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Book Review: Ezzedine Naguib on culture, democracy and the masses

Ezzedine Naguib's 'The Silent,' published in a new edition nearly 30 years after the original, tackles the challenges intellectuals must overcome to reach the silent majority

Reuters, Friday 20 Jul 2012
Ezzeddin Naguib
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Al-Sametun: Tagarub fi Al-Thaqafa wal Democrateya bel Reef Al-Masry (The Silent: Experiments on Culture and Democracy in the Egyptian Village) by Ezzedine Naguib, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 2012. 240pp.

Egyptian artist and writer Ezzedine Naguib doesn’t find it farfetched that the youth of his country ignited a revolution to remove a police state, as earlier generations had hoped and failed to do. Naguib changed the object of dedication of this book's second edition, published 27 years after the first edition, from his daughter to "The Youth of the January 25 Revolution."

"The hope is that your next revolution will be a cultural revolution to complete what you have started," he writes.

Naguib was imprisoned in 1997 for printing and distributing materials encouraging farmers to oppose a new law regulating the relation between the owner of agricultural land and those renting it. He recorded his experience in prison in the book Season of Prison and Flowers: The intellectual and authority.

The Silent, now republished, records two cultural experiments between 1967 and 1978 when the author discovered the huge gap between the theoretical concerns of intellectuals and the everyday reality for the bulk of the people. The author at the time was head of the Cultural Palace in Kafr Al-Sheikh in the Egyptian Delta, where he realised that intellectuals were "doing nothing" for the people.

He found artist Mahmoud Bakshish and poet Afifi Matar, the latter of whom had spent ten years as a lonely and estranged teacher in a poor and forgotten village. Naguib brought both to the fore of public cultural activity and found that the "poor illiterate public" had a natural inclination for culture and the arts.

Naguib helped to stage plays, including those by not-so-famous writers like Fouad Hegazy. Such plays attracted famous artists from Cairo, such as Hamdy Gaith, along with poets like Abdel-Rahman El-Abnudy and Salah Jaheen.

In the introduction to the new edition of The Silent, Naguib asks: "Why a second edition?" and states that silence is the "disease of the oppressed masses and its wisdom. Disease when things require one to scream but fear and weakness prevent them"; and wisdom when the people hold the means to oppose injustice and oppression.

Understanding the reasons for injustice, for Naguib, is required to "Turning silence into power and action. It is the work of a cultural vanguard, giving the marginal hope, away from intellectual ego and pride," Naguib considered the Kafr Al-Sheikh experiment one example of raising awareness among Egyptian farmers and acting without fear. "Isn't this what the youth of January 25, who were able to remove former president Hosni Mubarak after protests that continued for 18 days, did?"

Naguib is the author of a number of short story collections, including Days of Abundance,The Emerald Triangle and Song of the Toy, in addition to a number of books on the visual arts, including Dawn of Modern Egyptian Drawing and Encyclopaedia of Visual Art in three volumes.

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