What is an Institution?


Localness and Foreignness

in Cairo’s Vibrant Francophone Cultural Scene

Hussam Ahmed

Numerous francophone literary and artistic circles sprung up in Cairo during the interwar period. Fashionable among Cairo’s French speakers, the lectures and exhibitions organized by groups like the “Essayistes” and “Les Amis de la culture française en Egypte,” attracted an urban crowd of Egyptians, Syro-Lebanese, Greeks, Italians, Armenians, French and others, and became a space for their local productions. This high-profile social scene received foreign intellectuals visiting the capital, and enjoyed regular coverage by Egypt’s francophone press.

Using periodicals from the time and the limited existing scholarship, this talk provided a history of some of these groups as well as accounts of their gatherings. It situates these circles in the wider context of the Egyptian francophonie, in which subtle borders of influence and exchange were continuously being re-drawn. The discussion questions the porous boundaries between “local” and “foreign” as it explores why critics find it difficult to categorize these groups and authors as one or the other.

Hussam R. Ahmed is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. His dissertation examines the social and cultural life in Egypt through the life and works of the Egyptian intellectual and educator Taha Hussein (1889-1973). Hussam did his undergraduate work at the American University in Cairo and holds an MA degree from McGill University. He lives in Montreal and is currently in Cairo for his archival research.