Bandung at 65, and the Afro-Asian movement’s later years

Hala Halim , Wednesday 29 Apr 2020

Fakhri Labib at home in Heliopolis on 22 May, 2014. (Photo: Hala Halim)
Fakhri Labib at home in Heliopolis on 22 May, 2014. (Photo: Hala Halim)

April 2020 marks the 65th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference, popularly known as Bandung after the Indonesian city in which it was held, a watershed event for recently decolonized nations. Hala Halim reflects on the Afro-Asian movement that followed Bandung, as well as its journal Lotus, and muses about what it means to revisit that moment in the shadow of the current pandemic.She translates extracts from an unpublished memoir composed of vignettes largely related to the Afro-Asian movement, introduces its author, the late Egyptian leftist intellectual Fakhri Labib, and cites interviews she conducted with him

“Take wing, radio, on Alexandria’s waves / on a summery breeze, dewy and bracing / forty generations awaited this word / all the yearnings of time /as from Bandung the white dove coos in rhyme / the thirst of woman and man is quenched / the hunger of woman and man is sated”: thus the Egyptian colloquial poet Fu’ad Haddad (1928-1985) in a poem titled “Farha” (Joy) (Bi-quwwit al-Fallahin p. 91). The stanza rejoices in the promise of peace, of freedom from colonialism,of freedom from exploitation, and of social justice spelled by the Asian-African Conference, convened in Bandung, Indonesia from 18 to 24 April, 1955.

The cooing of the dove from Bandung is a refrain that recurs in every stanza as the poem unfolds different promises, including the resolve to build the High Dam. Haddad, having “been imprisoned for his affiliation with the communist parties,” was articulating “the grounds for his reconciliation with the regime,” writes Noha Radwan in her monograph Egyptian Colloquial Poetry in the Modern Arabic Canon where I first encountered this poem. “These grounds include the popular support for the regime’s policies and the compatibility of these policies with the aspirations of the masses fora more egalitarian and independent nation,” Radwan observes (p. 81).

Twenty-nine African and Asian states, many recently decolonized, were represented at the Bandung Conference. Anti-colonial assemblies were not unprecedented; the opening speech by Indonesia’s President Sukarno recalls several precursors such as the League against Imperialism conference in Brussels in 1927.But as he rightly observes, “that was a meeting place thousands of miles away, amidst foreign people, in a foreign country, in a foreign continent… Today the contrast is great… We are again masters in our own home. We do not need to go to other continents to confer” (qtd. in Kahin, Afro-Asian Conference p. 40).

It was not all smooth sailing: some countries had pacts with Western powers; others were pro-communist; there were concerns about China, represented by Zhou Enlai, also in relation to the (not represented) Soviet Union—among other anxieties diplomatically mediated and allayed through judicious phrasing of the resolutions (see Kahin’s discussion in Afro-Asian Conference pp. 1-38). In different ways, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel-Nasser, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru,Sukarno, andChina’s Zhou Enlai made crucial contributions.Nasser as well as other Arabs foregrounded the question of Palestine and the colonial situation in North Africa; a resolution proposed by Egypt endorsing the right to self-determination of North African countries under French occupation was ratified; the conference also adopted a resolution on Palestine “introduced by Afghanistan and supported by the Arab states” (Kahin, Afro-Asian Conference p.16).

Broadly, and as reflected in its Final Communiqué, the conference aimed to secure for the decolonized states self-determination and a say in international affairs, to uphold world peace and disarmament, to resist racism and imperialism, and to promote economic and cultural exchange between participant countries.I would also point out that one of the reasons why the 1955 eventis pivotal is that it inspired the launching of several forums and institutions with overlapping internationalist orientations thatsought to supportsolidarity and exchanges among Third World nations, non-alignment, liberation movements, and the struggle against neo-colonialism.

Yet, one cannot proceed further before asking what it means to revisit Bandung at 65, in the spring of 2020. Thus it is inconceivable to mislay the global pandemic unfolding as Bandung turns 65. To reflect on what may be at stake in considering these two events together is not motivated by mere topicality: it may not be an exaggeration to suggest that little human endeavor currently escapes the impingement of the pandemic; more apropos, the question of what world is to come out of the pandemic hangs in the balance.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Bandung and emancipatory humanism

While oriented towards decolonized nations, Bandung simultaneously positioned its own project as a contribution to humanity writ large. That is, Bandung was not a new ethnocentrism but rather--this articulated in a variety of ways--a call for an emancipatory humanism.

The “Cultural Cooperation” portion of the Final Communiqué of the Bandung Conference outlines this position powerfully:

“It was not from any sense of exclusiveness or rivalry with other groups of nations and other civilisations and cultures that the conference viewed the development of cultural cooperation among Asian and African countries. True to the age-old tradition of tolerance and universality, the Conference believed that Asian and African cultural cooperation should be developed in the larger context of world cooperation […. which] would also help in the promotion of world peace and understanding.” (qtd. in Kahin, Afro-Asian Conferencepp. 79-80)

Under “Human Rights and Self-determination,” the Final Communiqué “declared its full support of the fundamental principles of Human Rights as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and took note of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” And the first of Bandung’s ten-point “Declaration on the Promotion of World Peace and Cooperation” reasserted “respect… for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations” (p. 84).

This emancipatory internationalist humanism which, since the 1990s, would seem to have been depleted not least because of the Cold War, continues to hold viability. Writing in 2012, it seemed to me that the movement of protest that had begun in the South in 2011, specifically the Arab world, and spread from there to the North, spoke to that earlier internationalism (“Lotus” pp. 582-583).A collective project launched in 2014 under the title “Bandung Humanisms”—sponsored by Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles—maintains that:

“Bandung cultural politics enacted a humanism that was radical and guiltless over its call to combat the dehumanization of societies, since Bandung thinkers and activists felt no need to cultivate the ‘anti-humanist’ tendencies of the contemporary European intelligentsia, which still holds radical thinking in a deadlock. This distinction marks our second impetus: to explore in what ways humanist thinking, unencumbered by ‘Western’ commands, can serve as a new cauldron of radical configurations of thought and action against the rampant dehumanization of societies by the economic and political forces of capitalism in its ‘globalization’ phase.”

Granted, a measure of guilt, in the form of collaboration by some local elites, was involved at a later stage in the attenuation of the Afro-Asian movement.But the case for harking back to “The Legacy of Bandung” is made eloquently by the Indian political scientist Partha Chatterjee in an essay by that title. And granted, he identifies recent scholarship that casts Bandung as “the mythical foundation of global anti-imperialist politics” as “vastly overstated.” Chatterjee measures the political and economic distance between the situation of Global South countries today and the situation of the emerging Third World that Bandung sought to address. And yet, if the “formal equality of sovereign nationstates has been normatively established on a global scale,” he concludes, “the imperial privilege to declare the colonial exception, at which Sukarno hinted at Bandung,continues in many guises.” Thus:

“The demands made at Bandung still remain the unfulfilled promises of a global order founded on the freedom and equality of nations and peoples. That is why the memory of 1955 still refuses to go away, even though the world has changed so much over the past sixty years.”(Chatterjee, “The Legacy” p. 657, p. 673, p. 674)

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

COVID-19: dehumanization and solidarity

If the ravages of “dehumanization” are visible in the current COVID-19 pandemic, something of the solidarities that I think of as belonging to emancipatory humanism are likewise visible. The fallout of continued Western exploitation of the Third World which Bandung sought to prevent is most likely to manifest in the Global South and among the indigent of the North in the pandemic’s trajectory.

In a 12 March article titled “The monster is at the door,” the American public intellectual Mike Davis speculates about the possible trajectory of COVID-19 based on the global Spanish flu of 1918-19 in which “60 per cent of global mortality occurred in western India where grain exports to Britain and brutal requisitioning practices coincided with a major drought. Resultant food shortages drove millions of poor people to the edge of starvation. They became victims of a sinister synergy between malnutrition, which suppressed their immune response to infection, and rampant bacterial and viral pneumonia.” For him:

“This history--especially the unknown consequences of interactions with malnutrition and existing infections--should warn us that COVID-19 might take a different and more deadly path in the slums of Africa and South Asia…. No one knows what will happen over the coming weeks in Lagos, Nairobi, Karachi, or Kolkata. The only certainty is that rich countries and rich classes will focus on saving themselves to the exclusion of international solidarity and medical aid. Walls not vaccines: could there be a more evil template for the future?”

Similarly, in an article published on 14 April, the Egyptian physician and activist Mohamed Aboul-Ghar draws an analogy between COVID-19 and the impact of the 1918-19 Spanish flu on Egypt. He cites scholarship on Egypt by the American political scientist Ellis Goldbergwhich demonstratesthat “the spreading of various epidemics and the rise in mortality rates goes back to the extreme malnutrition of Egyptians in the latter part of the war… and it emerged that the principal reason was the decrease in cultivated land on account of the British authorities’ forcing young peasants into indentured labor,” and conscripting them into the army.In Aboul-Ghar’s view, these and other dire conditions substantially contributed to the Revolution of 1919, which he underscores was as much rural as it was urban.

