Gamal Abdel Nasser Through the Worm’s Eye and the Eagle’s Eye

Last week, Mohga Hassib attended one of AUC’s Center for Translation Studies lectures. Dr. Tahia Abdel Nasser talked about “Translations of Nasser: Between the Pulic and the Private“:  

By Mohga Hassib

Forty years ago — on September 24, 1973 — Tahia Abdel Nasser, the late president’s wife, decided to change the various discourses circulating after the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser by writing her memoir.

On September 24, 2013, Professor Tahia Abdel Nasser, the late president’s granddaughter, stood before us to present the translation of her grandmother’s memoir as well as a volume of interviews with Gamal Abdel Nasser, which are available in Arabic and have been translated into English, in a public lecture at The American University in Cairo (AUC) titled: “Translations of Nasser: Between the Public and the Private.”

Being the editor of both translated texts: Nasser: My Husband and Nasser and the Press, Professor Nasser examines the role of translation and the global understanding of Egypt through focusing on the translation of these two works. When the memoir was first published in Arabic, in January 2011, it contributed to the late president’s image, but only in the local narrative. The other text was also published in Arabic in 2012, which compiles his interviews and press releases in the local and global contexts. The intent of the release of both works in translation is to offer a lens into the private and public life of the late president and to add to the historical narrative of Egypt post-1952.

Professor Nasser highlighted the importance of the publication of this memoir, and the book on the late president’s life in the press, especially these days, as the translations contribute to the discourses of post-1952 Egypt. These translations, she said, will help in shedding light on the dominant narrative that juxtaposes the January 25, 2011 revolution with the 1952 revolution.

Professor Nasser also discussed some of the challenges that faced her in the translation of the creative memoir. In her case, the process of translating a memoir which belongs to her family is difficult because she is close to the text, and her life is intertwined with it.

“Translating a memoir is a work that depends on different perspectives,” said Nasser. She focused on the project and the content of the translation. “The memoir and the press [book] are central to an understanding of Nasser in the private and public world … the translation contributes to understanding a historical moment in Egypt. It challenges us to re-examine post-1952 Egypt.”

The memoir was written primarily at the encouragement of Tahia’s youngest son, Abdel Hakim, who wanted to know about his father. She wanted her grandchildren to know about him as well.

“Tahia draws the reader into the experience she recalls,” Professor Nasser said. The memoir “troubles the border between memory and history … Few would challenge the difficulty of writing a memoir, especially one concerned with political events.”

The memoir recounts two stages in Tahia’s life. Professor Nasser discussed the way in which Tahia’s memoir mentions details of her life with her husband and marriage, as well as important insight into the twentieth-century’s public moments. Tahia focused on her marriage before and after 1952.

“Few spoke of his life intimately; we sought to translate the life of a man who changed the Arab world … The family sought it because it provides a view into his  private life,” said Nasser about the memoir. The texts are an effort to make a private family archive public in the hope of providing a different representation of events, some of which are critical moments in the history of Egypt. This will allow scholars to revisit certain historical events in Egypt and reexamine what has been previously written.

Professor Nasser further elaborated on the translation project, saying that it is both a creative work and a recreation of that work with a responsibility to the original. Her challenge was in maintaining a narrative of two national contexts, and a private versus a global context.

“It demands that the reader reexamine a context by being in both contexts at once,” Nasser said.

Professor Nasser noted that the memoir is not just about Gamal Abdel Nasser, but it is a reflection of the private world of a strong woman who endured a lot of painful and pleasant moments in history, both made private and public. The book contains a number of family pictures and some of the most notable pictures in history.

Professor Nasser, who values creativity, discussed the difficulty of maintaining the voice of Tahia, the narrator, and thus remaining faithful to the intimacy of the text. Nasser is both a part of yet far from this vast universe presented through her grandmother’s memory and experience, which was one of the challenges that faced her in presenting the imagination and context of the story.

Professor Nasser comes from a generation that was only left with fragments of the post-1952 Egypt. This posed a challenge in remaining concise and truthful to the second work, Nasser and the Press. The second work includes several interviews and statements that were not translated before. Some were conducted by foreign journalists and others in local newspapers, drawn from the al-Ahramarchive. “

“The importance of the four-volume work rests in its collection of knowledge,” said Nasser. The two volumes offer insight into Egypt during 1954-60 with a focus on colonialism and independence. The work also includes statements about important developments in Egypt’s history. “This is a national project,” Nasser said; an encyclopedic project that documents a particular period.

The second text project focuses on the translation of Gamal Abdel Nasser outside the Arab world and explains important historical events, and presents his thought.

“The translation allows readers to reexamine the press in local and global readings — texts and contexts,” said Nasser. The volume highlights the work in its original context through maintaining the emphasis on President Nasser’s voice.

Professor Nasser is the first speaker in this year’s translation series which was launched by the Centre for Translation studies at AUC in December 2009.  Other speakers scheduled to appear this year include Nora Amin (“An Enemy of the People: A Muslim Political Drama of Ibsen”) and Mojeb Said al-Zahrani (“The Limits of Translation”).


Mohga Hassib is an English and Comparative Literature graduate student at American University in Cairo. She has been president of the university’s literature club since fall 2011.