By Amr S. Talaat
Photography by Tariq Al Murri

Associated with great scientists and intellectuals, from Napoleon's savants to modern scholars, the recently destroyed Institut d'Égypte played a major role in Egypt's intellectual history, and led to the foundation of further centres of learning.

Four thousand’, he said with a finality and firmness matching his unyielding and foreboding countenance. It was clear that he had, out of experience, perceived that I was on the verge of a bargaining diatribe of head-splitting proportions, and that I was not a serious customer. His face said it all – he wanted to be rid of me. I took to turning the old medallion over and over in my hand, simultaneously caught up in its history and burnt by its price. Centered on one face were the pyramids, a rising sun, and the names Bonaparte, Monge and Jomard, above which was written Institut d’Égypte 1798. The other face bore the words Institut Égyptien – The Egyptian Society – 1859. I had read much about this rare medallion, which was minted over one hundred years ago on the occasion of the centennial of the Egyptian Society. For a moment I was tempted to rashness, but the price of the medallion and the unfriendliness of the salesman brought me back to my senses. I left without even thanking him.

A few years before this incident, I arose from my seat to give a speech at a seminar celebrating the passage of two hundred years since the French Campaign; I knew that what I had to say would discomfort some of the audience. I had barely finished my first sentence when I noticed scowling faces and creased brows. I must admit that I intentionally provoked them using inflammatory phrases, even though the content was what I truly believed,

‘Say what you will about the injustice and tyranny of the French’, I said, ‘condemn their viciousness in executing Suleiman el-Halaby; damn them for desecrating al-Azhar with the hooves of their horses and the blades of their swords. But to be fair one cannot deny or undermine the role played by the campaign in enlightenment, and its immense contribution to the resurrection of thought and to propagating knowledge throughout Egypt after long centuries weighed down with the darkness of ignorance and the blackness of regression.’

After the seminar, people gathered around me, or to be more precise they placed me under siege, objecting and denouncing. I tried to explain by telling them,

‘I believe that the printing press, from the perspective of knowledge, is the forerunner to the television and the internet. It was the first invention that facilitated knowledge, allowing it to reach a large number of people. Beforehand, knowledge had been limited to a small number of books, copied out by hand and owned by the wealthy alone. Egypt did not know the printing press at the time of the French Campaign, and books were only available to the rich and to the students of al-Azhar. Bonaparte brought two presses with him: the first bore Arabic letters, which he used to print the first book in Egypt to come off a press, Exercises in Literary Arabic Extracted from the Koran for the Use of Those Who are Studying That Language. The second press printed a literary scientific periodical called La Decade Égyptienne, which was the voice of the times. Like Archimedes when he called out ‘Eureka’ – I called out,

‘The institute (Magma‘a)….it is enough that he established the Magma‘a’. I heard one of the people around me, who had introduced himself as a PhD student in the sciences, asking his colleague in a whisper,

‘What is the Magmaa’? The other answered knowingly, ‘The Arabic Language Institute (Magma‘a al-Logha al-Arabiya)’, and he elaborated with, ‘Napoleon was keen on Arabic’! I did not comment.

The first meeting of the Institut d’Égypte, in the former house of Hassan Kashef in Cairo, from Description de l’Égypte, état moderne V. 1.

Paris on the Nile

A few days before the afternoon of 1 July 1798, when the troops of the French campaign were landing at el-Agamy, Napoleon spoke to his men, telling them,

‘You are on the brink of a conquest that will have far-reaching effects on the civilization of the world.’ What is more important is that Bonaparte, the legendary and imaginative leader, began his speech by introducing himself as ‘Napoleon … a member of the national Institut d’Égypte’, this affiliation taking precedence over his role as leader of the campaign.

Maybe Napoleon was showing off, or being flattering, or maybe he truly appreciated scientists and science; whatever the case, it is certain that he boasted about his membership of the Institut de France. He often reiterated that if he did not leave a fingerprint on the development of industry, science, and legislature, then he would only be fleetingly mentioned in history.

