How Midcentury Arab Thinkers Embraced the Ideas of Freud


In this piece for Aeon, Omnia El Shakry highlights the role that Freudian ideas and psychoanalysis played in midcentury Arab literature, education, politics, and culture.

“For some, but by no means all, Freudian intellectuals in the newly independent Egyptian state, psychoanalysis became a tool of governance capable of creating a new postcolonial subject free from social and psychological ills. This use of psychoanalysis in the attempt to create or reform human subjects represents a dangerous tendency, one that is not at all unique to Egypt. This is precisely because what psychoanalysis offers, at its most profound level, is a recognition and critique of the fact that humans use the other as an object and instrument of pleasure, whether that pleasure is the drive for knowledge or the creation of governable subjects more easily adapted to their political and social environments. In the enthusiastic attempt to create a decolonised national citizen, psychoanalysts at times forgot such lessons of ethical and philosophical critique at their own peril.”