The Travel Writer in Disguise: Ali Bey and the Construction of a National Hispano-Arabic Discourse (1800 - present)
Between 1803 and 1818, the Catalan entrepreneur Domingo Badía y Leblich (1767-1818) toured North Africa and the Middle East disguised as a certain 'Ali Bey', an Abbasid prince from Aleppo whose alibi for his faulty Arabic was his long-term residence in Europe. Billed as a scientific exploration, Ali Bey's journey was commissioned by Carlos IV's Prime Minister, Manuel Godoy, who viewed Badía as an agent of Spanish colonialism. The memoirs in which Badía recounts the details of his journey, plagued by elements of ambiguity and hyperbole, have sparked interest at telling historical junctures while vexing those who seek clear, unassailable meanings. The scientific merits of Badía's account notwithstanding, the lure of his text over the past 150 years, from Ramón Mesonero Romanos, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, Joaquín Costas and Benito Pérez Galdós in the nineteenth and early twentieth century to (more recently) Juan Goytisolo, among others, derives less from the political realities of Badía's day and more from the discursive construction of Ali Bey as a tool for reflecting on Hispano-Arabic political relations and on the Hispano-Arabic foundations of Spanish national identity.