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).