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Sunday, 20 May 2018

On Nasser’s centenary: New edition published of his unfinished novel

Nasser's novel, unfinished by his hand, depicted the events of 1807 when Britain decided to fill the vacuum in Egypt following the withdrawal of the defeated French Invasion troops

Mahmoud El-Wardani , Saturday 3 Feb 2018
Nasser
former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser (Photo: Al-Ahram archive)
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Fi Sabeel Al-Hurryiah (For the Sake of Freedom) by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Dar-Akhbar El-Yom Publishing - Kitab Al-Yom Series, 2018. pp.255

On 19 September 1959, President Gamal Abdel Nasser attended a party organised by the Supreme Council for the Welfare of Arts and Letters in Rosetta, held for the announcement of the winners of his unfinished novel contest.

The contest was held for the completion of a story of five chapters written by the student Gamal Abdel Nasser during his high school years in Alexandria. In 1958, it was discovered and grabbed by the gigantic propaganda machine, of which one of its most important bodies was the Supreme Council for the Welfare of Arts and Letters, headed by Kamal El-Din Hussein, one of the senior figures of the Free Officers ruling the country since 23 July 1952.

Many books have documented Nasser’s participation in the demonstrations of the 1930s that erupted against the British occupation.

Some newspapers even published his name among those wounded in the demonstrations. Hence, it wasn’t strange that he resorted to historical events to write a zealous work against the British occupation which remained in the country since 1882.

In this context, Nasser depicted the events of 1807 when Britain decided to fill the vacuum in Egypt following the withdrawal of the defeated French Invasion troops and enter the country. The British fleet attacked and occupied Alexandria and the troops of the expedition, which was named the Fraser Expedition after its commander, General Alexander Mackenzie-Fraser, progressed towards Rosetta. The fall of Rosetta meant that the way, through the Nile River, was open to occupy the whole of Egypt.

According to historical sources contemporaneous to those events, the city’s inhabitants organised an armed resistance against the occupation and pretended to have deserted the city while they were lurking in wait for British troops to enter. The battle ended with the triumph of the valiant popular resistance, and even some soldiers and officers were held in captivity.

As a student in Ras El-Teen High School in Alexandria, Gamal Abdel Nasser was struck by the incidents mentioned in the history books. He wrote five chapters of a novel titled "For the Sake of Freedom”. Those chapters included some names and events that confirmed that he was indeed aiming to write a novel.

So, the Supreme Council for the Welfare of Arts and Letters organised a contest in 1958 to complete those chapters. According to the report written by the Prose Committee supervising the contest and published in the new edition of this novel, there were three winners out of 341 contestants. On the centenary of Nasser’s birth, the Kitab Al-Yom Series decided to republish the novel and included within it the speeches made by Kamal El-Din Hussein and Mohamed Mahdy Allam, the Prose Committee head, and of course the text that won first prize, written by Lieutenant-Colonel Abdel-Rahim Haggag.

Subsequently, this novel was inserted in school curricula for several years during Nasser’s rule, later removed by his successor, President Anwar El-Sadat. However, the novel’s worth and the hype surrounding it was purely historical bombast. It portrayed the fervent emotions of a 17-year-old adolescent, and not finishing it demonstrates that his emotions were transient, no matter how much it was true and patriotic.

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