Archivist of the dream

Hala Halim , Thursday 30 Dec 2021

Remembering Reda Ibrahim Farag (1948-2021)–tour leader, dental technician, self-taught typesetter, and co-founder-turned-archivist of a little-known organization within the third movement of the Egyptian left

Reda Ibrahim Farag, photo by the author
Reda Ibrahim Farag, photo by the author

“News that made me happy—go to the following link and click on ‘content list,’” you wrote to me on June 10: it was a portion of the publications of the Revolutionary Communist League, housedat the International Institute of Social History (IISG), Amsterdam, and now made available online. A pivot of this league, which was active from the first half of 1970s into the mid-1980s, you worked these past two decades on assembling its since dispersed underground publications from various former comrades, experimenting with different modes of reproduction, and looking into forums through which you could disseminate the material. And it was you who, in 2018, drew up a contract to deposit some of the most important documents at IISG, one of the world’s leading archives of socioeconomic history and labor movements.

I called you up: how come you hadn’t requested that Reda Ibrahim Farag be named as the donor of the collection--did you not realize that without all your work none of this material would have survived? “Ya salaam!”: your characteristic self-effacement did not muffle a tone of pleasure that solaces me now.

That was less than two months before you slipped out of life, as unobtrusively and gently as you had always conducted yourself in life. Though life granted you not a fraction of what you deserved—and I know you will cringe that I should say what you never even alluded to—on August 4, precisely one month shy of your 73rd birthday, you got life to grant you the death you had always wished for: the pain quick—a cardiac arrest, it seems—and with no prolonged illness.

“I write… with my mind on you and with the illusion that your mind still exists and attends. I pretend that you are still alive, because it is only thus that I can think of you as real… I write for my own comfort and to recall the past, but also because I am professionally a writer and want to pay you this last honour”: E. M. Forster, in the letter he continued to write to his Egyptian friend Mohamed El-Adl for seven years after his death.

To quote Forster, who speaks my mind, is also to mollify my own reticence—part nature, part nurture—about writing autobiographically.

You were much closer to me in age than to my father, your cousin, since my grandmother was the eldest among the sisters and your mother the youngest; likewise, you were the youngest among your siblings. My childhood memories of your family home in Giza include the litter of baladi cats picked up from the street and spoilt rotten; it is most likely a witticism of Nagui’s—as your brother, he worried endlessly about the risks your political activities exposed you to—that your cat was named Lenin.

I can still taste the scrumptious pain perdu, delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar, that you served for breakfast to two young cousins excited to be camping overnight at their great-aunt’s. And there was the hilarious satirical lyric you shared, attributed to the poet Ahmed Fouad Negm—who, together with the blind singer Sheikh Imam, formed an icon of the 1970s left. One of my cousins kept a copy in your handwriting in his wallet for years, while the rest of us committed it to memory.

It was a household overflowing with hospitality and imbued with a maternal aura. Anchoring it all was my great-aunt: her piercing blue eyes, set in an exquisite face, complemented the reserved demeanor she presented only to strangers, which disguised her giving nature. She, no doubt, is the source of the motherly quality of your tenderness; that, and the sheer solidness—though you worked hard to distill further these two facets of your nature. My great-aunt observed strictly her own rituals, not least of hospitality: in summer, she would serve guests homemade ice cream; in winter, her signature tarte au chocolat (you hankered after it when she was gone, but her recipe notebook had been borrowed and lost), and on special occasions, it was baba. Although it was known that your immediate family suffered from straitened circumstances, one never felt it on visits.

It was Nagui, as the eldest son, who kept the wolf from the door. A graduate of al-Alsun and a senior, very gifted ministerial economic translator who never married, he gave private lessons in the evening. A more handsome look-alike of Albert Camus, Nagui was an avid reader of literature and subscriber to cultural journals who always had a cigarette in his mouth; it must have been one more of his coping mechanisms that he kept an aide-mémoire notebook in which he jotted down jokes.

Apart from the usual authors—Racine, Molière et al.—who were a staple of my great-aunt’s education at a French Catholic nuns’ school, she was a devotee of Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna novels in French translation and had a subscription to the Ahram which she read from cover to cover every day.

