Nasser 56/Cairo 96
Reimaging Egypt's Lost Community
In fall 1996 Egyptians lined up in record numbers—at seventeen theaters in Cairo alone—to see not the latest 'Adil Imam comedy, Nadia al-Guindi potboiler, or foreign thriller but a meticulously researched and restaged treatment of the 1956 Suez crisis, the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company by the relatively young Nasser regime and the subsequent Tripartite Aggression that did so much to put Gamal Abdel Nasser and his comrades on the world map. Nasser 56 has already earned a place in Egyptian cinema history; it has also rallied, unnerved, and astonished people on all sides of an ongoing debate over the legacy of Nasser's eighteen-year rule. Ultimately, it will play a major role in the shaping of public memory of the man who dominates contemporary Egyptian history, of a social revolution that is recalled with increasing fondness, and of an era of cultural production that even cynics concede was golden.
Public memory, as the American historian John Bodnar suggests, “is a body of beliefs and ideas about the past that help a public or society understand both its past and present, and by implication its future. ” “The major focus of this communicative and cognitive process, ” he continues, “is not the past, however, but serious matters in the present such as the nature of power and the question of loyalty to both official and vernacular cultures” (1992, 15). Memory, the oral historian Alessandro Portelli reminds us, “is not a passive depository of facts, but an active process of creation of meanings” (1991, 52). Similarly, Robert McGlone, writing about memories of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, describes the process of recall as “rescripting … not a deliberate rewriting of the past, but a transformation in the controlling expectations and logic of life situations [that] refocuses an individual's self-schema…. Rescripting adds or takes away information to make a life story coherent and believable at a particular time” (1989,