12. American Ambassador in Technicolor and Cinemascope
Hollywood and Revolution on the Nile
In May 1957 representatives of two of the largest American multinationals in Egypt called at the U.S. embassy. The visitors were by then a familiar sight at the tree-lined grounds of Qasr al-Dubbara, because companies such as Metro-Goldywn-Mayer (MGM) and Twentieth Century-Fox, among other U.S. firms, were being saddled with new costs to doing business in their largest Middle East market.
The Egyptian economy had been on war footing since the Israeli attack on Port Said in November 1956. President Gamal Abdel Nasser had unleashed a punitive wave of expropriations against the French and British nationals who were the backbone of the foreign private sector. Controls on foreign-exchange remittances were tighter than at any time since World War II. Meanwhile, the populist policy currents associated with the March 1954 crisis and the Bandung conference in April 1955 grew stronger in the wake of the war. In the case of motion pictures, for the first time authorities passed specific legislation, in place of a long-standing informal or “gentlemen’s agreement,” requiring all theater owners to screen three locally produced films per year (Law No. 373, Official Gazette 88, November 3, 1956). The war, which led to a surge of arrests, internments, and deportations, also licensed the stepped-up stereotypes of Jewish control of the film industry and Hollywood’s and the Egyptian-Jewish business community’s financing of Israeli colonization.
Though lobbying by the U.S. embassy and U.S. firms had gained American big business virtually complete exemption from the 1957 Egyptianization decrees, Hollywood on the Nile was anticipating a new wave of institutional and fiscal measures by the state aimed at reorienting Egypt’s cultural horizon and rescuing its tottering filmmaking industry. The local businessmen were savvy enough to know what played well with the State Department and, to shore up a main pillar of support, previewed the latest episode in the lurid drama of communist influence in Egyptian popular culture markets.
According to Oscar Lax, the American who oversaw Fox’s Middle East market interests, back in October 1956 one of the revolutionary Free Officers, Wajih Abaza, was tendering huge sums of cash to rent a first-run theater in Cairo for screening Russian films. Theater managers again alerted the embassy early in 1957 that communists were in the market for movie houses and, in their latest visit, passed on the tip from the head of Egyptian customs. The Soviet Union had imported three hundred films into Egypt, in anticipation of a squeeze on American imports. Moreover, they warned that a new Arabic “publication is being prepared…for early release entitled, ‘American Ambassador in Technicolor and Cinemascope,’…and is to describe the devices used in American films to gain a propagandistic effect for the United States.” The book, Safir Amrika, in fact was published later that year.
In a post–cold war world the tales of intrigue at the customhouse, meetings between Russian agents and Alexandria businessmen, or a comrade of Nasser’s with “suddenly a lot of money, to pay back old debts” that unfolds in the microfilm reels of declassified State Department files can feel like a revival of The Iron Curtain (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1948). Reconstructed in this way, a historical analysis of film and politics in Egypt promises little other than the pleasure of nostalgia. From another angle, though, the historical materials may shed some light on contemporary issues and debates.
Consider the evolution of the international market for sound films. Decades before the cold war, Hollywood had forged a coherent and generally successful foreign policy designed to preserve and extend its world market share, first in silent films and later in sound films, while excluding non-American imports from the home market, save when produced by its own subsidiaries (Jarvie 1988, 1992). The formal foreign policy apparatus of the United States aided this project, and, generally, policy makers and producers made similar arguments to each other about films effectively selling the American dream—whether in terms of values or valuable goods—abroad (Rosenberg 1982). Arguments that linked films to support of the American way of life were thus easily and readily adapted against not only the threat of new Russian empire but also against a renewed protectionist drive in the established European entertainment markets and the old empires’ outposts in what came to be known as the Third World.
Hollywood’s ability to maintain a dominant position in the international film trade remains a central feature of the global political economy long after the Russian empire began its collapse. In the 1940s the major studios were already dependent on their approximately 40 percent of gross revenues from overseas markets to sustain the industry (Guback 1985). In the 1990s, as Time-Warner co-chair J. Richard Munro reminded his audience in a speech, “Good-bye to Hollywood: Cultural Imperialism and the New Protectionism,” the industry is America’s second biggest net export earner after aerospace (Munro 1990). Both his talk’s subtitle and its enumeration of screen quotas, import restrictions, investment barriers, and so on, across Europe, Latin America, and Asia remind us of some important continuities in the global motion picture regime for more than half a century.
Egypt’s film industry, like those of other late industrializers (e.g., Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, India, Turkey), emerged in the shadow of Hollywood’s global prominence, and one need look no further than Alexandria’s pioneering Chilean-Palestinian producers, the Lama Brothers’ Qubla fi al-sahra’ (Kiss in the Desert; Condor Films, 1927), for evidence of Valentino-era America’s aesthetic values influencing the first filmmaking experiments (al-Hadari 1989, 245–56; Malkmus and Armes 1991, 28–29). The outpouring of musicals in the 1940s, or, more recently, the steady flow of crime and karate films, serves as the foil in perennial arguments for finding and preserving an authentic national-cultural style in films, with Egyptians adopting the arguments invented by their own colonial overlords in the Foreign Office in the 1920s and 1930s.
Nonetheless, in this chapter I argue for resisting what Fred Halliday (1993, 145–63) calls “ideologies of the dominated” in studying the Egyptian industry’s cold war (close) encounter (of the Third World kind) with Hollywood. The Egyptian case poses some critical problems for those who tend to see neocolonialism, cultural imperialism, and Third Worldism as the basic framework for organizing our understanding of the cultural economy of the “Global South.” First, unlike other economic sectors, the local Egyptian film industry shared the same basic problem vis-à-vis the Americans as the British industry, the rest of Europe, and the emerging film industries of Latin America and colonial Asia. Second, the same European colonial system is not easily evoked as the cause of the lack of a film industry in most of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and the development of an industry in Egypt. Third, by the 1940s, if not before, the Indian film industry, in the most deeply colonized country in Asia, was also far more successful than London in creating a domestic industry capable of competing “on equal terms with American imports” (Thompson 1985).
As I will show, Hollywood’s export arm was not particularly successful in “dominating” the early postwar Egyptian feature film market in the way that it had become accustomed to in settings as diverse as Toronto, Mexico City, London, Paris, and Manila. According to the Americans’ own market surveys, local production of Arabic-language sound films had proved popular, wresting the bigger share of an expanding moviegoing public’s screen time. Though Egypt was not a large market, Cairo and Alexandria served the American firms as the distribution point for exports to Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and elsewhere in the region. And these Middle East markets collectively grew more important as Europe, Latin America, and Asia pursued a new round of protectionism under the terms of the original General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT). Egypt, by contrast, remained a relatively open market through the end of the 1950s, with Arabic providing an important degree of natural advantage for local producers.
At the same time, the Egyptian industry’s increasingly insistent calls after the 1952 revolution for restricting screen times and raising levies on imports pointed to underlying problems in industrial organization. Similar to other sectors, the Egyptian motion picture industry could not make efficient use of its existing expensive plant (studios). In this case, however, demand for new films outstripped the available supply. The lack of capital markets and access to financing meant that the studios functioned as little more than rental facilities for speculative investors. After twenty years in business, the country’s flagship firm, Studio Misr, still could not produce enough films to fill its one movie house in Cairo.
