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

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
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  • 1 Bard College

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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.

  • 2

    Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (NY: Columbia University Press, 1993), 37.

  • 5

    Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe (New York: Free Press, 1989), 185.

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  • 10

    As quoted in Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Book, 1999), 312.

  • 16

    Robie Macauley, “The ‘Little Magazines,’ ” Transition 9 (June 1963), 24.

  • 21

    Ṣāyigh, Mudhakkirāt, 68.

  • 26

    Ṣāyigh, Mudhakkirāt, 69. In September of 1966, however, Ṣāyigh would pay al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ 1400 L.L. for Mawsim al-hijrah ilā al-shamāl [Season of Migration to the North] which Ṣāyigh tells Ṣāliḥ in a letter is “the absolute largest amount I have spent (or will spend) in editing!” Ibid., 82.

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  • 53

    Jean Franco, The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America in the Cold War (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002), 32, and more generally, Chapter One, “Killing Them Softly: The Cold War and Culture.”

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  • 56

    Tarek El-Ariss, “Fiction of Scandal,” Journal of Arabic Literature 43:2-3 (2012), 523.

  • 57

    Richard Jacquemond, Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State, and Society in Modern Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), 91.

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  • 62

    Elisabeth Kendall, Literature, Journalism, and the Avant-Garde: Intersection in Egypt (NY: Routledge, 2006), 124.

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