Despite this, I agree with the many historians who believe that Napoleon’s intentions were colonial when he included elite scientists from all fields. The man was planning for a long stay, lasting decades or even centuries, and he wanted his scientists to carry out an in-depth study of the country, its capabilities and natural resources, so that they could be exploited to their maximum benefit, just as we claim that Mohamed Ali established an enlightening civilization for the sole purpose of guaranteeing the rule of Egypt for himself and his sons. Whatever the case may be – God only knows the intentions of men – we have these two men to thank for the enormous development projects and the wide leap in enlightenment in Egypt at the time.

In any case, less than two months after his arrival in Egypt, Bonaparte established the Institut d’Égypte in Cairo. There are many reasons that encouraged Napoleon to establish the institute, but my opinion is that it was mainly the French colonial philosophy in Egypt, which differed greatly in approach from the British one. The French believed in the cultural and social penetration of their colonies until the native population gradually adopted French culture and became instinctively a follower of the ‘mother nation’, generation after generation. The British occupation, however, during its seven decades of political and economic control, depended on ultimate military supremacy. One of the strange things about culture in Egypt is that the French language remained predominant amongst the elite of society all through the British occupation, and was not replaced by English until the second half of the twentieth century with the appearance of the United States as a major power after the World War II.

Al-Rifa‘ay…and the Father of the Magma‘a

Facing the Saida Zeinab Mosque is a small crooked alley known as Monge’s Alley. If you happen to question any passersby, you’ll find that only one in a million know who Monge was, as opposed to the many who know that at the end of the alley there is the superb kebab shop al-Rifa‘ay…

Do not judge the residents of the alley or the passersby harshly; there are probably no more than a hundred people throughout Egypt who know of Gaspard Monge, or have even heard of him. In any case, let me just mention that Monge was a scientist of high acclaim, with discoveries in the areas of descriptive geometry and the production of water by the combustion of hydrogen, among many others. His scientific achievements earned him the France’s highest accolades; his name is even carved on the Eiffel Tower amongst the seventy scientists most celebrated in France.

Monge was one of the first people Napoleon confided in regarding the campaign, and he gave him the responsibility of collecting information and maps on Egypt. However, when it was time to leave, he hesitated to bring his friend along with him. Napoleon was well aware of his friend’s weak point – his wife Catherine Huart – so he went directly to the lady without informing her of the intended destination and obtained her rather unwilling approval. History has preserved for us the heated letters she sent to her husband who had, ‘wandered to the ends of the earth at the age of fifty-two’. Even so, Monge refused to tell his wife the truth of where he was headed, even after she’d made him drink a full bottle of champagne!

The Second Clause

Historical references agree that it was Napoleon who came up with the idea of the Institut d’Égypte, and he issued the decree for its establishment on 2 August 1798. He delegated the organization of the institute to his friend Monge, however, who completed the task in a way befitting his intellectual genius. The institute covered four main areas: mathematics, natural studies, political economics, and literature and fine arts. As per Napoleon’s instructions, Monge and Claude Louis Berthollet met every morning at seven to carefully choose the members of each area of study, until the institute included the elite scientists, military leaders, scholars, and artists of the campaign.

Napoleon inaugurated the magnificent establishment on 24 August 1798. The second clause stipulated the three raisons d’être of the institute:  First, spreading civilization and knowledge in Egypt; second, research, study, and publication of natural incidents and historical and industrial events; and third, providing advice on any matters posed by the government. More than 200 years ago the second clause spoke of spreading civilization and knowledge in Egypt; what do they wish to do with it today?

The Scientist Comes First

When Napoleon came to Egypt, thousands of years had passed since Menes had united the ‘Two Lands’. Even so, it was still a virgin, fertile land from a scientific perspective; its unlimited resources were waiting to be discovered, studied, or at least documented. This was the reason behind the great enthusiasm with which the scientists approached their task, despite the hardship they endured, especially at the start of the campaign, when a sense of fear prevailed about their enormous responsibility, and their unknown destiny in a faraway land so different from their own.