A markedly independent-minded decision your mother made as a young woman was an abiding source of pride to you. That she converted to Catholicism was frowned upon in the family, including by my grandmother—a guardian of tradition, both doctrinal and familial, and motherly towards her youngest sister—who had received the same education but was unenamored of the Catholic nuns and what she considered to be their superior attitude towards Coptic Christianity. You once remarked that the Catholic order (I forget the name) she identified with was one that particularly emphasized social justice; you also believed that, in later years, “Mother was influenced by our ideas”—yours and your comrades’. In any case, the independence of mind she had shown must have stood her in good stead as your family's fortunes went into reverse.

The household you grew up in, in Tanta, was prosperous: your father, a medical doctor, owned a pharmaceutical depot, which supplied medication to many parts of the Delta and brought in substantial revenue. You would speak warmly of the French school you went to in Tanta, run by the Missionnaires d’Afrique, known as Les Pères Blancs, which you referred to as “humanist.” You recalled film screenings at school, a priest taking pupils on bicycle trips in the countryside; and you certainly were pious at the time. When you were around 13 years old, someone tipped off your father about the impending nationalizations, but he barely had time to draw from the bank a sum of LE 2000 or 3000. The loss of his depot exacerbated his health problems, and he died soon after; you all moved to Cairo, with very little money, where your mother, now the head of the family, rented the apartment on Mourad Street in Giza, in 1962.

“When we moved to Cairo, there was the discovery of how marginal we were to society”—roughly your words when you opened up to me one day in the early months of 2015. My father and I, having moved from Alexandria to Cairo to secure better medical treatment for him, were staying at your Giza home, in between hospitalizations. Your ministrations to my father were infinitely more healing, in the true sense of the word, than those of the male nurse we hired.

At rather odd hours, we had those confessional conversations, casually it seemed, but you would have been trying to allay my anxiety—yours too—and how you stood by me then and ever since, I cannot count the ways. I do believe, too, that my father was our accomplice in this distraction tactic: even in moments of pain, with his boundless stoicism and dignity, he would still smile, talk to you and me about the Wafd, and about the work of scientists, in particular, among the savants, Napoleon had brought to Egypt. Living together through those months of my father’s final illness must have been the beginning of our transition from being kin to kindred spirits. To speak of an affinity, a complicity, is not to suggest that I can hope to emulate the example of your humaneness and nobleness.

As Catholics, you and your immediate family were members of a minority within a minority, you confided; you were also the least well-off among your paternal and maternal families. You spent a (rather miserable, I gather) year at the Lycée Français, and then were moved to the Collège de La Salle (this friars’ school was disappointingly different in culture from the Catholic one of your childhood). You spoke to me then of your admiration for early Christianity, and though I cannot remember your exact words, it was about its revolutionary vitality, its potential for restructuring social class.

One benefit to being a pupil at the Collège de La Salle was that it was not far from an older family home where your maternal uncle lived. Ramzi Moftah (Miftah for the purists of transliteration), a poet who was a member of the Apollo school of poetry, was a champion of psychoanalysis—having authored, among others, Tatbiqat fi ‘Ilm al-Nafs(Applications of Psychology)—who had a successful psychotherapeutic practice based in Heliopolis. You spent one-on-one time with him during your formative years, and spoke glowingly about a sort of crash course in psychoanalysis he gave you, and also his highly therapeutic insights whenever you shared your innermost thoughts and turmoil. You credited your conversations with him with a solid amount of self-knowledge.

So, I asked, how did you become a communist? “You won’t believe it: your aunt!” We burst out laughing. My paternal aunt, a beauty in the Ancient Egyptian style, another devotee of the Jalna novels (which she exchanged with my great-aunt) who for decades kept a subscription to Elle, was the last person one could imagine introducing anyone to the charms of The Communist Manifesto.

Soon after your family moved to Cairo, my aunt had mentioned to you a downtown bookshop where you could buy inexpensive classical music records, and “That is where I discovered Lenin.” This was Dar al-Sharq, known to have carried inexpensive Arabic translations of Marxist texts issued by, among others, Progress Publishers in the USSR, of which you—like many leftists of your generation—owned a collection.

In summer 2016 I discovered that as a very young man, you had considered becoming a priest, before embracing communism. Bashir al-Sibai—the poet and first-rate translator (in which literary capacities I first met him long ago), the most widely-known figure in the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), and your intimate friend—had suggested that the two of you come to my place to give your testimony about that experience, and that I should record it. The following summer, his premonition of the end perhaps even more acute—he left us in 2019—Bashir would call me up to say: take my books and papers (he was quite a bibliophile and archivist)—a call which I, with a rather foolish puritanism, urging him to consider his niece instead, declined.