Though a concerted drive to attract investment from abroad, expand production, and exploit the potential of regionwide Arab film markets was, arguably, the only possible means to amortize costs and place a modest studio system on a sounder footing, the turn to import substitution industrialization (ISI) instead contributed to the studio system’s demise. Ignoring the film sector entirely and the regional markets that were just beginning to be exploited by U.S. firms, American supporters of ISI in Egypt insisted that the country produced nothing that foreign consumers wanted to buy. The choices made by Egyptian authorities at this juncture compounded the problems of building a commercially viable motion picture industry.
Nasser appears to have resembled Ben-Gurion more than Lenin in his approach to film. Whereas “Lenin could insist that ‘for us, cinema is the most important of all the arts,’…Ben-Gurion dismissed cinemas as ‘subculture’ and a ‘waste of time’” (Shohat 1989). The industry was excluded from the ambitious development drive then being planned for Egypt and instead turned over to the propaganda czars to run. As the socialist phase of the revolution took shape and the studios came under state ownership, the output of the industry declined for the rest of the decade, leading to a new rise and new popularity for foreign imports.
This study of the political economy of the Egyptian motion picture industry in the 1940s and 1950s is necessarily speculative, not least because until now the entertainment sector (films, videos, recordings) is one that institutionally oriented economists and development analysts have seen fit to ignore. Instead the recent, often quite powerful wave of academic studies of “third cinema” and Third World film industries represents the turn to the study of popular culture in film history, anthropology, comparative literature, and so on (Armes 1987; Chakravarty 1993; King 1990; Mora 1982; Pines and Willemen 1989; Shohat 1989; Shohat and Stam 1994). Understandably, this wave is generally not oriented toward economic analysis of the industry. And the Egyptian case is not particularly well represented in the recent Anglo-American wave of national cinema studies. Existing English and Arabic sources alike offer few reliable details about the industry’s structure. Rather, the Third Worldism and often simple cultural imperialism presumptions and norms that inform much of this work make it imperative that an institutionally focused alternative be developed, minimally, to introduce a degree of empirical discipline to the ongoing debate about colonialism and culture.
Although institutionalism may unduly privilege the economic and, especially, capitalist features of the motion picture industry, nonetheless there is a certain affinity between institutionalist political economy and the positions taken by theorists like Andrew Ross and other iconoclasts in the field of cultural studies (see Ross 1988). That is, we need not give in to the illusion that the market in global cultural production is free or, more important, fair. At the same time, intellectuals have long had an uneasy relationship with the consumption preferences of the millions of moviegoers in whose name they defend various versions of the national cultural interest, and we need to resist succumbing to the left auteur’s dream that “any day the masses would opt for [so-called] quality films” (Stead 1981).
I resist any temptation to venture too deeply into the thorny debate on cultural imperialism, on the grounds that the approach taken here cannot be used to test the various claims about the psychological effects of American films and Western or capitalist values on which such debates typically turn. But the records of investors and policy-making elites in the 1940s and 1950s show that, whether they believed these ideas to be true or not, they often advanced similar claims about film’s effects, for instance, in enhancing the sale of American goods and spreading American values. Hollywood in fact routinely premised its appeals for government support on such grounds. Similarly, Egyptians followed the practice of British governments in deploying these same ideas, with an opposite valence, as part of a “culturalist and patriotic” defense of a narrow sectoral interest group (Jarvie 1992, 152).
When I speak of Hollywood’s dominance I am referring to market share in a particular territory, gauged in terms of screen time or what most consumers are buying. An advantage of focusing on this dimension is that it was clearly the one in the 1950s with which local capitalists in Cairo’s film studios, distribution offices, and movie houses were most concerned.
Hollywood in the International Division of Cultural labor
There is now a substantial body of historical work on the U.S. film industry, its operations in its largest overseas markets and its strategies against its main competitors. The currently conventional view of the process by which the U.S. industry established its hegemony emphasizes the following points. World War I was a critical juncture. During the war years, 1914–19, American investors successfully cornered the domestic U.S. market (with some 20,000 theaters in 1931, this market was by far the world’s largest) and began exporting on a previously unknown scale, at a time when capital was obviously scarce abroad, stealing audience share in England and virtually all other large, 1,000- to 5,000-theater markets.
Securing domestic market dominance and international market dominance were interrelated processes. That is, the scale of the domestic market allowed American producers to amortize their investment much more easily than British or Italian competitors. Vertical and horizontal integration of the industry, which in this case meant a small number of big studios that controlled distribution to their own large theater chains, served as an effective barrier against any meaningful foreign penetration of this market until the 1960s. To the extent that producers could recover their costs at home, they were able to undercut competitors’ prices, and foreign revenues were plowed into the expensive production values, technical innovations, and marketing strategies of the “star system” that consumers commonly identified with Hollywood features and expressed powerful preferences for at the international box office.
American market power at the dawn of the sound era in 1927 had already produced a wave of protectionist legislation across Europe that would result in boycotts by U.S. producers and the beginning of direct investment in production facilities abroad. Arguably, what secured the domestic industry in places such as Britain and Italy was the creation of American subsidiaries making “local” films to satisfy national quotas and sustain the dream of regaining U.S. market share. Thomas H. Guback argues that adoption of the sound film resulted in deepening the Americanization of this emerging mass medium. The cost increases associated with this conversion priced some erstwhile rivals out of the market, and as new sound theaters were built, the American industry shipped record amounts of celluloid to supply the world’s moviegoers (Guback 1985, 468).
Because nationalists in places such as Mexico, England, Egypt, or Argentina often harbored the costly illusion that films are highly substitutable goods, it is worthwhile considering the institutions that came to shape demand for this particular commodity in the world market. Theaters needed reliable and scheduled deliveries of new films to show on their screens. But it was not sufficient simply to have a projector running. Their seats had to be filled to guarantee large enough receipts to keep theaters open and studios producing. The historical record suggests that this was a daunting task in virtually any country that attempted to build a sound-film industry, and, in comparison to other ISI sectors, one in which it was next to impossible to succeed.
As Ian Jarvie notes, investment in films or related mass-entertainment industries “is among the riskiest of large businesses, because it is a luxury, and because public taste is fickle” (1992, 430; see also Prindle 1993). Ahmad al-Aswani’s exposé of the losses racked up by the Egyptian public sector productions in the late 1960s is a potent reminder of this problem. The strategies Hollywood adopted to reduce this risk centered around the star system described above, the production of a wide variety of genres and styles, and the systematic marketing of movies and moviegoing, which won audience allegiance and constrained competitors to compete on Hollywood’s terms for a share of the home market. But the rising costs of doing business, among other factors, also meant that export revenues played a direct role in supporting this production system.
The forces that shaped Hollywood’s push into Egypt and other outposts on the periphery at the dawn of the cold war are equally well known to historians of the industry. Protectionist currents gained ground in its traditional export markets in Europe and Latin America, and because of the global shortage of dollars, profit remittances were subject to strict control. Epitomizing the postwar context, GATT, a global accord negotiated in Geneva in 1947, conceded the right of states to impose screen quotas on films (Film Daily 1960, 779; Jarvie 1990). The same year marks the beginning of a sharp, structural decline in U.S. movie attendance and box office revenues as new forms of leisure reshaped Americans’ consumption patterns. Compounding the industry’s troubles, one year later, in 1948, an antitrust decision forced the studios to divest themselves of their theater chains, which paved the way for the opening of the market to foreign-made films in the 1950s (Guback 1985, 475–77; Armes 1987, 36).