The institute truly celebrated men of knowledge and intellect. Its members were assigned two duties: the first was the immediate tactical task of responding to the urgent needs of the campaign, such as making tools and light arms – were impossible to import from France due to the naval embargo enforced by the British – and constructing windmills, purifying water channels, and building sewers. The second duty was associated with longer term, strategic goals, such as developing a new financial system, undertaking a project to connect the two seas, improving agricultural methods, introducing new harvests, preventing disease, building dams along the Nile to maximize the potential of the water, and establishing a new education system.

Using their wide experience, the members of the institute worked with diligence and commitment and achieved scientific progress that had not been witnessed in Egypt since the days of the Pharaohs. Scientists spread throughout Egypt, searching and investigating far and wide. They documented natural phenomena of animals and plants; they made records of Egyptian antiquities; they drew a detailed map of Egypt; and recorded the traditions and habits of the Egyptian people.

It is worthy of note that Napoleon, whose narcissistic (peacock) personality and personal vanity have been the subject of many books, did not take the leading position at the institute, but rather left it to Monge in glorification of science and knowledge. He himself only took the position of deputy!

Knowledge … On the Wings of an Ostrich

The members of the institute would meet at seven in the morning every five days to examine their research. They issued a quarterly publication discussing varied topics, such as how to make ammonia or how Egyptians extracted dyes from Nile plants. They also researched the best ways to build windmills, to conserve the waters of the Nile, and to make bread, beer and gunpowder from resources found in Egypt.

We read about a meeting where one of the generals presented a report about his visit to el-Manzala Lakes and Wadi al-Natrun, and how they could best be put to good use. In another meeting, they building a fine arts academy, agricultural schools, and laboratories for experimentation. They also discussed the necessity of finding the source of the Nile, and the need to make a detailed description of the Coptic monasteries. One of the institute’s members was able to make lead pencils in Egypt for the first time, and used tens of them to document Egyptian workmanship and methods of industry. A group of scientists undertook a detailed survey of Egypt, while others researched the harvest, the climate, the natural history, and many other topics.

Desgenettes was one of the most renowned members of the institute. A physician, he shared with his colleagues research into conjunctivitis, and the reasons for deaths amongst children. He formulated a plan to build a large hospital, pharmacy, and school of medicine. This project was later implemented by Claude Bek in the reign of Mohamed Ali. He also produced studies on the treatment of the plague and measles, and was keen on studying the medicine of the ancient Egyptians.

At the institute they discussed research on gravity, mathematics, mirages and light. They studied Arab poetry, and documented the animals and insects of Egypt, to the extent that one scientist studied Nile fish and another, ostrich wings!

Napoleon’s position was not an honorary one; you will find that he was involved in the activities of the institute, constantly posing scientific questions to its members and asking them to conduct further study and research. He asked for a comparison between Egyptian wheat and its French counterpart; how to improve irrigation; and how to grow grapes in Egypt. Whenever he thought up an idea, he would ask his scientists to research it for him. Twenty topics are recorded, each of which Napoleon assigned to the scientists of the institute to research. Once, when he was teasing them, he said that, ‘medicine is the art of killing’ only to have Desgenettes, the medical scientist, reply, ‘how would you then define the art of leading armies?’

The Headquarters….Not the Sinary House

I read a great deal of what was written about the Magma‘a after it was burnt down, and found that there was a general consensus that when it was established, it took el-Sinary House as its headquarters. However, it seems that this piece of information is short on accuracy. The great historian, al-Jabarti, tells us that Napoleon took the palace of Qassim Bek in al-Nasseriya as his base; this was a palace built in the Turkish style, with luscious gardens and beautiful fountains. Qassim Bek, a Mameluke leader, was away in the south of Egypt at the time of the campaign, leaving his palace empty for Napoleon to seize. One of the largest halls of the haramlek was transformed from being a hall for entertainment and relaxation into the main meeting hall of the institute. Other rooms in the palace were transformed into chemical laboratories, a natural science museum, a printing room, a library and an observatory. The garden became an experimental area for agricultural research; a part of it was used as a zoo, and another part as a birdhouse. A small factory was built to produce scientific tools, such as surgical instruments, compasses and geometric drawing and survey tools.

