Abdulla al-Nadeem (Egyptian journalist)
Abdullah al-Nadeem (Arabic: عبد الله النديم) was a significant Egyptian writer and political activist. He was a major figure during the Urabi revolt with many considering him the voice of the revolution. Al-Nadeem was brought up in Alexandria. Poverty played an important role in his life, as he did not receive a formal education and came from the poor districts of Egypt at a time of financial and economic crisis. Corruption in the state, foreign intervention, and exploitation in political power were main aspects of al-Nadeem’s political writings and speeches. He sought to overthrow the government that depended on foreigners and advocated for protecting the nation. His nationalists ideologies and political activism was greatly influenced by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammed Abduh. Al-Nadeem considers himself a self-taught scholar as he mentioned in his book “Kan wa yakoon”; (Was and Is being).
Abdullah al-Nadeem (born Abdullah Bin Mesbah) was born in Alexandria in 1842 to a poor Egyptian family. His father Mesbah Bin Ibrahim el-Hosni was a baker. Al-Nadeem grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Alexandria called El-Gomrok district, which is close to the main port of Alexandria.
His Father sent him to the district’s “kottab” which was a simple form of schooling at that period of time. He learned how to read and write and was able to learn the Qur’an by heart when he was only nine years old. In 1855, when he was a bit older the poor conditions of his family deprived him from studying at Al-Azhar so his father sent him to “El Noor” mosque which was close to his home. He excelled at fiquh, logic, religious studies, and Arabic grammar. He studied under the like of Ibrahim El Sersi, Ibrahim El Shaf’ai, and Mohammed Al-‘Ashry.
However, al-Nadeem was not thrilled by the education he was receiving at the mosque and decided to drop out. Instead, he decided to roam the streets and towns in Alexandria in search for intellectual seminars, poetry recitals, and lectures at local cafes and ventures. During this time he excelled in writing and speech. He became famous for his style and was considered a local celebrity in Alexandria. When word reached his father, he refused to support him financially unless he returned to the mosque. Nadim decided to leave Alexandria and headed south.
When he was 17, al-Nadeem learned the telegraph and got a job as an operator in Benha|Banha and was later transferred to Qasar al-Ali in Cairo, which was the residential palace of Hoshiyar Hanim, mother of the Khedive Ismail.
Before political activism
Al-Nadeem settled in Cairo for a while. He attended many seminars of literature, poetry, and culture. He befriended Al-Azhar writers and scholars along with well-known figures such as Mahmoud Sami el-Baroudi (who later on became the 5th prime minister of Egypt), Abdullah Fekry Pasha, Sheikh Abou Al- Nasr, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Rizkani, Mohammed Said Bey, and Mahmoud Safwat. Through their company al-Nadeem was exposed to Al-Azhar education and thought. At the same time Jamal al Din al-Afghani came to Cairo and began to lecture about the reformation of Islam. When he heard about him, he attended his lectures and was deeply impacted by his bold ideas. He became a recurring member of al-Afghani’s councils and engaged in his seminars and learned from him reformation of religion, freedom of research, criticism and boldness in defending the right.
Al Afghani was quick to recognise al-Nadeem’s capabilities so he began to privately tutor him, which influenced al-Nadeem’s political and nationalist ideologies greatly. His recurrent visits to al-Afghani led to his termination from his job at the palace. Once again he was on the road. He resided at Mansoura where he found residence at the “Omada” of a small village and took a job as a private tutor for the Omda’s children teaching them writing, reading, and religious studies. At that time he managed to learn more about the peasants living in Mansoura and the poor conditions that they suffered from. He didn’t last long at this job, which led to his departure from Mansoura. When he finally found a job again as a government employee he head back to Cairo where he was reunited with al-Afghani who began to take a more nationalist approach in his teachings and lessons. And since then al-Nadeem’s political life began.
During the period of Khedive Ismail Egypt was on the verge of modernisation and connections with Europe increased specifically after the opening of the Suez Canal. Many Europeans came to Egypt to take advantage of the problematic fiscal situation that emerged during that time hoping to make huge fortunes from loaning the government money. Foreigners began to take part in the cultural and economic life in Egypt. At the same time, the prominent Islamic ideologist and political activists Jamal al-Din al-Afghani came to Egypt. His teachings included religious reform and opposing foreign intervention promoting nationalists ideologies. Concurrently, reform and nationalist ideologies were spreading in many parts in Egypt. Al-Afghani had a major impact on nationalists and helped spread national political thought along with religious reformation.
