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Ahmad Hamrush, 'An Egyptian in Vietnam, Korea, and China' (Excerpts)

Civilian aircraft land in Hanoi only after nightfall. They move from Nanang only after Hanoi reports that the sky is empty of enemy US bombers or fighters. […] On the road [from Hanoi Airport to the hotel] there were loudspeakers broadcasting news .. they serve for air raid warnings. […] [Once in the hotel] the first information we received was the location of the air raid shelter in the Hotel Unity and the need to follow the instructions to descend to it immediately upon hearing the warning siren. […] And when the warning siren sounded for the first time after our arrival, I was astonished to see that the female employees wore steel helmets and carried rifles. They hurried from room to room to instruct the guests and insist they descend to the shelter; then each one turned to carry out their particular duty in the Civil Defense (al-difa’ al-madani) or in the Popular Resistance (muqawamah sha‘biyyah.


You won’t hear a Vietnamese talk in obtuse ways .. He won’t raise his voice when talking about the barbaric crimes of the American enemies .. You won’t find anyone bragging about any of his deeds .. And you won’t find that their faces are masks that change according to the circumstances and the story [the tell].

A simple people in everything. Their bodies are delicate, their cloths sparse, their words modest .. But this human simplicity hides [images of] heroism and sacrifice and ma(u)‘anah:

Is not this pure simpleness one of the secrets of their power? Is not this just equality between all [Vietnamese] the greatest spur for their struggle and sacrifice? The equality of the Vietnamese people is manifest in various clear ways. Like [North] Korea, they do not know any private cars. There are cars only for foreign guests, and the state has official cars that officials use only for official trips. The bicycle is a practical and health solution to the problem of traffic.


By coincidence, two days after I arrived in Hanoi, [US President Lyndon B.] Johnson declared he had decided to stop all bombardments of Democratic [North] Vietnam and to accept that the [National] Front for the Liberation of the South [aka the Viet Cong] would attend the Paris negotiations. .. I expected that there would be a clear reaction in the streets to this great victory of the Vietnamese people. .. I imagined the people would celebrate.


But nothing of the sort happened. In Hanoi, life went on, unmoved. What dominated, among all, was a scientific analysis of the situation. .. The cessation of the bombardments represents a victory for the people of Vietnam and for all peace-loving people … but it is only one step on a long way to peace.


How can a small nation vanquish the largest military force of this age? I don’t think that the answer to this question can be given in short in this quick exposé .. Vietnam’s situation is much deeper than this .. and the war that has been going on in the north and in the south for years holds fascinating secrets and stupefying witnesses ..

We tried hard to get to the bottom of the secret of this new humanity in Vietnam.

This new humanity in Vietnam is what merits most attention. .. The humanity of the simple human being .. the worker and the peasant .. who speaks the language of our epoch just like the intellectuals .. and prevails in war and struggle over the graduates of the greatest military academies, in Saint Cyr, Sandhurst, and West Point.


As I write these words, the terrifying noise of a machine pierces the window .. It is digging a new shelter in the hotel, only days after Johnson announced the unconditional stop of all bombardments of North Vietnam. .. Perhaps this expresses the Vietnamese people’s distrust in Washington’s pronouncements. .. And perhaps it is an affirmation that the battle in Vietnam cannot be sidetracked to negotiations that do not carry out the will of the people for freedom and independence and unity .. in the north and the south alike.


In the Hotel Tun Nit and the Hotel Unity, in which I stayed and that once was called Metropole, there was not a single picture of Ho Chi Min, and in the streets there was not a single sign with quotes by him or pictures of him or a statue .. And many of the offices that I visited did not bear anything related to him or other leaders. .. This is not contempt for the role of the great leader and the revolutionary fighter .. but represents the simplicity of the Vietnamese people and its democratic spirit .. which made Ho Chin Min to point in many of his texts to the masses and to stress that “the people is the hero.”

The author of the Arabic-language book from which these excerpts are derived from is Ahmad Hamrush (1921-2011). Involved in the Free Officers’ coup of July 23, 1952, Hamrush left the army in 1955, but stayed a regime insider. He became a historian who wrote a multi-volume history of the coup, among other books; he edited several journals including the army’s al-Tahrir and the famous political magazine Rose al-Yusuf; he was Secretary General of the Egyptian Committee for Afro-Asian Solidarity in the 1960s; and he was a travel writer, as this book shows. It recounts a journey in 1968 to the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, and North Vietnam.

Although in the 1950s and deep into the 1960s, African decolonization struggles had attracted much attention in the Arab world and perhaps especially in Arab North Africa, Asia was a key concern, too—in the 1960s especially Vietnam. This was of course not exceptional. As books like Quinn Slobodian’s Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (2012) have shown, Vietnam as a cause—and some Vietnamese as actors—helped midwife the German student movement in the 1960s. (In Germany, the shah’s Iran and Iranian activists mattered greatly, too, however.) To take two more examples, Vietnam as a mode and model of reference mattered to anti-Soviet Lebanese leftists in the 1960s, as Laure Guirguis’ “La référence au Vietnam et l’émergence des gauches radicales au Liban, 1962-1975” (2018) has shown, and Iranians—leftists and others—followed developments in Vietnam closely, as Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet has noted in “The Anti-Aryan Moment: Decolonization, Diplomacy, and Race in Late Pahlavi Iran” (2021).

