I was awarded the Nile Prize for Arab Creators for the year 2021. I was really surprised by several things and phenomena, including the interests of Egyptian cultural institutions and Egyptian intellectuals, including the wide spread, including the wide acceptance, and the implications of all of this for the present and near future of Arab culture. The Nile Prize is nominated by Egyptian universities and the Supreme Council of Culture, and committees of scholars and professors specialized in social sciences and humanities are devoted to discussing the selection. It is not for encouragement and appreciation, because for all that the Egyptian state (represented by the Ministry of Culture) has many other awards. The Nile Prize in particular is for adults in thinking and publishing (and age, of course!), in the sense that it deals with the long path of the thinker and writer, as well as a digression that deals with achievement and influence. It is given, of course, to individuals, and in three fields (for Egyptians), and only one of them is given to those who are called “Arab creators.”
Thus, I was not nominated for the award myself, but only learned of the nomination of Cairo University, because its president, friend, Professor Muhammad Othman Al-Khusht, asked me for my academic CV. The two Egyptian colleagues who won big and influential for four decades and more. There was a difference of opinion about their names, as evidenced by the withholding of the third prize. But the fourth award, or the Arab Creators Award, which came to me, as some members of the committees mentioned in statements to the media after the announcement by the Minister of Culture, Enas Abdel Dayem, was almost unanimous. The difference is natural for Egyptians because there are many adults among them, and the prize is Egyptian. But is it normal that the Arabic name does not differ? I see that this semi-consensus is not a negative phenomenon, as it is not true what many young people say that consensus, which is not submission, always contradicts the right of disagreement among the modern Arabs.
For my part, I was very proud because the award is Egyptian. Egypt has been the leader for a century and a half in the making of modern Arab culture as it was in the classics. Its spacious and vast culture is foundational in my intellectual formation. When I went to Egypt in 1966 to study at Al-Azhar, I was seventeen years old. Everything that opened my young mind and my reading eyes to is Egyptian, even in the arts, cinema and theater, as well as religious and heritage studies, philosophy and social sciences, and the translator from Western thought and culture. Even my going after Egypt to study in Germany was caused by my influence on the personalities of my professors at Al-Azhar who studied there, led by Dr. Muhammad Al-Bahi and Dr. Mahmoud Zaqrouk. Egypt is not only a university and a study, but it was and still is a life and a spirit imbued with guidance, inspiration, inspiration and leadership in the Arab political path, and in points of focus and cultural interest.
The award is Egyptian, and this is the place of first pride. But after that come several things: spread and influence, acceptance and recognition. I was really surprised by the spread of my writings and ideas in Egypt and the Arab world. I realized this from the reactions in the media during the first two days of receiving the award. Not only is this considered unusual by my fellow Egyptians and other Arabs who are close to me in age and interests, but also by the younger generations. Even the ambassador of Egypt in Beirut, Dr. Yasser Alawi, who is an old friend and a well-informed intellectual, but with other specialties and interests, will mention in the media the names of my books and the magazines I have published. As for our professor, Dr. Jaber Asfour, he mentioned comprehensiveness in interests, as well as acceptance of various intellectual and cultural trends. He once said about me that I am the greatest scientist of living heritage, but today he says that he admires the ability to be widely accepted, unlike him who often stirs controversies!
I am not a big social media user, not even a young one. But it seems that over the course of four decades, I have been the editor of several think tanks, in which hundreds of intellectuals who have memorized it have written in them. Thus, I owned a mediator to advocate for my ideas and orientations through the most widespread means in the last stage, and since the magazines of the Lebanese in Egypt in the late nineteenth century, led by “Al-Manar” and to the magazine “Ijtihad” that I issued with Professor Al-Fadl Shalaq in the early nineties of the twentieth century. It is amazing how much “Ijtihad” was mentioned on the occasion of receiving the Nile Prize, even though it was discontinued in 2004!
The other factor in the wide spread is interests, as I was preoccupied with topics that were at the heart of discussion, disagreement and conflict in the Arab intellectual, cultural and political environments, such as the issue of heritage, the religious and cultural history of the nation, and the necessities of religious reform in the face of fundamentalisms. Moreover, for two decades I have been writing in Arab newspapers, outside of specialized writings in books and academic journals. Of course, even in newspaper articles, intellectual interests appear prominent.
The Nile Prize we have new evidence of the unity of Arab culture, and of Egypt’s great orientation and steadfastness at the heart of Arab culture and the age.
*Professor of Islamic Studies at the Lebanese University