Volume 2

Essays by Tawfīq al-Hakim: The Revolt of the Young: The Gap Between Generations

The Revolt of the Young: Essays by Tawfīq al-Hakim
The Gap Between Generations
A Book Review by Michael Malek Najjar
Translated from Arabic by Mona Radwan
Foreword by Roger Allen
Syracuse University Press, 2015.
 Arab StagesVolume 1, Number 2 (Spring 2015)
 ©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Published in Arabic just three years prior to his death, Tawfīq al-Hakim’s Thawrat Elshabaab, or The Revolt of the Young is an older man’s meditation on the gap between generations. Al-Hakim (1898-1987) was arguably Egypt’s greatest playwright, novelist, and short story writer of the twentieth century and is credited with creating the first Modernist Egyptian drama with his play The People of the Cave in 1933. He subsequently continued on to write other influential Egyptian dramas like The Deal (1958), The Tree Climber (1963), and Bank of Anxiety (1968). He wrote for what he called “theatre of the mind,” or a theatre that transforms actors into ideas, dressed in symbols, acting in a poetic atmosphere. According to the foreword by Roger Allen, al-Hakim “was not only a major literary figure for some sixty years of the twentieth century—an era of enormous change in Egypt and the Arab-speaking world—but also a public intellectual, addressing himself to the pressing issues of the day in a wide variety of genres.” Al-Hakim’s role as author, government minister, and social critic working beside and within autocratic governments in Egypt, uniquely positioned him as a social critic.

The Revolt of the Young is a collection of essays including titles such as “The Link between the Generations, The Clash of Generations”, and The Case of the Twenty-First Century. In these brief chapters al-Hakim focuses on the conflict he sees that has arisen between the older and younger generations. For al-Hakim, the young lead revolutions, challenge previous generations, rebel against anything stable and fixed, and desire ideas like world unity. Speaking from the position of an older man observing the world around him, al-Hakim seeks an understanding of this new generation and their desires, all the while lamenting what he perceives as the lack of respect youth have toward the generation that preceded them. “The willfulness of youth, the confusion of ideas, the weakening of values, the convulsion of world events, and the speed of social development,” al-Hakim laments, “have all made the new generation grow up with no respect for the old well-established and stable systems, ideas, values, and figures.”

Lest it seem that al-Hakim is speaking as an old curmudgeon shaking his cane at the youth, it is important to note that he also discusses personal experiences he has with the generation gap including his father’s inability to understand his desire for a pursuit of literature, his struggle with his own son’s desire to pursue a career as a musician, and his appreciation for young writers and their artistic innovations. In one chapter, al-Hakim expresses his trepidation about attending his son’s concert, yet the performance proved transformative. “I felt overwhelming joy, love, and sympathy for the young people in this band as a group uniquely connected by affection, friendship, and art. They instilled in me the happiness of youth.” Where al-Hakim’s father could not understand his son’s preoccupation with writing, al-Hakim himself was more accepting. With personal examples like these al-Hakim demonstrates that, although tensions exist between generations, he was open minded enough to confront these tensions and to eventually come to understand them.

Some of the most effective chapters are those that include al-Hakim’s views on art, literature, and poetry. For those artists (like myself) who admire al-Hakim’s writing, these were very enlightening and inspirational. He writes, “I believe the value of a work of art lies in its form: its perfection, mastery, excellence, and competence.” Al-Hakim believes the most valuable aspect, aside from style and form, is humanity. He writes, “Whatever affects human beings in every time and place, whatever makes a human being more refined, and whatever leads his society to a better destiny. All of this should be the in the framework of lasting, refined, and wonderful artistic and literary pleasure.” The opposite of this writing is that which is frivolous, careless, and vulgar. Instead, al-Hakim proposes a literature of conscience that is in service to mankind and society. This is the responsibility he foists upon the writers of the next generation.

His final chapter, “The Case of the Twenty-First Century” is more of a short story than an essay. Here, al-Hakim combines his love of law with his distaste for travel and the United States. In the chapter an unnamed American journalist whisks al-Hakim away to America for a tour. Al-Hakim tells the journalist that the world dislikes the United States because it is responsible for wars on every continent. “If a powerful nation wants to be popular and to win the hearts of the world,” al-Hakim writes, “it should put down the matchbox and release the dove of peace, this dove with two wings: a wing that stands for justice and the other for freedom.” Upon arriving the United States he becomes obsessed with viewing a trial of four young people accused of destroying the Statue of Liberty. Day after day he tells of attending the trial and watching the legal system dispense its justice. Instead of trying to destroy the statue, the defendants argue that they were attempting to move the statue, symbolically, since America no longer embodies the virtues the statue upholds. The defendants call on everyone to revolt against old ideas and to accept inevitable change. In the story, al-Hakim leaves before learning the verdict because the case was of more interest to him than its outcome. This short story exemplifies al-Hakim’s dialectic style rendered in prose. This is the weakest chapter of the book, though the ideas al-Hakim postulates are interesting and exemplify the notion of “revolt” he includes in the title, as well as a searing critique of U.S. foreign policy.

