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    Hasan and Marika: Screen Shots from a Vanishing Egypt

    This essay analyzes an Egyptian comedy film from the late 1950s as a window—one of the last cinematically—into the vanishing world of Egypt’s minority populations in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis and in the midst of nationalization and Egyptianization. Hasan and Marika (1959) focuses on one particular community, Egyptian Greeks. It borrows heavily from ethnic/religious minority tropes from the long-standing canon of Egyptian film and theater, in particular several classic works that deal with Muslim-Christian-Jewish pairings. It speaks to broader issues of what some scholars have noted to be a shifting or narrowing Levantine ethos. Concurrently, it raises questions about social and cultural transformations in the immediate postcolonial moment. This essay reads the film within the contexts of Egyptian social and cultural history, the position of the Greek community, ongoing limitations to true social integration, and historical questions about the Greek community’s demise. It also reads the film as a deliberate, if at times whimsical, commentary upon Egypt’s changing social landscape, comparing it to other works and later nostalgic depictions of Egypt’s lost multiculturalism.

  • Masquerade and the Performance of National Imaginaries: Levantine Ethics, Aesthetics, and Identities in Egyptian Cinema

    Egyptian films from the 1930s through the 1950s reflected the diversity of Egypt’s cities. This article argues that a subtle but notable shift in the semiotics of otherness—from a Levantine idiom to a less fluid construction of ethno-religious identity—occurs over this period in Egyptian cinema. Analysis of the films Salamah fi khayr [Salama is Fine] and al-cIzz bahdala [Mistreated by Affluence], both released in 1937, reveals what the author identifies as a “Levantine” idiom. These films articulate an ethics of coexistence, adopt a visual language of inclusion, and represent identity as fluid and mutable. Postwar “ethnic comedies” such as Faṭimah wa-Marika wa-Rashil [Fatima, Marika, and Rachel, (1949)] and Ḥasan wa-Murqus wa-Kohayn [Hasan, Marcus, and Cohen (1954)], continue to take Egyptian diversity for granted. However, as this article demonstrates, the characteristics that had defined Levantine cinema—ethics, aesthetics, and fluidity of identity—are no longer present. All the films under discussion treat ethno-religious and national identity as performance. However, that being said, the valences attached to the comic appropriation of an identity not one’s own via role play, assumed identities, and sudden, disorienting class mobility shift over time in nuanced but significant ways. In establishing the idioms of “Levantine cinema” and “ethnic comedies,” this article also takes as a counterpoint the 2008 film Ḥasan wa-Murqus [Hasan and Marcus] which draws upon these earlier Egyptian cinematic traditions in constructing its own discourse of coexistence.

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