What distinguishes this text is its timing. Hamrush reflects on a journey he made soon after the Six-Day War of June 1967. That month Israel inflicted a humiliating defeat on Arab armies, including Egypt’s, the most powerful Arab state. This drastically amplified concerns some already had had about President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s (1918-1970) regime and triggered much self-critique in books like Al-naqd al-dhati ba‘da al-hazima (1968; in 2021 translated as Self-Criticism after the Defeat) by the Syrian Marxist political thinker Sadiq Jalal al-‘Azm (1934-2016).


Related Documents

June 1, 1967

Lecture about the Situation in Persia by Dr. Bahman Nirumand, followed by a Discussion, on the Eve of the Shah’s Visit to West Berlin (Excerpts)

In West Germany as in other capitalist democratic countries in what now is called the Global North, an increasing number of students were more and more radicalized in the 1960s. They were not exceptional: in some countries—think for instance of Italy—some workers underwent a similar evolution. Moreover, some students and workers met and communicated in various forms and place like cafés, dorms, or factories, where some students had to work. And both students’ and workers’ radicalization led them in various ways away from established social democrat, socialist, and communist parties.

But there were differences, too. In West Germany, so-called “new leftist” German students like Rudi Dutschke (1940-1979) were from the early 1960s most distinctly influenced by texts by decolonizing actors-intellectuals like Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) and Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). Their worldview was shaped by fellow students from recently decolonized and postcolonial countries, as Quinn Slobodian’s Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (2012) shows. Among these students were Iranians, for many Iranians wishing to study abroad opted for West Germany following World War II. This pattern built on sturdy modern political, economic and cultural Iranian-German relations from the nineteenth century to the early Second World War. Hence, in the 1960s, West Germany became a key arena for Iranian exile politics. In the university town of Heidelberg, Iranian students with France- and Britain-based colleagues in 1960 founded a body that would be known as the Confederation of Iranian Students, National Union (CISNU) from 1962, when US-based Iranian student bodies joined and Tehran students were associated. CISNU was in the 1960s-70s a leading force outside Iran opposing Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980; r. 1941-1979)—a story told by Afshin Matin-Asgari’s The Iranian Student Opposition to the Shah (2002). In parallel, in the 1960s the shah was able to become the autocratic ruler he had wanted to be from the 1940s.

In West Germany, one analysis of the shah’s state was the ironically titled Persien, Modell eines Entwicklungslandes [Persia: Model Development Country], publishedin spring 1967 by Bahman Nirumand. Born in 1936, Nirumand was a high school and then university student in Germany from 1950 to 1960, then moved back to Iran to work as an academic and journalist, and in 1965 escaped back to Germany fearing arrest for co-leading the underground Marxist-Leninist group Goruh-e Kaderha. In his book Persien, he argued that changes like the land reform of 1963 are a reformist façade hiding an anti-democratic repressive capitalist regime, which is backed by equally repressive capitalist Western states led by imperialist Washington. In fact, to him, Iran illustrated how Third-World and First-World elites together repress their people—a truly global pattern.

To be sure, Vietnam constituted the key anti-imperialist cause for organizations like the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (SDS), which in 1961 had been evicted by the mainstream Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) and by 1966 was part of West Germany’s ausser- (i.e. extra-) parlamentarische Opposition. Even so, when the German government announced a visit by the shah for early June 1967, the SDS soon decided to support Iranian student protests. These were legally “problematic” because West Germany’s 1965 Aliens Act drastically limited foreigners’ right to political activism. What began as a teach-in about Iran in West Berlin on June 1 and as a protest against the shah on June 2 became aturning point in postwar German history. On June 2, the police did not only condone pro-shah loyalists’ violence against the demonstrators. It also shot dead a demonstrator, Benno Ohnesorg, intensifying students’ fears about a fascist rebirth and causing the student movement to grow swiftly and become more radical.

The text printed here is a translated excerpt from the German-language audio file of the teach-in on Iran of June 1 at the Freie Universität (FU) Berlin. Opened by Gabriele Kuby (born 1944), a member of the FU’s General Students Committee, the teach-in featured Nirumand, who spoke for about an hour and a half on the world’s current economic-political condition for which Iran was a case in point, and Hans-Heinz Heldmann (1929-1995), a German lawyer representing Iranian and other foreign students politically active in Germany. Followed by a few notes on other political matters, these two lectures were then discussed by the students; Dutschke, since 1965 a leading SDS member, drew a parallel between Vietnam and Iran. Attended by about 2,000 students, the teach-in had a strongly mobilizing effect on the protests the next day, June 2.

Document Information


Ahmad Hamrush, Masri fi Vietnam wa-Kuriya wa-l-Sin (An Egyptian in Vietnam, Korea, and China) (Cairo: Kitab al-yawm, 1969), 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 18. Contributed, translated, and annotated by Cyrus Schayegh.


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