Expansion into Egypt followed the conventional pattern. As sales increased above a certain level, companies tended “to move from using an agent or licensing agreement to using a subsidiary company” (Thompson 1985, 3). Though American films had displaced French and Italian imports in the small Egyptian market by 1929, many were originally distributed by European suppliers. Drawing on this early history, Lizbeth Malkmus and Roy Armes concluded that “U.S. distribution companies did not become directly involved in the Egyptian market” (1991, 6). But the claim is incorrect.
Universal was distributing its own films as early as 1926, and its competitors all followed suit over the next decade. The largest theater in Cairo in the 1940s, the Metro, was owned by MGM, which, together with Twentieth Century-Fox, also built theaters in Alexandria in the 1940s and 1950s. Thus American distributors represented the nascent Egyptian industry’s main postwar competitors. They relied on permanent, locally based representatives and a long-standing information circuit that linked the embassy, the State Department, and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and required that their local subsidiaries establish or join a common association. Supplementing these channels, as in other markets, Hollywood pursued collective interests in Egypt through the Motion Pictures Export Association (MPEA), which staffed an office in Rome. The emergence of a competing local feature-film industry in the 1930s provided the American firms a powerful stimulus to mobilizing.
Imperialism and Revolution at the Cairo Palace
For most historians, the end of World War II marks the beginning of a new phase in Egypt’s protracted struggle over decolonization, as students, workers, and others took to the streets in an escalating wave of strikes and demonstrations. One action on February 29, 1948, is not very well known, however. That morning, the Egyptian stage and screen star Yusuf Wahbi, one of the pioneers of the Egyptian film industry and head of its technicians’ and artists’ syndicate, led its members in a shutdown of the country’s studios. Their target was the local release of Thief of Baghdad (United Artists, 1940), which had been dubbed into Arabic and was drawing record numbers to Studio Misr’s cinema on ‘Imad al-Din street in downtown Cairo.
Wahbi, who with resident Syrian investors was a part owner of Nahhas Studios, one of a rash of new local ventures that had attracted some of the fantastic profits earned in Egypt during the war, was artful in his weaving together of self and national interest story lines in his rallying cry that dubbing had hammered “the first nail in the coffin of the Egyptian film industry.” Misr Studios, which had been opened in 1935 on Pyramids Road by the country’s leading “national” capitalist coalition, the Bank Misr group, was the first of the country’s eight modern sound-film studios. But its capacity, like many of its other large-scale ventures, was underutilized, and the company began to distribute other films in the 1940s, minimally, to keep its single theater filled (Hasan 1986, 83).
The U.S. firms naturally backed the Misr group. To them Arabic was a type of trade barrier that producers like Wahbi used to extract monopoly rents from Egyptian consumers. Though local production of 35 mm feature films began to grow rapidly toward the end of World War II, from an average of 15 films per year in the late 1930s to 50 per year in the mid-1940s, the U.S. distributors argued that the potential for the Arabic market was much larger. The major U.S. distributors alone imported about 250 films in 1945–46 to meet the demand of the small number of exclusive downtown theaters catering to the European residents and English-speaking Egyptians. In 1945 local producers had used their political clout to force the owners of each of the seven largest Cairo theaters to screen one Arabic film per year. Now the minister of social affairs arranged a similar voluntary, or “gentlemen’s,” agreement that restricted distributors to marketing no more than three dubbed films per year.
Wahbi continued his attack on the American motion picture industry in the pages of Dunya al-fann (May 25, 1948), where he urged Egyptians on patriotic grounds to boycott American films, whose single purpose he said was to aid the cause of Zionism: “Every piaster paid for American films goes straight to the Jews.” Egypt was by that time in the midst of a war and American stars were highly visible in the campaign for Israel’s defense. But the politics of the conflict and of post–World War II Egyptian society more generally had long since spilled into the lobbies of Cairo’s movie palaces. During the student strikes in February and March 1946, exhibitors were pressured to stop showing English-language films and newsreels, and radicals tossed a hand grenade during the showing of a double bill at the Miami theater. The MGM-owned Metro was bombed on May 6, 1947. Subsequently and prudently MGM and Twentieth Century-Fox, the other U.S. company represented among theater owners in Cairo, had agreed to allow the High Committee of the Nile Valley for the Liberation of Palestine to raise funds for the war inside their theaters, and the committee’s activists papered over the likes of Danny Kaye and Mickey Rooney with posters of a “Jewish hand being forced by an Egyptian hand to drop a bloody knife.”
As significant new and canonical modern public spaces, it is hardly surprising to find political currents contesting in the theater lobbies as they might elsewhere in the city, for example, in the university, and to find theater owners and managers preferring to keep politics separate from the business of showing movies, however futilely in the case of the 1948 war. But, of course, the same thing that American ambassadors in Cairo and elsewhere around the world recognized about these particular spaces when they celebrated films as “good propaganda for us” and the American way of life “here” meant that the Metro, the Diana, and the Royale were constituent elements in a landscape of power in Cairo. And, clearly, it mattered not just what was shown on the screen and who could sell stamps in the lobby but also who sat in the seats. Egyptians understood that MGM’s Cairo manager did not want to show Arabic films because he did not want working-class Arabic speakers in the house.
In the early 1930s the fascist-styled Misr al-Fatat (Young Egypt) movement launched its famous boycott of foreign institutions with a campaign against the “Royal, Metropole, Triumph, Roxy, Olympia, and so forth” where “hundreds and thousands of young Egyptians” were “cooperating for the profit of a single foreigner…in spite of all the contempt which the latter shows them on all occasions.” And in comparing the films shown inside these places to “poisons,” “drugs,” and “alcoholic drinks,” the party’s ideologues ascribed to celluloid the same power over desire that American diplomats celebrated in their cables to Washington. In ensuing years cultural conservatives and authenticists of all stripes—from the Muslim Brothers to the Wafd’s Vanguard—would blame Hollywood for the sexual obsessions of the young and the rising crime rate in the city streets. As an editorial put it: “We even would not be exaggerating if we say that such criminal ideas are deliberately directed to us and that those who supply this type of film intend to harm us. The West is trying to fight us with every weapon and harm us by any means.”
