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The Egyptian people are not a passive mass in the grip of fatalism

26 April 2011 / 13:04:41  GRReporter
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Zdravka Mihaylova

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Manolis Maragoulis was born in Larissa. He graduated from the University of Thessaloniki, specialised in modern Greek literature and supported his doctoral thesis at the University of Cyprus. Systematically involved in the study of the Greek community in Egypt, since 2008 he has been the director of the Alexandria branch of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture and the museum located at the C.P. Cavafy’s apartment there. His book Time to modernize: Egypt and the Greek-Egyptian intelligentsia, 1919-1939 (Cyprus University Press-Gutenberg, Athens) has been just published and is exploring the perception of the Greek-Egyptian intelligentsia of Egypt’s cultural renaissance during the interwar period. The author uses theoretical models and the interdisciplinary methodology of post-colonial studies, particularly that introducing the counter-narrative of Orientalist and postcolonial discourse, using the view of M. Foucault on the interaction between power and production of knowledge. Exploring a wide range of texts of Greek intellectuals in Egypt Maragoulis examines the typology of relations with the dominant ideology of British rulers.

During this period the prevailing ideology among the official Greek-Egyptian intellectuals is that of the civilizing mission of the Greek commercial elite, scientists and scholars, "stamped by the right" of the millennial historical presence Greeks in Egypt since Pharaonic times. Thus, the economic and cultural advancement of the Egyptians is attributed to the catalytic influence of the Greeks, and of the Europeans, respectively. On the other hand, dominant beliefs among the Greek community remain silent about the Egyptian subaltem classes. In an attempt to reconstruct the collective identity a discussion has been taking place since the 1930s. Marxist-minded intellectuals of the generation to which the famous author of the trilogy Drifting Cities (Ακυβέρνητες πολιτείες), the writer Stratis Tsirkas belongs, intervene with increasing dynamics.

QUESTION: Tell us more about the history of the house in the old apartment building on the former Rue Lepsius, later known as the ‘Sharm el-Sheikh’ (renamed to C.P.Cavafy Street in 2010), where the poet lived during the last twenty-five years of his life. Cavafy himself writes aphoristically that the ground floor of the building housed a brothel, the Greek hospital was located opposite and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate around the corner. An entire universe that reflects the circle of life: love, faith, illness and death .... Cavafy used to say: "Where else could I live better? Below me is the brothel that heals the needs of flesh. The church where sins are absolved is next door. A little further down is the hospital where we die."
MARAGOULIS: In general, these three "homes" - of the flesh, the spirit and the mortality of the body - have their equivalents in the brothel, the Orthodox Church and the hospital. Perhaps their location in close proximity to each other has stimulated the poet to choose to live in this building in the then-popular Alexandria’s Attarin quarter. At the same time, however, we should take into account the fact that Cavafy was a public servant - he worked for years for the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation - and this means that he did not have the means to live in a wealthy, expensive and more elegant neighbourhood.
The well maintained dusk-lit home of C.P.Cavafy sheltered not only the dwelling of a solitary man, more or less following the ritual of a monotonously repeated daily life, but became a center of attraction for visitors, welcoming lively discussions of a multinational Pleiade (Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians, Greeks, Egyptians, Syro-Levantines, etc.) of men of fine arts and letters who traveled to Alexandria and stayed there - some briefly, other longer. The concept was born and the most creative part of the poetic works of C.P.Cavafy was articulated there, in the rooms of this house, in moments of spiritual exaltation or of grim loneliness: "I am a poet of old age," the poet used to say. Furthermore, we should mention that this space was a centre where his closest friends in Alexandria, with his consent and encouragement, as suggested, have held discussions and decided to organise a kind of mechanism to protect him and his works from the numerous critics, challenging and tossing them in doubt.

Tags: EgyptAlexandriaC.P.CavafyManolis MaragoulisZdravka MihaylovaLiterature
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