You told Bashir and myself that the major shift, which bought a loss of faith, “was the shock of Cairo, and the shock of the Collège de La Salle… this very opulent church in a popular, very poor district [Daher], everyone in it very bourgeois.” Ramzi Moftah had already introduced you to the works of Salama Musa, the Fabian intellectual who was to exert a major influence on several generations, there was the Talijournal affiliated with the left, which you subscribed to, and then you tried to understand the Lenin volumes you had bought at Dar al-Sharq.

The 1967 War also played into your and Bashir’s turn—as well as that of other communists of your generation, in what is known as the third movement—to the left (in Bashir's case, including a brief phase of Maoism, that he subsequently disavowed).“From 1968, significant student and worker mobilizations took place. A strong political and social turmoil favoured, among other things, the revival of Marxist left organizations” is the broader context, as Hoda Ahmed and Chedid Khairy put it in an excellent tribute to you.

“I believed I was the only communist in Egypt,” you jested. Soon—this was the late 1960s—you gravitated towards the Soviet Cultural Center, not only to learn Lenin’s language and Soviet culture, but in search of others who thought like you. This is where you met Bashir, and eventually, the third key member of your group before the formation of the league, Hussein Abdel-Sattar, a veteran, at the time still active, of the preceding phase of the Egyptian left, traditionally referred to as the second movement, which had largely petered out in the mid-1960s.

In the early 1970s, you had found employment in Aswan, but you lasted only a few months until someone brought you news of the protests at several universities at the beginning of 1972, as the students demanded that action, repeatedly deferred by President Sadat, be taken in the conflict with Israel. You rushed back to Cairo, where you plunged into various university student activities.

Among the initiatives of activist students, you joined was one offering literacy classes. I remember you telling me about it one day when, during a visit to the countryside, we were driving past Qaha town in the Delta. You woke up from a catnap, explaining that it always happens when the speedometer reaches 80 kilometers an hour, a frequency related to one’s pulse, it’s said, and mentioned the lessons you and a friend had taught in Qaha in the early 1970s: how, on your way back at night, such was your zeal you’d start singing Sheikh Imam songs, until an armed guard fired shots in the air and you “relented”—the singing, not the teaching.

You also met a group of students from Suez studying in the capital whom you introduced to your and Bashir’s gestating project. Bashir’s activity then was translating and distributing Marxist texts, including Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, Trotskyism being the direction in which you were now both gravitating. There was a stretch of discussions with students, and propagandist lectures. It was a time of reflection within the core group as to whether you were ready to form an organization, or party, in the absence of a trained cadre, you and Bashir told me.

After a period of “sorting” (your word) and selecting students capable of taking on organizational leadership, the RCL (al-‘Usba al-Shiyu‘iyya al-Thawriyya) was established at the beginning of 1975. Bashir wrote the program which was discussed within the organization. A few months later, you, Bashir and some of your comrades were detained; the two of you, and others from the league, would be imprisoned again in 1980, and then a final time in 1985.

The RCL’s membership was mainly from Cairo, Alexandria, Minya, and Asyut. Many—apart from you and Bashir, who were both government employees—were students, as well as workers in Alexandria and Helwan. A peak moment of the organization, in Bashir’s view, was the 1977 bread protests occasioned by Sadat’s economic liberalization measures. The organization, you and Bashir told me, was never a member of the Fourth International—although it had contacts with other Arab (for example, Lebanese and Iraqi) Trotskyists who might have been members—and received no funding from it nor from any other source except for a small donation by someone associated with the group who was heading for a job in Libya.

The cornerstone of the RCL’s propagandist work was its main publications: the magazine al-Thawra al-Da’ima (Permanent Revolution), and the later newspaper Ma al-‘Amal (What is to be Done?—its title, as you once mentioned, borrowed from that of a work by Lenin). There were also occasional pamphlets, offprints of articles, and stand-alone translations.

Al-Thawra al-Da’ima was meant to be monthly, though it was slightly irregular, and “there were months when double issues were published,” you said; it was also issued in two series. It contained both translations (virtually all done by Bashir, whose own articles often carried the penname Aziz Salah), and original articles written for it, and was intended “to be a propagandist bulletin… for [cadre] formation,” as you put it. Ma al-‘Amal, published every two weeks, though less regularly at a later stage, contained a greater number of original articles.

