Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Before reading Salmawi’s memoir

I didn’t write last Wednesday’s article for I felt reluctant to write about Muhammed Salmawi’s memoir titled “A day or couple of days…” published by Al-Karma publishing house in 2017. I was honored to receive his invitation to attend the book signing where the spacious place became crowded with the big audience of Egypt’s elite bunch of politicians and intellectuals.

There is no secret behind this reluctance except for the abundant feelings, information and memories I share with what Mr. Salmawi wrote and which I lived during my lifetime as I belong to the same age group of the writer for he was born in 1945 while I was born in 1946. I said the same age group and not the same generation lest I fall in the trap that my late great friend and mentor Kamel Zoheiri used to mock as he detested that silly talk about “conflict of generations”, “experiences of generations” and “idiosyncrasy of a generation”. He used to say “We now have generations’ investment like we once had capital investment.”

Throughout my old friendship with the memoir’s writer, I had other common things to share with him regarding geography, history, thought, politics and also finance! For “financially” I still owe Mr. Salmawi a 150 Egyptian pounds that I borrowed from him in 1978 to collect the money needed for the first installment of a small apartment in Ahmed Esmat Street as I had no home to accommodate my little family at that time. Whenever we meet, I apologize for not paying, adding that the sum reached thousands of pounds now as a gram of 18 karat gold in 1978 was worthy of ten Egyptian pounds; however, it now reached about 550 pounds, meaning the 150 pounds in 1978 became more than 8 thousand pounds now, not to mention that I and many others are indebted to the man and his great wife, artist Nazli Madkour, for the fancy meals she used to send us in the appeal prison. The kind lady used to supply us with food enough for thirteen hungry men and not only one. Along with the meals, I saw for the first time in my life– I was then 31 years old –plastic spoons, forks and knives since cutlery were not allowed into prisons.

As to the common geographical aspect we share, it’s the connection to the city of Dessouq and the neighboring villages where Salmawi’s family came from Mahallat Malek situated 5 kilometers north to Dessouq while I was born and living in Ganag situated about 20 kilometers south to Dessouq.

Then we come to the common intellectual, political and historical aspects as both of us belong to the same political ideology; nationalism that has an Arab-national root and a socialist essence. We also had common political struggles that led us once to get jailed, another time to get fired from our jobs and also to be mocked and ridiculed by the rulers and their filthy servants.

For all this I mentioned in that long introduction, how could one like me be objective and unbiased in discussing or reading the memoir of that old time partner?

This time I will not write about the book itself. Otherwise, I will talk about what I think is inseparable of Salmawi’s memoir although it was not mentioned in it, that is how could people from different social backgrounds with different standard of livings and who had dissimilar upbringings, compositions and cultures have a common intellectual and political belief?

It’s a recurring case in our contemporary life, for example, sons of the rich well-off families of the high class holding civil ranks of Pasha and Bek united with sons of the middle class families, and both of them; sons of high and middle classes, united with the struggling poor in the Egyptian communist movement, as examples like Muhammed Sayed Ahmed, Saif an-Nasr, Sabri Abdalla, Khaled Mohie ed-Din in addition to so many names of those descending from families of high and middle classes were members of political groups that included craftsmen, laborers and striving peasants and wage earners.

Also, how could those having an almost complete intellectual and cultural composition and equipped with historical awareness and disciplined understanding enabling them to seriously interpret phenomena and protecting them from getting deceived accept to continue and actually defend an era or economic socio-political experiment that was hit in the heart? Not only did they continue believing in and defending this experiment, they also paid the price for that by getting jailed, losing their source of income and denying them their basic rights in life. Moreover, they were ready to abandon their high class and sacrifice no matter the price was in a system that promises nothing, whereas the system of sectarian and religious loyalties and ideologies promises eternal paradise, herds of gorgeous women and seas of honey and wine.

Going up in the social classes from poor to middle then to high class became common. We also knew – actually we know every moment – those whose grandfathers benefited from the plan to fight bare-footedness and whom rough reeds of Hasir rugs along with its biting insects used to leave their marks on their wasted bodies, and suddenly – through corrupt and malicious means – they became wealthy. On the other side, choosing by your own will to replace luxury life with the luxury of belonging to and fighting for the poor and deprived is really the paradox that does not happen a lot in the society.

Those were some questions I wanted to ask before trying to give my opinion about the memoir of the big writer Muhammed Salmawi which I wish to be objective.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar

This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on December 20, 2017.

To see the original article, go to:

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