Meetings were held every evening in the palace garden for the scientists of the campaign, where they would share their discoveries and research into various aspects of Egyptian life, from geography to natural resources, ancient history, and more. These were general meetings as opposed to the formal meetings of the institute, and anyone wishing to participate was welcome.

The scientists used the remaining rooms in the palace, as well as the surrounding buildings, as their residence, where they would stay when they returned from their journeys of discovery. Al-Jabarti says that they took the Nasseriya Alley and its houses, as well as the houses of Qassim Bek, Amir al-Hajj (known as Abu Youssef), and the old and new houses of Hassan Kashef. Some sources claim that the first meeting of the institute was held in the house of Hassan Kashef, where al-Mobtadian School was later built and then knocked down and replaced by al-Sonneya Girls School. They placed the chemical laboratory, natural science museum, printing room, library, and observatory in this palace.

As for the house of Ibrahim Katakhuda el-Sinary, which was rumored to have been the headquarters of the institute, al-Jabarti claims that it was used by those assigned the tasks of depicting Egyptians of all social classes with their demeanor and dress. He described one of these artists as being so clever at drawing people that his subjects seem to be three dimensional.

Al-Jabarti … A Guest

Students of science would meet every day two hours before noon in a hall similar to a classroom, where they would study various topics and read the books available in the library of the institute in the house of Hassan Kashef. Al-Jabarti tells us that the French welcomed Egyptian guests and encouraged them to visit the institute, ‘especially if they perceived a will to learn, they would be amicable and helpful bringing books’, he added that ‘I myself went many times and saw this’.

He writes that he read many books on various topics, mostly on Islam and the life of the Prophet,in Arabic and translated into French, as well as dictionaries in various languages. He found books containing pictures depicting many countries, coasts, seas, the pyramids, animals, and plants, and works of medicine, anatomy and engineering. He was impressed with the telescopes and instruments for surveys, and amazed when he found some of the scientists memorizing verses from the Holy Quran and from al-Busairi. He was also taken aback by the scientists’ aspirations to knowledge and their commitment to study night and day.

The Code … At Rashid

The French passion for ancient Egyptian civilization was almost instinctive, and a special focus and great importance were given to the antiquities from the early days of the campaign. We can say that the science of Egyptology was born and flourished with the advent of the campaign at the hands of a group of scientists, who searched all corners of the land, copying the inscriptions of the Pharaohs and making drawings of most of the temples and antiquities. This did not prevent them, however, from preparing a report on the antiquities they planned on moving to France.

What concerned the scientists most was the need to understand the meaning of the inscriptions they found on the antiquities; maybe this is the reason behind the special magic which surrounded the meeting held on 19 July 1799. During this meeting a letter was read to the members, informing them that a stone had been found, inscribed in hieroglyphics, Greek, and another unknown language, later called Demotic script. With their extensive experience, the scientists immediately understood the importance of this discovery. It is amazing too, that the French officer Pierre Francois Bouchard, who discovered the stone, also understood its importance for breaking the code of the inscriptions. Nevertheless, thirty-two years would pass before a French scientist would actually be able to translate the symbols.

Two Original Copies

While discussing the institute during the time of Napoleon, we cannot fail to mention the book The Description of Egypt, which can be considered the greatest example of collective thought and teamwork. The scientists of the campaign continued to study all aspects of life in Egypt, and travelled every inch of the country. They drew maps of all areas and recorded how people looked, their culture, traditions, and dress in both rural areas and the desert. They studied the art and literature and history of the people, and documented all elements of natural life. They copied and drew the antiquities and inscriptions, an achievement incomparable to any other in history.

The scientists began to publish their research in a periodical called Decade Égyptienne, which was a voice of the times, as well as the newspaper Courrier d’Égypte. This they did until the campaign suddenly had to leave in 1801, taking with them all the documents, studies, and memoirs they had collected. In France, the scientific value of the knowledge they had collected was well known, and so Jean Antoine Chaptal – the chemist and Minister of Interior at the time – under assignment from Napoleon, created scientific committees to organize and document this wealth of knowledge.