The spread of national ideologies and religious reform played an important role in the emergence of political newspapers. Many newspapers emerged during that period due to al-Afghani’s advocacy. Yaqub Sanu founded the satirical newspaper “Abu Naddara Zarqqa”. It is considered the first satirical political newspaper that appeared in Egypt. Sanu’s use of colloquial language and cartoons made it very popular in Egyptian culture. Using this newspaper, Sanu criticized the Khedive’s polices and his entourage. He also criticized the government and the people for not calling for their rights. His emerging popularity irritated the Khedive who recognized the danger of Sanu and confiscated the newspaper and banished him. Sanu resided in Paris and managed to publish his newspaper and send many copies to Egypt. In that period from 1876 – 1879, al-Afghani supported the emergence of more newspapers and journalists such as Mekhail Abdel Sayyid who founded the “Watan” (nation) newspaper, Adeeb Isaiah the founder of “Misr” (Egypt) newspaper, also Selim Al Naqqash who founded the newspaper “Al Tejara” (commerce), brothers Selim and Beshara Tuqla who founded “Al-Ahram”, and Selim Anhory “Mira’at Al Shark” (mirror of the East). More newspapers appeared such as “Al Mahrousa”, “Al Asr Al Jadeed”.
These newspapers arose from popular culture using language and anecdotes that Egyptians were able to relate to. They called for reform of government, and also opposed foreign intervention not just in politics but also social life. Journalists wrote from the empowerment of al-Afghani.
The situation in Egypt was unstable due financial problems because the Khedive’s expenditures that were on efforts to modernize Egypt in a European way. Money was spent on projects, luxury goods, and tributes to the Ottoman Sultan. More money was spent on the Suez Canal project and opening. The end of the American Civil War attributed to the decrease in cotton prices, which was Egypt’s major revenue.
Al-Nadeem returned to Alexandria, which was full of nationalists associations and Arabic newspapers. He wrote in the newspapers "Misr" Egypt and "Al-Tejara" Commerce many articles in the voice and principles of Al-Afghani. Al-Nadeem began to search for more political involvement so he searched for secret political movements in Alexandria, and in 1879 he joined the movement “Misr Al- Fatah”. It was a political organization working in secret and planning to overthrow the Khedive Ismail. They handed out political publications spreading nationalist ideologies and thought. They also wrote about the critical economic and political situation that was the result of the corrupt Khedive. Due to the secrecy, the organization’s capabilities were limited and ineffective, but al-Nadeem was able to learn more about the discourse of patriotism and began to mingle more with people on the streets teaching and spreading nationalists’ and patriotic ideologies and lecturing people about the importance of democracy and a constitution. During that time, al-Nadeem founded his first newspaper "Al-Tankeet w Al-Tabkeet", which was a weekly newspaper with satirical content projecting hidden political messages. He then replaced it with "al-Tayef" (الطائف) newspaper which was more serious paper with a nationalist tone.
On 26th of June 1979, the European governments were able to pressure and convince the Ottoman Sultan Abdel Hamid II to depose Ismail Pasha and appoint his son Tewfik Pasha instead with Riyad Pasha serving as prime minister.
Many were optimistic with this decision including al-Nadeem, the military officers, and al-Afghani. Tewfik Pasha was one of many students of al-Afghani and had many times attended seminars and lectures with national figures and writers including al-Nadeem. Tewfik’s era did not improve Egypt’s situation. On the contrary, there was more British and French intervention in domestic affairs.
Military officers under the leadership of Ahmed Urabi began to form secret movements spreading awareness of the foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs. They persuaded al-Nadeem to join them. Al-Nadeem found that the officers were targeting reformation and independency from foreign influence. He participated with his writings and speeches. With his style and articulation, al-Nadeem was able to summon people to the Urabi movement and he spoke of the importance of political activism and social reformation. Urabi appointed al-Nadeem as his personal advisor and through his writings and speeches, al-Nadeem enforced many people to join the military movement. In 1879 they formed the Egyptian Nationalist Party in the hopes of fostering a stronger national identity.