The significance of the two publications, you and Bashir offered, is to determine “our positions.” “There were important issues that we took a stand on, which history has proved sound… for example, our position on the Iranian Revolution, our position on the [Soviet] invasion of Afghanistan,” Bashir asserted. So, how did the league’s position on these two issues differ from those of other Egyptian leftist groups? While the RCL supported the Iranian Revolution, it did not—in contrast to other Egyptian leftist parties which supported the interim government—support any government after the revolution. “We were against the [Soviet] invasion of Afghanistan,” Bashir added, whereas other leftist groups hailed it; “there are things to be truly proud of.”

I remember your expression of acute embarrassment when Bashir said to me, “So, the bottom line is that those who played the principal roles in this whole story are me and him, frankly”; turning to you, he continued, “please, no need for modesty.” You protested that “more work was done later.”

It occurs to me that by “later,” you were hinting at the stage that started in the late 1970s and continued after Bashir left the RCL (in September 1981, two weeks before President Sadat’s assassination, as he recalled), and figures who became central during what you thought of as the third stage of the organization. And I now realize that of those who had established the RCL, you were the only one who was still there when it petered out in 1985 or ’86.

You gave me more context on the dissolution of the organization in summer 2019, when, after Bashir left us, misinformed statements were made about the RCL—including suggestions that it issued very few publications—which upset you. (That evening, on July 22, I recorded your words, finding in this conversation a companion to the double-testimony of 2016, neither of which I am fully unpacking here; both recordings should eventually be added to the material archived at IISG.)

Paradoxically, there was a revival of interest in the RCL in the first half of the 1980s, but the exhausted core group did not have the resources to offer newcomers any sort of formation, you told me. It all stopped “when we were gasping for air… It dissolved, ended. There was no decision… People had to make a living, too—those who stayed to the end and were drained.”

But there was another sense in which you were an absolute pivot of the RCL, and it was Bashir who first apprised me of it: the entire printing apparatus of the organization was run by you. To have produced so many publications under the clandestine conditions in which you were working—to have obtained typesetting and printing equipment, and to have securely concealed them for years on end—is a most remarkable feat.

There was an early phase of the RCL in which material was handwritten and reproduced by carbon copy—these, you told me, were translations in notebooks used for training, and also the first series of al-Thawra al-Da’ima. There were many phases: the very cumbersome typewriter; the Roneo and stencil; the printing press you made by hand with metal tubes, etc. When you slipped out of life, RCL texts produced in all these modes, including the early handwriting/carbon copy stage, were still at your Giza home, though you were planning to send some of the material to IISG; I am sure that the comrade who took the texts from your house will, as he said he would, honor your wish.

After you left us, it made me smile to spot in your desk drawers—amid RCL publications you had retyped on your laptop, odds and ends like sharpeners and lighters, old metal boxes in which women of your mother’s generation kept sewing kits—a few false teeth: traces of a profession you acquired towards the end of the RCL experience. Your government salary (from which you even channeled sums towards the RCL) being barely sufficient for subsistence, your maternal uncle, Fouad (known as Wadid) Moftah, a dentist whom you aptly described as very gentle and sensitive, and a father figure of sorts to you who had a dental lab attached to his clinic, taught you the rudiments of taking measurements and making dentures.

With some additional training by an Alexandrian technician, you rerouted your exceptional technical skill with your hands from publishing pamphlets with primitive equipment into crafting perfect dentures for those who needed them, working in metal as well as acrylic. Your mastery made you phenomenally successful with the lab’s clients, though of course there was no end of friends, as well as friends and acquaintances of friends, for whom you made free dentures, not even charging them for the materials used.

This new profession led you back, in the late 1980s, to the Upper Egypt—this time round as part of the lab’s launch into supplying dental materials. In fact, you and a cousin would drive the length of the Nile south of Cairo, stopping at labs and suppliers in small towns en route to Aswan. A few years later, you changed again for a different kind of journey, working as a tour leader—with French and Francophone tourists, first on chartered bus tours, and then in the more niche context of dahabiyyas—likewise in Upper Egypt.

How you loved your work in tourism: added to the excitement of meeting new people, both tourists and some fascinating local personalities, was the pleasure of spending time at the archaeological sites; you were an avid reader of Egyptology, and a great fan of Amarna art. You also became knowledgeable about Upper Egyptian folklore, including medicinal herbs. This period lasted from the 1990s all the way to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. You retired then, as the tourism industry came to a halt, and you had to abandon your dream of retreating to an altogether unspoiled spot on the Nile in Aswan that you had discovered, and which you described to me in almost paradisiacal terms.

