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1975

Fu’ad Mursi, 'The Economic Opening' (Excerpts)

Fu’ad Mursi (1925-1990), the author of the text printed here (an English excerpt translated from an Arabic-language monograph), was an Egyptian economist trained in Alexandria and the Sorbonne. While in Paris, he joined the French Communist Party. Back in Egypt, he in 1949 co-founded al-Hizb al-shuiu‘i al-misri, or the Egyptian Communist Party (ECP).

Born 27 years after a communist party had first been opened in the country, the ECP, also known as Rayat al-sha‘ab (The People’s Banner) after the title of its organ, was the smallest, most clandestine, and most intellectual communist group then operating in Egypt. It favored a two-state-solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, was opposed to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), and in 1958 initiated the merger of Egypt’s communist parties (under the condition that Jews would be excluded), a story told e.g. in Joel Beinin’s Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948-1965 (1990). Nasser’s regime, which from the start had a difficult relationship with domestic communists, turned to open repression in 1959, locking up many party members in brutal desert prisons until 1964. The next year the party dissolved itself under pressure from the regime, which, however, also co-opted some individuals. Mursi was one of them.

Moreover, after Nasser’s death, Mursi early on continued a government career under the new president Anwar Sadat (1918-1981). In 1971, he became director of the state Industrial Bank and member of the Central Bank board, and in 1972 Minister of Supply and Domestic Commerce. The following year he resigned, however. Still a Marxist, he disagreed with Sadat’s policy of economic opening, infitah. While prepared from 1971, this policy became official in 1974—a story whose classic treatment is John Waterbury’s The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes (1983) and whose social dimension is told by Relli Shechter’s The Rise of the Egyptian Middle Class: Socio-Economic Mobility and Public Discontent from Nasser to Sadat (2019).

The text printed here reflects a key component in Mursi’s analysis of the infitah. He diagnoses a cooperation between private Egyptian capitalists—who were now on the rise again after the decline of Nasserite state capitalism (aka socialism)—and foreign capitalist colonialism that, while not any more occupying Egypt, again wishes to exploit the country

November 13, 1974

United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 29th Session : 2282nd Plenary Meeting, Agenda Item 108, 'Question of Palestine (continued)'

As other documents in this collection on Moroccan nationalists in 1947 and 1950 have exemplified, the United Nations was an important arena in decolonization struggles for Arabs, as it was for Asians and Africans as e.g. Alanna O’Malley’s The Diplomacy of Decolonisation: America, Britain, and the United Nations during the Congo crisis, 1960-1964 (2018) has shown. In this regard, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was founded in 1964 and taken over by the Fatah movement in 1969, was no exception.

To be sure, Palestinian organizations including Fatah and the PLO decried key UN actions. One was the UN Palestine partition plan of 1947; another was UN Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967. Calling upon Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied” during the Six-Day War in June and calling for the “acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace,” it did not mention Palestine or the Palestinians. Even so, the PLO sought to get access to the UN and UN recognition. A crucial landmark on this road was the address to the UN in New York in November 1974 by Yassir Arafat (1929-2004), a Fatah co-founder in 1959 and from 1969 PLO chairman.

Arafat did not speak at the Security Council, which was and is dominated by its five veto-carrying permanent members Britain, China, France, the United States, and the USSR/Russia. Rather, he addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where from the 1960s Third World states were in the majority; his speech was the first time that the UNGA allowed a non-state representative to attend its plenary session. The UNGA invited the PLO after having decided, in September, to begin separate hearings on Palestine (rather than making Palestine part of general Middle Eastern hearings), and after the PLO was internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, a landmark accomplishment for the organization. The UNGA president who introduced Arafat, Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1937-2021), was the Foreign Minister of Algeria, which since its independence in 1962 had supported the Palestinian cause organizationally, militarily, and politically. Arafat spoke in Arabic; the below text is the official UN English translation. Arafat did not write the text all by himself; several PLO officials and Palestinians close to the PLO, including Edward Said, assisted, as Timothy Brennan has noted in Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said (2021). Later in November 1974, the UNGA inter alia decided to give the PLO observer status and affirmed Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

1969

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

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).

1965

Abdallah al-Tariqi, 'The Nationalization of the Arab Oil Industry: A National Necessity' (Excerpts)

The full version of the text excerpts included here was reprinted in a collection of the works of its author, Abdallah al-Tariqi (1919-1997), who had first published it in its Arabic original in the journal Dirasat ‘Arabiyya and before held it as a speech, in 1965 at the Fifth Arab Oil Conference in Cairo.

