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Earlier drafts of this chapter were presented to the Colloquium on the Politics of Culture in Arab Societies in an Era of Globalization, held at Princeton University in May 1997, and to the culture studies group at the University of Illinois–Urbana. Participants’ feedback was greatly appreciated. Special thanks to Walter Armbrust, Marilyn Booth, Ken Cuno, JoAnn D’Alisera, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Robert Vitalis. Funding for a broader project on Nasserist civic culture was provided by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Joint Committee on the Near and Middle East of the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies. I am, above all, deeply indebted to Mahfuz ‘Abd al-Rahman and Samira ‘Abd al-‘Aziz for their hospitality, insight, and candor.

1. Mahfuz ‘Abd al-Rahman pers. com.; all other references to ‘Abd al-Rahman or Nasser 56, unless otherwise indicated, are from personal conversations that took place in Cairo between November 1995 and August 1996. [BACK]

2. The filmmakers reportedly approached Su‘ad Husni to play Nasser’s wife, Tahiya, but she was unable to take part. Ahmad Zaki then suggested Firdaws ‘Abd al-Hamid (al-Ghayti 1995a). [BACK]

3. Kami has also played Suez Canal builder Ferdinand de Lesseps in ‘Abd al-Rahman’s other mammoth hit, the television series Bawwabat al-Halawani (Halawani’s Gate), which ran three successive Ramadan seasons through 1996. [BACK]

4. In a variant of this common wisdom, Mahfuz ‘Abd al-Rahman told me that Egyptians will always favor an Egyptian over a foreign black-and-white film and a foreign over an Egyptian color film. [BACK]

5. Zaki’s filmography is long and distinguished. The great exception to the poor-boy roles is Zawjat rajul muhimm (Wife of an Important Man; Khan 1988), in which he plays an officer in the security police. A classic example of the poor-boy role, and a film that established a hairstyle fad for young men, is Kaburya (Crabs; Bishara 1990; see Armbrust 1996, 138–46). For a critique of recent disappointments, see el-Assiouty 1996. [BACK]

6. Ramzi (1984) counts eight films made since that deal with the Tripartite Aggression in any way. Of these, he states, only three treated the war directly. The most noteworthy are Bur Sa‘id (Port Said; Dhulfiqar 1957a), noted below, and Sijin Abu Za‘bal (The Prisoner of Abu Za‘bal; Mustafa 1957). [BACK]

7. The simple statement may recall for some Egyptians Nasser’s impromptu oration on October 26, 1954, when an assailant shot at him. Nasser repeated the phrase “I am Gamal Abdel Nasser” numerous times, invoking a willingness to die for Egypt. It was his first great public oration. [BACK]

8. These characterizations have not always been positive. However, she has most often portrayed pious, doting mothers, and she is much loved. Her casting here is a master stroke, although a few people I have spoken to find the scene somewhat contrived. [BACK]

9. It sits between the two main termini, at Tahrir (Liberation) and Ramsis squares, both major works projects undertaken by the Nasser regime. These subway stops are named for Presidents Sadat and Mubarak respectively. [BACK]

10. The Nasserist project is increasingly recalled as noble, despite its obvious failings; see, for example, Sid-Ahmed 1995. Alan Sipress (1995) quotes Sid-Ahmed urging Egyptians to keep Nasser’s “most important legacy alive; namely his indomitable will to overcome any challenge,” and notes, “Ironically, it was Nasser’s will that sent Sid-Ahmed to jail for more than five years as a political prisoner.” [BACK]

11. As Armbrust notes in this volume, when film students and critics refer to “serious” cinema they often restrict their gaze to the 1960s when the state, through partial nationalization of the industry, sought to promote a national cinema guided by artistic rather than commercial concerns. Armbrust (and I agree) does not dispute claims that under the lead of influential public-sector artists Egyptian cinema embarked in new directions that persisted well into the 1970s. Yet he challenges the elevation of public-sector cinema by positing a “golden age before the golden age,” which encompasses all commercial films made before the 1960s. My own research into Nasser-era nostalgia leads me to conclude that when people who lived the era think in terms of cinema, they recognize, consciously or intuitively, that a new generation of directors and film stars came into their own and put a distinctive stamp on Egyptian cinema in the 1950s that carried over into the following decade. Their work undoubtedly was shaped by the onset and course of the Nasser revolution and constitutes, I would argue, a new, revolutionary cinema well before the “serious” cinema of the 1960s. [BACK]

12. Key pillars of the Nasserist state—agrarian reform, subsidization, and the public sector—have undergone sustained attack in the past decade. See Hinnebusch 1993; Abdel-Moteleb 1993. [BACK]