After years of discrimination, the military officers under the leadership of Urabi sent a petition to Riyad Pasha in January 1881. It was a demand to depose all discriminatory acts against Egyptians. Urabi asked al-Nadeem to write a charter to the Egyptian people requesting authorization to represent them. The movement had two public demands; the deposition of Riyad Pasha’s government, and the formation of a council of representatives. Al-Nadeem was a major component of a demonstration led by Urabi consisting of military officers and Egyptian civilians that headed to Abdeen Palace where the Khedive resided. The demands were met and Riyad’s government was dissolved. Mohamed Sherif Pasha was appointed as prime minister and head of government. He saw great danger from al-Nadeem and his writings as someone who was able to shape public opinion and sway people to the officers’ movement. Al-Nadeem mentioned in an article entitled “Bashing idiots” that it was the time in which laws protected citizens from the oppressors.
Al-Nadeem kept writing about nationalism and the role of a nation in his articles. He supported the development of political associations specifically in Alexandria. However, his paper "al-Tayef" had became very popular and according to Ahmed Samir who was one of his students and who wrote a biography of al-Nadeem, the newspaper was used by the military officers to spread their political movement and ideologies without the al-Nadeem's consent; something that al-Nadeem was not very fond of.
The British were especially concerned that Urabi would default on Egypt's massive debt and that he might try to regain control of the Suez Canal. So they placed their warships on the shore of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Tewfik fled to their protection, moving his court to Alexandria. The strong naval presence spurred fears of an imminent invasion. The French fleet was recalled to France. The British warships in the harbor opened fire on the city's gun emplacements after the Egyptians ignored an ultimatum from Admiral Seymour to remove them. In September 1882 the British army headed by Sir Archibald Alison landed in Alexandria were met by Egyptian forces headed by Urabi at the Battle of Kafr El Dawwar. Another army, led by Sir Garnet Wolseley, landed in the Canal Zone and on 13 September 1882 they defeated Urabi's army at the Battle of Tell El Kebir. From there, the British cavalry advanced on Cairo which surrendered without a shot being fired and the British occupation would start in Egypt.
According to Samir al-Nadeem was with Urabi at the Battle of Tell El Kebir, and he returned with Urabi to Cairo after the defeat where Samir met him at Urabi's house. Al-Nadeem sneaked out during the night and left for Kafr Al-Dawar with his father. Urabi had considered to go Alexandria and surrender to Tewfik Pasha in hope for pardon. Samir says in his biography that it was the last time he saw al-Nadeem for ten years. Al-Nadeem disappeared growing his beard and wearing large turbans so that no one could recogonize him. He was finally arrested in a small town called "Meet al-Gharqa".
Al-Nadeem during the British occupation
Al Nadeem was exiled to Jaffa for the first time in September 1891, although he did roam in many cities in this region including Nablus and Qalqilya. He remained in between these cities till the Khedive died in January 1982. After Tewfik Pasha died his son Abbas II Helmy Bey assumed the throne and he allowed al-Nadeem to return to Egypt. Abbas II was supportive of Egyptian nationalists and al-Nadeem resumed his active role as a nationalist writer and founded the newspaper "al-Ostaz" (الأستاذ) the Professor in May 1893. Through his articles and writings in "al-Ostaz" he criticized the British occupation and the idea of colonization. He specifically attacked many Egyptians who aided the British as he wrote a piece in "al-Ostaz" saying "I am your brother, why do you deny it?". He criticized their role in helping the British and the Europeans "who are tearing the East apart watching us burn like the lodges". This piece which was published in "al-Ostaz" infuriated Lord Cormer himself who demanded from the Khedive to exile al-Nadeem again. And through the British pressure, al-Nadeem's paper was dissolved and he was exiled for the second time to Jaffa. However, after returning to Alexandria for a short while he was summoned to the Sultan's court and remained there working at the information Bureau.
Al-Nadeem’s political thought and legacy
Al-Nadeem was a nationalist by heart. He was inspired by Al-Afgani's reformation ideologies and relied on journalism and speech to deliver his thoughts and opinions. His student Ahmed Samir and writers who have mentioned him have all claimed that his vocal abilities and linguistic capacities were immense. He was able to gather people and criticize them while they were standing listening to him very attentively. His publications and writing styles were popular. He was still effective and inspiring after he disappeared ten years and returned from exile when he founded his final newspaper. Many state that Ahmed Urabi himself was impacted by al-Nadeem's nationalist views and ideologies. He believed in economic and religious reforms. He was a strong opposer to foreign intervention and colonization believing that the Arabs should not be subject to foreign rule.
Al-Nadeem died in October 1896 at the age of 54. He was given an official funeral by the Sultan and many figures attended most prominently al-Afghani and Sheikh Mohammed al-Zafer. He was buried in Yehia Affandi cemetery in Beşiktaş in what is today Istanbul.
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