Taking stock of “the prevalence of diabetes among Palestinians” in the West Bank and Gaza, Bram Wispelwey and Amaya Al-Orzza underscore how the “disease suppresses the immune system… and can spiral dangerously out of control when combined with an infection, such as the coronavirus,”as supported by the higher risks of developing COVID-19 among diabetics seen in China, they point out. As is the case “in other parts of the world, the prevalence of the disease [diabetes] is linked to land dispossession, structural violence, colonial domination and oppression.”Within the neoliberal order, the likely greater toll to be paid by peoples of the South under pandemic conditions has its parallels, clearly, in COVID-19’s impact on the disenfranchised of or in the North, for examplethe American South, and refugees and migrants.

While the “mask wars” by the US and Western countries unfolded in past weeks, international solidarity in the vein of the emancipatory humanism of the liberation period has not been absent.Such solidarity came, among others, from Cuba which sent teams of doctors abroad to help with the COVID-19 crisis, particularly to Italy. “Cuba set up its first international medical brigade in 1963 and dispatched its 58 doctors and health workers to newly independent Algeria,” as Hernando Calvo Ospina reminds us. Originating, then, within the internationalist, Third Worldist liberation moment, the Cuban international medical solidarity work has extended not only to various parts of Africa, and Latin America, but also to Pakistan, before its work in the current crisis  (“Cuba”).

The “arrival [of medical teams like the Cubans in COVID-19-infected countries] reminds us of a century-long history of socialist doctors and nurses who have thrown themselves into international solidarity for the sake of humanity,” in contrast to the “the imperialist tradition” of continued sanctions against Iran and “the siege of Gaza (Palestine)” amid the pandemic, writes Vijay Prashad in a 19 March, 2020newsletterof the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

The institute, established a few years ago, takes its name and inspiration from the First Solidarity Conference of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, or the Tricontinental, held in Havana in 1966. In a line of descent from Bandung, and related to the Afro-Asian movement that followed the 1955 event, the Tricontinental established the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL), which closed its doors as recently as 2019. No less significant among the forums that came out of Bandung are the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization (AAPSO) and the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association (AAWA).

Egypt and the Afro-Asian movement

It is likely thanks to the strong Egyptian participation at Bandung that before the 1955 conference closed, the idea was already mooted that “the next round of the conference would be convened in Cairo and that it may be held in two years’ time,” as the Ahram reported from Indonesia on 26 April, 1955 (“Mu’tamar Bandung”). This was the beginning of discussions of what was to become the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Conference convened in Cairo from 26 December, 1957 to 1 January, 1958, which in turn founded AAPSO.

While the Cairo Declaration at the end of that conference avowed the new institution’s commitment to Bandung’s ten-point “declaration on the Promotion of World Peace and Cooperation,” this event was somewhat different from the 1955 one, not least by virtue of its participants including writers, educators, intellectuals and so on. As a figure in the Afro-Asian movement would later observe, “Bandung was an official conference on the level of governments, and the idea was broached to hold [another] Bandung on the level of peoples, political parties, civil groups; thus, the Cairo conference was a Bandung but on the level of peoples and not governments” (al-Kharrat, Muwajahatp. 264).AAPSO was headquartered in Cairo, where its permanent secretariat remains to this day.

The Cairo conference in turn led to the establishment of AAWA at an Afro-Asian writers’ conference in Tashkent in October 1958. In its early days, the Permanent Bureau of AAWA was based in Colombo, Ceylon.Cairo hosted the quite formative Second Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference in 1962. The Colombo bureau, for its part, put out a poetry anthology, Afro-Asian Poems,as well as a bulletin, The Call.

The AAWA Permanent Bureau was relocated to Cairo around 1966 for several reasons.Based on archival work I undertook at AAPSO headquarters in 2019, in particular the records of the “Extraordinary Meeting of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Permanent Bureau” held in Cairo in June 1966—at which the decision was made to relocate AAWA—Colombo’s performance had given rise to various complaints.These ranged from irregularities in the running of the Colombo offices, including cronyism, to lack of productivity in liaising meetings, working to establish committees of Afro-Asian writers and acting in solidarity with writers struggling against imperialism. This, apart from the resonance of the Sino-Soviet split, given that the local leadership of the Colombo bureau was viewed as aligned with the Chinese line.

In the words of writer Youssef El-Sebai, secretary-general ofAAPSO, who would also become secretary-general of AAWA after its move to Cairo, it was a period of “stagnation and death” (“HawlMagallatUdaba’”). It might be suggested that this is the assessment of an interested party.However, judging by the uniformly poor quality of the propagandistic poems inIndonesian People Take Mao Tse-tung’s Road: Anthology—published by a “shadow”Afro-Asian Writers’ Bureau that continued to function illegitimately after AAWA moved to Cairo—the assessment seems not unjustified.

Lotus: Afro-Asian Writings

The Cairo years, which lasted until the late 1970s, were arguably the institution’s most generative. This period came to a close after President Anwar Sadat’s Peace Accords with Israel—and subsequent Arab boycott of Egypt--and the assassination of AAWA’s Egyptian secretary-general, El-Sebai.To my mind, the most seminal contribution of AAWA in the Cairo years was its launching, in 1968, of the trilingual (Arabic, English and French) quarterly journal Lotus: Afro-Asian Writings.

AAWA would be moved“to Beirut during the Civil War, where it remained until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.” In Lebanon, the English edition was edited by the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, while the Arabic was overseen by the Palestinian poetMu’inBisisu. “The journal eventually moved to Tunis, where Palestinian writers who edited it had relocated. It was in Tunis, in the early 1990s, that Lotus was discontinued on account of the dismantlement of the Soviet Union, and hence the drying out of funding” (Halim, “Lotus” 566).  AAWA returned to Cairo during the Mubarak presidency; but Lotus ceased publication before being relaunched, also in Cairo, roughly quarter of a century later.

Lotus in the early Cairo years published both (refreshingly) obscure writers and ones who have since become so canonical they are now the standard fare of literature courses in World Literature, Postcolonial Literature or Global South Studies, such asAdonis, Mulk Raj Anand, Abdel-Wahab El-Bayyati, Dennis Brutus, Mahmoud Darwish, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Alex La Guma, Yahia Haqqi, Nazek El-Malaika, Agostinho Neto, Ngugi waThiong’o,Ghassan Kanafani, Marcelino dos Santos, Leopold Senghor, Wole Soyinka, among others. This is apart from the prestigious Lotus Prize that AAWA used to award, which went to the likes of Darwish,Kanafani, Ngugi, Ousmane Sembene, and KatebYacine. What is more, identical material was printed in the three languages of any given issue, with each language appearing under separate cover: a major editorial and translational feat, it created an interface for a community of readers across two vast continents and beyond.

One of the important signifiers of the cultural sea change that the Afro-Asian movement effected is an article titled “Egypt and Cultural Exchange” by Taha Hussein, the prominent Egyptian intellectual, writer, and pedagogue—winner of the Lotus Prize in 1971--published in Lotus in 1975 (I discuss this at some length in “Lotus” pp. 575-577). Earlier in the twentieth century, particularly in his 1938 Mustaqbal al-Thaqafa fi Misr(The Future of Culture in Egypt), “Hussein had advocated a European identity for modern Egypt by situating the country squarely in a Mediterranean, Near Easternspace that has long maintained a symbiotic relationship with Greece and is altogether removed from any commonalities with the Far East” (Halim, “Lotus” p. 576).

In “Egypt and Cultural Exchange,”while he does hark back to his previous position, Hussein focuses on language politics and, this being a key issue in the Afro-Asian movement, the question of translation. He comments that the “foreign ruler prevented us from learning languages other than his own,” but “Egypt has [now] opened her windows wide to all languages,” the “languages we canlearn and from which we can translate [being] more than those learnt by the” ancient Arabs;“We are now learning all European, as well as oriental languages.” Hussein concludes by welcoming “the idea of cooperation among the peoples of Asia and Africa” and expresses his wish that “this solidarity  be a concrete reality” (“Egypt” p. 53, p. 54). The article isa mildly edited version of Hussein’s speech at the 1957-58 Afro-Asian Peoples’ Conference (the full text in English translation is to be found in the proceedings,Afro-Asian Peoples Conference pp. 351-358; a one-page abridgement of the speech in Arabic is printed in the February 1958 issue of al-Risala al-Gadida, p. 8).

My 2012 article “Lotus, the Afro-Asian Nexus, and Global South Comparatism”is--to the extent of my knowledge--the first published scholarly study on this journal. Lotus, as I see it, was a forum for intersecting gazes among the writers of what was then called the Third World, visible too in articles it included where an intellectual from a given African or Asian country reflected on another Afro-Asian culture. Lotus also hosted debates about translation in which the possibility of direct translations between African and Asian languages was mulled over.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

The journal sought to steer dialogue away from a Europe-centered orientation, creating a space for exchange among Third World writers and intellectuals instead. In these senses, Lotus, in my view, constituted an antecedent of what in the West has come to be called “postcolonial critique” and also the potential of what is nowadays referred to as Global South comparatism, even though it did not fully embrace Tricontinentalismdespite connections with Latin America. It is a line of thinking I was to go on developing aspects of in several publications (see “Afro-Asian Third-Worldism” and “The pre-postcolonial”). To my pleasure, much scholarship on the Afro-Asian movement and Lotus followed the publication of my 2012 article.