The early history of the Egyptian government’s involvement with controlling the moving image makes clear that British officials saw lurking in the light and shadows the same subversive power that obsessed the shaykhs and other guardians of the moral and political order. The administrative machinery for reviewing domestic and foreign motion pictures in the 1920s and 1930s was located in the Ministry of Interior and was overseen by the infamous head of its European department, Alexander Keown-Boyd, to whom diplomats and representatives of Hollywood distributors routinely appealed when particular U.S. films were banned. Keown-Boyd had the power to overturn the decision of Egyptian censors, as he did in March 1936 in the case of Mutiny on the Bounty (MGM, 1935). He would not budge, however, when the highly influential Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) protested to Washington over the banning of another MGM product, Rasputin and the Princess (1932). He upheld the ban on the grounds that the film was “anti-monarchic, likely to cause anti-Christian feeling, and crude in its representation of the…execution of the Royal family by the mob.” Egyptians, “excitable and easily affected,” had already shown themselves vulnerable in the past to “subversive communist activities.” Although Keown-Boyd reported that he “thoroughly enjoyed the film” himself, he found “it impossible to sanction the showing of a soidisant priest using mesmerism, as this is a sight which will confirm in the eyes of the mob the worst allegations made against missionaries.” He continued, “Moreover, I am sure that you will not think it proper that in a Moslem country, Christians, after constant recourse to prayer, signs of the Cross, etc., should be shown as being murdered by a brutal mob who have cast off all religious feeling.”
The vigilance of the censors survived Keown-Boyd’s retirement from the government service and Egyptianization of the Interior Ministry, as American reports on the eve of the July 1952 revolution make clear. The list of film imports banned in 1951 is as good an indicator as any of institutional continuity, if not obsession: Crisis (MGM, 1950), depicting a revolution against an unjust ruler; Sound of Fury (Universal, 1950), an American film about student revolution; I Was a Communist (Warner Brothers, 1951); and Quebec (Paramount, 1951), which Americans described as being about organizing an internal revolution. Censorship extended to the ubiquitous newsreels when they depicted “riots, demonstrations or other scenes that touch royalty.”
The media policy of the ancien régime was not solely reactive, however, and in the wake of World War II government actors sought to harness this supposed power of the moving image in support of progressive reform. The support for local producers in their competition with Hollywood was in fact part of this process. The would-be Egyptian “imagineers” were housed in the newly established Ministry of Social Affairs, where modernist currents sought to design a way forward through, as they saw it, the fog of illiteracy, superstition, and reaction. The 1950 Wafd government’s crusading social reformer, Ahmad Husayn, promoted the ministry’s evolving mass-media propaganda department as critical to the promotion of people’s welfare in the countryside, to include the use of mobile 16 mm film units in the ministry’s showcase rural social centers. Good propaganda is designed with particular audiences in mind, so when one of Husayn’s protégés, ‘Abbas ‘Ammar, the head of the ministry’s Fallah Department, lectured to the American University in Cairo in 1951, he carefully left the seventh, mass-propaganda department out of his sketch of the “six departments of the ministry.”
American sensibilities notwithstanding, in the wake of the Palestine war the U.S. government began to create similar kinds of propaganda films to publicize the new Point Four aid efforts and related projects, including those of the Social Affairs Ministry. A director of educational films was sent to Cairo to work with embassy officers on the project, and by July 1951 six short films were approved for production, though these were unlikely to draw many away from the latest Anwar Wajdi or Farid al-Atrash picture. The first four included Leadership Training, a twenty-minute documentary on the operation and purpose of the Fallah Department’s recreation leader training program, which was designed to establish American 4-H–type clubs in Egyptian villages; Point Four and Egypt (30 min.); NAMRU 3 (20 min.), on the navy’s medical research unit; and EAUF Egypt-American University Fellowship, about the happy association of Egyptians and Americans in Egypt who have degrees from U.S. colleges.
At the same time, both the American and the Egyptian governments devoted increasing attention to the presumed political effects of the newsreels that the exhibitors screened before each week’s feature. The Americans had begun to develop newsreels on the Korean War, and MGM’s representatives saw the opportunity for renewing the subsidies their firm received during World War II. The company’s Cairo representative criticized the inadequate U.S. coverage in British-produced newsreels and argued that Egyptians and audiences throughout the region would welcome “material showing the industrial power of America,…the might of the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Forces,…facilities granted to all citizens without discrimination of race, color or class,…the daily life of the average Mr. Joe and ordinary worker, his family life, his house, comfort and car.” Two Egyptian government agencies were already subsidizing the Misr Studios newsreels, helping to invent that seemingly timeless genre of monarchs (then) and presidents (now) alternately enthroned in ‘Abdin Palace with visiting dignitaries or cutting ribbons at some new public building.
For Hollywood and its outpost on the Nile, films were first and foremost about making money, obviously. The Egyptian market had been profitable from the start of significant exports in the 1920s. Enduring features of the market were already in place by that time. There were only some 50 theaters operating in 1929, well below the Western world average when one controls for size of population (Landau 1958, 160; for background, see Sadoul 1966, 129–36). As the broadsides of Young Egypt ceaselessly reminded their readers, these were owned by members of the Greek, Italian, and Jewish colonies. This number grew to 315 by 1951, which included 239 covered and 76 open-air or seasonal theaters. Construction then stagnated through the 1950s and 1960s. These approximately 255,000 seats were concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria. And early American reporting took note of the division between a European clientele in the cities’ luxury movie palaces and “the lower class Egyptians patronizing the cheaper theaters.”
It also seems clear that by the end of the silent-film era American films had come to dominate screen time in Egypt. The American trade commissioner estimated that a minimum of 50 percent of all films shown were U.S. made. The manager of the Josey Film Agency, a subsidiary of the local Suarès group and the country’s biggest distributor of American films at the time, argued that the numbers were much higher: “about 80 percent among the total films in Cairo. First rate cinemas run nearly 70 percent and popular cinemas about 90 percent of American films; French and other production are used on an average of 10 percent.” Thus, although Egypt’s market was small in comparison to Europe and Latin America—there were, for example, one thousand screens in Argentina by 1930—the receipts were large enough to convince the big American producers to follow the pioneering efforts of Universal Pictures.
Twenty years later the industry’s export arm, the MPEA, called Cairo the “center for the release of American motion pictures throughout the Middle East,” but at the same time its members recognized an important change in the nature of that market. Egyptian films were playing on more screens and earning more revenues than American films. In fact, the vast majority of theaters—the so-called popular cinemas—were lost to U.S. distributors and showed only Arabic-language films in the 1940s and the 1950s. The American embassy guessed that at best only 10 to 15 percent of the country’s theaters showed exclusively foreign films.
Data on the revenues derived from the Egyptian market are hard to come by, and the following must be considered at best as indicative of the general order of magnitude. Figures from the Annuaire du Cinema, 1951–52, sent back to Washington from the Cairo embassy, estimated that American films grossed £E 1 million (U.S. $2.88 million) in 1951 out of a total of £E 5.5 million (U.S. $15.84 million) for the industry as a whole. American films thus accounted for approximately 20 percent of total box office receipts and between 20 and 35 percent of total screen time. An average gross for a large theater exhibiting a “good” Arabic film was reported at £E 13,000 to 18,000 against £E 8,000 for an American film. We also have figures for the net revenues from the American exports in the form of remittances for the same year. At that time the government restricted firms to converting 35 percent (down from 50 percent) of total royalties for remittance abroad, which equaled $150,000. Thus total royalties were declared at the equivalent of some $429,000 in 1951, up from $400,000 in 1950.
