Commentary On Revolutionary Times
Fatima Rizvi
The Meaning Of Civilisation: Essays On Culture, Religion And Politics by Naguib Mahfouz, Alan Byrne and Russell Harris Speaking Tiger, 2018, 216 pp., 599
April 2018, volume 42, No 4

The Meaning of Civilization: Essays on Culture, Religion and Politics is a compilation of opinion pieces by Naguib Mahfouz, first published between 1974 and 1981. Written originally as a concise commentary on current affairs for the daily Al Ahram, bearing the title wijhat or ‘point of view’, they cover a range of subjects contiguous to the nature, culture and politics of religion, education, nationalism, popular culture and the bureaucracy in Egypt. Picked mostly from the years 1976 and 1980, the articles are chronologically ordered. A few have been selected from the years 1976, 1977 and 1981. This period coincides with the years Anwar al-Sadat served as President of Egypt. Sadat was among those who had spearheaded the fall of the monarchy and sought freedom from British imperialism in the revolution of 1952. As President, he introduced several major reforms favouring urbanization, agrarian reorganization, a multi party system and an open-door economic policy. He revamped Egypt’s foreign policy quite dramatically.

Taken together, these sweeping changes set Egypt on the road to transformation, both, internally and on the global front, whether or not they enjoyed majoritarian support. A popular president in whom his countrymen lost faith over a period of about eleven years, Sadat was assassinated by the radical Islamists for brokering peace with Israel. Mahfouz supported the cause of the revolution and President Sadat and his policies, but maintained that the better interest of the masses was of prime consequence. The columns are the personal viewpoints of one who, as a Nobel laureate in 1988, went on to become the most eminent, contemporary writer of his country. Particular to the Egyptian world caught in the throes of political, social and cultural transformation, they reveal Egyptian society as an order in transition and Mahfouz as a man seriously committed to the welfare of his countrymen.

Continue reading this review