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Accusations of a female firebrand of the 70s student movement

Republished, 'Financing and Normalisation', dealing with the founding, financing and influence of some civil society organisations, has always sparked controversy around this thorny issue

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Monday 26 May 2014
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Tamweel wa Tatb'ie … Khalf Al-Hijab (Financing and Normalisation … Behind the Veil) by: Sanaa Al-Masri, General Egyptian Book Organisation, Family's Library, Cairo, 2014. 407pp.

The Family's Library series did a commendable job in reprinting the books Financing and Normalisation, its second part Normalisation and Financing, and Behind the Veil by the late Sanaa Al-Masri. The series merely reprinted the books without adding any comment or providing any information about the writer. It is imperative to shed some light on the writer, whose works were characterised with harshness and ruthlessness, and who died after a short stormy life that went out like a shooting star at the age of 42.  

Sanaa Al-Masri was the daughter of the 70s student movement, which was one of the most powerful, influential and strongly connected movements within the national movement. It is well-known that the leftist and Nasserist influences were the most prominent on this movement. The year 1972 witnessed a culmination of its efforts in Egyptian universities through the Palestinian Revolution Supporters group, which organised a sit-in that could be considered a first of its kind since the events of 1954. The sit-in ended with police forces storming Cairo University campus at dawn on 24 January 1972 and arresting about 1,000 students. However, this was the spark for the students' uprising. They went to Tahrir Square in their thousands. Again, security forces stormed the square the next day at dawn.

The demands of the student movement at the time were the same as that of the national movement. It included preparing the country for war, restoring the lands occupied by Israel in 1967, releasing all political prisoners, and freedom to form parties and publish newspapers. In this sense, it wasn't a student movement but a political movement par excellence.

It is also well-known that this movement waned with the weakening of the leftist movement, whether in public or underground groups, especially after the October War. Let's put into account President Sadat's decision to release the imprisoned remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood and use them to eliminate the leftist influence.     

If Sanaa Al-Masri witnessed the leftist influence flourish and participated in it, she has also saw with her own eyes the decline and demise of this influence. This decline was linked to the disintegration of many public and underground leftist organisations. Suddenly, dozens of these organisations' members found themselves without any attachments, associations or affiliations. Many of them ended up with founding civil rights organisations or joining them.

This digression was necessary to show the milieu in which Sanaa Al-Masri found herself and drove her to write her books. Perhaps this extremely morbid, depressing and self-defeating atmosphere explains the severity, generalisation, verbal abuses and heaping accusations on everybody with no exceptions with which she wrote. 

Al-Masri, who was born in 1958, died in June 2000 following an acute bout of pneumonia. The first of her books was titled Margins on the Arab Conquest (1996) where she tackled the untold story of the Arab conquest of Egypt. It was shocking as well as swimming against the current, like all her subsequent books. Other books followed: Behind the Veil (1997), Financing and Normalisation (1999) and its second part, Normalisation and Financing (1999).

It is noteworthy to mention that Financing and Normalisation has caught attention once more, where it was discussed in the last edition of the Cairo International Book Fair this year. Thus, it was republished along with Behind the Veil.

Financing and Normalisation deals with the founding of several civil society organisations, their financing sources, impact, influence, the conferences and symposia held and the books and newsletters published. Perhaps many incidents that Al-Masri mentions are true; however, resorting to generalisations and using insulting words made her lose the sympathy of members of her generation.

She wrote in the first chapter, titled "The Treason of the Intellectuals": "The word financing became the magic word for penetrating the enclaves of intellectuals, political unemployed and remnants of passing struggle," and "The political action proletariat — those loyal individuals who always come out empty-handed — see that the bribe of employment in human rights organisations is exclusively displayed candidly for the promised only," and "It isn't a secret that some of the leftist parties transferred themselves from the ranks of radical opposition to the lines of NGOs, which are in alliance with the enemies of the near past, with unexpected easiness."

The previous sentences I chose randomly, for the whole book is like a broad charge sheet including accusations of treason and collaboration against everyone without discrimination or exception. The book is crammed with the real names of many people. Consequently, Sanaa Al-Masri becomes the sole representative of the band that refused to cheat the working class.

On the contrary, Behind the Veil, her second book published in the same volume, discusses the standpoints of the political Islamic current regarding women's issues since Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, established a branch of the Muslim Sisterhood in 1933. The book also portrays the standpoints of civil and leftist currents towards the same issue. She focuses on the Egyptian Law of Personal Status and condemns vehemently aggression on the rights of Egyptian women.

If her first book was sentimental, flagrant and fell in the sinful trap of generalisations, despite the truth of many of its premises and incidents, her second was accurate, balanced and at the same time shocking with its documented information, which condemns the aggression on women's rights from political Islamic groups.

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