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“Bread or Freedom”: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA, and the Arabic Literary Journal Ḥiwār (1962-67)

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Author:
Elizabeth M. Holt Bard College

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Abstract

In 1950, the United States Central Intelligence Agency created the Congress for Cultural Freedom, with its main offices in Paris. The CCF was designed as a cultural front in the Cold War in response to the Soviet Cominform, and founded and funded a worldwide network of literary journals (as well as conferences, concerts, art exhibits and other cultural events). From 1962 until its scandalous collapse over the course of 1966 and the early months of 1967, Tawfīq Ṣāyigh edited the CCF’s Arabic outpost Ḥiwār from Beirut, joining a growing web of CCF journals, including London’s Encounter, Kampala’s Transition, Bombay’s Quest, and the Latin American, Paris-based Mundo Nuevo. Ḥiwār, a journal funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and thus covertly by the CIA, sought to co-opt the Arab avant-garde, offering authors both material compensation for their writing, as well as the much lauded cultural freedom. By 1966, Ḥiwār’s promise to writers of both bread and freedom collapsed in the pages of the Arabic press under the weight of paradox and a worldwide scandal on the eve of the 1967 Arab defeat.

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