Afro-Asian encounters

Looking back, I recall the reminiscences, in 1996,about the Afro-Asian movement shared with me byEdwar al-Kharrat (1926-2015),Alexandrian novelist, critic and translator, and (by then retired) assistant secretary-general of AAWA and assistant editor-in-chief of Lotus; he had also served as assistant secretary-general of AAPSO. This was in the course of my interviews with him for a profile I published in the Ahram Weekly(see “Edwar El-Kharrat: Mikhail and the dragon”). Years later, I explored issues of Lotus and cited them while writing a chapter on al-Kharrat in my doctoral thesis on Alexandria at the University of California, Los Angeles (submitted in 2004).

I remember, too, that during my doctoral studies, I met the South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile who was at the timeteaching at UCLA, and had published in the journal: he spoke glowingly of the editorial team that Lotus had on board. (For a poem by Kgositsile, as part of a dossier on South Africa in the journal, see Lotus of April 1972.) It is the case that the journal, “being based in Cairo put at [its] disposal an excellent cadre of editors, writers, translators, and designers, in addition to the Egyptian capital’s location at the crossroad between Africa and Asia” (Halim, “Lotus” p. 581).

Al-Kharrat is known to have selected much, certainly not all, of the material published, whether it was reprinted from a previous publication, solicited or an unsolicited submission.When in December 2005, on the eve of a first of a series of conference presentations I gave on Lotus, I asked him in interview what he saw as the journal’s lasting legacy, he commented that it was the promotion of African literature (see Halim, “Lotus” p. 566); by way of example, he observed that “we were the first to publish Alex La Guma.” The South African writer La Guma, later involved editorially in Lotus and in AAWA in various capacities, was an exile, as was Kgositsile for a spell.Whether on bibliographical grounds al-Kharrat’s comment is absolutely accurate, the far more pertinent point is that it signalsthe importance ofLotus as a vital forum for writers who may not have had regular outlets otherwise on account of their participation in liberation movements.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Fakhri Labib and the movement’s latterly years

In the years before the publication of my first article on Lotus, I had met Fakhri Labib(1928-2016), the leftist, geologist, writer, translator, and, in later years, head of the Information Section of AAPSO. Amusingly, perhaps, though my first meeting with Labibwas at the AAPSO headquarters in January 2007—in a palazzo once owned by an Egyptian princess in Manial district—I was there to interview him about his translation into Arabic of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet for a book I was then writing about Alexandrian cosmopolitanism.

But I was to meet Labib later repeatedly as I continued to work on Lotus, on which occasions he was invariably welcoming and helpful. Some of the help he offered with my work was quite concrete: signing permission forms for me to reproduce images from Lotus, and putting me in touch with Africanist Helmi Sharawy whom I met at the Arab and African Research Centre in Giza, and whosehard-to-obtain books I thus received and cited on the Afro-Asian movement in relation to Tricontinentalism (“Lotus” p. 582).

Most significantly, having reconstructed the story of AAWA until its move to Cairo in the early 1990s, I found Labiban excellent source on the Afro-Asian movement’s latterly years as I researched where things actually stood with AAWA and Lotus. Al-Kharrat had retired from both AAWA and AAPSO in 1983; Labib had joined AAPSO in 1986.In addition to his work in AAPSO’s Information Section and editing of its journal Solidarity, Labib occasionally worked with writer LotfiEl-Kholi, secretary-general of AAWA after it returned to Egypt: “I was almost in charge of the African side of AAWA… for example if there was a conference in an African country and LotfiEl-Kholi did not want to attend, he would delegate me to represent AAWA” (interview of 22 May, 2014). After El-Kholi’s passing, the position was adopted that “it was for [the Afro-Asian Peoples’] Solidarity Organization, just as it had founded the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, to play a role in recouping or reactivating the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association once again,” Labib recalled on 22 May, 2014. Consequently, he and Mursi Saad El-Din, among others, formed a preparatory committee for the revival of AAWA and its journal Lotus.

Labib spoke to me at length about the funding issues that plaguedthe revival efforts, about issues withleadership—El-Kholi’spreference to run the show single-handedly--about the encroachment on the old AAWA offices on Qasr al-Aini Street, about the eagerness of Indian writers for a revival of AAWA, about the preparatorycommittee’s wish to reconstitute the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association “along more encompassing lines toinclude Latin America and call it the Association of the South and not merely an Afro-AsianAssociation”(interview of 9 October, 2011,quoted in Halim, “Lotus” p. 566). Labib and his colleagues convened a quite successful international conference, attended by representatives of writers’ unions from several countries,in Cairo on 12-13 April, 2006, at which the resolution was made to revive AAWA and republish the journal. Further issues ensued in preparation for a constituentconference that was finally convened in December 2012, by which time Labib had retired (interview of 22 May, 2014).

At the general conference of 2012, a “new secretariat” of AAWA was formed and writer Mohamed Salmawy was elected its secretary-general, and then reelected in 2015 (Salmawy in interview, 31 August, 2017). Lotus was relaunched in winter 2016, and whether or not he got to see it, Labib had passed away before the official announcement that the institution had been renamed the Writers’ Union of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (WUAALA). It was Latin American writers, citing shared colonial legacies and “Third World preoccupations,” as Salmawy put it in interview (31 August, 2017), who pressed for the inclusion of their continent (see Halim, “Afro-Asian Third-Worldism”). But the renaming fulfilled the earlier reconceptualization of the association by Labib and his colleagues in relation to the dissolution of the three-worldsorder and the emergence of the Global South. Thus far, three issues of the relaunched Lotus have been published.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Writer Cherif El-Choubashy, elected secretary-general of WUAALA at the beginning of 2019 and current editor-in-chief of Lotus, reflects that “my understanding of Lotus is that it is not a political journal… in its early days, it carried articles... that took trenchant positions on such issues as colonialism and apartheid. That was in the nature of the times.” El-Choubashy asserts that he is not critical of the earlier committed Third-Worldist line of Lotus, but maintains that, “we need to be realistic.” Thus, “today, we cannot adopt such aggressive positions; nor should we adopt a submissive position of cultural dependency.” He locates the journal’s potential strength at this stage in that, “through our own cultural sources” and concepts, “it can confront the new ideas and positions... of the extreme right in the West—racism, lack of respect for other cultures, and hostile positions on immigrants.” El-Choubashy believes that a “response” is called for, that “we have a different voice, but it is muted,” and that such values as “fraternity” are more deeply rooted in Africa, Asia, and Latin America than in the West, but they need to be “enhanced” (interview of 18 March, 2019).

At AAPSO, Helmy El Hadidi, president of that organization, explains that he has tried to reach out to Latin American unions and associations without success; but he has “not lost hope.” Surveying AAPSO’s role in relation to current geopolitical configurations, El Hadidireflects on the depletions that the Third World underwent in its transformation into the Global South, whether economically or ideologically, and the ensuing limitations. “We are considering moving with the times,” he adds, since “what was feasible in the past is no longer feasible. We need new mechanisms, and the mechanism we have found is culture” (interview of 21 March, 2019).

One of the last times I met Labib was on 22 May, 2014. As part of my ongoing research on the Afro-Asian movement, Labib having by then retired, I had visited him at home. He and his wife, who was always as hospitable as her husband, lived in a flat on a street off Saint Fatima Square in Heliopolis.His home had the old-style cement tiles favored before the craze for “ceramique” ushered in by Sadat’s Open Door policy. The bibelots and framed wall art carried a whiff of the tastes and lifestyles of a certain generation—transitional, coming of age in the mid-twentieth century--and particular backgrounds within it. There were layered cultural references:ladylike framed needlepoint tapestries, probably the work of Labib’s wife, showing a flower and a peacock; and souvenirs from Afro-Asian trips, as in African masks and the inevitable Russian doll matryoshka. A few prison trophies were exhibited on the walls: Labib sat in a favorite armchair beneath a portrait of himself made by a fellow-inmate, Said Aref, in 1961, which he proudly noted had been smuggled out of prison; hanging on another wall was a reproduction of Labib’s picture for the canteen pass from the same period in the Mahariq Prison in Kharga Oasis.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Manuscript of a memoir

The day before, I had bought a copy of Labib’s autobiographical novel, al-Gabal wa Ana (The Mountain and I), about his experiences as a geologist. Signing it for me, he shared that there had been a day-long celebration of the book by his colleagues at the Geological Survey. On the phone, Labib had mentioned that he had completed a memoir largely about the Afro-Asian movement.This was quite fortuitous because it has long been my view that work on the Third Worldist movements, not least the Afro-Asian institutions, must attend to their everydayness, to “un-registered minutiae,” to “the marginalia of actors, such as letters, ‘grey literature,’ accounts of hushed debates in the corridors of conferences, obscure memoirs, little-read spin-off texts relating to the period, published either concurrently in forums that received no sponsorship from AAWA or in texts issued after the movement had virtually petered out” (“The pre-postcolonial” p. 83). It will always amaze me that Labib readily agreed to lend me his manuscript, in longhand, of which he had no copy, for me to photocopy.

