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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Saad Zahran's 'Al-Ordy': Torture in an infamous Egyptian prison

A timely reprint of Al-Ordy: Muzarakat Sageen from the influential writer Saad Zahran, who died last week and was jailed in the late fifties for his political beliefs

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Thursday 5 Jun 2014
saad zahran
Saad Zahran
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Al-Ordy: Muzakarat Sageen ("Al-Ordy: A Prisoner's Memoirs") by Saad Zahran, General Egyptian Book Organisation, Family's Library, Cairo, 2013, 262 p.

A few months ago, the Family's Library published a new edition of Al-Ordy by Saad Zahran, who died on 29 May at the age of 88.

Over the last few decades, Zahran wrote several intellectual and political works in which he defended his thoughts and persuasions. In addition his writing, he is also known for his role among the masses for his participation in organising and leading the 1947 uprising against the British occupation and the Egyptian royalty. He also organised a successful teachers' strike in 1951 and helped found the Egyptian Communist Party, which became famous through the name of its underground journal, Al-Raya ("The Banner"), for which he served as editor for a number of years.

During those years and until his release from Al-Wahat Prison in 1964, he was subjected, like many other communists, to imprisonment and torture. His book Al-Ordy: A Prisoner's Memoirs is a unique work because of its excruciating candour, where he narrates his experience in one of the most hideous prisons in modern times: Ordy Abou-Zaabal Prison. "Ordy" is a Turkish word that means "the small building", which is like an annex of the Abou-Zaabal Prison's main buildings.

Despite the fact that he deals with the bloody detention years of the communists, he doesn't resort to yelling or wailing over the horrors of torture to which the ruling regime subjected its political opponents after 1952. Instead, he displays an excruciating honesty, not chanting the songs of bravery and sacrifice but rather focusing his attention on denouncing these flagrant crimes that Nasserism inflected upon dissenters. Torture is an unforgivable crime – indeed, a file on torture should always be open, as legally speaking, it is excluded from the statute of limitations.

Zahran seems to only care about truth and frankness, not matter how painful or bloody it may be. At the same time, though, he understands human weakness quite well as another facet of truth. Although the events mentioned in the book occurred between November 1959 and September 1960, he didn't write them down he voluntarily exiled himself to Algeria in the late sixties, a period that would last until 1979. Like many of his various works, the Al-Orby account remained in locked drawers until 2005, when it was published by Dar Al-Markez Al-Thaqafi Al-Arabi Publishing. A number of editions appeared afterwards.

Without any exaggeration, Zahran is an intellectual of a high stature and his magnum opus, The Origins of Egyptian Politics, published in 1985 by Dar Al-Mustaqbel Al-Arabi Publishing, remains one of the main starting points in comprehending Egypt's history, political powers, changes and different developments.

Maybe one of the most significant efforts to preserve Zahran's intellectual legacy was Dar Al-Mahrousa Publishing's decision in 2009 to print many of his books, analysis and studies in three volumes under the title Anthologies of Political Thought.

This venerated man was reluctant and withdrawn, sitting in his favourite seat in a downtown cafe and watching for years until the January 2011 revolution broke out and gave him a chance to witness many of its upheavals.
 

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