What was at the time a conventional understanding of the limited market reach of the American product has long since been forgotten, and today’s third cinéastes draw questionable conclusions from the comparison of total films imported in any one year to those made by local producers. The top seven American distributors shipped 254 features in 1945–46 and local companies released 49 features, but many more of the more than one million estimated weekly moviegoers countrywide were likely to see Ahmad Badr Khan’s Shahr al-‘asal (Honeymoon) or Muhammad Karim’s Dunya (World) than MGM’s A Guy Named Joe. And unlike virtually every other modern Egyptian industrial sector, local production emerged without resort to organized state intervention. Hollywood on the Nile was a virtually unregulated market when compared to the Italian, French, German, or British industries before and after World War II (Guback 1985).
The most obvious competitive advantage was the ability to make movies in the vernacular, or ‘ammiyya, at a time when relatively few Egyptians could understand English or read subtitles. But lost in the ritualistic dismissal of the styles, genres, and products of the era as vulgar, escapist, crassly imitative, vapid, and so on, is a serious consideration of the popularity of these films with their rapidly expanding audience. The war itself did not lead consumers to switch from imported to locally made goods, as was the case in textiles, food products, and virtually all other forms of consumer goods. Western films continued to play in Cairo during the war years, and, needless to say, the new flows of foreigners were not flocking to the latest Umm Kulthum musical. But, as is well known, the war drove Egyptians from the countryside to the cities, where work was plentiful and wages were rising. Licit and illicit gains—including the skyrocketing salaries commanded by the small pantheon of stars—are also widely believed to have been a main source of the capital behind the increased production of the postwar years.
It is next to impossible to tease much more reliable information about the structure of the early post–World War II industry from the existing published sources and the primary materials exploited here for the first time. Data on the industry are scarce and unreliable. Indeed, if the Egyptian industry resembled the Indian case, then the systematic level of wheeling and dealing makes it unlikely that we will ever be able to determine the distribution of profits among stars, producers, and exhibitors, or the profitability of any particular filmmaking venture. The sector was small relative to other industries. Total capital invested in 1950 was approximately £E 10 million, some £E 1.5 million to 2 million in production and distribution facilities and the remainder in theaters, projectors, and so on. And it employed forty-five hundred men and women, numbers that were comparable to the petroleum sector.
One conclusion I draw from these materials is that the local industry appears to have had a viable—that is, competitive—product that consumers wanted to buy. This point is reinforced if the regional market is considered and, in particular, the fact that other Arabic-speaking countries had next to no filmmaking capacity. A second conclusion is that, its comparative advantage notwithstanding, the industry faced numerous obstacles to growth. Because of the degree of risk involved, financing was difficult to arrange. Demand may well have outstripped distributors’ ability to supply the market, hence Studio Misr’s attempt to dub American features into Arabic. There is little doubt that individual maverick producers were finding it difficult to recoup their investments, despite the relatively low £E 20,000 that a typical Egyptian feature film reportedly cost. By contrast, however small the American market share, it was eyed jealously because it was pure profit for Hollywood, which dumped films already tested in numerous marketplaces for which costs had most likely been recovered long before reaching Cairo.
The third conclusion should be obvious. Clearly, there were distinct currents at work in the pressures that the major American distributors faced in Cairo and Alexandria after World War II. But in the case of the local investors represented by Wahbi, Hollywood was apparently a scapegoat to be used to rescue him and his comrades.
On the Road to the Periphery
The nationalization of the production and exhibition segments of the Egyptian film industry in the early 1960s was by all accounts (save by those who looted this particular cash cow for a while) a mega-disaster. In the hands of bureaucrats, the studios racked up new enormous losses and production ground virtually to a standstill. Despite the rapid growth in population, the number of movie theaters in Egypt actually declined. This was clearly not the outcome that Yusuf Wahbi and the other studio owners had in mind when they began to lobby for government subsidies and protection in the late 1940s and more insistently after the July 1952 revolution. It is not clear, however, that these investors had much of a strategy in mind to solve the structural problems of the industry apart from some desultory rent seeking in the form of production subsidies and raised entry barriers for American film imports. When the state did finally step in, the film sector was not a priority of the economic planners—far from it. Instead, beginning in 1957 and culminating with the nationalizations in the early 1960s, the sector came under the authority of the revolution’s new Ministry of National Guidance.
The remarkably efficient information arm of the MPAA drew the attention of Washington to the precocious signs of corporatist thinking within the Egyptian film sector in the months following the Free Officers coup in July 1952. An industry publicist floated a plan to create a National Film Center that would regulate entry into all sections of the movie industry and subsidize production—in the public interest, of course. When such a center was finally created in 1957, its location within the propaganda apparatus clarified that politics would loom large in shaping the sector’s future.
Hollywood’s export cartel, the MPEA, again contacted the U.S. government early in 1954 when its member firms reported that Nasser’s government was considering some form of protectionist legislation, similar to policies in France and Italy, on behalf of local producers and distributors who were suffering the effects of sharp declines in box office receipts in 1952 and 1953. Although the local press reported continued trouble at the box office in 1954, the industry’s representatives gained little from their continuing petitions to the propaganda czars as well as to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry where they were lobbying for new import taxes and mandatory screen time at all theaters.
Local firms were finding it difficult to overcome entrenched prejudices that many elites harbored about the artistic, if not commercial, worthlessness of films and to gain recognition for the sector among emerging developmentalist currents. Take the case of the minister of commerce and industry, Hassan Mar‘i. In 1955 he was busy implementing an ambitious, American-designed program of import substitution industrialization projects, precisely along the lines that film producers envisioned for their embattled sector (see Vitalis 1995, 202–6). But the minister instead struck a classically liberal posture according to press accounts, urging the film producers to improve the quality of their films—that is, via the pressure of competition—and, incredulously, given Hollywood’s lock on the market, promising to study ways to increase exports to cities with expatriate Arab communities in the United States.
Of course, the United States was also counseling Mar‘i against the demands of the film producers syndicate. Unfortunately, the ministry’s high-priced American industrial consultants, handpicked and paid for by the Eisenhower administration, argued wrongly (out of ignorance or worse) that no Egyptian sector produced goods that could compete in wider regional Arab markets, and, quite unlike the views that are promoted today, Egyptians were advised to concentrate on industry building behind tariff walls (open, of course, to American capital). Then, as now, the film industry seems to have escaped consideration as an appropriate sector for capitalist development.
Political realities shifted in favor of the embattled Egyptian film producers in 1956. Populist currents were by then more solidly entrenched inside the state, and the influence of key American allies such as Mar‘i had waned. Sectoral interests had built bridges to Nasser’s circle (or perhaps the officers had imagined a cheap means to shape hearts and minds) through Wajih Abaza, who was the second-largest shareholder in a new distribution company with Studio Misr and various actors and directors. And the owners of Studio Misr must have been desperate to stem its mounting losses (Hasan 1986, 77; al-Aswani 1983, 22). In October the head of Twentieth Century-Fox in Cairo, Oscar Lax, was warning about the imminent imposition of new import restrictions and screen quotas in place of the informal restrictions under which he and others were then laboring. The text of the new Law No. 373 was published on November 3, 1956, but the new rules were far from stringent. Reflecting a more general pattern of preferential treatment of U.S. investment, exhibitors had to increase the screen time reserved for local production to three weeks per year and to show newsreels approved by the Propaganda Ministry. These rules assumed that there were twenty-five new features that could draw audiences to the cavernous downtown showcases that the dwindling foreign communities had patronized. More rigid quotas were unlikely to solve the industry’s apparent woes.
