Should the revival of Arab literature be established on a competitive basis or on a solidarity of purpose to create an everlasting body of literature?
Let's consider literature in its purest form with its variety of hues reflecting all aspects of life like a mirror. (In this light) we should classify all forms of writing artificially loaded with flowering rhetoric and redundant phrases with no signs of sensitivity or sincerity as pseudo literature.
Our literature should express sensitivity and be able to adapt to our inclinations and to the higher principles which guide us in the tasks to be undertaken below. The human heart does not morph radically from one day to the next. It adapts to circumstances according to the influence of external imprints, the mores of its society and its worldly encounters.
A simple comparison allows us to grasp what distinguishes the literary culture of one nation from that of another especially if we study the decisive factors that have a bearing on literary work. These factors need not have of any direct relation to the literary world but nonetheless unfold without the knowledge of the authors themselves.
Hence we can envision the existence of a universal literature if we seek in it the expression of sensitivity that is the principle motive of pure literature. That sensitivity makes accessible basic esthetic pleasures and emotions which differ in form only from one nation to the next.
The formal aspect that characterizes in a narrow sense a national or regional body of literature confers upon it an aura of prestige and the admiration of all. As the mores and outlooks of two nations align more closely, the regional gulf between them vanishes. Hence as the awareness of the lettered individual grows, he will expand his field of reflection and see life's horizons extend beyond his geographical boundaries. He will therefore leave the realm of national literature for the universal literature that aspires to be eternal without extinguishing its cyclical influences.
Such is the foundation for an everlasting literature and and how it becomes mature within a nation.
We write this introduction on the occasion of recent ongoing debates within Egypt's literary circles where opinions are very divided on Arab literature. Some would not accept any substitution for "Egyptian literature", while others do not share and totally oppose this viewpoint. They deny the existence of a purely Egyptian literature. On the contrary they insist that, in general, what Egypt has produced from times past to the present is but a segment of Arab literature just like the other participants from (mostly) Islamic nations who chose the Arabic language for communication.
One of the two views cited above is based on the ancient past while the other is based on Egypt's Islamic period.
The first viewpoint believes that Egypt's literary output contains attributes of the country's cultural heritage and focuses on emphasizing these in a clear and unequivocal manner. However it does not inform us on the nature of these attributes to allow an analysis and comparison with literary works of other nations. At the most it has a tendency to study contemporary Egyptian literature to which it gives special attention when it deserves praise and the consideration of other Arab nations.
In contrast, the second viewpoint denies such attributes. It is very concerned that Egypt would become too swayed by its ancient writings and accord it a misplaced self-satisfaction. The majority of representatives of this current of thought belong to a group of Egyptians who have studied ancient Arab literature and see in this specificity, if such exists, only the result of many factors and circumstances. This follows the example of other Arab nations who have their own particular circumstances as well as other factors which have led to their own attributes.
To decide between these two streams of thought, it is necessary to pause and reflect deeply. For we are faced with an extremely serious question upon which our literary revival and progress are at stake.
Egypt is the leader of the Arab world in the field of literature. Other Arab nations' cultured elite acknowledge this. However the question at hand is whether it is in the interest of Arabic literature's future that Egypt's leadership remains in perpetuity or should its leadership be challenged by entering into competition with it.
To be more clear, how should we conceive our literary revival and on what basis should it be established? Should it be on the basis of competition or on the basis of a mindset of solidarity whose sole interest is to create one everlasting body of literature? That is the question that we pose today to the Arab cultural elite.
It appears to me that those with the viewpoint that Egyptian literature has unique attributes excluding in general any common grounds with Arabic literature are engaged in an audacious move. Their purpose appears to be one to inspire competition from other nations only after the Egyptian superior literature leads to the stagnation of other nations. The latter would end up acknowledging their limits even though it would have been their duty to compete and participate side by side to produce brilliant Arabic literature.
Sure, Egypt is the uncontested literary leader in the Arab world but we must not be resigned to let it remain 'ad vitam aeternam' (for eternal life). It is the duty of each Arab nation to attempt to claim this leadership position by seeking to exercise in all earnestness its superiority over the other Arab countries.
However if instead we persist in working in solidarity to produce literary works like that of others without producing something of our own or if we don't compete with countries that do, the result we will achieve is one of self condemnation to stagnation, if not decline, of our literary revival.
The world does not work as well when motivated by solidarity as it does when it is driven by competition where each individual can demonstrate his talent. He needs to count only on himself and he does not depend on the solidarity of others.
Our literary history provides proof that competition has always been the biggest motivator for the rise of literature in Morocco. Even when its inhabitants did not know Arabic. They also could have easily joined with the Middle East and been content with their literary work.
By acknowledging Egypt's leadership we have shifting respect; one moment we gain respect as a loyal competitor, add respect in the recognition of the superiority of others, and win respect for the possibility of succeeding in competition.
Countries with common spiritual beliefs and language can, thanks to stimulating competition, place their literature on a solid foundation. They are linked by common goals and history. They can extend their horizons to their universal limits after they rid themselves of the narrow confines of regionalism to which they had (previously) given an essential importance.
It is therefore thanks to the competitive spirit that moves each nation to come to grips with (and try to surpass) the most developed literature from other nations that literature can foresee unending growth.
Literature has all to gain when nations bypass their local and regional bonds and reach a form of thinking common to all people who share the same language.
Hence we are inclined to support competition amongst the Arab nations. We see their solidarity as a means to raise the quality of their literature rather than to perpetuate a state of cultural dependence which incites counting on each other.
It is at the very least astonishing that, Syria whose youth are among the most intelligent in the Arab world, produces relatively little literary work. It has nothing to envy Egypt with respect to schooling and education and yet its literary output is very anemic when compared to Egypt's exuberance. Moreover when the Syrian speaks about the contemporary revival of the Arab world, he is most proud of the achievements made by those born along the banks of the Nile. He seems to be content with the notion that everything written in Arabic is to be shared by all who use this language. This viewpoint points to the total absence of a competitive mindset.
This mindset must guide us in all we intend to undertake so that the future will offer opportunities to build anew.
As for the past, it allows us to tread the footsteps of the ancients and to pry the secrets of the written legacy we inherited. It engages us in a unified solidarity of effort up to a certain point and encourages competition when it involves research on vestiges of the past whose prestige is attributed to the Islamic community as a whole. This is because the thorough analysis of the people who adopted Islam as a religion was not one simply involving a mixture of peoples from different lands, but one of total integration where individualism is completely erased by the ebb and flow of communal tides.