Allen and Radwan’s introductions are informative, yet Radwan’s explanation of the difficulties of translating al-Hakim’s prose is fascinating. Radwan writes that al-Hakim’s syntax is complex, his punctuation unusual (“he used hundreds of exclamation marks”), and he was fond of ellipses. These prefaces, written since the Iraq War, the Tahrir Square uprisings, and the military coup that removed the Muslim Brotherhood regime, help the reader position al-Hakim’s book in relation to the recent Arab revolutions and invasions. For Radwan, “Al-Hakim’s analytic and at times visionary outlook into the past, present, and future is beyond a shadow of a doubt valuable. His book inspires.” The Revolt of the Young offers a glimpse into the mind of a towering twentieth-century figure looking forward into a new century that has proven to bring not only revolutions, but also a harrowing new age of antediluvian movements sweeping through the Arab World. After reading this book I wished to hear al-Hakim’s thoughts about our own troubled generations.

Michael Malek Najjar is an assistant professor of theatre arts at the University of Oregon. He holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from UCLA, M.F.A. in Directing from York University (Toronto), B.A. in Theatre Arts from the University of New Mexico. He is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), and an alumnus of the British/American Drama Academy (BADA), Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, Director’s Lab West, and RAWI Screenwriters’ Lab (Jordan). He directed the world premiere of Jamil Khoury’s Precious Stones and a staged reading of his own play Talib, both at the Silk Road Theatre Project, Chicago.  He is the editor of Four Arab American Plays: Works by Leila Buck, Jamil Khoury, Yussef El Guindi, and Lameece Issaq & Jacob Kader and Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present published by McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers.


Arab Stages
Volume 1, Number 2 (Spring 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Founders: Marvin Carlson and Frank Hentschker

Editor-in-Chief: Marvin Carlson

Editorial and Advisory Board: Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dina Amin, Khalid Amine, Hazem Azmy, Dalia Basiouny, Katherine Donovan, Masud Hamdan, Sameh Hanna, Rolf C. Hemke, Katherine Hennessey, Areeg Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury, Dominika Laster, Margaret Litvin, Rebekah Maggor, Safi Mahfouz, Robert Myers, Michael Malek Naijar, Hala Nassar, George Potter, Juan Recondo, Nada Saab, Asaad Al-Saleh, Torange Yeghiazarian, Edward Ziter.

Managing Editor: Joy Arab

Table of Content

  • Science Fiction in the Arab World: Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Voyage to Tomorrow (Rihlatun ilal-ghad) by Rani Bhargav
  • Tawfik al-Hakim and the Social Responsibility of the Artist by Majeed Mohammed Midhin
  • Junun: Poetics in the Discourse of Protest and Love by Rafika Zahrouni
  • Ritual and Myth in Dalia Basiouny’s Magic of Borolos by Amal Aly Mazhar
  • Staging the Self: Autobiography in the Theatre of Sa`dallah Wannous by Ali Souleman
  • The Arab Theatre Festival by Jaouad Radouan
  • France’s Théâtre d’al-Assifa: An Arab-based Alternative Theatre Model by Magdi Youssef
  • A Dramatic Anticipation of the Arab Spring and a Dramatic Reflection Upon It by Eiman Tunsi
  • Rania Khalil’s Flag Piece by Dalia Basiouny and Marvin Carlson
  • Silk Road Solos: A Three-Thread Performative Stitch by Jamil Khoury

Short Plays

  • Excerpts from Jihad Against Violence: Oh ISIS Up Yours! by Fawzia Afzal-Khan
  • Alternative Dramaturgy for Jihad Against Violence: Oh ISIS Up Yours! By Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Nesrin Alrefaai, Katherine Mezur
  • ReOrient Theatre Festival 2015:
    Bitterenders by Hannah Khalil
    Lost Kingdom by Hassan Abdulrazzak
    Picking Up The Scent by Yussef El Guindi
    The House by Tala Manassah & Mona Mansour


  • Edward Ziter’s Political Performance in Syria – A Book Review by Safi Mahmoud Mahfouz
  • The Gap Between Generations: The Revolt of the Young: Essays by Tawif al-Hakim– A Book Review by Michael Malek Najjar


  • Malumat: Resources for Research, Writing/Publishing, Teaching, & Performing Arts compiled by Kate C. Wilson


Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar