Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture

Article excerpt

Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture. By Ziad Fahmy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 20 1 1 . 244 pp. $80 ($24.95, paper).

Fahmy, assistant professor of modern Middle East history at Cornell University, offers a rigorous historical study of Egyptian nationalism "through the lens of popular culture" beginning in the 1 870s, through the 1882 British occupation, and culminating with the 1919 revolution.

The author challenges constructions of Egypt's history centering on elites by demonstrating that despite the intelligentsia's historical role, real social progress requires the participation of the middle and lower classes. Since the impact of these groups went unrecorded in official narratives, Fahmy examines popular media to show that - through poems, songs, jokes, theater, and satirical press (especially those printed and recorded in colloquial Cairene dialect rather than Modern Standard Arabic [MSA]) - these classes contributed to modern Egyptian identity.

Fahmy successfully demonstrates how the Cairene dialect, and the popular media that used it, served as building blocks enabling new manifestations of Egypt's national identity and ultimately facilitating the 1919 revolution. He goes on to suggest a state of "duality and confrontation" that still exists today between forces represented by Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian colloquial. The former, he maintains, represents pan-Arab and Islamist ideologies while the latter epitomizes nationalist ideologies, framing an "identity crisis" that "will resolve itself only if . …

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