It took 160 scientists twenty-five years to complete this arduous task. The first edition consisted of nine volumes of text and eleven volumes of large plates, the size of which had never been seen before – a total of 894 pictures. It was first presented to Napoleon in January 1808, before being published between 1809 and 1828. A copy of these volumes is available at Dar al-Kottob in Bab el-Khalq.

The second edition was printed under the orders of Louis XVIII of France on 23 June 1820, who assigned seventy scientists the task, and dedicated 100,000 francs to the project. It came in twenty-six volumes of text and eleven volumes of plates. It was supervised and edited by the French writer and publisher Charles-Louis-Fleury Panckoucke, and came to be known as the Panckoucke edition.

The Magma‘a of Alexandria

The last meeting of the institute was on 21 March 1801. The campaign was facing the grave difficulties that would ultimately force it to leave Egypt that same year. The embers of the institute died out and Egypt stumbled back into a time of regression and evanescence. But the people revolted against the injustice and oppression of the Ottoman wali, and put Mohamed Ali on the throne of Egypt. This man began a massive cultural revival, and in 1836 (some sources claim 1840), the institute returned under the name of The Egyptian Society, supervised by French, German and British scientists, but with its work limited to the study of antiquities. Its name then changed to The Society of Egypt, concerned with collecting books specific to Egypt and the cultures it had mingled with.

Jomard was the last remaining member of the institute established by Napoleon, and he attempted to revive it under the name Institut d’Égypte with a number of scholars and scientists living in Alexandria, including Auguste Marriette (who established the Antiquities Authority). The British economist Thurburn, and Shepp, the French health representative in Alexandria, were also involved, and were joined by Koening Bek, the secretary of Said Pasha, the wali of Egypt, who was later appointed president.

The institute convened for the first time in Alexandria on 6 May 1859. The founders were joined by forty-seven additional scientists by the middle of the same month. It is not strange to hear that Rifaa al-Tahtawy was enthusiastic about this institute, since he had studied in France and understood the value of knowledge and its importance; he even published a poem to celebrate the event.

Archives show an order issued by Said Pasha on 2 February 1860 allocating 5,000 francs annually to the institute and bequeathing its headquarters. There is also another order issued by Khedive Ismail on 4 October 1870 renewing the grant in response to the requests of the president at the time, who sent the khedive a gift on 3 July 1875 of the publications of the institute in appreciation of his sponsorship.

On 2 December 1898, the centennial of the institute was celebrated  and a book published especially for this occasion, collecting together the most important of its achievements, as well as scientific lectures and publications. On this occasion the medallion, which I had seen with our friend and mentioned in the introduction, was minted.

And It Returns

The institute continued to convene in Alexandria until 9 January 1880 when it moved to Cairo. A few years earlier, specifically in 1874, Khedive Ismail had built a beautiful building close to Ismailia Palace, to be used as a school for young girls of limited income. To further honor them, he called it the ‘School for Daughters of the Nobility’, but it seems he was overwrought with debt and was unable to continue the project. The institute took this building for its headquarters when it moved in 1880, and remained there until we saw it burn down before our eyes, a mob of unruly riffraff euphorically dancing in celebration and threatening us that more was to come!

The institute announced that its main objective was to study all that related to Egypt and the surrounding countries, with regard to literary, artistic and scientific issues. Changes were made to the divisions of the institute, so that they came to include literature and fine arts, Egyptology, philosophical and political sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, medicine, agriculture, and natural history. There were 150 members, fifty working at the institute, fifty reporters, and fifty members abroad, following the model of the Institut de France. They also had the freedom to accept honorary members. These members shared their publications with almost 250 scientific entities around the world.

The institute encouraged all men of learning to correspond with them, and to send their research addressed to His Excellency the Secretary of the Egyptian Scientific Institute at 1 Sheikh Rihan Street. It held its meetings on the first Monday of every month from November till May, and the public were welcome to attend. On 1 November 1918, King Fouad reinstated its original name: Institut Égyptien.

