that art can or even must “violate all sorts of canons of good behavior as well as realistic representation. Art was supposed to be different from life; it was intended to subvert ordinary reality; it was created in order to be extreme, not to be ‘normal’.” xxxviii

This radical separation between the beautiful and the good, recalls Said, is never given once and for all. On the contrary, it must relentlessly be reasserted and recovered against all dogmas and all Inquisitions, in the west as much as in the Arab world. However, this seems to be out of reach for most Egyptian writers. In today’s Egyptian literary field, a position similar to that of
Céline in the French one, consecrated as a great writer in spite of his immorality, seems unthinkable. Not only because of the pressure of censorship in all its forms – those coming from “above” and those coming from “below” – but also because the dominant ideology within the field itself, what I have called here the realistic-reformist paradigm, has proven its ineptitude to establish an autonomous conception of art and literature.


Notes:
xvi More accurately, among the three orders of constraints which restrict freedom of literary expression, two – the moral and the political - have been largely loosened while the third one – the religious – has been tightened.
xvii Al-Ahram, 11 February 1997
xviii Al-Dustur, 14 May 1997.
xix Akhbar al-Adab, 13 April 1997.
xx All previous words and clauses between brackets are quoted from various press sources, mostly al-Usbu’, 25 February 1997, and Ahmad ‘Abd al-Mu’ti Higazi’s column in Al- Ahram, 3March 1997.
xxi These prizes have neither financial nor symbolic value: most of them go every year to the same pillars of the official press and culture, and their recipients’ only reward consists in a handshake with the President during the prize handling ceremony. Sonallah Ibrahim happened to be hospitalized that day, thereby avoiding having to confront an embarrassing situation!
xxii Muhammad al-Muwaylihi, Hadith ‘Isa Ibn Hisham, Tunis, Dar al-Janub, 1992 (1st edition 1898) p. 7.
xxiii It is worth noting that ta’dib, which in this context means discipline, is derived from adab, which carries both the material meaning of “literature” and the moral one of ”properties, savoirvivre”, and thus refers more precisely to the inculcation of adab in its moral sense.
xxiv I draw on Samia Mehrez’s reading of the novel : see “Dr. Ramzy and Mr. Sharaf: Sonallah Ibrahim and the Duplicity of the Literary Field,” in Literature and Social Transformations, ed. Wa’el Hallaq, Leiden: Brill, 2000.
xxv Tawfiq al-Hakim, Yawmiyyat na’ib fi l-aryaf (1937), English translation Maze of Justice: Diary of a Country Prosecutor, University of Texas Press, 1989.
xxvi Fathi Ghanim, Ba’dh al-zhann ithm, ba’dh al-zhann halal, Dar al-Hilal, 1991, p. 7.
xxvii Wa’il ‘Abd al-Fattah, Roz al-Yusuf, 24 February 1997.
xxviii Akhbar al-Adab, 29 March 1998.
xxix After the settling of his case, he was transferred in Cairo, a disguised sanction for an officer whose life and family are in Upper Egypt.
xxx Although written in Arabic as al-Khubz al-Hafi, the novel appeared first in English translation (by Paul Bowles, 1971), then in French (translated by Tahar Ben Jelloun, 1980) before it could be published in Arabic.
xxxi See Judith Gabriel, “On the Banning of Shukri’s al-Khubz al-Hafi”, Al-Jadid, V -26 (winter 1999), p. 4-5 and 30; Joseph Logan, “Banned in Cairo”, Lingua Franca, July/August 1999, p. 1316; and MESA Newsletter, XXI-3 (August 1999), p. 13-16.
xxxii This is the argument made by Mahmud al-Rabi’i, chair of the department of Arabic studies (where Samia Mehrez teaches) at AUC, in “Hurriyyat al-ibda’ wa-hurriyat al-talaqqi” (Freedom of creation and freedom of reception), Ibda’, June 1999, p. 35-40.
xxxiii Note the use of the word “classic”, which reveals at the same time the performative value of critical discourse (it becomes a classic because critics say so) and the limits literature teachers impose on themselves (because it is a classic, it can/should be taught, or in other words, teaching non-canonical works is not legitimate)
xxxiv Ferial J. Ghazoul, “When the Subaltern Speaks”, Al-Ahram Weekly, 18-24 February 1999.
xxxv For instance, he had previously taken sides with Fahmi Huwaydi in the polemic about The Hawker (see Galal Amin, “Ayyuha l-tanwir, kam min al-gara’im turtakab bi-smik!” (Enlightenment, how many crimes are committed in your name!), Al-Dustur, 19 March 1997)
xxxvi Galal Amin, “Fasl al-Maqal fi-ma bayn al-Khubz al-Hafi wa-Mawsim al-Hijra min infisal” (A Definitive Demonstration of the Difference Between For Bread Alone and Season of the Migration),Al-Kutub Wighat Nazar n° 4 (May 1999), p. 60-63. (Amin uses Tayyib Salih’s novel Season of theMigration to the North as a counter-example, where immoral novelistic situations are justified by the “intrinsic cleanness” of the hero…)
xxxvii Edward Said, “Literature and literalism”, Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 February-3 March 1999.
xxxviii Ibidem.

 

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