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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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  • The Hybrid Women of the Arab Spring Revolutions: Islamization of Feminism, Feminization of Islam

    Arab and Muslim women who led the Arab Spring revolutions in their countries were often characterized as secular and liberal. According to this binary approach, religious women are identified with a conservative world view, a traditional education, and a medium to low socioeconomic status. The norms of honor and modesty governing these women are assumed to oblige them to confine themselves exclusively to their roles as wives and mothers and limit their presence in the public sphere. Furthermore, this binary approach stigmatizes those who wrap their heads in the hijab and cover their faces with the niqab as women who are forced by their fathers and husbands to accept traditional norms. Secular women, however, are portrayed as those who have liberated themselves from the shackles of religion and tradition. They are assumed to be highly educated, liberal in their world view, socially and politically engaged, and aspiring to build careers as competent professionals with the goal of becoming economically independent. To achieve this, they are prepared to struggle for their rightful place as equals in both family and society.
    However, the revolutionary Tunisian, Egyptian, and Yemeni women’s life stories, their world views, and their sociopolitical agenda and outer appearance indicate that their prototype is an amalgamation of a faith-motivated religiosity and a liberal, pluralistic world view. These women join their sisters who, since the last decades of the ninetieth century, have taken part in social- and gender-oriented struggles in the Middle East and North Africa. Their retention of their cultural authenticity, religious beliefs, and moral values clearly highlights the fact that for these hybrid women—to borrow Homi Bhabhi’s concept of hybridity—Islamic religious belief and a liberal world view are intertwined.