The Arab Surrealist Movement

Article printed in the journal Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion no.3,

The current resurgence of surrealism in the Arab world is
a revolutionary development of the greatest significance,
demonstrating once more that the strategy of the unfettered
imagination is always and necessarily global.

We publish here in English translation a manifesto in which
our Arab comrades express their unequivocal interventionist
orientation, sharply defined against their specific political and
cultural background.

The Arab Surrealist Movement was reconstituted in the early
1970s, but its origins extend back to the mid-30s, when the
Egyptian poet and theorist Georges Henein (who adhered to the
movement in 1934 as a student in Paris) and the Egyptian painter
Ramses Younan introduced surrealism to Cairo. With several others
they maintained an intensive collective activity that endured into
the late 1940s, as exemplified in many books and pamphlets and
in the reviews Art et liberte, El Tattwor, La Seance continue and Le
Part du Sable.

The Egyptian surrealists, who were also a section of the Fourth
International, organized the Art & Liberty Group in response to the
Breton / Trotsky Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art,
which announced the formation of the International Federation
of Independent Revolutionary Artists, commonly called the
FIARI. This Cairo group produced a journal and pamphlets, and
organized several exhibitions. It was the most active and longestlived
segment of the FIARI, lasting several years after the demise
of the parent organization.

Georges Henein (1914-1973), one of the movement’s greatest
figures, collaborated extensively on international surrealist
publications throughout the 1940s. His “Message from Cairo
to Poets in America” appeared in the surrealist number of View
in 1940. For reasons that are not wholly clear, he retired from
collective activity around 1950, preferring to pursue his researches
in solitude. He was in no sense a renegade, however; his later work
was in full accord with surrealist aspirations.

Henein’s sensitiveness to the many and wide-ranging problems
of human expression in the postwar period, and his profound
revolutionary integrity, give his entire work a special significance
today to the surrealists of all countries, and most especially, of
course, to A.K. El Janaby and his comrades, who are in the truest
sense the continuators of the effort begun by Georges Henein
and Ramses Younan.

The Arab surrealists have produced many tracts and pamphlets,
including an important critique of modern architecture by Maroin
Dib. In 1973 they took the lead in preparing a tract, Against
Nationalist Illusions, For the Internationalist Alternative, opposing
all forms of nationalist chauvinism and calling for the overthrow of
all established regimes in the Middle East. It urged the unification
of the proletariat of all the Arab countries, as well as of Israel, on
the basis of socialist revolution, “founded on the power of the
workers’ and peasants’ councils.” This tract was signed by the Israeli
Socialist Organization (Matzpen), the Arab Group “le pouvoir des
conseils,” and the Algerian Group for the Propagation of Marxism.
The Arab surrealists’ journal, Le Desir libertaire, which they
describe as “the Arabic equivalent of Arsenal,” has provoked great
controversies in the Arabic press. Because of its vehemently
revolutionary character, anti-nationalist and anti-religious, it is
banned from the mails and from bookstores in all Arab countries
(being produced in Paris by exiles).

In a recent letter A. K. El Janaby notes his intention to issue an Arabic
version of the manifesto Lighthouse of the Future, which prefaced the
surrealist section of the City Lights Anthology

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