13. Prior to the serial the most common popular image of Ismail would have been in the film Almaz wa-‘Abduh al-Hamuli (Almaz and ‘Abduh al-Hamuli; Rafla 1962), in which the Khedive is a surrogate for Farouk, with all the familiar imagery of the debauched and deposed king. [BACK]

14. The caricatures have become even bolder in the past few years. Two recent examples are al-‘A’ila (The Family), written by Wahid Hamid, and Lan a‘ish fi galabib abi (I Won’t Live My Father’s Way), based on a story by Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus. In the former the mistrusted Islamist is gunned down; in the latter Islamists try to run down a failed recruit. In al-Irhabi the title character is also killed after rejecting his calling. The film has become an official text and was shown on the primary television channel on the last night of Ramadan in 1997. [BACK]

15. The following year the festival was expanded to become the Radio and Television Festival. [BACK]

16. Also see Salih 1995. [BACK]

17. Comments made on Sawt al-‘Arab, July 26, 1996. [BACK]

18. The other two scriptwriters were Usama Anwar ‘Ukasha, who is discussed below, and Sa‘d al-Din Wahba, late president of the Cairo International Film Festival, who scripted a series of important—and popular—films in the 1960s. [BACK]

19. For the past four years the Nasserist weekly, al-‘Arabi, has featured Nasser on its masthead. During the fall 1995 election campaign, Nasser’s image appeared on banners and posters, trumpeting the party—and the memories—more than the slated candidates. [BACK]

20. The films were Rudd qalbi, Allah ma‘na (God Is with Us; Badr Khan 1955), Fi baytina rajul (There Is a Man in Our House; Barakat 1961), Ghurub wa-shuruq (Sunset, Sunrise; al-Shaykh 1970), and Shay’ min al-khawf (A Bit of Fear; Kamal 1969). [BACK]

21. The most successful, in addition to Halwani’s Gate has undoubtedly been Layali al-Hilmiyya (Hilmiyya Nights), written by ‘Ukasha (for more on ‘Ukasha, see Armbrust 1996, 16–17). But there are now scores, many rerun on regional stations. [BACK]

22. The undisputed queen of historical kitsch is Nadia al-Guindi. See Hani 1995. [BACK]

23. Francis was quoted in al-Ahram, August 12, 1996; a cartoon in this issue shows a man watching a television commercial for seventeen consecutive showings and wondering how he can divide himself to attend them all. [BACK]

24. Salah Muntasir (1996) tried to play down the significance of audience turnout as curiosity. More telling, I think, is the reaction of a friend: “I was born after 1967 so I do not have any memories of the period. I was really impressed by what he did. They made him look like a savior; I do not know if that was true or not. Because my parents and husband are totally against him.…My mother told me that they had so much confidence in him and he was so impulsive and disappointed them.…I encouraged my parents to go.…I think it is more impressive to the younger generations.” [BACK]

25. See comments by Mamduh al-Laythi, chief of the ERTU production sector, in al-Ahram, August 10, 1996. [BACK]

26. See al-Ahram, August 3, 1996; Ruz al-Yusuf, May 15, 1995; Adwy 1999. ‘Ala’ al-Sa‘dani (1996) urged Zaki to reconsider, arguing that one actor should not play two such leaders. [BACK]

27. Relatives of ‘Abd al-Hakim ‘Amr, Egypt’s chief of staff, who engaged in a power struggle with Nasser in the aftermath of the defeat, was placed under house arrest, and, depending on one’s take, was murdered or committed suicide, contacted ‘Abd al-Rahman to express their concern over how the relationship would be treated (‘Abd al-Rahman, pers. com.). [BACK]

28. The war over scripting this war may well prove to be far more interesting than the final product. See Essam El-Din 1997. [BACK]

29. The Gaza opening was reportedly held up when local promoters could not find proper 35mm screening equipment. A projector had to be brought in from Egypt. [BACK]

30. In the United States the film and video are available from Arab Film Distributors, based in Seattle. In addition to Seattle, the film has shown commercially in Portland, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., and was screened at the 1997 annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in San Francisco. For advertisements heralding the film’s importance, see Anba’ al-‘Arab (Glendale, Calif.), May 1, 1997, and Arab Panorama (La Verne, Calif.), May 10, 1997. I would like to thank Yasin al-Khalesi for these ads. [BACK]

31. An Arab-American community weekly published in southern California, Beirut Times, May 8–15, 1997, headlined “a film all Arab-American youth should see.” Thanks to Yasin al-Khalesi for this information. [BACK]

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