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 with modern Egyptian politics to be quite believed. It is not my habit to scoff at spiritualism but these spirits are a little too well trained. King Faisal comments that Nasser is a saviour.
King Abdullah is asked if he handed over Lydda and Ramleh to the Jews in the war of 1948 and he confirms it. He also confirms that he left the Egyptian right flank exposed. When asked why he betrayed the Arabs he says it is because they do not understand politics. Even he, though, admires Nasser and says he is serving the interests of the Arabs.
Saad Zaghloul, who died in 1927, speaks like a 1950s anti-imperialist. Q: Will Algeria be liberated? A: Yes. Q: Do we have anything to fear from dealing with communists? A: No. Q: What has kept the Arab states away from the communists? A: Arab Nationalism. etc. etc.
Just a few months later they received a letter from beyond the grave from the Egyptian feminist, Huda Shaarawi, who wanted to set up a charity to set up to help Palestinian children. Writing through a medium she asked someone to contact the feminist journalist Amina al-Said, who would make the arrangements on earth. Huda would take care of things in the world beyond.
I have been interested in Egyptian spiritualists for a while. I recently wrote an article on Nassif Isaac the spiritualist and Esperantist. I have also been trying to track down the books of Sheikh Tantawi Gawhari, the Azhar Sheikh and pioneer of spiritualism in Egypt. I haven’t yet got my hands on these but I have found something else: A long (but far from complete) run of the spiritualist magazine started in 1947 called ‘Alam al-Ruh (world of the spirit).
It’s such a rich resource that it is hard to know how to pick out the best bits. I have issues that take in a span of nearly 15 years from the third one in 1948 to 1961 when it changed its name to al-Ruh (the spirit) after the death of Ahmed Fahmy Abou al-Khayr. He was the man most responsible for the spread of spiritualism in Egypt and who edited the journal for most of its run.
Spiritualism spread all through Egypt and there were adverts for shops selling the journal from towns across Egypt.
Here is one for Tanta:
The journal also did a report on a “Spiritual Festival” they held in Sohag:
The phenomenon was not just Egyptian. The magazine had one particularly prolific contributor from Beirut. In the third issue he began a series of articles in which he listed every spiritualist phenomenon which he had experienced. In Beirut, he says, spiritualist life had been dominated by Doctor Dahesh, a fascinating man who had recently been expelled from Lebanon and who later died in New York. He used to go to Dahesh’s house to see his spiritualist miracles. He began writing about these miracles in 1948 and two and a half years later he is still going and is up to 94 miracles. I have a gap for 1951-1956 so he might have recorded many more.
Spiritualism was, at that time, primarily seen as a scientific quest. The existence of a world beyond was something that they thought could be demonstrated with modern technology. For this reason, perhaps, it fit in well with the ethos at the time of “progress” and “development”. Spiritualism attracted a lot of people. In the late 1940s Abou al-Khayr decided to set up a Spiritualist Union to promote the pursuit. Unfortunately, I do not have the issue with the constitution in it, but I do have the issue that has the announcement of its establishment.
From this we know that the president will be Wahib Doss Bey and that its members included Naima al-Ayubi, one of the first 5 women to enroll in Cairo University, and Saber Gabra, the brother of the famous Egyptologist Sami Gabra, and that the waiting list to join included a professor of Shari’a in the College of Law and the vice-president of the College of Literature at Cairo University.
They society kept meeting until at least the early 1960s. We have a programme of events to be held at their centre in 1958-9, which included discussion of “The Spiritualism of Mohammed”, “The Spiritualism of Christ”, “Spiritualism and the Youth” and “Spiritualism in Society”. The also announce that they are trying to bring foreign mediums to Egypt to show off their talents.
As I said, there is just so much in these magazines that it is hard to know what to focus on. As I have been trying to build up a small alternative geography of Cairo, we have two new places to add to the list.
14 Ismail Abaza Street in Mounira: was the home of the al-Ahram Spiritualists Union, where these lecture were held.
23 Mukhtar Street in Roda: This is the Cairo Spiritualist Circle. However, looking back at the magazines from 1948 we can see that this is where the journal ‘Alam al-Ruh was first published. Letters are to be addressed to it in the name of the head of the Magazine (Ahmed Fahmy Abou al-Khayr). It is not unreasonable to suppose that this used to be Abou al-Khayr’s house and that he ran spiritualist activities out of it.