Al-Tariqi was born in what would become Saudi Arabia. He was educated at Fuad I (now Cairo) University Egypt (B.S.) and the University of Texas (M.A. in petroleum engineering and geology), and trained for another year in the US oil industry before returning to Saudi Arabia in 1953. The next year, he became Director-General of Petroleum and Mineral Affairs in the Ministry of Finance and National Economy. As such, he was inter alia responsible for relations with the then only oil company in Saudi Arabia, a conglomerate of four US firms called the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO), which had received a concession in 1933, first found oil in 1938, and began extraction from the end of World War II. While taken by the anti-imperialist stance and policies of Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), al-Tariqi in the 1950s was a reformist modernizer. He accepted the royal Saudi political system and the kingdom’s relationship with the United States. But he was determined to greatly improve Saudi oil income and negotiation position vis-à-vis the US company, often upholding as a model Venezuela’s Creole Petroleum Company.

In parallel, he worked for more coordination between oil producing countries, to improve their position vis-à-vis Western companies. In 1957, he helped bring about a Saudi-Iranian oil information exchange agreement. In 1959, he was a driving force behind the First Arab Oil Conference, in Cairo. And there, he, the Venezuelan Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo (1903-1979), and a Kuwaiti, Iraqi, and Iranian delegate concluded a momentous agreement. Though informal, it “marked the first real steps toward creating a common front against the oil companies,” as Daniel Yergin put it in his classic work The Prize (1991). The agreement laid the foundation for the birth of the Organization of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) in 1960 in Baghdad, analyzed by Giuliano Garavini in The Rise and Fall of OPEC in the 20th Century (2019).

In 1960, too, al-Tariqi became Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Affairs. But in 1962, a clash within the Saudi ruling elite cost him both his post and his ARAMCO board membership. He left Saudi Arabia; co-founded an independent oil consultancy in Beirut; and accentuated his view that oil is a global rather than country-by-country issue that needs a united Arab solution vis-à-vis the West. In parallel, his language became more pointed: he now talked about colonialism. And he embraced the nationalization of oil. This had worked in Latin America in the late 1930s when the US government needed its neighbors’ goodwill as clouds of war were gathering over Europe—but it had failed in Iran where a CIA-led coup removed Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq (1882-1967) in 1953, scaring Middle Eastern oil officials until the early 1960s

1962

Lam‘i al-Muti‘i, 'From Bandung to Casablanca' (Excerpts)

While in 1947 the Indian organizers of the First Asian Relations Conference invited a Yishuvi delegation, eight years later the Bandung Conference organizers did not invite Israel. At the same time, the second half of the 1950s signaled the start of Israel’s long “African Decade,” which would end only when many African states cut their diplomatic ties with the Jewish State after the 1973 October War. The first two countries to establish diplomatic ties with Israel were Ethiopia, in 1956, and Liberia, in 1957; in the 1960s, many others followed, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Thousands of Africans studied in Israel. Moreover, thousands of Israeli engineers, agronomists, architects, geologists and others who had participated in nation-state building in Israel worked often for years in development projects in Africa and also, though less so, in Asia and Latin America. And as Ronen Bergman’s 2007 PhD thesis “Israel and Africa: Military and Intelligence Liaisons” shows, Israel exported weaponry and Israeli officers shared with the militaries of recently decolonized African countries their expertise in warfare and in controlling civilians. After all, Israel blitzed through the Egyptian Sinai in 1956, had won its first war back in 1948-1949, and from then until 1966 kept its own Palestinian citizens under military rule.

In fact, the Israeli Defense Forces and the foreign intelligence agency Mossad were central to Israel’s involvement in Africa. The core reason for Israel’s interest in Africa was political and strategic. Israel needed allies in the United Nations, where postcolonial Asian countries were turning against it. And it wished to minimize the dangers of postcolonial Arab-African alliances and to extend to parts of Africa its “periphery doctrine” of honing relations with Middle Eastern countries that neighbor Arab states, like Iran and Turkey. As it did so, Israel at times shared some contacts and information with the US government; becoming a US asset was a boon to the Israeli government, though it remained fiercely independent-minded.

Hence, we have the text reproduced here: translated English excerpts from a 1962 Arabic-language book that shows how Arab nationalists read Israel’s Africa policy. Moreover, as works like Haim Yacobi’s Israel and Africa: A Genealogy of Moral Geography (2016) and Ayala Levin’s Architecture and Development: Israeli Construction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Settler Colonial Imagination, 1958-1973 (2022) show, the afore-noted political and strategic imperatives were steeped in well-rooted Zionist aspirations—aspirations that were colonial in type though not name—to be a Western developmentalist pioneer in the world. These aspirations pertained especiallyto Africa, which, literally bordering Israel, has helped shape Israelis’ view of their place in the world. At the same time, however, Israelis explicitly framed this pioneering self-view within a view of Africans as people who, like the Jews, had recently escaped colonial conditions and reached independent statehood.

