Reading 'Mein Kampf' in Cairo

Posted: 10/14/2007 2:53:00 PM
Author: Chris McClure
Source: This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post online edition of October 14. 2007.

Reading 'Mein Kampf' in Cairo
by Chris McClure

Hitler's Mein Kampf is on sale in Cairo, both in well-known bookstores and on the streets around Midan Tahrir, the city's chaotic main square. The Arabic translation sits beside the reams of religious books, as well as works on Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida in Iraq mastermind Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden (Bin Laden… America's Bogeyman).

Originally published in Lebanon in 1963 according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), and reprinted in 1995, Mein Kampf, which is transliterated as Kifahi (and not jihadi as Victor Davis Hanson claims in the National Review Online), is reportedly also widely available in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The introduction claims that, "This national socialism did not die with the death of the man who proclaimed it: indeed its seeds grew under every star, and the promoters of radical nationalism (qawmiyya) take it up as a weapon with which to combat Third Internationalism and the principles of Karl Marx."

MEMRI quotes part of the introduction, but omits any mention of Marx or communism, thus leaving unclear the author's intention - a complete translation, along with the Arabic original, is available at chris Given the translator's intense animosity toward Marx and communism and the period in which the book was written, it makes sense to see the initial translation in the context of Ba'athist ideology. (The Ba'ath retook power in Syria through a military coup in 1963.) But almost a half-century later, communism is no longer a threat and there are few Ba'athists in Egypt.

So what explains the book's continued popularity?

ACCORDING TO Salwa Mohammad, an Egyptian journalist who works for a major news organization, it is normal to see Mein Kampf on sale, but it is not as popular as one might imagine (despite the booksellers' assertions to the contrary). She claimed that many read it out of simple historical curiosity, others out of admiration for Hitler's accomplishments in uniting a people and his strength as a leader. Some see it as a resource for understanding current US foreign policy.

Hitler's popularity, according to Mohammad, had nothing to do with Hitler's "torturing the Jews or something," since Egyptians do not believe in the Holocaust - sure, many people were killed and tortured and assassinated in World War II, and sure there were war crimes, but that's what happens in war, and it isn'tany different from what happened to Muslims in Sarajevo.

THIS ABSOLUTION of Nazi guilt, though, doesn't seem to fit with another common theme in the Arab press - accusing Israel of being a "second Nazi state." In major bookstores in Talaat Harb Square downtown, one sees books equating the Star of David with the swastika.

This accusation could not make sense if Hitler is to be excused for only doing what one can't avoid doing in war. Similarly confusing is the fact that Hitler is revered as a great nationalist who should be emulated and whose work is a valuable resource to be used against Western propaganda, but whose political ambitions can also shed light on the imperialist goals of the United States.

I met Salwa Mohammad in Cilantro, Cairo's answer to Starbucks. In this cafe one finds several English-language Egyptian magazines espousing a variety of progressive causes - from increasing awareness of sexual harassment and recycling, to the hardships faced by single mothers, to ads for Seneca College in Toronto and newly opened branches of Curves. Campus Magazine ( explores the experience of homosexuals in Egypt and investigates the issue of racism - of Egyptians toward black Africans and toward themselves with regard to Westerners.

These are all positive signs for reform in Egypt, but how does this fit with the wide availability of Mein Kampf?

MOHAMMAD describes herself as "very liberal" and supports the sorts of causes espoused in the publications listed above. What is striking is how easily the exoneration of Hitler fits with these liberal concerns - so easily, in fact, that they appear complementary.

Just as the oppression of women can be countered through promoting women's rights, so Western imperialism can be opposed through better understanding Hitler's views on nationalism, government and race.

Understanding the political spectrum in Egypt requires more than a simple mapping of Western ideas of liberal and conservative onto their Egyptian counterparts. Holocaust denial and defending Hitler, which are the preserve of the lunatic fringe of the far-Right in the West, is much more mainstream in the Arab world for both conservatives and liberals.

The writer is a Ph.D candidate at Georgetown University in the Government Department.