The overarching reality is that the commercial cinema was far from central to those in Egypt who imagined an economy as a set of commanding heights: dams, power plants, steel mills, skyscrapers, oil rigs, and so on. The planners recognized that American imports represented a drain on hard currency, but the domestic industry’s modest size and the nature of its product, labor, and export profiles fit poorly in the five-year plans. I would guess too that the lavish and libertine culture prevailing in the industry fit uneasily with emerging populist and revolutionary iconography, and not all its luminaries would be able to make the transition from ibn al-balad or bint al-zawat to awlad al-thawra (from son of the village or daughter of the elite to children of the revolution). After all, many of the industry’s leading lights actually led the life that others, watching the films of the 1940s and 1950s, could only fantasize about or rebel against. As I suggested in the introduction, the increasingly grave portraits painted by the local managers of MGM and the other American distributors in the wake of the 1956 war make it seem that Russian agents were more interested in the movie business than were Egyptian planners. But what is most obvious in the last frames of the State Department microfilm is the defensiveness of these particular businessmen as the regime pressed ahead in the direction of a command economy.
In summer 1957 the army officers in charge of the arts, culture, and propaganda divisions of the revolution announced the creation of the new National Organization for the Consolidation of the Cinema. At the time their civilian American counterparts in the United States Information Service (USIS) were busy in a futile campaign to get the Egyptian government to include more footage of atoms for peace and Point Four locomotives and less footage of the Red Army in its weekly newsreels. Meanwhile, the representatives of MGM and some of the other U.S. distributors were looking into the costs of shifting their operations permanently to Beirut.
The press leaks and rumors that surrounded the policy-making process hinted at a more formidable institution than the one that was finally unveiled, and of course foreign investors tried to ensure this outcome. The new organization, which followed the broad lines proposed by J. Pascal in 1952, was designed to regulate the domestic industry and subsidize its production. When the new import taxes were finally unveiled, the shift from a tax rate based on weight to a flat charge per film meant that importers would be paying no more than before, though the new formula would keep out some of the marginal fare that was circulated. The real problem for the American firms was the continuing obstacles put in the way of securing the necessary import licenses, which minimally suggested rent seeking on the part of customs agents, although some firms believed the impediments were more deliberate and systematic.
Most stories about films during Egypt’s revolutionary era start from this point (e.g., El Charkawi 1966, 92). That is, a public sector in some form is presumed to have been the correct counterweight to Hollywood’s alleged dominance of local screen time, box office receipts, audience tastes, studio techniques, and filmmaking craft. The stories differ in explaining what went wrong, for instance, as when a young Raymond Baker bemoaned the failure to create a truly revolutionary cinema capable of mobilizing the masses, or when others blamed the regime for failing to legislate a commercially viable cinema (Baker 1974, 397). And Hollywood’s hold on the imagination is now stronger than ever.
A new story begs to be told, and it begins in 1957 on ‘Imad al-Din Street. Late that year the sleekly modern Studio Misr cinema reopened under a new name, the Ritz, and under new management. The troubled studio had closed the theater in 1956, “for renovations” (Hasan 1986, 77). The precipitous decline of the firm and the faltering of the industry in the decade or so after 1950 have yet to be seriously described, let alone explained. What we can say at this point is only that the American Ambassador in Technicolor and Cinemascope had little if anything to do with it.
Iskandariyya layh? (Alexandria Why? 1978), the autobiographical film by Youssef Chahine, Egypt’s most internationally renowned director, depicts himself and the theaters on Alexandria’s Safiya Zaghlul Street as haunted by Hollywood (see Shohat and Stam 1994, 282–85). But Roy Armes does his readers an injustice in treating the same scenes as fact rather than metaphor on the printed page: “He [Chahine] has shown on several occasions that he feels the exclusion of Arab films from European screens very keenly, but he is understandably far more bitter about the 80 percent of screen time that foreign films traditionally enjoyed in Egypt” (1987, 245). Although other third cinéastes occasionally draw on aggregate import figures to support the idea of foreign market dominance, they forget what is most basic to the story: Cairo and Alexandria were colonial cities with a distinctive cultural landscape. Movie markets were—and there is nothing surprising here—segmented. It appears that a small set of theaters catered primarily to European residents. Many more venues drew many more Egyptians, or, more accurately, those who spoke only Arabic or preferred Arabic-language films. These were probably divided as well by class. In the provinces the markets were smaller (roughly 20 percent of all theater seats) but were probably preserves for the domestic producers.
The Cairo Palace and other showcases were every bit as much contested sites in the course of decolonization as ‘Abdin, the barracks in Qasr al-Nil, and the embassy in Qasr al-Dubbara. Shirley Temple, not Fatin Hamama, made money for the exhibitors there in the 1940s, and quite reasonably some nationalists were committed to (and invested in) a project of liberating the marquee. But the reduction of the story of the industry as a whole to what was happening in 8 or 10 of Cairo’s 120 theaters and to what a relatively privileged segment of the 500,000 or more weekly consumers desired is a mistake. The memories of those days and places are no less vulnerable to the effects of time and politics than are our stylized accounts today of the films of that “classic” era in the Egyptian cinema. Walter Armbrust makes a case for looking at them afresh. The bit of archival footage I uncovered suggests we need to look just as carefully at the industry that produced them.
In Unthinking Eurocentrism Ella Shohat and Robert Stam criticize film historians and cultural theorists for their obsessions with Hollywood: “What we now call ‘Third World cinema’ did not begin in the 1960s, as is often assumed.…In the 1920s, India was producing more films than Great Britain. Countries like the Philippines were producing over fifty films a year by the 1930s, Hong Kong was making more than 200 films annually by the 1950s” (1994, 28–29). Yet they fail to think through the implications of this decentering for the notions of “neocolonial dependency and domination” that, contradictorily, they argue are fundamental to any “adequate account” of the political economy of the Mexican, Indian, Egyptian, and so on, film industry (Shohat and Stam 1994, 17–18).
The reality is that the Indian case turns these ideologies of the dominated on their head; the “infiltration” of foreign capital that they disparage made possible many of the film industries that they want to celebrate. And the presumed benefits of trade barriers and quotas continue to go unexamined just as long as they are opposed by the hegemon’s agents in Universal City, Geneva, and New York (Shohat and Stam 1994, 30). Abroad the audience for this stock tale of tragic heroes defending against an evil empire is dwindling (Vitalis 1996, 13–33; 1997, 15–21).
I am indebted to Walter Armbrust and Vickie Langohr, who provided early, much-needed help on this project; to Zerxes Spencer, Danielle Yifrah, Chris Newsham, and Torsten Fetzer, students in the senior thesis workshop of Clark University’s government department, for early criticism of the first sections of the chapter; and to Ginny Danielson and Michael Suleiman, for encouraging counsel.
