Circles under the Sphinx's Eyes
From DESMOND STEWART
IE Britain's policy towards East Africa has had jolts in the last few weeks, it is nothing to the shock in Cairo, which has shown its profundity by being dumb.
For a long time Africa has held a special place in Egyptian thinking. The gift of an African river, Egypt has sometimes felt more African than Arab. Under the monarchy, a Nilotic, pharaonic orientation was suggested to Egyptians, perhaps to take their eyes off the absurdity of an Albanian dynasty. Nasser for his part stated that Africa was, with the Arab world and Islam, one of the three friendly circles near whose centre Egypt lay.
This interest in Africa shows itself in Cairo, a cosmopolis where colour is no bar. Al-Azhar, the thousand-year-old Moslem university, glistens with students from Somalia and Senegal. A section of Zainalek boasts that it has been the headquarters of a. score of successful African struggles, Cairo radio broadcasts in Amharic, Swahili, Lingala, Sesotho, Fulani, Nyanja and Somali. African visitors to Cairo have been spectacular and welcome. Cairo's attitude to Africa, indeed, is expressed in the euphoric title of a programme broadcast in English : 'Africa Marches Together!' If it were objected to such slogans that Algeria has quarrelled with Morocco, that Somalia is about to be invaded by Ethiopia or that South Africa is in stasis, refuge would be found in words: the peoples do not disagree, the frontiers were drawn by imperialists, or the Afri- kaners are not Africans, but white Europeans.
Two unspoken qualifications to this Afrophilia have been the frequent Africa & refusal to accept the Arabs north of the Sahara as real Africans (someTunisians had a hard time in the Congo) and the strong Israeli influence in many of the newly Independent African countries. 'How,' many an Arab asks rhetorically, 'can African victims of colonialism fail to see that Israel's eviction of the Palestinians was the nakedest apartheid ever?' The Encounter article by John Mander compar- ing the position of the Israelis in a sea of Arabs to the Afrikaners in a sea of negroes was exten- sively quoted in Egyptian magazines.
Many sober Arabs will admit in conversation that the Arabs, like the Europeans, are haunted by the ghosts of African slaves. One such made to me the ingenious defence that though slavery was an abomination which both Christianity and Islam should have stopped long before they did, it often saved conquered Africans from ending in the cooking-pot. In a week which has heard with calm of the genocidal slaughter of Watutsis, it is as impossible to refute this out of hand as it is to justify our Christian and their Moslem ancestors who sanctioned the trade and grew rich on it.
In this context came the revolution in Zanzibar. The press reaction in Cairo was total silence.
Normally, assiduous piracy is the rule rather than the exception in Cairo's daily newspapers. But this time the graphic eye-witness accounts of foreign newsmen went untranslated. Readers were simply informed that Sultan Jamshid had been sent into exile, that a republic had been declared and that there had been casualties. That the revolution had been an anti-Arab revolu- tion was stated in no Arabic newspaper or broad- cast. That atrocities against the Arabs had been committed at least as ruthless as those frequently remembered from the Palestine struggle in 1948 (when the vitiated atmosphere made atrocity more likely) was not said. Meanwhile, so conditioned arc Arab media to acclaiming any and every revolution, that it hardly came as a surprise when Algeria sent official congratulations to the anti- Arab rdgime in the paradise of cloves.
The next moves—the mutinies in Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya; followed as they were by the return of British troops—may have caused un- reported heart attacks or outbursts of boils in Cairo's commentators. They were already under the severe strain of obeying the deeision, taken on Boxing Day, that in future there should be no attacks on other Arab States. They were now gripped in a crueller vice. Should they not attack the landings of British troops on the African continent, where everyone marches together? But to do so would be to criticise Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote and Join° Kenyatta, who had in- vited the troops back. Such criticism would delight Israel, who would perhaps offer similar assistance to the East Africans as she had offered in the Congo. Such criticism would strengthen the ex- tremists in East Africa whose attitude to the Arabs might be as savage as that of Field-Marshal Okello. Suddenly, silently, Egypt had become aware that extremism was not necessarily on her side, that, perhaps, the real revolution was moderation.
In this surprising situation there was the possi- bility that the disarray in Africa might remind Nasser and Egypt of other and forgotten circles. The Mediterranean was one. No Arab, Moslem or African statesman had been a more loyal friend to Nasser than Tito. A meeting between them was scheduled for the next few weeks. There was, perhaps, a symbolism in the choice of Alexandria for the next Arab Summit. But there were other circles, too, political and humane. There was warmth in the invitation to Nehru to convalesce in Egypt. There was warmth, too, in the welcome given to Harold Lang and his Macbeth in Camera which opened Cairo's new Pocket Theatre.
Perhaps the search for limited circles was all wrong? The Khedive Ismail had claimed at the opening of the Canal that Egypt was no longer part of Africa, but part of Europe. Perhaps he, too, had missed the poinf as much as the enthusi- asts for Islam, for the Arab world and for Africa. Perhaps the real circle to which Egypt belonged, many Egyptians now felt, was the world. In that circle she could bring her own precise contribu- tions. The doctrine of non-alignment would be one of them. But so—most Egyptians felt, with pride and a shudder—would be constructive order, without which no country, in any circle, can possibly progress.