INTERVIEW: Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid remembers June 1967

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 25 Jun 2023

Renowned novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid talked to Ahram Online about his 1974 novel "In The 67th summer" (Fi Alsaif Alsabi’- welsetine), which documented the perplexing questions that the defeat of 1967 imposed on his generation.

Novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid
Novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid

 

In a limited setting and in the time scope of a few days, with skilful application of a stream of consciousness narration approach, Abdel-Meguid takes a group of workers in a ship-making factory from the slow realization that defeat has beset the nation in June 1967 back to the Suez War in 1956.

"In The 67th summer" screens an outburst of questions that fogged the minds of this group of protagonists upon the military defeat of 1967.

Overwhelmed by utter shock from the defeat, these protagonists face a complex dual reality of having to live through a bitter defeat coupled simultaneously with anxious anticipation of reversing it quickly through Egypt’s War of Attrition against Israel, which started immediately after 5 June.

Abdel-Meguid, who was 21 in the summer of 1967, said the 5 June defeat left a scar on the collective consciousness of a generation that was fast transported from living under a big fog of dreams to live under a pressing reality of defeat.

In 2007, Dar Al-Shorouk published a most recent edition of In the 67th summer to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 War.

Ahram Online: When did you write this novel and when was it first published?

Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid: I started writing the novel in 1973 and I was done with it in 1974. We lived some glorious days during the days of the War of Attrition and the subsequent October War victory.

This reminded me of the days of the defeat and the dreams that were defeated in June 1967. I wanted to write something about these days to document the sentiments and thoughts of the times of defeat.

I had already written a set of short stories on the War of Attrition, which was started by Nasser immediately after the defeat.

I wanted to share my testimony on the defeat of 1967. I had personally gone through so many transformations on a personal level as a result of the defeat. I changed from being a Nasserist to becoming a Marxist – before I later shifted to becoming a Liberal.

Along this path of transformation, I was coming to see the defeat of 1967 for what it really was about. I realized that it was not just a military issue but that defeats are always possible in countries where pluralism is absent.

I had wanted to publish the novel when I finished it but I could not because it kept being rejected by the censor. There was always an excuse that the censor would give me; one time the novel was rejected because it cast a negative light on our relations with the Soviets and another time it was rejected because it undermined our relations with the Americans, and so on.

Finally, in 1979, when late president Anwar Sadat abolished censorship on books, I published a first edition of the novel at Dar Al-Thaqafa Al-Gedidah, which was chaired by prominent novelist Son'allah Ibrahim.

In the 1990s, I republished it with Librairie Madbouli.

And finally in 2007 Dar Al-Shorouk released a most recent edition.

AO: The novel sheds light on the many changes that its protagonists went through in a very brief moment of time. Is it right to argue that this novel is the story of a generation that had its full faith in Gamal Abdel-Nasser before this faith crashed on the day of the 1967 defeat?

IM: It is a literary testimony on what the defeat meant - for that generation. There was a group of young men who were building a ship and the ship sank – just like the country drowned upon the defeat.

I personally worked in a company that constructs ships.

Beyond the symbolism, it is all about chasing dreams and trying to find hope to start anew.

AO: In your opinion, what did the defeat of 1967 really do to this generation who had put its faith in Nasser? How did the defeat change priorities for the generation that was dreaming of changing the world and ended up faced with the need to end Israeli occupation of Egyptian soil?

IM: The defeat, in a sense, was an eye-opener. Prior to 1967, our generation knew very little and paid very little attention to Nasser’s prisons and the fate of many opponents in these prisons.

Just like the lead protagonist of the novel who learned about the reality of the defeat on the second day of the war - 6 June - when he managed to tune in to one of the foreign radio services.

This was precisely what happened with me because the official press at the time - the three main newspapers of Al-Akhbar, Al-Ahram and Al-Gomhoriya - were just a mouthpiece of the regime.

The defeat also allowed for the reinvigoration of politics, especially through the return of some clandestine Marxist movements, which influenced me.

However, the main change that I think the defeat brought about to our generation was the realization that without pluralism things could always go wrong - sometimes in a very bad way.

When we went out on demonstrations under Nasser and later under Sadat our demands were not just about the end of Israeli occupation but also about the need to embrace democracy.

Democracy could have allowed for Nasser to avoid the 1967 defeat just as it allows any ruler to learn about his mistakes and maybe to avoid them.

Dreams, like that of democracy, require a lot of chasing.

AO: The novel somehow moves in two parallel tracks between the ‘actual’ moment of the defeat of 1967 and the recollection of the 1956 Suez War. It is the story of a generation who had to live through two wars in less than ten years; with one war leading to the other? Was this a generation stained with failures?

IM: It is the destiny of this generation to put up with the failures that come upon the absence of democracy. This was the case during the Nasser rule and beyond. Sadat promised democracy but his endorsement of democracy was very short lived. He opened the door for the Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to counter the influence of the Marxists. Eventually things took a disturbing turn and he was assassinated by radical Islamists.

Then, Mubarak allowed for a bit of openness. However, the management of the 2010 parliamentary elections was very disturbing.

Then came the January Revolution. Mohamed Morsy was elected but he soon issued a dictatorial constitutional declaration to grant himself tyrannical powers.

In this sense, the novel blames the defeat of 1967 partially on the failure to address the problems that occurred during the Suez War.

At the heart of it, the novel is about the failure of the so called 'socialist-democracy' offered by Nasser where building of hospitals and schools takes precedence over political pluralism.

AO: The novel carries some serious existential questions, like the issue of faith – or the lack thereof. Was this issue associated with the experience of the generation?

IM: I was personally highly influenced by my philosophy readings, especially on Existentialism. In general, I think there were big questions at the time about the many discrepancies between what we thought we could do, or what we were told we could do, and what was actually possible for us to do.

AO: You are dedicating the novel to a generation who lived the unending summer of 1967? Is it really an ‘unending’ summer?

IM: Unfortunately, yes. The fact is that since then things have never really taken the right path. We had a peace treaty with Israel that has not allowed for the re-launch of the dream of development. Development, in its true sense, is still a dream. Political pluralism is still a dream. 

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