You once remarked that it had been your conviction that, for yourself, involvement in political work meant that you should give up the idea of marriage and a family. Perhaps you were trying to explain the lateness of your own marriage, years after your political activity had ceased; in any case, I see it as one of the different kinds of unaccounted-for sacrifices that you and other leftists had to make.

Josiane Bellochovique, a worker and educator from Lyon, came from a communist family and had herself been a Trotskyist for a period of time. She visited Egypt where she met you, and developed “a very strong passion for Reda, based on love at first sight and deep political and human affinities,” as Ahmed and Khairy put it; she called you her “pharaon,” another mutual friend recalled.

You and Josiane married in the early 1990s, taking up an apartment in the Feisal area. Like you, she was hospitable, and your home became a rendezvous, including for visitors from France. I remember your telling me that Josiane laughingly observed that visits from your old leftist friends followed a pattern: the get-together would start cheerfully enough, and then there’d be singing of Sheikh Imam songs, and finally a maudlin, tearful atmosphere would settle in.

In Cairo, Josiane became involved in French Cultural Center activities and, a talented photographer, took photos of historical sites, artisanal crafts, and working-class neighborhoods. Her blog, http://balladeegyptienne.blogspirit.com/, was popular among Francophone expats. She held several exhibitions in Cairo, and a quite successful one, titled “Des femmes. Des hommes. Une revolution,” in Grenoble in December 2011. While you and Josiane joined the Revolution of 2011, and made friends with some of the young revolutionaries, you confided in me your feeling that some essential groundwork was missing from that event.

As I try to work out the chronology now, Josiane’s exhibition in Grenoble opened about a month and a half before her passing, following surgery in Cairo, on the 28th of January, 2012. Losing her was traumatic for you, as you shared during my father’s illness and after his passing. Friends prevailed on you to leave your marital home and move back into the family apartment on Mourad Street: moving in must not have been easy, either, as by then both your mother and Nagui were gone.

Loneliness there was, no doubt, and mourning, too; in trying to mitigate them, you had recourse to your unique talent for giving. An incident you never mentioned to me is a representative example: someone at the government office where you worked let you know that the colleague you used to entrust with sums to be paid into your social security while you were on unpaid leave working in tourism had never in fact paid them in. You insisted that your informant never bring it up with the colleague in question—“you don’t know his circumstances”—and you yourself then paid out of your earnings, for the second time, those several years’ worth of contributions.

It was from your pension that you sent out regular remittances to acquaintances from your days in tourism, when, the industry hard-hit, they would insistently seek your help. If friends pointed out that these individuals were perhaps exploiting you, your answer was invariably: if there’s a one per cent possibility that they are genuinely in need, then you had to do it. How it was that, with slim resources, you supported so many, including people in your neighborhood, is baffling; one way you did it was by constantly redirecting any gift you received, as well as leading a Spartan lifestyle (you kept about two sets of clothes in any given season).

In the end, you lived following your own convictions and the obduracy your well-wishers noted when they’d warn you about being exploited was, in another sense, simply the flip side of your astonishing capacity to persevere, however bad the circumstances became.

There were a few satisfactions. With your cultivation and wide-ranging readings, you had played a pedagogical role, and also an implicitly fatherly one, with your friends’ children, including those who had studied at French schools, coaching them with their homework since their parents did not know the language—and derived pleasure from watching their lives as adults unfold. Individuals from different walks of life would fetch up at the Giza apartment, living communally for as long as they wished, except that it was often you who shouldered responsibilities, and cooked excellent meals for everyone. You embraced any opportunity to be of service: when the elderly widow of a comrade came down with Covid, and wished to isolate from her daughters, it was to you that she turned. You nursed her for two months, only returning home for a couple of hours every day to feed the cats and birds.

One project that kept you going was preparing the RCL documents for dissemination. The poor quality of the printing, combined with wear and tear, made them barely legible. Another problem was that, to cover your tracks, a different letter of the keyboard had been deliberately tampered with in many instances. You tried different modes: commissioning someone to type up the texts meant very time-consuming proofreading, as numerous errata inevitably crept in; another approach, laborious and particularly taxing to your failing eyesight, was to paste the missing or distorted letter onto the scanned texts. I worried that the IISG archive in Amsterdam would not accept scans modified in this manner, all the more since it is always originals that are archived, which was initially the response you got; recently, you told me with satisfaction that the modified texts had been accepted (as indicated in the archival note “numbers below are manually improved by the donor for readability”).

