Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mahmud Sami al-Barudi: Reconfiguring Society and the Self by Terri DeYoung

"To explore the life of Mahmud Sami al-Barudi is to gain a nuanced perspective on the many facets—the perils and promises—of change in the rapidly modernizing Egypt of the nineteenth century. Al-Barudi, sole scion of a Turko-Circassian elite family that clung precariously to a legacy of position and power, turned his military education into a government career that ended with his elevation to the office of prime minister. He served briefly before the British invasion in 1882 put an end to Egypt’s independence for seventy years. 

As prime minister, al-Barudi focused on drafting and passing into law Egypt’s first constitution, an achievement that was summarily swept aside by the British occupation. Similarly, the prime minister’s efforts to modernize and improve the educational system were systematically undermined by the policies of colonial rule in the 1880s and 1890s. Although his reforms ultimately failed, al-Barudi was recognized among his contemporaries as the most consistent supporter of liberalism and eventually democratic representation and constitutionalism. For his boldness, he paid a price. He was exiled by the British to Ceylon for seventeen years and returned to Egypt in 1901 as a blind, prematurely aged, and broken man. 

Even before he made an impact as a political leader, al-Barudi had made a name for himself as the most original and adventurous poet of his generation. DeYoung charts the development of al-Barudi’s poetry through his youth, his career in government, his philosophical and elegiac reflections while in exile, and his return to Egypt at the beginning of a new century. Connecting the themes found in his more influential poems—among the more than 400 lyrics he composed—to the turbulent events of his political life and to his equally fierce desire to innovate artistically throughout his literary career, DeYoung offers a vivid portrait of one of the most influential pioneers of Arabic poetry."

The Anatomy of an Egyptian Intellectual: Yahya Haqqi by Miriam Cooke

"Several Egyptian writers are known to the English-speaking world: Tuha Husain, Taufiq al-Hakim, Najib Mahfuz, and Yusuf Idris enjoy a popularity that extends beyond Cairo or Beirut to the international book markets of London, New York, and Los Angeles. Yet the present study marks the first time that the contemporary writer, Yahya Haqqi, whose literary reputation among his countrymen is second to none, has been analyzed in a full-length monograph available to English readers who are not specialists in contemporary Arabic literature, yet are eager to learn more about it.

Haqqi’s oeuvre is eclectic, encompassing short stories, essays, literary criticism, and a novel. All facets of his literary output are systematically studied, with careful attention to the biographical aspects of his varied career which illumine the shape of particular writings as well as the overall tone of his production. What emerges is the Weltanschauung of an Egyptian intellectual struggling to come to terms with a society in transition. Haqqi’s hopes, anxieties, and prescriptions coalesce in an exquisite prose which sets him apart from his contemporaries. Beyond exploring the thematic issues raised by Haqqi, both directly and implicitly, the present study analyzes the quality of craftsmanship that is at once the most elusive and most satisfactory dimension of Haqqi’s work. The intellectual and the adlib, the Egyptian patriot and the sensitive universalist merge and reinforce one another in the fascinating complexity of this major yet comparatively unknown Arab writer."