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 L. Mitchell, called An Egyptian in Ireland: Part travelogue, part political manifesto and part anthropological text.
He starts by travelling around the country and then goes on to discuss the make up of society and the political changes that were happening during his visit.
Interestingly, his work on Co-Operation becomes quite influential and this becomes an important movement in Egypt itself. Now, many places in the Arab world have a “Ministry of Co-Operation”. I still remember the Arabic lesson I had to learn the names of ministries (Arabic text books introduce things very early to students that many other foreign language text never seem to, like the names of the ministries of state) and we came to “Co-Operation”. Many of the students asked what this meant and the teacher simply repeated “Co-Operation”, as if we had just asked what something blindingly obvious like the Foreign Ministry meant. I am still not sure I do know what Co-Operation really means but in 1920s Egypt, it was a definite watch word.
The most immediately important thing about this book, though, is the was that Rashad looks to Ireland for things to emulate and things to avoid in his own Egyptian nationalist struggle. He lets us know at the very beginning that this is what he will be doing, when he dedicates the book to “The Rising Generation of Egypt, my Country”
In one section he speaks as one citizen of a subjugated nation to another and is taken aback by how easily the Irish are deceived by the English. It is clear to Rashad that the English are not honest negotiators and it shocks him to think that the Irish could ever trust them.
The copy that I have of the book is unlike any I have seen before and adds an interesting angle to the whole book. This copy has been signed by Ibrahim Rashad, himself.
In the back he has attached a small supplement. He explains that “having been printed in Ireland in a time of great political upheaval, the publishers could not see their way to print certain passages”. He, therefore, includes them here in a supplement that seems to have been printed in France.
It is important to note that one thing that he is particularly keen to reproduce is his full section on the “Irishwomen’s Council”, which was particularly badly mutilated by the censor’s pen (I include the first page here).
He ends the short supplement with some nationalist songs that the original text did not include.
This remained an important book for a while and, in a nice dovetailing with another post on this blog, it was translated into Arabic, abridged and released in the “Book of al-Hilal” series.