Stand to pavillion

_idris Gamal Nkrumah looks at the American University of Cairo Press's ambitous plans to translate Egyptian and Arabic texts into English, and argues that, despite their best efforts, they are falling into bed with imperialism, in Al-Ahram (via signandsight):

We haven't mentioned latest star that AUC Press is enthusiastically promoting as heir to their beloved Mahfouz — Alaa Al-Aswany, author of the best-seller The Yacoubian Building and its sequel Chicago. Like Mahfouz, he is an irreverent social critic. Like Mahfouz he is more popular with Western readers than with his own compatriots.

The AUC Press might not intend to be a Trojan Horse for US imperialism. But nonetheless, neocolonialism inevitably seeps in to the its activities here in Egypt, as Sadat's widow's memoirs and the rather tawdry critique of contemporary Egypt mentioned above demonstrates. After all, who selects the so- called treasures of Egyptian culture to “export”? It is Americans and American-trained Egyptians, who invariably reflect what liberal Americans would like to see Egypt as, to see Egypt become, as the McDonalds and Hollywood culture flood Egypt and deluge Egypt's past? There is no separating culture, economics and politics, alas, despite the best of intentions of the albeit well-meaning and highly sympathetic AUC Press staff.

Says Daniel Pipes, of all people: “Naguib Mahfouz is one of those authors, like Norman Mailer or Salman Rushdie, whose biography and political views sometimes overshadow his fiction. Although Mahfouz fills a decidedly smaller stage than Mailer or Rushdie (the Arab- speaking world rather than the English-speaking one), he dominates it far more thoroughly than any novelist here.” But the so-called sages of Stockholm are notorious for dishing out their prizes, especially the literary one, for spurious political reasons, and the fact that Mahfouz, the first Arab to get one, was considered by the Islamists an apostate is no coincidence. The fact that Mahfouz is the jewel in the AUC's crown is also no coincidence. It's he who made them and they, in turn, who made him. The relationship is in an uncanny manner the mirror image of Egyptian-American relations in all their complexity.