Unpublished to this day, the manuscript is titled Man Ra’a Laysa Kaman Sami‘a—literally translatable as “he who has seen is not like he who has heard,” with an emphasis on the veracity of an “eyewitness account” as opposed to hearsay, as well as astonishment, which I am provisionally rendering as “Seeing is Believing.”

The manuscript, which lies in 432 full scape-size longhand pages written in an accessible narrative style, is composed of ten vignette chapters arranged in chronological order, with the dates of events narrated given in the title of each--together with the country in which they unfold--from the mid-1970s to 2007. “Seeing is Believing” thus covers quarter of a century, and specifically the period of the attenuation of Third Worldism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the triumph of neo-liberalism. One secondary, albeit not negligible, value of the book is that it reproduces some documentary material and grey literature—articles, texts of speeches, etc. The principle of selection of subject matter for the vignettes is, for the most part, trips abroad, through or related to work at AAPSO, as well as AAWA, including to Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Guinea, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mali, Mongolia, Nigeria, the USSR, Vietnam, and Zambia.Two chapters, though, do not conform.

The first chapter narrates a trip to Saudi Arabia in 1976, obviously altogether unrelated to the Afro-Asian movement in which the kingdom was by no means involved given its diametrically opposed positions. The inclusion of this chapter seems justified on account of the trip to Saudi being Labib’s first time abroad, thus reinforcing the status of the text as a travelogue memoir. Labib’s trip to Saudi was in his capacity as geologist, his expertise having been solicited to conduct a geological survey of resources in the Eastern part of the kingdom to which he insisted on traveling, from Jeddah, in a Land Rover, rather than airplane, to get to see as much of the land as possible. This first chapter sets the tone of the narrator’s occasional quasi-guilelessness, the persona of the innocent abroad, which refers us to the astonishment clinched in the book’s title.

That astonishment—which shades into amazement, dismay, shock, and serendipitous wonderment across different vignettes,and serves several functions in the book--may account for the other, even more anomalous chapter.This recounts Labib’s last experience of detention in Egypt in 1989, which may also, indirectly, help flesh his profile as one of the leftists working in the Afro-Asian movement. The “innocent abroad” persona allows for bouts of righteous indignation in this chapter concerning carceral practices that have long since become banalized. When workers in the Iron and Steel Factory go on strike, an eclectic mix of leftists of different hues is arrested and detained. Thus, when there is a dawn raid on his home accompanied by the ritualized ransacking of personal bookshelves and papers before he is taken away, Labib poses a series of indignant rhetorical questions addressed to the government, and the government’s wife, about the breaching of privacy, and the disrespect of freedom of belief and of the honor of the word.

Labib, of course, had long been a pro at detention. As an undergraduate in the mid-1940s atFuad I (now Cairo) University’s Faculty of Science, where the leftist National Committee for Students and Workers which worked for Egypt’s independence was very active, he joined a communist party. After graduation, he was imprisoned for the first time in 1954, as he recounts in his memoir al-Mishwar. It is no small irony that among Labib’s papers confiscated in 1989 was the manuscript of what was to become his two-volume book al-Shuyu‘iyyun wa ‘Abd al-Nasir (The Communists and Nasser). This book relies on extensive testimonies, as well as documents, which Labib collected and synthesized into an analytical narrative centering on the wave of detentions of leftists that began on the eve of 1959 and ended in the mid-1960s, referred to in shorthand as the “Oasis prison period,” even though the detainees were moved between several prisons before a number of them were transferred to a detention camp in Kharga Oasis in the Western desert. Himself an inmate who contributed a testimony about the period here and elsewhere, Labib writes in the introduction to “The Communists and Nasser”:

“This book is not a settling of scores, but the testimony of a witness who lived through those days from a specific political location, with a particularvision founded on a deliberate choice and a class affiliation. Hence, from this vantage point the testimony expresses what he lived through in relation to his intellectual beliefs and political convictions at the time.” (Labib, al-Shuyu‘iyyun, vol. 1, p. 15)

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

The Soviet Union vis-à-vis the Afro-Asian movement

The manuscript of “Seeing is Believing” registers some of the vicissitudes of the Afro-Asian movement vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. I have long been intrigued by the question of the extent of the USSR’s say in either AAWA or AAPSO—beyond its representation, also within the permanent secretariat in the latter institution—but specifically from an Egyptian vantage point of an insider at the headquarters. I put the question toal-Kharrat in December 2005.Addressing the movement in the 1960s, ’70s, and early ’80s, he spoke of how the journal was supported primarily by Egypt, the USSR and the German Democratic Republic; the English and French editions were printed in the latter, the Arabic in Cairo.(According to the late writer and journalist Mursi Saad El-Din, a former colleague of mine at the Ahram Weekly, long involved in the old AAWA, indeed one the editors of Lotus, as well as in AAPSO, India also offered a substantial share of funding to the writers’ association itself; thismight have alsodefrayed some of the expenses of the editorial offices [see Saad El-Din, “Ma‘ Kuttab”].) In answer to my queries aboutthe impact of the political context on the journal’s editorial line, al-Kharrat explained that it was out of the question “to publish anything against progressiveness,” that Lotus was “pro-left,” “anti-colonial,” and “pro-USSR” (interview of December 2005).

As I noted, Soviet involvement “cannot be said to have been covert,” but rather was on record in the journal itself. And it is the case that there was“an ideological affinity in that several of the key figures in the journal articulatedtheir anticolonialism in dialogue with Marxism” (“Lotus” p. 571). Some archival soundings I undertook at AAPSO headquarters last year seemed to indicate a lesser Soviet involvement in the AAPSO offices in Cairo at the beginning of the 1960s than in the latter part of that decade, although further research is needed to establish this.

As for al-Kharrat, he had been involved in the Trotskyist movement in the 1940s; hence the complexities of his affiliations as they play across his literary, critical and editorial work, which I have discussed elsewhere (see Halim, “Scope forComparatism” and “The pre-postcolonial”). I was curious about what say the USSR may have had during the Afro-Asian movement’s latterly years. How did Labib, who belonged to a more orthodox Marxist orientation, perceive the role of the USSR in the post-Bandung Afro-Asian movement, and did he view it as adverse?

Labib answered only after careful positioning—adducinghis being a communist, citinghis book “The Communists and Nasser,”averringhis previous faith in a USSR that he had perceived as the “mother state of socialism,” a faith that had turned intodisenchantment on visiting the Soviet Union in 1986.

“It seems to me,” Labib reflected,his tone suggestingthat this is a supposition, “well, it seems to me that, from the viewpoint of the Soviet Union, AAPSO may have been part of the Cold War. But from the viewpoint of participants and solidaristicparties no, it was part of the liberation movement. In this sense, the Soviet Union’svantage point was that of a superpower… and not that of the mother state of socialism,” whereby “this organization [AAPSO] fulfils interests. But the way I saw it [AAPSO]—as of course did many delegates who were with us—this is a tool for… peoples to support the liberation movement…. In my estimation, what was put into effect [at AAPSO] was the liberation line espoused by participant committees in the organization. The Secretariat [of AAPSO] used to get its own way. Why?Because it didn’t differ very much with those aims [of the USSR]. Still, there’s a difference between regarding [the USSR] as a socialist model for the entire world, you see, and perceiving it as a superpower whose interests converge with one’s own. No, I would have expected much more… a superpower whose greatness is expressed in a pioneering role in the domain of socialist thought, andnot a matter of authority.”

I asked if the disenchantment with theUSSRhad led him to a sort of “The God that Failed” moment, provocatively invoking the title of an AmericanCold War propagandist collection of essays in which self-designated ex-communists recanted their views. “No,” Labib shot back instantly, “not ‘The God that Failed.’ What stunned me was that this was a party that had achieved a genuine revolution… The 1917 Revolution was a revolution of the street… How did it collapse? This is an important experience. I hold a full convictionthat other experiences will come… To me, methodology is the foundation. I am no dogmatist like people who transpose things literally, [as in] ‘Stalin said’ and ‘Lenin said’… no, not for me this casting in a mold, this literalism. In my opinion, each country is capable of fashioning its own socialism; what lends unity is the methodology, the vision… and this vision will certainly come. This is not an inevitability or fatalism but rather that society produces it” (interview of 22 May, 2014).

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

As a member of the leftist Tagammu‘ Progressive Unionist Nationalist Party, Labib, as he explained, made sure to sharethe opinionshe had formed about the USSR based on his visits:“I said at the Tagammu‘… I am one hundred percent sure that everyone who went [to the USSR] before me saw what I saw and kept quiet. I am not going to keep quiet because I want… a true socialism… Of course, the issue was democracy” (interview of 22 May, 2014).

