1917: Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Third World Style.

In 1968, in Cairo, a new journal started. It was called Afro-Asian Writings and was designed to be a continuation of the Afro-Asian Writers conferences that had been held every few years since the first one in Tashkent in 1958. Its headquarters were at 104 Qasr al-Aini Street in Cairo (Nida Ghouse has written a…

Boycotting Elections: 1931-style

A new constitution was ratified in Egypt in 1930 that put most of the power in the hands of the King. It was Ismail Sidqi of the “People’s [al-Shaab] Party”, the palace ally, who most supported and benefited from this constitution. His rival Wafd and Liberal Constitutionalist parties, who had done rather well out of the parliamentary politics…

A Pub Crawl in Ottoman Cairo

OUP have just published Joseph Ben Prestel’s book Emotional Cities, which compares Berlin and Cairo 1860-1910. In it, there is a chapter that details Egyptian worries about the corrupting power of the new Ezbekiyya district, with its bars, music halls and theatres. People worried that all this entertainment was leading people astray and seriously affecting the rationality…

An Egyptian in Ireland in 1920: Liberation and Censorship

1919-20 was a eventful time in Ireland’s ongoing independence struggle. For a young Egyptian called Ibrahim Rashad, whose own country was also fighting for independence from the British, it was an amazing time to be there. His memories are collected in a curious book, which he privately published with the help of the poet Susan…

1930s Egypt and the War on Drugs

A few years ago I remember looking through the Egyptian Drug Smuggling files in the British National archives. They were full of zany schemes to get drugs across the border and dubious kingpins. One of the most memorable plan was the attempt to smuggle walnuts full of Hashish from Istanbul, just because it seemed such…

Sechaba: Official Organ of the ANC

One of my favourite places in Edinburgh to pick up books was always a place called Word Power (now called Lighthouse). It used to have a great box full of second-hand radical pamphlets. Many of them were cast off by the owner Elaine and Tarlochan Gata Aura (member of the Bradford 12). A few years…

Bread and Roses: Publishing for the People in 1950s Egypt

This blog is about the first collection of books I entered for the Edinburgh University student book collecting prize. It was the first thing that ever made me think that I might be a “book collector” (which I suppose I am now) so I owe it a lot, though it has been the cause of…

Converting the Jews of Cairo

A few years ago I cam across 6 full years (1905-1910) of a mysterious magazine called “Jewish Missionary Intelligence” in the Oxfam in Cambridge. It was published by the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. It was the in house journal of the society that worked across the world trying to convert Jews…

Some Hope: Dr Zamenhof’s Universal Language

In late 19th century Russia, Ludwig Zamenhof had a dream of world peace. His contribution to the goal was going to be an important one; he would invent the language. His first idea was to use a series of two letter roots such as -pa-, -lo-, -ra-, etc. with a basic meaning, to which he…

Blythe Spirits

In December 1958 the Egyptian magazine “The Spirit World” published the account of one of their seances. Among the spirits who appeared were King Faisal of Iraq, King Abdullah of Jordan and the former Prime Minister of Egypt and Nationalist hero, Saad Zaghloul. The answers that they give seem to chime a little too conveniently…

Get out of Sudan!

Last night brought the wonderful news that the Sudanese author Bushra al-Fadil has won the Caine Prize for one of the stories included in The Book of Khartoum, which came out last year. In honour of him I am going to write a short blog about a pamphlet that I picked up in Cairo a…

“The harmonium was kindly played by Mrs Smith”

A few years ago I picked up unusual and almost unique set of volumes. It was a more-or-less full run of “Sudan Church Notes” from 1907-1914.  It was a monthly publication designed to inform people about the activities of the Anglican Church in Sudan.  Needless to say this was a specialist interest journal and not…