1. Many of the local managers of Hollywood’s Big Eight (Columbia, MGM, RKO, Twentieth Century-Fox, United Artists, Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Paramount) subsidiaries were Jews. For instance, Oscar Lax, who worked for Fox, sat out the crisis in Beirut. M. Sassa, who managed MGM’s holdings, feared deportation (he carrried a Tunisian passport) and deposited copies of the company’s files at the U.S. embassy. Jacques Kroub, an Italian national who managed the local Warner Brothers subsidiary, was barred from reentry into Egypt, until Egyptian business partners intervened (Cairo to State, December 20, 1956, No. 421, RG 59, 874.452/12–2056). [BACK]
2. I use “Hollywood” to designate the Big Eight production-distribution multinationals and “Hollywood on the Nile,” their Egyptian distribution business, as shorthands of convenience. Hollywood was where motion pictures were made. New York was where these firms organized the global export of their product. [BACK]
3. Cairo to State, May 10, 1957, No. 854; RG 59, 874.452/5–1057. For Lax’s report on Abaza, see Cairo to State, October 20, 1956, No. 318, RG 59, 874.452/10–2056. [BACK]
4. See al-Tilmisani 1957. I am indebted to Columbia University’s Andrew Flibbert for locating the reference in the course of researching his dissertation-in-progress on the Egyptian and Mexican film industries. [BACK]
5. In addition to the relevant sections of Armes 1987, Malkmus and Armes 1991, and Shohat and Stam 1994, see Baker 1974; Gaffney 1987; Thorval 1975. The Egyptian critic Samir Farid (e.g., 1977) is a powerful influence on much of this writing. [BACK]
6. A critical exception is Armbrust 1996. Although the scope goes beyond films, it takes the discussion of this medium in a new direction. His work, together with Harris 1986 and Tomlinson 1991, shapes the perspective developed in this chapter. [BACK]
7. Thompson uses import shares as a measure: “American film can be considered dominant in a market when it obtained a significantly larger share than its competitors—say, 40% of the footage available, with others supplying 20%, 15%, etc. In practice, the American share was often so large that the definition becomes automatic—achieving a 70–95% share is dominating a market by any standards” (1985, xi). But such an approach is misleading in the Egyptian case (and presumably others) because the market was segmented. A small number of theaters showed a large number of imported films, while a much larger number of theaters ran (and consumers saw) a smaller number of Arabic-language films each year. The Indian exhibition sector was structured in a similar way (see Shah  1981, 57–63). [BACK]
8. Carroll (1985, 81) refers to “Hollywood International” or “popular mass-media films” in the “classical style,” whether they be American, Italian or Chinese. [BACK]
9. Al-Aswani (1983, 33) reports total receipts for 1967–70 of £E 404,000 on forty-four films that cost £E 1.2 million to produce. Some covered as little as 1.5 percent of their costs. He does not give box office data. [BACK]
10. On Universal, see Cairo to State, April 15, 1926, No. 798, Enclosure, RG 559, 883.4061/10. RKO and Paramount were involved in a legal dispute over taxes in 1938 (see Cairo to State, January 31, 1949, No. 122, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/1–3149). Twentieth Century-Fox registered its Egyptian subsidiary, Twentieth Century-Fox Import Corporation, in New York in 1944 and in Cairo in 1945 (Alexandria to State, February 16, 1951, No. 105, RG 59, 74.452/2–1651). [BACK]
11. See Cairo to State, March 5, 1945, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/3–545 CS/R. [BACK]
12. On Wahbi, see Armbrust 1996, 329–37. [BACK]
13. This account is drawn from the report in Cairo to State, March 2, 1948, No. A-161, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/3–248. The studio and movie house were outgrowths of the Misr Company for Theater and Cinema (Sharikat Misr lil-Tamthil wa-al-Sinima), founded in 1925, which despite its name was originally an advertising and publicity agency for Bank Misr and its other new ventures, using the medium of film, among others. The investors soon began planning for full-scale film production (see Hasan 1986). The artists’ and technicians’ syndicate was founded in 1943, according to Sa‘d 1986. [BACK]
14. The industry dates back to the silent era. For its early years, see al-Hadari 1989. [BACK]
15. Figures from Sadoul 1966, pt. 6, Film Lists and Statistics; Cairo to State, April 1, 1948, No. 266, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/4–148; Cairo to State, April 12, 1952, No. 2084, RG 59, 874.452/4–1252. [BACK]
16. These were the Metro, Diana, Royal, Metropole, Opera, Cairo Palace, and Miami theaters. They were apparently all foreign owned (e.g., Greek, American, Lebanese, etc.), with the exception of the Opera, which was part of a chain owned by Muhammad and Mustafa Ghaffar. A committee made up of theater owners and representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs was formed to administer the quota system and select the films for exhibition. The length of the run was based on a minimum one week’s earnings. See Cairo to State, March 23, 1945, Enclosure, No A-548, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/10–1545. [BACK]
17. See Cairo to State, March 8, 1948, No. A-179, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/3–848. [BACK]
18. See the account in Cairo to State, June 5, 1948, No. 470, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/6–548. For the roots of the stereotype, see Gabler 1988. [BACK]
19. See telegram from George Goussy, Cairo to RKO Radio Pictures, Export Division, March 11, 1946, enclosed in Milliken [manager of the international department, MPAA] to George Canty, Assistant Chief, Telecommunications Division, State (Cairo to State, March 11, 1946, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/3–1346). On the student movement in 1946, see Abdalla 1985, 62–79; Erlich 1989, 154–68. [BACK]
20. See the account and supporting documentation in Cairo to State, March 1, 1948, No. 171, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/3–148. [BACK]
21. See Cairo to State, October 16, 1952, No. 701, The Film Diplomatic Courier, RG 59, 874.452/10–1652; Zukin 1991. [BACK]
22. Cairo to State, October 15, 1945, No. A-548, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/10–1545. [BACK]
23. Quotation from the handbill “To the Youth of Egypt, Egypt Appeals to You / Accede to Its Desire and Boycott Foreign Motion Picture Theaters,” translation enclosed in Cairo to State, January 20, 1934, No. 33, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/1. For background, see Gershoni and Jankowski 1995, 18–19. [BACK]
24. Translation of an editorial from al-Misri [date not given, but it appeared sometime during the first week of September 1953] enclosed in USIS Cairo to USIS Washington, September 4, 1953, No. 61, Crime and Western Movies, RG 59, 874.452/9–435; also “The Grand Mufti on Marriage, Divorce, the Cinema, Communism and Birth Control,” al-Musawwar, March 12, 1954, translation enclosed in Cairo to State, March 17, 1954, No. 2209, RG 59, 874.40/3–1754. [BACK]
