Born in Egypt in 1913, Ramsès Younan, together with Georges Henein, founded the review Art et Liberté in 1939, thereby marking the birth of the Egyptian Surrealist Group. This bilingual roneoed review was short-lived (only two issues appeared). In 1940 it was replaced by Don Quichotte, a publication which brought together in its column the whole of the Left opposition of the period. Written in French, it welcomed the intellectuals who had immigrated to Egypt. But soon the Egyptian contributors to this review, determined to give expression in Arab countries to essentially surrealist aims, regrouped to publish a new review, Al Tattawor (Evolution), written entirely in Arabic. Its founding members concurrently took the initiative in organizing the great exhibitions of independent art in Cairo under the auspices of the F.I.A.R.I.

Shortly afterwards a conflict developed in the group : Ramsès Younan and Georges Henein manifested violent opposition to the Stalinist “Bread and Freedom” movement by publishing Al Magallah al Gadida (The New Review).

After the war Ramsès Younan lived in France. In 1947 he took part in the Paris Surrealist Exhibition and the great international exhibition in Prague the same year.

By refusing to sign the collective text of the French surrealists “A la niche les glapisseurs de Dieu” in 1948, Ramsès Younan broke with the Paris group. He considered that the surrealist critique of religion had been made once and for all by Benjmain Péret in his day. Taking the view that to stand still inevitably leads to regression, Georges Henein and Ramsès Younan insistently demanded that what had already been achieved should now be left behind. The Egyptian surrealists planned, from this viewpoint, to carry out a critique of surrealism “from within”, as is evidenced by Henein’s letter to Nicolas Calas of 16th of August 1947 : “… On the political plane things are even more scabrous. There has been a break with Marxism without anyone daring to undertake a critique that would cast light on this ideological step, that is to stay without any sort of lesson being drawn from this abandonment of a position (or transfer of values, but which values transferred where ?). In 1947, during the writing of Rupture Inaugurale, Ramsès Younan and I insisted that such notions as “dictatorship of the proletariat”, “permanent revolution”, “class consciousness” and so on, already seriously maltreated by history, should be closely scrutinized. In vain… Certainly, we all share some degree of responsibility for what happened. (…) At the point we have now reached, I see only one means of restoring to surrealism a little of the freshness it has lost : a terrible wave of humor, a mad outburst of thunderous laughter that would shake the old chandelier.” (1)

La part du sable was born after Georges Henein and Ramsès Younan had broken with the French surrealists. This publication gave expression to their desire for independent surrealist activity.

For his part, Ramsès Younan left behind the most Rimbaldian of translations of Une Saison en Enfer. As an essayist he is known, above all, as a pioneer of contemporary painting in Egypt.

The texts we publish today are notes written in reaction to a certain situation of surrealism.

Originally composed in French, they bear witness to Ramsès Younan’s intuitive sensibility and his singular clairvoyance in questioning accepted ideas (myth of the class struggle, automatism, misery of politics).

Ramsès Younan died in Cairo on the 24th of December 1966.

Abdul-Kader El Janaby

translated by Michael Bullock

The very meaning of the name Ramsès Younan stands at the crossroads of two cultures : if Ramsès signifies “child of the Nile”, Younan is the arabic word for Greece. Ramsès Younan, tossed about between the East and the West, could not help living a luminous adventure outside all the tracks beaten by militant Arabism or triumphant Westernism.


(1) La part du sable, Cairo, July 1974 : “Hommage à Georges Henein”, pp. 45

in Melmoth, 2, London, 1980