Badi'a Masabni, Artiste and Modernist
The Egyptian Print Media's Carnival of National Identity
Roberta L. Dougherty
Familiarity is what popular culture has delivered since the printing press.
JAMES TWITCHELL, Carnival Culture
Either sing monologues or forget it.
BADI'A MASABNI, al-Ithnayn, august 20, 1934
“Great books” by “great men” have typically been the tools of study of a society's literary culture. In the case of Egypt, the twentieth-century canon includes the works of litterateurs such as Taha Husayn and Mahmud 'Abbas al-'Aqqad. A society's high-culture canon can also include figures from other areas of endeavor—journalists, artists, musicians, dramatists. For Egypt the cultural icons of this part of the canon would include figures such as editor Muhammad Husayn Haykal, singer Umm Kulthum, composer, singer, and musician Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab, and actors George Abyad and Najib al-Rihani.
For those who study Egyptian society and for Egyptians themselves, the achievements of these persons represent the culmination of an unbroken line of development from established traditions—both classical and vernacular—to modernity with just the right amount of Western technique added. Music critics and musicians themselves may link contemporary performers to musical giants such as Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab and Umm Kulthum, whose artistic roots could in turn be traced to such late-nineteenth-century figures as Salama Hijazi, 'Abduh al-Hamuli, and Almaz. 1 Critics and historians of the cinema and theater look back to the pioneers George Abyad, Najib al-Rihani, and Yusuf Wahbi, among others. Literary critics also follow this convention. For example, contemporary Egyptian critics usually trace the origins of social criticism in modern Arabic narrative literature to Muhammad al-Muwaylihi's Hadith 'Isa ibn Hisham.2 This story, first published in serial form in the newspaper Misbah al-Sharq in 1898, itself derives from venerable roots in classical Arabic literature (Allen