Did Labibshare his views at AAPSO, too? “I said it to colleagues in the Organization, but not officially,” in order to observe more closely first. He started observing the representatives of the USSR at AAPSO in Cairo, and “noticed that they are absolutely subservient characters: [any one of them] would defend his opinion vehemently, and then he’d receive a phone call and then he would express the opposite opinion with the same zeal.”What he had witnessed in the USSR was an “omen” of its collapse a few years afterwards.

“But I do want to put it on record,” Labib continued,“that I saw [in the Soviet Union] amazing achievements of course, in industrialization, urbanization, resisting war… employment, truly amazing things. But [these other] issues drew my attention because I had been imprisoned, and the subject of freedom concerns me very much… and I am not willing to accept compromise when it comes to this subject, not willing to make concessions in thisin return for that… The way I see it, a fundamental part of [people’s] rights is their freedom.” That said, he would not designate the USSR quasi-imperial, since “imperial” has a clear-cut economic “definition” but “a somewhat authoritarian regime”(interview of 22 May, 2014).

Labib first visits Moscow en route to Afghanistan where, together with a delegation from AAPSO, he is to participate in a conference on media. He is asked to meet with a high-ranking representative of the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee working with AAPSO in order to request funding for a trilingual (Arabic, English and French) journal to be issued by the organization in Cairo. At his meeting with two employees from the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee whom he surmises based on their features are from the Asian part of the USSR, Labib converses in Arabic, with the more junior employee translating for the senior one, and it is only as he is leaving, his mission accomplished, that the senior comrade greets him in Arabic. Later, a know-it-all Egyptian friend of Labib’s doing his PhD in Moscow, Wagdi, comments that the senior comrade in question is in the employ of the KGB, much to Labib’s shock.

Indeed, Labib’s narrator responds with stunned rhetorical questions to a series of revelations Wagdi makes about the USSR. The revelations centre on bribes, prostitution, the black market in US dollars, although Wagdi—as did Labib in conversation with me—underscores the role of scholarship students in such conditions, with the authorities’ complicity. Labib’s own direct observations and experiences lead to disappointment. Describing himself to me as “not religious or fanatical,” Labib alluded to how his request to visit a church led him to discover that churches in the USSR had become more or less museums. As the manuscript puts it: “How could this be when the masses who made the revolution and bore sacrifices for it are religious believers, and constitute the vast majority of the revolution’s forces? How could it be that the outcome of this participation is the deprivation of these forces of their freedom of belief?” (“Seeing is Believing” p. 65).

The chapter about Labib’s first visit to the USSR is titled “Who are you?”—a reference to an interview with a Radio Moscow Arabic broadcast he is invited to give. The fact that the interviewer’s questionembeds a preconceived answer--“What is your opinion about Western democracy, given that it is fake?”—rouses Labib’s ire. He rephrases the question to address democracy in socialist countries and delivers an indignant disquisition on the contravening of party constitutions, autocratic leadership and the lack of self-criticism in the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, Poland and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, all of which, he adds, is used by enemies ofthe socialists in other countries to defeat them. He goes on to delink democracy from capitalism as the underlying assumption of the interviewer’s question.Continuing in this vein, via Labib’s indictment of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as motivated by self-interest, the interview ends with the young man from Radio Moscow disclosing that the recording cannot be broadcast.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

The interviewer returns the following day with the question, “Who are you?” and, before Labib can answer, continues, “You are a politician, a geologist, a political writer, a translator, and a writer. Which one of these are you?”On Labib’s last day in Moscow, Elena, his interpreter, brings him a copy of a magazine called Moscow News the front page of which carries a photo of him accompanied by a biographical caption under the headline “Moscow’s Guest this Week.” Elena concludes that it is a tacit apology for not broadcasting the interview.

Enter the translator/interpreter

Elena belongs to one particular thread in “Seeing is Believing” that intrigues me because it is an aspect I consider to be among the keys to the Third Worldist organizations and encounters of the second half of the twentieth century, namely translators/interpreters. A cog in the machine of internationalist forums such as AAPSO and AAWA, translators/interpreters afford insights into the everydayness of such institutions and the room for maneuver, initiative and agency by players within them other than leadership figures. They move fluidly between high-ranking figures and prominent conference participants, on the one hand, and cadres of administrators attending to the nitty-gritty running of institutions, on the other. Privy to confidential or off-the-record discussions, translators/interpreters “shoulder a heavy burden of (linguistic, occasionally bordering on diplomatic) mediation in sometimes fraught situations that might put them at risk,” as I have written in the introduction to interviews I conducted with Nehad Salem, one of the most outstandingly gifted translators/interpreters of AAPSO and AAWA, in pressin Critical Times (“Translating Solidarity” p. 133). The fact that many of the translators and interpreters were women makes gender an all the more compelling lens of analysis I wish to pursue in an ongoingproject on the Afro-Asian movement.

Elena epitomizes some of these aspects of the translator/interpreter in internationalist forums, together with what seem to be additional site-specific expectations brought to bear on her by her employers, even as she herself does not abide by these expectations. During Labib’s first visit to the USSR in in 1986, she introduces herself as his companion/interpreter/tour guide, and we learn that she has been assigned this role by the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee. In her late twenties and writing her PhD thesis on the Canadian economy,Elena drops one or two obscure hints to the effect that she is discontented with the political system in the USSR.

Months later, Labib meets her again when he returns to the USSR for a few days,this time on his way to Ulan Bator, Mongolia to participate in the 13th AAPSO Presidium. This visit to the USSR proves so eye-opening that the vignette about it, titled “Seeing is Believing,” becomes the title of the entire book, even though this chapter is one of the shorter ones. Three incidents in this visit lead to Labib’s ultimate disenchantment.

Looking forward to meeting Elena, Labib is assigned a different interpreter, an older woman who speaks of her dire circumstances as a divorcée,openly propositions him, and suggests using for herself his advantages of buying imported goods, for a black market trade she is conducting, he surmises—all of which becomes an object lesson in what his friend Wagdi had shared about realities in the USSR during Labib’s previous trip.When Elena turns up, she puts a request, by mutual agreement with Labib, to the chief interpreter that she replace the interpreter assigned him. The switch having been made, Elena takes Labib to visit Lenin’s Mausoleum in the Red Square, the second pivotal event which acutely distresses him, on both politicaland spiritual grounds.

Labib and Elena having developed something of a father-daughter relationship, he encourages her with her PhD by disclosing that he has obtained his own recently, in fulfilment of a vow he made to prove his academic mettle when his application for employment in the Geological Survey was initially met with derision about his qualifications because it had been fifteen, militancy-filled, years since his Bachelor’s degree. Hence, Elena introduces him to her fiancé, a fellow-PhD student originally from Tajikistan, who briefly discloses—while his fiancée gives him warning looks--that he is studying the “impediments,” political, social and economic, to the amelioration of his country, in hopes of “identifying causes and solutions” (“Seeing is Believing” p126).

The meeting precipitatesthecoup de grace in Labib’s experience of the USSR when Elena is summoned to meet the chief interpreter who roundly and menacingly reprimands her for introducing her fiancé, a Soviet citizen, to a foreigner without first taking his permission. Labib, who has witnessed the body language of the exchange from afar, is stunned and, in answer to his questions, Elena divulges that the chief interpreter is a “commissaire,” an “important member of the party,” and nods when Labib asks if she thinks her boss belongs to the KGB.

If this incident is anything to go by, it would seem that one of the expectations brought to bear on the local interpreter-companion inat least thisparticular USSR setting in which foreign delegates from the Afro-Asian movement were guestsmight have beenplaying the role of a “minder,” involving “watching over”but perhaps also plain “watching.”Labib’s reactions tothe USSR and the question of its role vis-à-vis the Afro-Asian movement, here AAPSO, and also the importance of the role of the interpreter,guided my selection of extracts from the relevant chaptersthat I translate below.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Navigating “high waves” in Ghana

The figure of the translator/interpreter, in conjunction with a little-known phase in AAWA’s latterly years, were part of what my principle of selection of another set of extracts, drawn from Labib’s chapter about a trip to Ghana. Labib had been delegated to represent AAWA at the Constituent Congress of the Pan-African Writers’ Association (PAWA) held in Accra, Ghana, in 1989. “It was a very trying time,” he described it to me in 2014, “there were very high waves.” There were clashing currents, foremost of which was the impetus to found PAWA: among sub-Saharan writers spearheading it, there was “a very strong apprehensiveness” towards AAWA.

This much becomes clear in the organizers’ attitudes towardsLabib at the congress: at first, a copy of the text of his speech is solicited by one of the organizersahead of time—Labib demurs, and politely enquires whether this is some form of censorship at stake—and later, even more explicitly, whenLabib is introducedas an Egyptian writer and editor of an AAPSO journal, as he is about to give his speech, with no mention of his role as AAWA representative. Labib, after giving his speech, identifies himself as AAWA’s representative with a flourish. In conversation, Labib reflected that the “almost hostile attitude” towards AAWA may have been underwritten by several causes, including something of a trend towards “Africanization,” as well as what he sensed was a possible influence of the Organization of African Unity.

