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Naguib Mahfouz and the Egyptian Revolution

Naguib Mahfouz and the Egyptian Revolution

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Published by Chaunog Wong
through the book of Karnak Café, have a glimpse of Egyptian History
through the book of Karnak Café, have a glimpse of Egyptian History

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Published by: Chaunog Wong on Feb 01, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/18/2012

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AFRI2007African Nobel Laureates in LiteratureWeek 7Naguib Mahfouz and the Egyptian RevolutionINTRODUCTIONSo, this week we turn to the work of our second author, Naguib Mahfouz.
Karnak Café
is a deceptively dense novel that plays on the social tension that arose betweenthe festivities and promises of the July 1952 Revolution and the hammer-blowsuffered by Egyptians following their defeat to Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. Assuch, in order for us to understand the kind of issues that Mahfouz raises in thisnovel we must first turn to the pages of history
 A BRIEF HISTORYSince the decline of the pharaohs, Egypt had been occupied and ruled by successivewaves of outsiders
 –
the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians and Arabs.In the 16th century all of North Africa, apart from Morocco, fell under Ottoman ruleand remained so until the 19th century. In 1811 Mohammed Ali, a high rankingAlbanian army officer serving in the Ottoman Empire ousted the Governor of Egyptand appointed himself ruler. He remained nominally under Ottoman authority andwas carefully observed by the British, who were determined to strengthen theirposition in North Africa. To begin with, Mohammed Ali pursued an independentdomestic and foreign policy.In 1820, with the encouragement of Britain, Mohammed Ali invaded Sudan in searchof slaves. The Funj sultanate was deposed. Southern Sudan was devastated to such
 
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an extent that the Dinka
 –
a pastoral tribe of south Sudan
 –
still refer to the invasionas
The time when the earth was spoiled
.At home, Mohammed Ali launched an extensive modernisation programme. Heexpanded the area under cultivation and planted crops specifically for export
 –
suchas long-staple cotton, rice, indigo, and sugarcane. The surplus income fromagricultural production was used for public works, such as irrigation, canals, anddams, and to finance industrial and military development. As such, Mohammed Ali
splans to development Egypt hinged on his ability to strike a monopoly over thecountry
s agricultural resources. In practical terms, this meant that peasants weretold what crops to plant, in what quantity, and over what area. The governmentbought directly from the peasants and sold directly to the buyer, cutting out theintermediaries or merchants. With the increased revenue brought about from theprotected economic system that was also put in place, Ali set about developingEgypt
s industrial sector. The government set up modern factories for weavingcotton, jute, silk, and wool
 –
workers being drafted into factories to weave ongovernment looms. Factories for sugar, indigo, glass, and tanning were set up withthe assistance of foreign advisers and imported machinery. The plan was so effectivethat these industries employed about four percent of the population by the mid-nineteenth century, or about 200,000 people.However, after a series of brief wars against failing Ottoman governments in theregion, he was defeated in Syria by the armies of Britain, France, Austria, Russia, andPrussia who were all wary of Egypt becoming too powerful in the region andtherefore jeopardising the delicate economic circuit that had developed in theMiddle East. In defeat, Muhammad Ali was obliged to accede to British demands.According to the Treaty of 1841, Muhammad Ali was stripped of all the land he hadconquered except the Sudan, but was granted the hereditary governorship of Egyptfor life
 –
with succession going to the eldest male in his family. Muhammad Ali wasalso compelled to agree to the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1838, whichestablished
free trade
in Egypt. This meant that Muhammad Ali was forced toabandon the trade monopolies that had seen the Egyptian economy grow, and
 
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establish new tariffs that were favourable to imports. Thus, Egypt was unable tocontrol the flood of cheap manufactured imports from places such as Britain andFrance, and so local industry collapsed.So, British investment grew in Egypt, and North Africa became a focus for Anglo-French rivalry. Mohammed Ali
s lasting successor was Abbas I. It was under his rulethat the 90 mile long Suez Canal was built with French engineering and Egyptianlabour.The canal opened up a shipping route from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.Of course, being a French project, the British government had opposed the project of the canal from the outset to its completion. Clearly, the Suez Canal compromised thevaluable trade route that had developed around the horn of Africa, and thereforenegated, to some extent, the need for Cape Town in southern Africa. As one of thediplomatic moves against the canal, Britain formally disapproved of the use of slavelabour on the canal
 –
slaves had been banned throughout Europe and Russia by1723. Unofficially, the British sent armed Bedouins to start a revolt among theworkers and slow the progress of the project. Through these tactics, involuntarylabour on the Suez Canal was banned, halting the project.Angered by the British opportunism, Ferdinand de Lesseps
 –
the Frenchman incharge of the building project
 –
sent a letter to the British government remarking onthe British lack of remorse a few years earlier when forced workers died in similarconditions building the British railway in Egy
pt…
 In spite of British actions to the contrary, the canal opened in 1869 and instantlychanged the circuit of global capitalism. But in the process of building the canal Egyptwas tipped into bankruptcy, with a debt that grew from £3 million in 1863 to £100million in 1879. Under this condition of bankruptcy, the British and French had theexcuse they needed to move in and establish dual financial control of Egypt.

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