How state intellectuals responded to 1967: Silence, propaganda and conspiracy
Left: Al-Fikr al-Muasir, July 1967. Right: Al-Mijallah, July 1967, The Conflict by Salah Taher (date provided), courtesy of the Sakhr Archive. - Courtesy: The Sakhr Archive.

More than 80 percent of Egypt’s Air Force was destroyed and 10,000 troops killed on June 5, 1967. On June 9, President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced his resignation in a speech highlighting transparency, responsibility and acknowledgment of the setback. But the mainstream culture press of the time did not seem to have responded with much questioning, self-reflection or investigation of the facts, instead blaming conspiracies and arguing that the state was simply not totalitarian enough.

I have looked at three major intellectual periodicals from the summer of 1967 to see how they responded: Al-Hilal (The Crescent), edited by Kamel Zohairy; Al-Fikr al-Muasir (Contemporary Thought), edited by positivist philosopher Zaki Naguib Mahmoud; and Al-Mijallah (The Magazine), edited by novelist Yehia Haqqy. Despite some specialization — for example Al-Fikr al-Muasir focused on contemporary philosophy — all three shared more or less similar editorial concerns, because each acted in part as a mouthpiece for the government (as the summer of 1967 proved beyond doubt), being run by what’s known as “state intellectuals.” Because they were already published by June 5, their June issues didn’t cover the war: It was in subsequent issues that it was addressed, if at all. By August, they were largely reverting to their usual focus on culture.

In the July issue of Al-Mijallah, Haqqy’s opening editorial discusses the complicity of the United States and Israel in unsettling Egypt’s internal front and undermining its march toward progress and freedom. He sings the achievements of the revolution under Nasser and laments the “brief setback” as a temporary lapse that should make Egypt more vigilant toward its enemies. These sentiments are echoed throughout the issue. Fathy Radwan’s article “Before and After” indulges in a typical conspiracy theory about a “global Jewish order” that controls Western governments and took over Palestine (yes, the famous Rothschild family conspiracy). Kamal Abdel Hamid’s “Strategic Developments of the Battle” asserts that the war was initiated because of a false threat (that the Soviet Union communicated to Nasser) of a potential attack on Syria, and discusses the role the US played during the war in providing arms and sending technical experts to Israel.

In Al-Mijallah, there is no reference to the shortcomings of the Egyptian military or the losses incurred. The editors focused on the role of the US, and went on to dedicate the August issue to more US-centered conspiracy theories. Some of the August headlines are: “The Wonders of American Democracy” by Mohamed Awd Mohamed, “McCarthy and the Zionist Left” by Abdel Moniem Sobhy, “The Castles of Anglo-American Aggression” by Abdel Moniem Shomies, and “The CIA” by Kamal Abdel Hamid.

Zaki Naguib Mahmoud’s editorial for the July issue of Al-Fikr al-Muasir does cite Nasser’s resignation speech, but he argues that, even though “our ship veered from its course,” we should hold strong to our captain and our leadership. He praises Nasser’s honesty and openness about pointing to the “defects in the system,” but he says the setback is a temporary storm that needs the leader’s wisdom, courage and strength. As in Al-Mijallah, Mahmoud also writes a long essay on the rise of Zionism, titled “This Viper, How Did it Sneak In?”, which details his memories of visiting Palestine as a child in 1938 and meeting one of the early British settlers who identified with Jewish nationalism. Mahmoud characterizes the birth of the Israeli state as an inevitable conclusion of settler colonialism but does so using dramatic clichés, over-using words such as “snake,” “viper,” “crawl” and “prey.”

Essentially a call for a more socialist and totalitarian state, Abdel Fattah al-Barudi’s “Art in the Battlefield” attacks cultural production for failing to fit with the socialist aspirations of the post-independence state. Barudi unironically calls for more political control over means of artistic production, in a state that was already in control of almost every facet of it.

This stance is pushed further in Al-Fikr al-Muasir’s August issue, in famed historian Gamal Hamdan’s piece “The Battle Didn’t End, It Just Started.” With medieval tones, it declares the importance of “holy vendetta,” of the supremacy of “the state of power” over “the state of welfare,” and of “the society of revenge” over “the society of services,” before segueing into American-Zionist conspiracy.

Al-Hilal, meanwhile, dedicated its July, August and September issues to the themes of freedom, resistance and change in socialist societies respectively. The freedom issue examines the concept of freedom in modern Western philosophy, in Islam and in modern Arab history, without reference to the place of freedom in Nasser’s state. Resistance too becomes a historical token: the August issue is dedicated to Egyptians’ resistance to the historical invasion of Napoleon, but with no mention of what resistance might mean for people dealing with the aftermath of the Naksa.

Perhaps the most interesting article from that summer is Zohairy’s essay on the European left, “The True Position of the Arab Left from Israel,” in the September issue. It takes the views of Jean-Paul Sartre as a springboard to criticize the European left’s vision of how to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had visited Egypt at the invitation of state-affiliated newspaper Al-Ahram in February 1967, amid much publicity and celebration (nearly all these magazines dedicated their February and March issues to Sartre and de Beauvoir). However, Sartre’s ambivalent and at times hostile position to Arab resistance and the Palestinian cause elicited the ire of most Arab intellectuals. Zohairy’s piece is the only contemporary text I have read that goes into the details of Sartre’s critique of the left in Egypt and its future. Zohairy’s response, that Israeli policies will not undo the anti-Semitism of World War II and the Nazis, and that a less biased account of Israeli aggression and its expansionist policies in Palestine would be a good starting point for dialogue, seems unique.

Overall, however, counter to the sentiments of many Egyptians hit hard by the shock of the 1967 defeat, these three publications proved to exist in a totally different mindset — one that still operated within the paradigm of pre-war propaganda.


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