The members of the institute included scientists from all over the world, such as the famous German botanist and explorer Georg August Schweinfurth, as well as Egyptian scientists, including the antiquarian Ahmed Kamal Pasha, and the literary scholar Ahmed Zaki Pasha. Many members of the institute gained high acclaim in various fields, such as the astronomer Mahmoud Pasha el-Falaky; the Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, who became the honorary president in 1916; the mathematician Mostafa Mesharafa Pasha, whose eulogy was held in a special meeting on 2 December 1950; and Ali Pasha Ibrahim, the renowned surgeon, among many others.

The library of the institute grew and flourished. In 1916, it had 22,000 volumes; 32,000 in 1935; 37,000 in 1948; 39,000 in 1949. By 2011, it had reached 192,000.

The Rest of the ‘Family’

The Geographic Society

The auditorium of the Geographic Society on Kasr al-Aini street. The building was under great threat in December 2011 due to its proximity to the Institut d’Égypte. After the fire at the institute, the Geographical Society’s board of directors reinforced its entrances and exits and installed more adequate fire safety measures.

The Institut d’Égypte is the father, or the big brother, of all scientific establishments in our contemporary history, but it is by no means the only one. Once the renaissance had begun in the reign of Mohamed Ali, other entities were born and progressed. Afterwards came Khedive Ismail, who wanted Egypt to be a part of Europe and not Africa, but it is also true that he yearned for Africa since it was strategically important to Egypt. Consequently, he invaded its countries until the equator was the southern border of Egypt.

The Egyptian army performed specialized scientific studies in the African countries they conquered, and so Khedive Ismail assigned the task of creating the Geographic Society to the famous German botanist and explorer Georg August Schweinfurth; this society became a neighbor to the Magmaa and the second scientific entity. The society was established on the 19 May 1875, with the aim of carrying out geographic studies, especially in Africa. The khedive granted them 2,500 volumes, and assigned them many research projects. He also instructed them to organize exploratory trips and coordinate scientific studies. An ethnographic museum for Sudan was established at the society, which was later developed by King Fouad into an ethnographic museum for the whole Nile basin.

In 1947, the Geographic Society’s library housed 18,000 volumes and a unique collection of maps and atlases. It was intent on publishing scientific studies, holding lectures, and organizing seminars and exhibitions. The intellectual elite held this society in such high esteem that when its president, Onofrio Abbate Pacha, died in 1915, his funeral procession began at the headquarters of the society.

The Arabic Language Institute (Magma‘a al-Logha al-Arabiya)

The Arabic Language Institute on al-Mahad al-Swissri Street in Zamalek today.

The call for the establishment of an institute concerned with the development of the Arabic language, and studying all matters related to the language, started in the nineteenth century. The first institute was established in 1882, headed by Tawfiq al-Bakry, and was presided over by leaders of thought and literature, such as Sheikh Mohamed Abdou; their first meeting introduced a study on the Abbasid poet al-Mutanabbi. A society for advancing the language was then formed, and then the Scientific Club was established, both of which were based on individual enterprise and dependent upon the people who formed them.

In 1929, Lotfy Pasha al-Sayyid, the Minister of Education, revived the idea, and the government allocated funds to establish the Arabic Language Institute (Magmaa al-Logha al-Arabiya). Formed on 13 December, 1932, by order of King Farouq, the objective was to preserve the integrity of the language, and to research the means to develop it to suit the times.

I still remember, as does my generation of peers, the introduction to the radio program ‘Our Beautiful Language’, which broadcast the voice of Taha Hussein, telling us in his deep, mellow voice and precise enunciation, ‘The Arabic language belongs to us, and we can add to it what we need that was not used in earlier ages’. I wonder what he would say if he knew how we express ourselves on Facebook or on mobile phones!

The Agricultural Society

The entrance of the Société Royale d’Agriculture in the area that is today the Cairo Opera House. Today the society is housed at the ministry of Agriculture.

The Agricultural Society was founded by Sultan Hussein Kamel on 22 April 1898, when he was a prince. Its main objective was to improve methods of agriculture and to attempt to combat agricultural pests. The society had committees, each of which studied various specialized aspects of agriculture, animal husbandry, and horse breeding. They also held agricultural and horticultural exhibitions, and created a museum for cotton in 1923, which was a unique idea that involved collecting all material specific to the cotton plant and the cotton-related industries.

