No one knows when it began. It is no longer possible to narrow it down to a particular year or a specific date, but many of us remember the feelings of anxiety that grew inside after the promulgation of the Second Series of Executive Decrees. These granted to “ outsiders ” the right to own land in Egypt. Voices were raised in protest. Every newspaper published countless editorials against the Decrees, each paper with its own particular slant. Conferences were held, and political cartoons appeared. Short films on the controversy played in movie houses before feature films. Skeptics and resistance organizers were beaten up.
     So many other things happened at the time when our lands were sold from under us, and all the documents from these years have been destroyed. Facts and truth disappeared when circulars and publications from our past were later edited and altered to conform with the official version of events.
     Then, from nowhere, an anonymous report appeared. Some of us maintain that the writer was a nonexistent person, others claim that one of us, one of the original inhabitants, prepared the document while hiding in the mountains. Others think it is actual testimony from those days which had never been published before. Every copy which circulates is handwritten : some copies in elegant calligraphy, some copies in a clumsy scrawl, as though by elementary school children or adults who never finished school. Once in a while, we find phrases from the document chiseled into rocks. When a mother cradles her baby in her arms, she murmurs phrases from the text, recounting what happened. None of us knows who pays for these texts, nor who keeps the details alive in the minds of men, but when one meets one of the original inhabitants of the Valley meet, they answer :

“ Let none forget what happened to the lands of the Valley, so that all may return to the Land of Egypt. ”

link to pdf file of the story ]

Translator’s note : ‘ What Happened to the Lands of the Valley ’ was first published in the collection Dhikr Ma Jara  (Remembering what happened) by Gamal al-Ghitani [Cairo, Capitol Printers for Madbuli Bookshop, 1978]. I first read this story in Cairo in 1983, and it stuck with me. In 1986 I wrote to the author from Philadelphia and received his permission to translate the tale. The formal aspects of the story challenged editors of journals to which I proposed it ; at one point I intended to publish it as part of the eighth issue of the ’zine Temporary Culture (still unpublished). What remains astonishing and compelling about ‘ What Happened to the Lands of the Valley ’ is that in 1975, before anyone else, Gamal al-Ghitani foresaw the human consequences of the infitah , the opening of Egypt to the free market, and the impact on Egyptian domestic life of what is now called globalization. That brilliant insight, and the unflinching humanity of the story, are what make this story irresistible to me.

— Henry Wessells

Copyright © 1978, 2011 by GAMAL AL-GHITANI
Translation copyright © 2011 by TEMPORARY CULTURE

This electronic edition may be freely distributed in unaltered form for non-commercial purposes. All other rights of the translator reserved.

— — — —

This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays, and eventually I will become adept at incorporating photos or comments and interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HW]

electronym : wessells at aol dot com

Copyright © 2011 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

Produced by Temporary Culture, P.O.B. 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 USA.