Yaqub Sanu

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Yaqub Sanu
Other names James Sanua

Yaqub Sanu (Arabic: يعقوب صنوعyaʿqūb ṣannūʿ, also known as James Sanua, Arabic: چمس سانووا‎, January 9, 1839 Cairo – 1912 Paris), was an Egyptian Jewish journalist, nationalist activist and playwright. He was also a polyglot, writing in French, English, Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, and Italian as well as both literary Arabic and Egyptian Arabic.

Early life[edit]

Sanu was an Egyptian Jew born to an Egyptian Jewish family.[1][2] His father worked for Prince Yaken the grandson of Muhammad Ali Pasha, Khedive of Egypt and Sudan.[3] When Yaqub was thirteen he wrote an Arabic poem and recited it in front of the prince who was fascinated by the young boy's talents. The prince later sent him to be educated in Livorno, Italy in 1853, where he studied Arts and Literature. When he returned to Egypt in 1855 he worked as a tutor for the prince children before he became a teacher in the Arts and Crafts School in Cairo.

Journalism and theater[edit]

Sanua became active as a journalist in Egypt, writing in a number of languages including Arabic and French. He played an important role in the development of Egyptian theatre in the 1870s, both as a writer of original plays in Arabic and with his adaptations of French plays, but it was as a satirical nationalist journalist that he became famous in his day, a thorn in the side of both the Khedive and the British interlopers.

Early in 1877, Sanua founded the satirical magazine Abou Naddara, which had an immediate appeal to both those who could read and those who had it read to them. It was quickly suppressed as being liberal and revolutionary, and its author banished. In March and April 1877 fifteen issues appeared, and of these no copies are known. Sanua went into exile on June 22, 1878 sailing on the ship Freycinet from Alexandria to Marseilles. Exile in France simply redoubled his journalistic efforts, and his celebrated journal, reproduced lithographically from handwriting in both Arabic and French, continued to appear, printed at a shop aptly located in the Passage du Caire in the second arrondissement. Like many such journals it frequently changed its name, although the title which remained most constant was Rehlat Abou Naddara Zar'a (Travels of the Man in the Blue Glasses from Egypt to Paris).

This was the first Arabic-language magazine to feature cartoons, the captions for these being given in French and Arabic, as well as being the first to use Egyptian Arabic - a language different from literary Arabic.

Its circulation was considerable in Egypt, where it was smuggled inside other larger newspapers (its format is small and each issue consisted only of two leaves.) There is clear evidence of its presence, even in the highest circles, in Egypt - and each issue may well have been printed in some 3300 copies. The magazine concentrated on both political and financial difficulties in Egypt, and Sanua probably had privy information from friends and well-wishers within the administration. Certainly his magazine was well-known: the Saturday Review in London printed in July 1879 a highly favourable notice, and many European memoirs of the period refer to it.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Egyptian Jews: Down memory lane with famous artists, actors". 
  2. ^ The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction. pp. 41–42. 
  3. ^ The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction-Yaqub Sanu and the rise of the Egyptian Drama. pp. 44–45.