The Egyptian Society for Political Economics, Statistics and Legislature

The Library of La Société Égyptienne d’Économie Politique de Statistique et de Législation on Ramsis Street. The society regularly hosts lectures and seminars and still publishes its popular bimonthly journal L’Égypte Contemporaine.

Founded in 1909, every two months the society issued a magazine called L’Égypte Contemporaine (Modern Egypt), containing important articles related to its specialty. This society was of high stature in Egypt and had very prominent members. At the beginning of 1919, Saad Zaghloul gave a memorable speech at the society. that speech is considered one of the most important harbingers of the revolution. The society was housed in a wonderful building built in 1928 facing the Supreme Court.

The Acting Support and Theatre Revival Societies

The society’s office in downtown Cairo was in such a sad state, we decided this photo of the sign was enough to indicate its condition. The society does still exist and it opens its doors every morning, but is evidently no longer very active

Not many people know that a society supporting acting in Egypt has existed since 1913, but the Acting Support Society indeed came into being that year. Shortly afterwards, in 1925, the Theatre Revival Society was also founded, with the objective of ‘Egyptianizing’ the theatre by encouraging the development scripts based on the social and political reality of Egypt, and addressing the concerns of the Egyptian people.

Fine Art Lovers Society

The society on Ahmed Pasha Street in Garden City occasionally holds events and exhibitions, but is a far cry from its former self.

Prince Yousef Kamal, who also founded the School of Fine Arts, was the first chairman of the Fine Art Lovers Society founded in 1923 at his own personal expense (with the initiative of Fouad Abdel Malek). His aim was to develop the arts and artists by holding periodic exhibitions, which would contribute to the revival of the artistic movement and present an opportunity for new artists to exhibit and sell their work. The first exhibition, held in February 1924, received wide acclaim, and was attended by King Fouad, Prime Minister Saad Zaghloul Pasha and other high-standing officials. The society held regular exhibitions and competitions, and also the first international exhibition for photography. The Modern Arts Museum was also housed at the society after King Fouad decided to establish it. Later, it was moved to an independent building.

Last But Not Least

These were not the only societies and scientific institutions founded in Egypt; they were followed by many more. The Historical Society was founded on 30 July 1945, its main objective being to collect the documents and memoirs relating to the history of Egypt. The Insect Society was founded in 1908, the Medical Society in 1917, and the Cotton Research Committee in 1919. The Papyrus Society of Fouad I was founded in 1930, and the Egyptian Institute for Scientific Culture that same year. The Pharmaceutical Society was founded in 1930, along with the Kingdom of Bees Society. In 1932, the Coptic Antiquities Society was formed, and the Egyptian Society for Conjunctivitis in 1936. The Dental Society was formed in 1937, the Psychology Society in 1938, the Fouad I Committee for Research in 1939, and the Graduates of the Art School Union in 1945. The Khedivial Aviation Club was founded in 1910, only seven years after the Wright brothers made their first flight.

The End

I remembered the medallion and sat down to think. In 1798, we built the Institut d’Égypte and in 1898 we minted a medallion to celebrate its centenary. In 1948, we minted another medallion to celebrate the passage of 150 years with pride, and after two revolutions we burnt it!

I had a powerful desire to hold onto the aspirations of this great establishment, even if only with a small piece of metal; something that does not compensate for knowledge or enrich the mind. I convinced myself that the four thousand pounds would be an investment and not a loss! I entered the shop once more, intending to appear as if I had just casually passed by and remembered the medallion. I ignored the salesman’s snide smile and pretended to browse aimlessly, until I reached the spot where the medallion lay. In an attempt to strengthen my performance, I reached out my hand to grasp it, as if I had just, by chance, noticed it. But before I could touch it, the shopkeeper’s smile widened to show yellow crooked teeth, and he said, ‘ten thousand…it is the only one left’.

This article was first published in print in RAWI's ISSUE 4, 2013

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