Georges Henein: ‘Greater freedom in Egyptian society’

I recently came across an entry on Georges Henein in Multicultural Writers Since 1945: an A-to-Z Guide. The author is Cristina Boidard Boisson, an academic who wrote a doctoral dissertation on Henein and Surrealism at the University of Cadiz in 1993. The entry is quite good on Henein’s biography, however the break with Breton in 1948 is mentioned without further detail. Unfortunately, the extensive bibliography the author provides contains nothing in English. I have provided excerpts from the entry below.

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Georges Henein (1914-1973)

by Cristina Boidard Boisson

Few readers of the French magazine L’Express would have known that the articles signed by Georges Henein up until July 1973 were written by an Egyptian author who had introduced surrealistic postulates into Cairo society and and become a contributor to the magazine because of financial difficulties. Henein belonged to the surrealist movemtn from 1936 to 1948, first because he accepted its theories, and second, inasmuch as it favored free art and literature, he believed it might lead to greater freedom in Egyptian society.

Even fewer readers would have suspected that Henein’s background had afforded him a genuine knowledge of various cultures, of which he was an important exponent. The stage was set for his multicultural interests by the diplomatic missions in Madrid, Rome, and Paris of his father, Sadik Pach Henein, a Copt, and his mother’s family, of Italian origin. Both parents belonged to the Cairo Francophone cultural elite that promoted an Egyptian literature written in French. Young Georges spoke Italian first, then French, Arabic, and English. After studying law in Paris, he spent every spring and summer there, thus affording this “flaneur des deux mondes” (stroller between two worlds) a solid knowledge of both Oriental and Occidental cultures, which affected positively his social dimension and literary production.

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In Paris he beame an active member of the surrealist movement and a friend of its founder, André Breton. Simultaneously he organized prosurrealism activities in Cairo, published poems and pamphlets about political events, and meditated on what the writer’s commitment should be in matters such as politics. His alternate stays in Cairo and Paris were interupted by World War II, a circumstance he employed to organize a proper surrealist group, a sort of literary résistance in Cairo. After the war, he resumed his temporary stays in Paris; in Egypt, however, he was considered a dangerous intellectual by the Nasser regime. Therefore, he went into exile in 1962, traveling from Greece to Italy and finally to Paris, where he died in 1973.

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A major aspect of Henein’s multiculturalism was his vision of the function of the writer considered as a cultural mediator between different cultures and different cultural levels. The writer serves as a bridge as well as a bicultural or multicultural analyst and polemicist. Henein himself was convinced of the importance of multiculturalism at all levels, not only within international organizations such as UNESCO, but also among individuals of diverse cultures.

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