The quasi-hostile attitude, he thought,may have been caused, too, by a perception that “AAWA was in some way subject to the influence of the Soviet Union.”That the sub-Saharan writers promoting the establishment of PAWA may have therefore wished to distance themselves was likely, in his reading, on account of the “quite major Chinese” influence “in Africa at the time,” it being the case that the Sino-Soviet split “was reflected in local splits,” he noted in conversation in May 2014.Indeed, a delegation of the Soviet Writers’ Union tries to coopt Labib to attack in his speech the nascent PAWA on the grounds that it constitutesa defection from AAWA.Refusing to act as their mouthpiece and investigating the PAWA project on his own, Labib’s speech endorses the new association.

He subsequently seeks out PAWA’s leadership in a diplomatic vein to propose a format of symbiotic collaboration between regional/continental networks such as PAWA and inter-/supra-continental ones of the Global South, such as AAWA or the organization that came out of the Tricontinental, the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL). Accordingly, in the years that followed, the PAWA representatives were “always invited and used to attend [AAWA] conferences,”Labib commented in conversation. It was in January 2019, three years after his passing, that PAWA made the decision to become a member of WUAALA, as Salmawy told me in March of that year—which would seem to be, indirectly and in part, the fruit of Labib’s mediation in 1989.

Labib’s decision to make the account of his 1989 trip to Ghana by far the longest chapter is justifiable. The vignette captures a moment of sea change in which the USSR is practically on the eve of collapse and China is all the more on the ascendant in sub-Saharan Africa, just as it outlines the sorts of dilemmas about what cultural coalitions to forge that would increasingly come to the fore with the dissolution of the three-worldsorder.Labib’s even-keeled diplomatic navigation ofhigh waves that leads to theproductive and conciliatory outcome is aided, if only in part, by the Ghanaian interpreter who decides to abandon the Soviet delegation she has been assigned toand elects instead to work with him, Riannon: the chapter, in fact, takes its title, “Black Tulip,” from the epithet Labib affectionately gives the interpreter.

The figure of the translator/interpreterwhose linguistic mediation borders on diplomatic mediation is emblematized in Riannon. She shares with Labib that she had done interpretation work among African writers in preparation for the PAWA congress andthus became privy to the hopes pinned on the PAWA project and can talk to Labib about the “dream” it constitutes. While there is no indication in the text that Riannonhas been charged with pleading the case of the PAWA project with Labib, he, for his part, tactfully seizes the opportunity to probe her on the inner workings of the nascent PAWA institution, including the question of funding, and she reservedlylets drop some valuable hints.

Globalization, South/North and the subltern

One of the more contemporary vignettes in “Seeing is Believing” describes Labib’s participation as AAPSO’s representative at the anti-globalization World Social Forum held in Mumbai in January 2004. His reflections on the event resonatewith the moveshe and his colleagues at AAPSO were undertaking towards redrawing old Third Worldist imaginaries in the terms of the Global South, even as he attends tothe resonances between the South andthe oppressed in the North, as he writes in “Seeing is Believing”:

“Millions meet. Millions of oppressed Southerners meet millions of oppressed Northerners in pageants unlike any other in history that embrace all the indigent, the weary and the burdened. All of them meet in an elective encounter that seeks coalition in spite of difference. This is no party encounter governed by a single ideology. It is not an encounter of a homogenous group governed by one strategic vision, nor is it the encounter of a front with its own rules and procedural frameworks. It is an entirely new form. This is an encounter in a space unified by general slogans the sources of which may vary and the backgrounds of which may diverge. The World Social Forum constitutes a positive project for an international popular movement.”

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

The vignette, titled “The Human Being of a Better World is… Possible,” is structured along two intertwined lines. The mismanagement by Labib’s travel companion, the representative of Sri Lanka in AAPSO’s permanent secretariat,of accommodation arrangements in a Mumbaiall booked up for the event results in the two of them finding nowhere to stay other than in a shanty town, in a home consisting of a single room belonging to a DrShea, a medicinal herb dealer. The time spent with DrShea—who also sets stall in the Forum hotel--exposes the AAPSO representatives firsthand to the living conditions of subalterns in Mumbai. This thread is juxtaposed with Labib’s own reflections on the World Social Forum and the various issues it broaches,including Palestinians’ rights, women’s rights, the rights of untouchables. At the end of their stay, DrShea--who has sent away his family to make room for the two guests--resolutely refuses to receive payment.Labib, realizing that tensions with the Sri Lankan man from AAPSO whose behavior he finds questionable mean that he has “lost” him, concludes the vignette with a coda that alludes to its title: “I won something. I won a true human being. The better human being.”

My last contact with Labib was on the 7th of October, 2016, about two months before his passing as it turned out, when, prompted by some news item (I forget what) I had read about him, I called from the US. He was, as always, optimistic: he had written two more installments of his autobiography, which was now a trilogy. In addition to al-Mishwar, published some years earlier, he had completedal-Ikhtiyar(The Choice), which he disclosed was in press, and al-‘Igal, about a bandit whom he had met in prison. The man was “influenced by the personality of [the militant] Shohdi Attiya El-Shafi‘,”who died under torture in prison in 1960. “Al-‘Iqal,” as Labibput it, was “a sort of Egyptian Robin Hood.”

Taken in toto, Labib shared in a tone of contentment, the three parts of the trilogy were about facets “of the generations of the 1940s and ’50s”; the books were about the intellectuals, the workers and people of rural origins. Al-Shorouk publishing house had expressed interest in issuing al-‘Igal, he told me; and indeed the press printed it posthumously in 2017. I do not believe al-Ikhtiyar has been printed; as forMan Ra’a Laysa Kaman Sami‘a, I hope to edit it for publication in Arabic and to translate it into English.

Translated extracts from Fakhri Labib’s Man Ra’aLaysa Kaman Sami‘a

AbouSeif Youssef and Lotfi El-Kholi took me to meet Nouri ‘Abd El-Razzaq, secretary-general of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization, because the organization was about to issue a monthly magazine. That organization had a special place in my heart. It had been formed amid the overwhelming nationalist impetus in the wake of the Bandung Conference in Indonesia that constituted a new springboard for the liberation movements in the South, after World War II. While Bandung had been a conference of Afro-Asian governments, the Solidarity Organization was to be a peoples’ movement, governed by the peoples’ interests and their common march towards national liberation and democracy. That movement was established in Cairo on January 1, 1958, a day akin to an Egyptian feast: masses of the Egyptian people lined the roads all the way from the airport to Cairo University [where the conference was held], clapping, singing and chanting slogans calling for the unity of peoples and their shared struggle. I was most delighted to occupy the position, alongside my original work as a geologist, because I had been among the thousands who had stood welcoming the Asian-African delegations to that founding conference. And here I was today working in the organization, now within it, making a contribution to its role.

The headquarters of the organization is located in Manial district, in a palace overlooking the Nile that had belonged to an erstwhile princess from the royal family. The palace teems with members of the Permanent Secretariat of the organization whose secretary-general was (the Egyptian) Abdel-Rahman El-Sharqawi […] The members of the Permanent Secretariat exceed 15, including representatives of the Arab countries, such as Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen and Palestine, and of Asian countries, the Soviet Union, whose mission/DELEGATION? included several members, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. The People’s Republic of China had been a member of the organization, but then it withdrew as a result of its clash with the Soviet Union. There were representatives of liberation movements like the ANC (the African National Congress, South Africa), SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization, Namibia); and of countries such Madagascar and Congo Brazzaville. There were affiliate members, too, representing European solidarity committees—one from Democratic (Eastern) Germany, another from Czechoslovakia.[….]

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

It was here, in Moscow, that Stalin ruled from the awe-inspiring Kremlin. How I loved Stalin in the past. A word from him would shake the world during WWII. A man of few words, he was cutting, incisive, biting. At one of the meetings of the Big Four among the Allied states—the United States (Roosevelt), the Soviet Union (Stalin), Great Britain (Churchill), and China (Chiang Kai-shek)—the question of including the Vatican at such meetings was broached, on the grounds that its spiritual clout would enable it to contribute to their efforts. Stalin riposted with a question: how many combat squads did that Vatican command that it should be able to participate effectively in the war effort? As there was no answer, the question amounted to a decisive reply. Many a time Stalin’s name soared above the names of Roosevelt and Churchill. I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. We used to hang pictures of him and his flag in our rooms while studying away from home [….]

Stalin remained a legend until he died. I wept the day he died. I grieved over the passing of the legendary leader. It was as if the legend in and of itself had gone with his departure. But then I grieved all the more later: at the first congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev, the new leader, stood up to disclose that Stalin had been a dictator and that he had put to death many who had differed with him. It came as a harsh and cruel shock to me [….] I felt that he had deceived me, so I hated him all the more.