1961

Ahmed Sa‘id, 'Returning from Cuba' (Excerpts)

The author of the Arabic-language book from which this excerpt has been translated, Ahmed Sa‘id (1925-2018), was from 1953 until the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War the inaugural director and main announcer of the Cairo-based Arab nationalist Sawt al-‘Arab. This radio was a crucial public relations instrumentfor the post-revolutionary Egyptian government and the by far most popular station in the Arab world in the 1950s-60s. Consequently, Sa‘id was a household name to Arabs.

While most Arabic books on non-Arab decolonization movements and, related, anti-imperialistmovements in the 1950s and 1960s concerned African states, there was much interest in other countries, too. One was Cuba, where a revolution that had started in 1953 succeeded on January 1, 1959. For realpolitik reasons Cuba early on became a Soviet ally, and eventually in the 1960s turned communist, though it continued to pursue a rather fiercely independent foreign policy including armed engagements in Africa, as Piero Gleijeses’ Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (2003) showed. Egypt, on the other hand, repressed its domestic communists, though entertaining considerable ties with the USSR and defining itself as a socialist state. Thus, when Sa‘id accepted a Cuban invitation to attend the revolution’s second anniversary celebration, it was not leftism that attracted him most. Rather, he in this book depicted Cubans as fellow fighters in a continuous revolution against US-led imperialism, a political battle superseding any cultural or linguistic differences.

1961

Lam‘i al-Muti‘i, 'The Tragedy of the Negros in America' (Excerpts)

For decades, African Americans’ still unfinished fights for equality were in varied organizational and ideological ways intertwined with decolonization struggles abroad and linked to the question of US power in the world; an early analysis of this history was Penny von Eschen’s Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (1997).

The case of Arab Americans somewhat differed. As Salim Yacub’s Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s (2016) has argued, they fully developed political demands about U.S.-Arab relations only after the 1967 Six-Day-War, in groups like the Association of Arab American University Graduates; previously founded bodies like the Organisation of Arab Students became political in the later 1960s, too. Earlier, such demands were quieter, except lobbying for Arab Palestine in the 1940s. Yet earlier, it was Arab migrants’ acceptance within the US racial order that required political (and especially legal and social) activity, as Sarah Gualtieri’s Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (2009) has shown—and this activity manifested a wish to be counted as white more than solidarity with African Americans. Again different was the case of nationalist Arabs living in the early postcolonial Arab world. As Alex Lubin’s Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (2014) shows, they saw African American struggles and decolonization struggles as linked, like many African Americans, Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans who were critical of the United States and its role in the postwar world.

The text printed here is a case in point. It is a series of excerpts, in English translation, from an Arabic-language book written around 1961 by Lam‘i al-Muti‘i (1927-2003), an Egyptian author, translator, and travel writer. He also published texts on African decolonization movements, e.g. in Rhodesia, in the same Cairo publishing house and series as this book. Here, he did not talk about “African Americans,” a term that became popular in the 1980s. Rather, he spoke of zunuj fi Amrikā, zunuj (sg.: zanj or zinj) being Arabic for Negros as per the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. In the below translation, I use the term Negros (in America—fi Amrikā) in order to distinguish zunuj from ifriqi (African) in al-Muti‘i’s book, and because many African Americans used the term at the time al-Muti‘i wrote his book, though some, like Malcolm X, already objected to its use, associating it with oppression.

February 2, 1958

The Speech of President Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Afro-Asian Youth Conference, Monday, 2 February [Fibrair Shbat] 1958 / 24 Rajab 1378

This is an English translation of a speech originally given in Arabic in 1958 by Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) and then reprinted in a book published in Cairo.

An officer by training and profession and a participant in the 1952 coup that ended Egypt’s country’s monarchy, Nasser in 1954 became president of Egypt and as such the president of the United Arab Republic (UAR), which was formed with Syria in 1958 and which continued to exist for a decade after Syria left the union in 1961. Having met India’s president Jawahrlal Nehru already in 1954, Nasser began playing an important political role also beyond the Middle East in the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia. His star rose precipitously in 1956, when he nationalized the Suez Canal and when France and Britain had to withdraw their forces from the canal after occupying its northern part in November 1956. Given Egypt’s position in the Middle East and internationally, the US administration was concerned this aggression would play into the hands of its Cold War rival, the Sovet Union. The US forced its NATO allies (and their Israeli colluders) to withdraw—a defeat that Egyptians celebrated as their own anti-imperialist success and that deepened Nasser’s popularity among many Arabs and other decolonizing and postcolonial people.

