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The surrealist movement in Egypt (1937-1963)
Ronald Creagh - Libertarian Tempests
Article mis en ligne le 8 août 2017

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Original translation from Réfractions n° 34 (printemps 2015) pp. 138-152.

Translated by Robby Barnes and Sylvie Kashdan from "Tempêtes libertaires : Georges Hénein, Ramsès Younane, et le mouvement surréaliste en Égypte (1937-1963)".

Georges Hénein, Ramsès Younane, and the surrealist movement in Egypt (1937-1963)

"To define ’liberty’ is to restrict its meaning, to explain it is to limit its scope ; for the word ’liberty’ only reveals its meaning when interpreted loosely.
"The farthest that the human mind could go to imagine how to liberate oneself from boundaries and borders is perhaps what anarchism has said in the phrase : ’Neither god nor master.’"

— Feisal ’abd al-Rahman Shahbander.

In 1973, a group of Arab students launched the Surrealist Movement in Exile in Paris, London and Vienna. They reappropriated a rebel art : "Our surrealism destroys the so-called ’Arab homeland’ [...] We explode the mosques and the streets with the scandal of sex returning to the body, bursting with flame at each encounter." And they encouraged blasphemy ! They saw in it an eloquent, necessary act, "if only because it produces a delightful pleasure and opens the doors of the imagination." Their journal, Libertarian Desire, was immediately forbidden in most Arabic-speaking countries. Among the articles published in the journal were some texts of a previous generation of Egyptian surrealists. In contrast to socialists and communists of other countries, the authors expressed many libertarian ideas. They were so independent that they did not recognize any "superior" authority. They were very active in Cairo beginning in 1937, and for more than twenty years. Their history and reflections are rich in lessons for a current Egyptian resurgence.

Their works have begun to receive international recognition ; the Arabic texts are trenchant and their poems and stories in French constitute an important contribution to Francophone literature and art of the twentieth century.
The abundance, diversity and complexity of the works deserve a large study which would consider all their interconnections, well beyond what can be presented in this article. We can only briefly review here what two major figures, Georges Hénein and Ramsès Younane did in Egypt. They were very different from one another and yet always very close. They offered a singular insight through their activities in French and Arabic circles.


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