Time has flown by, and here I am, thirty-five years after these momentous events, having arrived at the land of heroism and sacrifice on an occasion that I would never have imagined.

Here are great peoples who achieved a miracle as they recovered their full vitality after the calamities of war and fighting. It is stunning. The scenes of destruction have been transformed into high-rise buildings and verdant, blossoming, fragrant gardens. Is it not most impressive to see boys and girls in the prime of life cleaning the gardens and streets by collecting the fallen leaves? They go about their business seriously and cheerfully. Is this not a wonderful human accomplishment that socialism achieved?


We sat down to lunch cheerfully. “You’ll be visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum tomorrow,” Elena said. “It’s in the Red Square. You’ll see him as if he’s alive and well—just napping to get a bit of rest.”

Excited, I said, “It would be great to meet Lenin personally. I’ve read so much by him, and often cited his statements. But I never imagined that I’d meet him someday, get to see him with my own eyes. Tomorrow will be a historic day in my life, I think.”

“He’s mummified,” Elena said. “But it’s very high-quality mummification. It preserved him all these years as is, as he was at the moment of death. Lenin is a rare genius.”

“That’s quite right,” I assented, “he’s the model of the revolutionary intellectual in terms of theory, and of the revolutionary as a leader of the masses. He’s a revolutionary of a unique kind.”

As if divulging something she keeps to herself she said, “Whenever I’m upset about something I go to him to air my grievances, or what I can’t accept.”

Her last sentence caught my attention. “Is there something you cannot accept in all that’s around you?”

She glossed it over briskly. “Oh, no. It’s just my private worries and things I go through. There’s no one whose life is free of difficulties.” [….]

Our gait was now robotic, self-propelled. Whoever was ahead would take a step forward and you would follow with an identical footstep. I crossed the door; the door to the mausoleum. Silence reigned supreme. A deep sense of awe overtook me. I was startled by a bright light. There I saw the great Lenin recumbent, as if in a bedroom, resting momentarily from exertion. He was lying fully dressed. His face was radiant as if he was about to wake up, perhaps to receive his visitors and return their greetings. Here was the legendary man lying before me in solemn silence. No one was to stop--just file before him and cast a glance. And then the hastening to leave through a another door. As soon as I was out, I started to rally somewhat. How was it I had barged in on that sleeper’s solitude? And then I came to fully, as if it had been a passing dream. I felt deeply saddened. Who was it that gave the government of this country the right to intrude on the privacy of a human being’s solitude, all the more if it is the privacy of everlasting solitude? What gives these rulers the right to turn this great man into a mere outstretched corpse seemingly alive although utterly bereft of life? What right do they have to exhibit it thus for all and sundry to violate his moment of rest and self-communion by prying with no regard for his own wishes for privacy and sanctity? How was it that they turned Lenin into a mere corpse injected every year to be conserved as a fetish for people to revere and flock to as pilgrims? It would have been more beneficial for them to learn about his great principles. How is this different from the [shrines of] saints and mystics in any country of the South?

I was ridden with distress as we got back to the hotel. Elena seemed to want to talk to me but she refrained out of respect for my silence, and perhaps because I was visibly affected. But then she summoned her courage and asked, “are you still angry at what that soldier did?”

“What soldier?”

“The one who harassed you in the square.”

“Not at all. I’d forgotten him.”

“Then why do you look so dejected?”

“Because of the visit to Lenin.”

She looked surprised. “How could the visit to Lenin make you so dejected?”

I shook my head. “This may seem strange. I was so much looking forward to this visit. But the minute I entered the mausoleum, I felt I was treading in a place where I had no right to set foot. When I saw Lenin I bitterly wished I could apologize to him. I’d barged in on him without taking his permission [….] Death has its dignity, and the dead have rights that must never be breached. It is the least of their rights that their bodies not be tampered with and that their sanctity be respected. It is unacceptable to turn their bodies into an exhibit in a glass case as a spectacle forpassersby. A great aphorism in our part of the world has it that, ‘honoring the dead is by burying them.’”

Elena was startled. “How can you say that about Lenin?”

“Lenin is human, before being a great leader.”

“Mummification immortalizes him forever.”

“What makes Lenin immortal is his thought, not his body; it is his work, not displaying him in a glass case for any passerby.”
“Yes, his ideas and work immortalize him, but why shouldn’t we also immortalize him by mummification?”

“This sanctifies his body, which may be what some people are aiming at: turning Lenin into a mere shrine—and suffice him the glorification. As for his principles, which are the true source of his immortality, these same people can dispose of them as they see fit, without anyone being aware of it. While they’ve given people a sacred shrine for his corpse, they’ve altered his principles to suit themselves and serve their own ends [….] You see, Elena, we do not have a shrine for Lenin in my country, but we do have his thought and principles…..” [….]

We were sitting in the reception area until it was time for lunch. A young man came over and whispered something to Elena. She got up instantly, without even telling me where she was going. As I followed her with my eyes, she drew up to a man of about forty. He seemed grim and his features spelled harshness. They weren’t far, but within sight and earshot. Elena looked scared as she stood in front of the man. He spoke to her furiously and interrupted her whenever she tried to answer or perhaps clarify something. His hand gestures were commanding and threatening. I felt very sorry for her. He waved his hands as if dismissing her. I watched her coming towards me cringing and trembling; she stumbled so much she was about to fall. I rushed to her to walk her to a chair. Never in my life had I seen a human being in such a state. I tried to find out what was going on, but she burst out crying. [….]

Elena’s voice pulled me back from my thoughts. “Where have you gone? I’m the injured party, not you.”

I relied sadly, “How do you know? In fact, I’m the injured party, most severely too. I see the dream now turned into a nightmare. What you are living through right now is the present for you, but for me it is a future to come. It was a rosy dream. But it seems I imagined what I wished for. Despite the harm I feel, I will by all means achieve my dream as I willed and envisioned it. The better future must be my own son, of my flesh and blood. The dream must be my own dream and not the nightmare of others. The future must be the offspring of its own environment.”


The Afro-Asian Writers’ Association was founded in 1958, in Tashkent in the Soviet Union. It is an international popular organization that comprises writers’ unions, associations and societies. This non-governmental organization seeks to create greater communication by supporting interaction between the cultures of the world and acquainting peoples with each other through their literary and cultural output; it also seeks to confront attempts at erasing cultural identity, and resists cultural invasion policies, aggression, expansionism and the plundering of heritage and riches. It contributes to the liberation struggle of the countries of the South against neocolonialism, and combats racist trends.

The founding conference elected Youssef El-Sebai, concurrently the secretary-general of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization, its secretary-general, which affirmed the strong connection between the two organizations. El-Sebai was assassinated in Cyprus because he had accompanied Sadat on his visit to Tel Aviv. The association [AAWA] moved from Egypt to Beirut and then Tunis. It returned to Egypt after Mubarak’s ascension to the presidency when relations between Egypt and Arab countries improved. Lotfi El-Kholi became the association’s secretary-general.

El-Kholi and I shared a militant relationship. We had been detained together in 1959 in the ‘Azab Prison in Fayyoum, where we led a heroic battle against the prison administration. El-Kholi took a courageous stand at a time when the terror the regime was inflicting on us, behind barbed wire, was at its most virulent.

El-Kholi and other intellectuals among the detainees were released earlier than the rest of us. Al-Tali‘a magazine was established under the aegis of the Ahram, with him as editor. All media institutions were state-owned and -controlled at the time. Al-Tali‘a, which acquired a leftist veneer, published two articles by me after I was released, which renewed my relations with El-Kholi. He had played a key role in introducing me at the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization and then, when he became the foremost official in AAWA, he requested that I assist him on the strength of the experience I had gained.

Lotfi called me in one day to say that a major event would be taking place in Africa soon. There was a trend to hold a constituent congress for the establishment of a union for African writers, which might split the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association and weaken it detrimentally. He wished he could attend that meeting in person in hopes of preempting that possibility. But, very regrettably, anAfro-Asian Writers’Association presidium meeting was taking place concurrently, and as secretary-general, he could not absent himself. He requested that I travel in his place to the African conference in Ghana as his deputy and the representative of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association [AAWA]. He also advised that, as his delegate, I would take whatever steps were needed to secure the unity of AAWA.

I was captivated by this as I had an overwhelming desire to acquaint myself—with eye, ear, and nose, with all of my senses—with African countries; the countries of the peoples from whom we issued, bearing their civilization, propelling them forward… to light the way for all of humanity [….]

The African writers are working on founding an independent union for themselves. There must be some way out that circumvents the splitting of AAWA while taking into consideration what the African writers want. But what do they want? How am I to find out? I won’t be able to come up with a solution or a way out unless I find out about the strong motives that led them to this choice.

There was a knock on the door of the [hotel] room. I opened and found a very exquisiteperson, a svelte girl, rather tall, aged somewhere between twenty and twenty-five, and elegantly dressed. The sweet smile that lit up her face revealed bright teeth. Her black complexion was shiny and fresh. She had regular features and twinkling, inquisitive eyes. In a gentle, sweet tone she said, “Doctor Fakhri Labib?” [….]