It was against that background that the Egyptian government further upped its international profile. This now occurred also vis-à-vis Asia and not “only” vis-à-vis Africa, which had been an important arena for the republican regime’s foreign policy from before Bandung. Thus, in 1957 Nasser’s government organized the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Conference that, analyzed in Reem Abou-el-Fadl’s “Building Egypt’s Afro-Asian Hub” (2019), led to Cairo housing the secretariat of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation. And in early 1958, it held the Afro-Asian Youth Conference. By this time and in the 1960s, Cairo became a key transnational hub for decolonization movements especially from Africa, as Eric Burton has shown in "Hubs of Decolonization. African Liberation Movements and Eastern Connections in Cairo, Accra and Dar es Salaam" (2019).

The text printed here is Nasser's address to the Afro-Asian Youth Conference, which happened to take place a mere day after the Syrian-Egyptian UAR was formally announced.

1958

‘Abd al-Mun‘im Shumays, 'Ghana: A Liberated African State' (Excerpts)

Already in the interwar decades, radio broadcasting became an important tool for seeking to shape public opinion at home and abroad. Thus, in the late 1930s, an Arabic-language “radio war” pitched Italy against France and Britain, both sides attacking the other for imperialist policies and intentions in the Middle East. With the onset of decolonization in Africa and Asia after World War II, also leading postcolonial countries began to use radio as a tool.

As Tareq Ismael’s classic The U.A.R. in Africa: Egypt’s Policy under Nasser (1971) and James Brennan’s “Radio Cairo and the Decolonization of East Africa, 1953-64” (2010) show, these broadcasts attacked British rule and framed Egypt as decolonizing Africa’s leader, a move that became ever more important as Egypt’s international profile grew after the successes of 1956. (See the respective entries in this collection). At the same time, Egypt-based Arabic-language writers were keen to introduce decolonizing and early postcolonial countries to the Arabic-speaking public; they often framed political developments there in ways that were related to Egypt and/or claimed a certain lead role, in decolonization, for Egypt. While some books were written on Asia and Latin America, most concerned Africa, underscoring Egypt’s location and leadership claims there.

A case in point is ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Shumays’ Ghana: Dawla afriqiyya mutaharrara [Ghana: A Liberated African State], excerpts from which are reprinted here. One of many Arabic-language books on Ghana, on other African countries, and on Africa in general, it is one of the earliest such texts during the post-World War II wave of decolonization: it was published in 1958, a year only after Ghana became independent.

1953

'Risalat al-Adab' ('Al-Adab's Message')

In 1953, the Lebanese writer Suhayl Idris (1925-2008), with Bahij Uthman and Munir al-Baalbaki, founded a new literary journal, al-Adab, in Beirut. He served as its editor from 1956 to 1992 while working closely with his wife, Aida Matraji. The text printed here is the translation of the Arabic introduction to the journal’s first issue.

Idris had begun to discuss the need for such a journal as a doctoral student in Paris—he received his PhD, on “The Foreign Influences on Modern Arabic Fiction from 1900 to 1950,” in 1952—an experience on which he wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, al-Hayy al-latini, The Latin Quarter (1953). That text, as other texts of his, also reflected his vivid literary and political interest in existentialism. As Yoav Di-Capua has shown in No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Decolonization (2018), Idris and many other Arabs in the 1940s-1960s in Europe and the Arab world embraced existentialism, a philosophical trend identified with the Frenchman Jean-Paul Sartre. They adapted the perhaps central-most existentialist issue—human individuals’ fundamental ability to free themselves from what controls them and shape their own existence—such that it fit their experience and demands in the early postcolonial years. Sure, a good number of Arab Marxists criticized existentialism for being individualistic. And yes, Arabs eventually turned away from Sartre, as their earlier hero signed a letter in support of Israel on the eve of the June 1967 Six-Day War. (Sartre was influenced by massive French Jewish fears that a second Holocaust was coming Israel’s way, which was voiced also by a close collaborator of his, Claude Lanzmann.) But for two decades before 1967, existentialism was extremely useful.

Although political independence from European imperial control was proceeding apace in many parts in the Middle East, though not everywhere, colonialism continued to cast a long shadow. Hard questions about real cultural authenticity (asala) vis-à-vis the West and full-on existential sovereignty (siyada)after many decades of European control remained to be tackled. And true intellectual decolonization—full freedom also in this realm—was necessary. One strand of Arab existentialism, embraced by Idris and others, demanded that literati be steeped in their society and write with total commitment (iltizam) to it, its political needs, and its cultural identity—all while linking their new works also to the non-Arab world, as this text shows.

Pagination