Cairo: Shaikha Mouza of Qatar wanted to buy the house of the late Egyptian poet and writer Abbas Mahmoud Al Aqqad in his hometown Aswan and turn it into a museum, as his nephew Abdul Aziz Al Aqqad revealed.
“During her visit to Al Aqqad’s library in Aswan in October 2011 after the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak, Shaikha Mouza expressed her desire to buy the house and turn it into a museum. One month later, she sent a Qatari delegate, Mohammad Hammam Fekri, the director of the Arab and Islamic Heritage Library in Doha, to agree on buying the house and converting it into a museum,” Abdul Aziz told Gulf News.
“The family agreed on condition that the agreement takes place through the Culture Ministry and Aswan’s governorate and that they determine who will manage the museum after its purchase,” Abdul Aziz added.
“Fekri came to Aswan in November 2011 and spent three days photographing Al Aqqad’s house and library inside out. He called the Qatari Ruler’s Court and told them that the house is appropriate to be a museum, and about the family’s conditions. They asked him to thank us, and he left and never came back,” Abdul Aziz said.
The former Culture Minister Emad Abu Gazi told Gulf News that he has no idea about Shaikha Mouza’s offer.
“I was abroad while she was visiting Egypt and I resigned just days after my return,” Abu Gazi said. But he confirmed that Shaikh Hassan Al Thani, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Qatar Museums Authority and Adviser of Cultural Affairs at the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), accompanied Shaikha Mouza, who is Chairperson of the QF, during the visit.
“I know him. He is a friend.” Abu Gazi said referring to Shaikh Hassan. “However, I didn’t know why he was there.”
Some observers find a relation between Shaikha Mouza’s offer to buy Al Aqqad’s house in 2011 and recent rumours circulating in Egypt about a Qatari offer made recently to ‘rent’ Egypt’s national treasures in exchange for $200 billion (Dh734.42 billion), which has caused harsh criticism from the Ministry of Antiquities, Egyptologists, activists, and the Egyptian population.
But some Egyptian intellectuals don’t mind Al Aqqad’s house being sold to Qatar.
Prominent poet Farouq Gowaida said, “We have not to blame Qatari government if it wanted to turn Al Aqqad’s house into a museum. We have to thank them that they sought to save one piece of our dearest history.
“We have to blame ourselves because we have ignored a great symbol of our nation for a long time,” Gowaida added. “This is not the first time that a Gulf state has tried to buy Al Aqqad’s house,” his nephew said.
A year after the great writer passed away in 1964, the government of Kuwait offered to buy his book collection and writings. But then President Jamal Abdul Nasser turned down the offer and sent a committee from the Culture Ministry to prepare a report on the book collection.
Al Aqqad’s heirs handed over his book collection, which was covering walls of two apartments in the district of Heliopolis, even in the balconies and lounge, to the General Egyptian Book Organisation. They also handed over the last pen with which Al Aqqad wrote his diaries, his magnifying glass and a small table he used for writing.
The furniture of his bedroom and the living room, in which he held literary salons, was moved from his Heliopolis apartment to his library in Aswan, overlooking the Nile Corniche. Some family pictures and certificates of merit he received along the years were also put in the library.
But till now, almost half a century after his death, Al Aqqad’s family feels that the Culture Ministry has failed to do justice to the legacy of Egypt’s iconic writer.
“The Culture Ministry has not kept its promise to turn Al Aqqad’s house into a museum and has allowed his invaluable book collection and memorabilia to fall into decay,” said Abdul Aziz angrily.
Over the years Al Aqqad’s belongings delivered to the Culture Ministry have been left in a deplorable state. His suit remained hanging on a hanger for 49 years, without any effort at professional preservation. In addition, there are his cane, scarves, berets, and tarbush hats, which some visitors now use to take photos. There are even piles of garbage in front of Al Aqqad’s house in Aswan.
In return, the former Culture Minister Emad Abu Gazi refused what he called “begging in the name of great authors”.
“The Culture Ministry did justice to the iconic writer. On the memory of his death, it used to organise a march from Al Aqqad’s school to his cemetery. We set a new statue next to his tomb two years ago. The library in Aswan was named after him. Many of his books have been taught in different levels of school. Also the University of Aswan organises yearly a big celebration on the anniversary of his death.” Abu Gazi said.
Who is Abbas Al Aqqad?
The Egyptian journalist, poet, and literary critic Abbas Mahmoud Al Aqqad (1889 -1964) is considered as an innovator of 20th-century Arabic poetry and critique.
Born in modest circumstances, Al Aqqad continued his education through reading when his formal schooling was cut short. He supported himself throughout most of his career by writing.
He devoted much thought to religion and politics and wrote more than 100 books about philosophy, religion and poetry. His works include studies on the philosophy of the Quran and Islamic History.
His most famous works were Al Abkariat (biographies of various Muslim leaders like Omar Ibn Al Khatab and Khaled Ibn Al Waleed), and Sarah.
As an outspoken political commentator, he was imprisoned in 1930–31 for remarks opposing the government. In 1942, with the advance of German troops, he sought refuge in Sudan as a precaution against German reprisals for his criticisms of Adolf Hitler.