“Come in,” I said. [….]

“Are you Egyptian?”

“Yes, I’m Egyptian,” I said, returning her smile.


“I’m Ghanaian, and my name is RiannonAswurou,” she continued.“I’m working with the preparatory committee for the constituent congressof PAWA. At the moment I’m working with the delegation of the Soviet Writers’ Union. They asked me to contact you to set up an appointment to meet with you.”

Surprised, I asked, “Why do they want to meet me?”

She seemed confused. “I don’t know. They asked me to find out which you room you are in and contact you with this request.”

“And how did they find out I was here?”

“Through me. At their request, I filled them in on the names of everyone coming in for the conference. They were very interested when they heard that a representative of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association is attending. They asked me to introduce myself and request this meeting.”

“And what do they want out of this meeting?”

With a twist of the lips she indicated she did not know […]

“You know, Miss Riannon, I do not meet with people I do not know and without information about the reason they want to meet me. But I do not wish to put you in an awkward position between them and me. So, I’ll make myself accept the meeting for your sake.”

Shaking her head, she said in a serious tone, “I’m nothing but a messenger, tasked only with delivering the message. So, if you’d like to decline or say something to them, I’ll transmit it very scrupulously.”

I was impressed by her character and dignity. [….]

We met on time at the reception and I spotted them by Riannon’s presence. They were a bit tense. After introductions, we went and sat down with Riannon among us. They were a delegation of four and a man who looked like the most prominent among them spoke.

“We learned that you will be giving a speech at the meeting.”

I was astonished. “Of course. And what of it?”

He looked down for a minute. “We wanted to discuss your speech with you.”

I was even more astonished and said with some annoyance, “Why?”

“Because,” gesturing to me and to the delegation with him, “we are all members of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association.”

Gesturing to others around us, I said, “As they are too.”

He looked down momentarily. “They no longer are.”

What riddles! “How could you say this?”

“They’re heading towards splitting off from the association,” he affirmed.

I asked impatiently, “Who says so? They never said it.”

“We say it,” he affirmed.

I asked more sharply, “And who are you?”

“We’re members of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association; the principal association.”

“Keep going: even though you’re members of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association you do not represent it and you are not entitled to speak in the name of the association. You’re merely a delegation of the Soviet Writers’ Union. I am here as the representative of the principal association and the sole delegate to serve as spokesperson for its secretary-general,” I emphasized.

Eyes widened, and the senior man got worked up. “So, that’s why. We discussed it with them…”

I butted in with, “Discussed it with whom?”

“Members of the preparatory committee. We discussed our wish to give a speech among the meeting keynotes. But they turned us down on the pretext that we represent a local, non-African writers’ union which relegated us to the position of observer not entitled to give a keynote address. When we said we represent the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, they said they had a letter from the association itself naming its official representative, and that is you. This makes you an integral member the conference and not a mere observer like us. You are therefore entitled to give a keynote address.”

My goodness. This is a trip packed with riddles wrapped in enigmas.

I was beginning to understand. They wanted me to deliver their speech in my voice. What they had to say would then be the position officially attributed to the association. They had been deprived of a keynote address by the conference organizers and wanted to prove to the organizers that they could bypass this prohibition, overcome, nay even challenge it in the name of the association in its entirety. It saddened me very much. These writers who hailed from a world with which I had ideological affinities could not conceive, it seemed, of others not in their own image of compliance and subservience. 

Now that I was getting something of a grip on the situation, I wondered naively, “Of course I’m not privy towhat went on between you, but they discussed with me whether I would deliver a keynote address and I confirmed it.”

It seemed the leader of the delegation thought he could take the reins again, and brightened up a bit. “And we want to discuss your keynote speech with you.”

I kept up the naïve air. “What do you wish to discuss?”

He smiled. “That you attack the meeting in your speech. That you should announce, in the name of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, that what they’re up to is a schism in the association, and that splitting the association is a major crime because it fulfills the interests of enemy international powers.”

I glanced over at Riannon only to find her eyes glazed over; she looked anxious and restless. Perhaps she was wondering whether she should stay or leave. I gestured to the prominent comrade to pause, and he fell silent. My suspicions were now turning into certainty. Spelling out my words very calmly, I asked, “So, you want me to denounce what they are doing, to announce that it is a secessionist conspiracy that splits the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, and to do so in the name of the association itself?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded emphatically.

I shook my head for a long moment. The comrade leader kept his eyes fixed on me. I asked naively, “Of course—this is your opinion?”

He continued to nod. I went on, “That’s what I surmised, actually. Except that what you have to say does not in any way express the position of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association; therefore, on no account will I make this statement.”

I thought I heard a sigh of relief from Riannon, while the comrade leader became perturbed and the color drained from his face. He asked huskily, “Then, what will you state in your speech?”

This discussion must be closed. I wanted to give the respected chief of the delegation a taste of some of the humiliation I felt. As I was rising to leave I said, “You will find out what I will state, which is the position of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association and not of any other party, when I give my speech at the constituent congress.”

I returned to my room.

I hadn’t yet changed when there was a knock on the door. When I opened, there was Riannon, standing very respectfully. “May I come in?”

I let her in and she sat down. “Sorry to come in without prior arrangement. I hope you’ll excuse me as I couldn’t go home right after hearing what I heard. They’re talking about us as if what we’re doing is in service of the enemy, but in reality it is they who are the enemy.”

“Take it easy, Miss Riannon,” I tried to calm her. “These people have no say in things. They were given an order to take this stance and they cannot contravene or even adaptit. No doubt they were expecting preferential treatment as members of what is historically and by virtue of its role a superpower. But they were taken aback by the rebuff and categorical refusal. And then they supposed I was going to provide a way out of their dilemma, but I turned out not to be as they had supposed, so they were utterly cornered.”

Riannon was shaking her head with both understanding and refusal. “But this is a big calamity. How can they condemn our joy? How can they label our dream treason?”

I tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. “Miss Riannon, let’s forget about them […] You talking about joy and a dream. Do you know something about this dream? […] The question is: who can let me in on the reasons when only a single day remains before constituent congress opens?” [….]

Riannon pointed to herself proudly with a smile. “I can. I said I know the dream and the hope. I also know the real motives behind this dream.”

I was delighted. “You?”

“Yes, me, Riannon,” she affirmed. “I am competent in both English and French, which is why I was asked to interpret between the Anglophones and the Francophones. It was through the conversations they exchanged that I learned a lot about what they have in mind.”

“Great! When can we start?” [….]

We went to the cafeteria and Riannon immediately launched into the subject [….] She was exceedingly skillful at concision, coherence and precision, which I suppose are the qualifications of an honest, responsible translator. The picture had become much clearer.

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English

Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selecte
Extracts from the Arabic original of Fakhri Labib’s manuscript Man Ra’a Laysa Ka-man Sami‘a, selected for translation into the English


I am grateful to Fakhri Labib’s family—his daughters Hala Fakhri Labib and Hayam Fakhri Labib, and his step-daughter Mona Mina—for permission to publish extracts from hisMan Ra’aLaysa Kaman Sami‘a in both the Arabic original and in translation.Helmy El Hadidi, president of AAPSO, graciously granted me permission to undertake archival work at the institution in 2019. My introduction draws on a presentation I gave at a Global South Studies Symposium and Workshop in the University of Virginia in March 2019 at the invitation of Anne Garland Mahler.I thank Selim Haddad, Fu’ad Haddad’s son, for sending me a copy of his father’s poem “Farha” amid library closures on account of the pandemic. I dedicate my text to you, Alexander Youssef Halim: healer unlike any other.



Works Cited

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---. “Lotus, the Afro-Asian Nexus, and Global South Comparatism.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 32:3 (2012): 563-83.

---. Interviews with Fakhri Labib, 28 January, 2007; 9 October, 2011; and 22 May, 2014. Heliopolis and Cairo.

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---. “Scope forComparatism: Internationalist and Surrealist Resonances in Idwar al-Kharrat’s Resistant Literary Modernity,” in Arabic Humanities, Islamic Thought: Essays in Honor of Everett K. Rowson, ed. Joseph E. Lowry and Shawkat M. Toorawa. Leiden: Brill, 2017. 425-468.

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---. Interview with Cherif El-Choubashy. 18 March, 2019. Giza.Quoted from an updated version of Halim, “Afro-Asian Third-Worldism into Global South,” in Solidarity Must Be Defended, ed. Eszter Szakács and Naeem Mohaiemen. Budapest: – Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum – Istanbul and Ankara: SALT – New Delhi: Tricontinental – Gwangju: Asia Culture Center. Forthcoming.

---. Interview with Helmy El Hadidi. 21 March, 2019. Cairo. Quoted from an updated version of Halim, “Afro-Asian Third-Worldism into Global South,” in Solidarity Must Be Defended, ed. Eszter Szakács and Naeem Mohaiemen. Budapest: – Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum – Istanbul and Ankara: SALT – New Delhi: Tricontinental – Gwangju: Asia Culture Center. Forthcoming.

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