25. Cairo to State, March 21, 1936, No. 563, RG 59, 883.4061-Mutiny on the Bounty/1. For background on the censorship apparatus, see Mumtaz 1985, 9–88. [BACK]
26. See A. W. Keown-Boyd to Manager, MGM [no name], Cairo, May 2, 1934, enclosed in Cairo to State, May 31, 1934, No. 85, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/Rasputin and the Empress. [BACK]
27. A. W. Keown-Boyd to Manager, MGM [no name], in Cairo to State, May 2, 1934, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/Rasputin and the Empress). Bert Fish, the Florida judge and Democratic party loyalist whom the Roosevelt administration rewarded with a posting to Cairo, was “inclined to agree with the conclusions [that it] is not the kind of picture which should be shown to ignorant, and often fanatical, Mohamedan audiences.” [BACK]
28. Cairo to State, No. 2084, Entertainment Motion Pictures—35 MM, RG 59, 874.452/4–1252. [BACK]
29. Designed to “to combat erroneous beliefs and superstitions through recreational methods.” See Royal Government of Egypt, Ministry of Social Affairs (1950, 119). Nonetheless, officials at the Interior Ministry jealously guarded their prerogatives over the censorship administration. See Mumtaz 1985, 13–14. [BACK]
30. See Cairo to State, March 29, 1951, RG 59, 874.40/3–2951. ‘Ammar became minister of social affairs after the revolution. [BACK]
31. See Cairo to State, June 9, 1951, No. 2927, Motion Picture Production in Egypt, RG 59, 874.452/6–951. For background on Point Four, see Godfried 1987. [BACK]
32. See Cairo to State, July 19, 1950, No. 73, RG 59, 874.452/7–1950. For background on the cold war film policies of U.S. administrations, see Guback 1985, 473. [BACK]
33. Cairo to State, April 12, 1952, No. 2084, Entertainment Motion Pictures—35 MM, RG 59, 874.452/4–1252. [BACK]
34. Data in Annuaire du Cinema 1951–52, as reported in Cairo to State, April 12, 1952, No. 2084, RG 59, 874.452/4–1252; and Monaco 1966, 139. [BACK]
35. J. Morton Howell, Minister, Cairo, to State, April 15, 1926, No. 798, RG 59, 883.4061/10. [BACK]
36. See extract of a letter from Josey Film Agency enclosed in North Winship [American Consul, Cairo] to Howell, in Cairo to State, April 8, 1926, RG 59, 883.4061/10; on the Suarès group, see Vitalis 1995, 33–35. [BACK]
37. See Cairo to State, March 5, 1945, Carl Milliken [manager, MPPDA] to Francis Cold de Wolf, Chief, Telecommunications Division, State, RG 59, 883.4061/MP/3–545 CS/R. [BACK]
38. All figures in the last two paragraphs are reported in Cairo to State, April 12, 1952, No. 2084, RG 59, 874.452/4–1252. The higher figure on screen time, which attempts to account for Arabic-English double bills, is found in Cairo to State, June 23, 1954, No. 2943, RG 59, 874.452/6–2354. [BACK]
39. The figure on attendance is merely for illustrative purposes, but based on government tax returns from ticket sales, the estimated annual attendance in 1950–51 was 92 million, or a weekly average of 1.84 million people. See Cairo to State, April 12, 1952, No. 2084, RG 59, 874.452/4–1252. For the 1945–46 film season, see Sadoul 1966, App. 6, Film Lists; and Egyptian Gazette, January 12, 1945, advertisement for the Metro. [BACK]
40. See Armes 1987, 195–200. The better-studied and better-documented Indian case resembles the more anecdotal Egyptian account in key features. See Barnouw and Krishnaswamy 1963, 123–38; Oomen and Joseph 1991. But the claim by Armes (1987, 200), that after World War II films were the “easiest, quickest and surest” way of making a fortune, is not grounded in an adequate account of the market structure in which producers operated, nor can it account either for the rapid rise and fall of firms or the increasing demand for protection that I document below. [BACK]
41. Two places for researchers to look in the future are the journals that U.S. embassy officers used. One is the Annuaire du Cinema, cited above. Cine Film, founded in 1947 by J. Pascal and housed at 27 ‘Adly Street, in the Cinema Metro building, is another. Both are presumably available at Dar al-Kutub. A third, perhaps, is the Federation of Egyptian Industries, where an affiliated chamber of film industries was founded in 1947. See al-Kitab al-dhahabi 1972, 9. But the output of the sector is not even recorded in the aggregate statistical indexes of the federation. [BACK]
42. Cairo to State, July 30, 1954, No. 173, RG 59, 874.452/7–3054. For employment figures in petroleum and other industrial sectors, see Abdel-Fadil 1980, 8. [BACK]
43. See the discussion in J. M. Colton Hand [Commercial Policy Staff, Department of State] to John G. McCarthy [Vice President and Director, International Division, MPAA], Cairo to State, December 10, 1952, RG 59, 874.452/11–2852. [BACK]
44. See McCarthy to Colton Hand, October 30, 1952, and Colton Hand to McCarthy, Cairo to State, December 10, 1952, RG 59, 874.452/11–2852. [BACK]
45. Cairo to State, February 1, 1954, No. 1820, RG 59, 874.452/2–154. [BACK]
46. See Cairo to State, January 24, 1955, No. 1434, RG 59, 874.452/1–2455; and Cairo to State, February 9, 1955, No. 1552, RG 59, 874.452/2–955, enclosing letter, Robert Carr [Counselor for Economic Affairs, U.S. embassy, Cairo] to Hassan Marei, February 8, 1955, and memorandum, E. Malek et al. [representatives of Hollywood distributors in Cairo] to Carr, February 7, 1955. [BACK]
47. See Cairo to State, No. 1434, Motion Picture Industry–Egyptian Films Produced in 1954, RG 59, 874.452/1–2455. [BACK]
48. See al-Waqa’i‘ al-Misriyya, February 17, 1955. [BACK]
49. Cairo to State, October 20, 1956, No. 318, RG 59, 874.452/10–2056. [BACK]
50. Cairo to State, December 13, 1956, No. 405, RG 59, 874.452/12–1355. [BACK]
51. See the discussion of Yusuf Wahbi’s memoirs in Armbrust 1996. [BACK]
52. Cairo to State, June 10, 1957, No. 133, RG 59, 874.452/6–1057. [BACK]
53. Cairo to State, December 20, 1956, No. 421, Egyptian Controls Affecting Certain Foreign Motion Pictures, RG 59, 874.452/12–2056. [BACK]
54. Cairo to State, January 22, 1957, No. 504, RG 59, 874.452/1–2257; April 11, 1957, No. 766, RG 59, 874.452/4–1157; June 5, 1957, Telegram No. 3672, RG 59, 874.452/6–557; al-Aswani 1983, 21–22; Sharaf al-Din 1992, 23–24. [BACK]
55. Rumored rates of £E 300 per film had been whittled down to £E 150 when the Ministry of Economy’s new regulation was published in the Official Journal (No. 3, January 6, 1958). But the firms had estimated the average tariff per film under the old regime equaled £E 250. See Cairo to State, February 9, 1955, No. 1552, Proposed Increase in Import Duty on Motion Pictures and Requirement Regarding the Showing of Egyptian Pictures, RG 59, 874.452/2–955; Cairo to State, January 22, 1958, No. 719, Fees Imposed on the Importation of Motion Picture Film Into Egypt, RG 59, 874.452/1–2258. [BACK]
56. Cairo to State, April 11, 1957, No. 766, RG 59, 874.452/4–1157; and Cairo to State, June 6, 1957, Telegram No. 3681, RG 59, 874.452/6–657. [BACK]
57. He goes on, “The regime was content to continue the traditions of the ancien regime in regarding the cinema as merely a profitable business” (Baker 1974, 397). But this hardly explains its decline in the 1950s and 1960s. See also al-Aswani 1983; Gaffney 1987; Sharaf al-Din 1987. [BACK]
58. They label this “Hollywoodcentrism” and argue for enhanced recognition and treatment of the global “filmic cornucopia.” [BACK]