My sense is that your attitude to the preservation of the RCL documents had shifted somewhat in recent years. You had been indifferent when I spoke about the archival value of the originals: what mattered to you at first was that some future generation doing the same sort of work would have access to the publications, hence your focus on the readability of the text. After Bashir’s passing, and faced with others’ confused assumptions about this little-known group, you came round to seeing the value of original documents for historiography. You also had in mind the case of a much earlier Egyptian, Trotskyist-oriented generation: the avant-garde, surrealist artists and intellectuals of the 1940s Art et liberté group, Georges Henein, Ramses Younan, Kamel El-Telmessani et al.

I had taken to paying occasional visits to Albert Arié (1930-2021), a veteran of the second leftist movement, partly in search of recollections about the Lycée Français, his alma mater, during the period when my father was a pupil there, and also to interview him fora scholarly project of mine on the Art et liberté group, his contemporaries. It was a memorable occasion when, on June 7, 2017, I suggested you join me as you had never met Monsieur Arié, though you knew of him, of course.

Each probed the other about the leftist movement in which he had been active. You asked Arié about any connections he may have had with his contemporary, the lawyer Nabil El-Hilali (1922-2006), the so-called “saint of the left,” who was legendary for defending the oppressed and taking on lawsuits involving human rights breaches. I was not surprised you bought up El-Hilali. Sitting with you on the terrace of your Giza home with a view of the Nile through a gap between buildings, you had recounted that, when you were detained at the Citadel in 1975, your mother had sought El-Hilali’s counsel about how to get you transferred, and he had comforted her with a memorable phrase: “it’s the Hilton of prisons.” (In 2016, you would return to visit the Citadel with a colleague who had likewise been detained at that time; the solitary confinement cells had been converted into offices. You chatted amiably with the employees about the experience.) El-Hilali had defended you and your colleagues masterfully, you said, when you were imprisoned later (was this the 1980 or the 1985 spell?).

Arié, with gentle provocation, described your group as “not the original Trotskyists” (Art et liberté), and you explained that, “no, we had nothing to do with the old [group]—we got to know about it later” (which was largely through Bashir’s translations, particularly of Henein’s poetry, and his essays on these 1940s avant-gardists which were collected in his book Maraya al-Intelligentsia and later posted to his blog).

In summer 2019, reflecting on the belatedness of the RCL’s discovery of Art et liberté in relation to the archival work you were doing, you mused, “All I care about in this matter is that, when new generations, wanting to understand, crop up, they should have things [material], and not need to start from scratch like we did. This is the beginning and the end for me.”

Initially, you thought the RCL’s translations of Marxist theory, statements and analyses need not be included in the collection at IISG, as newer translations were now readily available. The translations, I suggested, give a more rounded portrait of the RCL’s output, a view you came round to sharing, more so when you heard that there had been some readerly demand for them: “Clearly, it [the translation work] is important, too… There are lots of translations out there now, but not everything [is available]. What we translated still has its own specificity, its own importance.”

You yourself had worked on translating Pierre Salama and Jacques Valier’s Une introduction à l’économie politique. That you abandoned the translation and never published it may have been on account of your having diverted your energies into archiving the RCL’s publications; it is my hope to see that translation into print.

Trauerarbeit—mourning work—Freud called it. Your phrase for it: “faire son deuil.” We were kindred spirits in that work, too: your inimitable empathy and insight speak to me even more directly now as I try to find a way to come to terms with your absence.

In one of our last conversations, I chatted about a batch of books I’d just bought from the Ezbekeyya second-hand booksellers, and the sadness of coming across the library stamps they bore—stamps of provincial girls’ senior schools, small-town clubs, polytechnic institutes, and so on. We mulled over the many readers who no doubt ingested these books they could not have accessed otherwise. “Yes, that period of the dream—there was a period of the dream” (aywafatret el-helm deih—kaan feih fatret helm), you said.

Your own dream was vaster than Egypt: a permanent emancipation of all humanity.

Rest in the dream to which you gave your all, Reda.

* Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Amina Mouftah, Reda Farag’s cousin, for her careful reading of this piece and for giving me the benefit of her discernment. My heartfelt thanks to Peter Snowdon for his comments and advice on an earlier draft of the text.

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