On Rosenthal (Comics Zine)
By Rim Naguib
“On Rosenthal” is a zine on the life of Joseph Rosenthal (1872-1966): an Ashkenazi Jew who struggled for the ideals of solidarity and social justice in Egypt.
It is a first draft for a graphic biography in progress.
TRAFO-Blog published it with the kind permission of the author. The original version can be found here.
Rim Naguib gave a presentation on her research on the life and struggle of Joseph Rosenthal in the EUME Berliner Seminar on 04 May, 2022. A recording of her talk can be heard here. She drew the following zine for the ComicInvasion Festival 2022 in Berlin.
Joseph Rosenthal (1872-1966) is known to historians of early Egyptian communism as a central figure in the inception of the movement. However, his contribution to the formation and activities of the first Egyptian Communist Party lasted a mere 3 years, in his 94-year long life!
In the course of my research on the history of British colonial policing of socialism, communism and syndicalism, and how it shaped post-colonial policies, nationalist narratives, and Egyptian nationality legislation and practices, I kept finding threads leading back to Rosenthal in various archives and literatures.
The more I traced his life story and intellectual and personal trajectory, the more I found his biography to be a powerful testimony of the conflicting forces that shaped the modern history of Egypt and the region, between nationalism and internationalism, sectarianism and universalism, statism and anti- authoritarianism…
In this short graphic interpretation of his life, I will share my ongoing attempts to reconstitute Joseph Rosenthal’s intriguing trajectory; what was it Like to be an Ashkenazi Jew born in Palestine in the 19th century; a Hasidic teenager son of an ostracized proponent of the Jewish enlightenment movement, a Jewish migrant artisan in Beirut, then Cairo and Alexandria, who came to be critical to all religions’ condoning of class hierarchies and exploitation, an Ottoman anarcho-syndicalist with a transnational agenda of solidarity and activism at the turn of the century, a communist and a syndicalist in the context of rising interwar Egyptian nationalism, a Jew struggling to have his Egyptian nationality recognized and his voting rights granted in post-war Egypt, and finally, an aging man who persisted in living through the Loss a everything.
In all of this, we learn how sectarian and nationalist maps were drawn over a reality of complex and fragmented identities and trajectories. We also learn how colonialism has been intrinsic to the nature of post-coloniality in the region.
After this initiation into radical ideas, Joseph began to hold discussion meetings in his newly opened clockshop in Beirut, until one day, the mufti of Beirut, the father of his friend, warned him that the Ottoman authorities intended to arrest him, because informants reported that he was inciting against God and against the Porte.
Rosenthal thus decided to move to Egypt.
On his way, he stopped over in his hometown, Safad, and visited a number of Jewish settlements.
He was critical of the rising Jewish nationalism, and was convinced – along Jewish bundists and Yiddish anarcho-syndicalists – that the solution to the problem of the Jews globally lay in their socialist struggle, along others, against exploitation, and sectarian and racial hatred. He was also dismayed at how the employees of the Baron de Rothschield had created yet another system of distribution and patronage, and how the functioning of the settlements depended on the exploitation of Arab labor.
Rim Naguib is a EUME Fellow at Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin since 2022. She received her PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University (2016) and her MA from Sciences Po Aix-en-Provence (2006). Her PhD dissertation is titled “Intelligentsia Class Formation and Ideologies in Peripheral Societies: Comparing Egypt and Iran, 1922-1952”. She was a post-doctoral fellow with the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. Based in Cairo, she taught in several alternative education initiatives, seeking to popularize the critical social sciences. Her research interests address three different, but not unrelated, fields: the colonial practice of ideological-ethnic deportation of internationalist foreigners and ‘local subjects of foreign extraction’ in the policing of communism in interwar Egypt; the post-colonial securitization of Egyptian nationality legislation and practice and of the management of foreigners’ residence; and the political and cultural history of Egyptian patriarchal nationalism. She is also writing and illustrating a graphic biography of Joseph Rosenthal (1872-1965), and has co-translated several graphic novels into Arabic. In the academic year 2019/20, Rim Naguib was a EUME Fellow and continued her EUME fellowship in 2020-22 through a stipend by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.
Citation: Rim Naguib, On Rosenthal (Comics Zine), in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 11.05.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/47196