Imaginary Cairo: About the images of the city between film and reality

Nearly a decade ago, American anthropologist Lisa Wayne in her intriguing book “Night Tourism, Day Tourism” tried to dismantle the binary image usually painted of its visitors in Cairo. In this stereotypical image, Golf people appear who practice their tourism at night between pubs and Haram Street. Europeans, on the other hand, seem to get up in the morning to see the effects of the pyramids, which indicates that they spend their visits to learn more about the geography and history of the city, unlike the lazy Gulf -people, who do it. do not wake up until late hours. On that day, Lisa Wayne found that this image or reality was not due to the oriental being who loves the world of sex and dancers, unlike the westerners who love culture, but rather due to the fact that the image of Cairo was formed. in the minds of the Gulf people through films. Therefore, in his tourism, he decides to follow the paths of the heroes of these films, sit in the Fishawy Café, or in Shubra Street, eat from a bean cart, and live life as he saw it in the films. He therefore feels alienated when he visits the pyramids, because Cairo is for him the Cairo of Adel Imam and Nabila Obeid, and his atmosphere and dancers.
Although this image of Cairo sometimes seems unrealistic, what is noted in the work of the American researcher is the extent of the impact that Egyptian filmmaking played in the twentieth century in terms of creating an imaginary image of Cairo. This aspect was the subject of interest of the Egyptian researcher Nizar El-Sayyad, professor of architecture at the University of California, who has been teaching the relationship between cities and their representation in films for almost 20 years, in his book “Cinematic Cities “with an idea that says the image that movies create about cities does not represent reality. It does not just become a tool to create and consolidate the right city. This interest will encourage El-Sayyad and a number of Egyptian researchers in 2018 to set up a working group “Cairo Cinema” to study Cairo films, as a raw material to tell the alternative history of imagined Cairo. The product of this group’s work was recently published in a book entitled “Cinema Cairo: On the City and Modernity between Image and Reality” published by Al-Maraya House for Culture and Arts. In his introduction to the book, Al-Sayyad believes that many of Cairo’s residents and some of its visitors love the city, its buildings and its social life, but some of them do not realize that their understanding of the city depends on a largely on his image in the films they watched, which were subconsciously imprinted in their minds. Therefore, the participants in the book will try to study the image of Cairo as it appeared in the movies.

Although this image of Cairo sometimes seems unrealistic, what is noted in the work of the American researcher is the extent of the impact that Egyptian filmmaking played in the twentieth century in terms of creating an imaginary image of Cairo.

In this context, Nizar Sayyad and Mohamed Salama study Naguib Mahfouz’s cinematic Cairo, as no writer has expressed the city in its fluctuation between originality and change, as expressed by Naguib Mahfouz in his novels, I thought, which moved to the film world . Egyptian director Hassan El-Imam has turned Mahfouz’s trilogy “Bain Al-Kasserine”, “Qasr Al-Shouq” and “Al-Sukaria” into films. In the first novel, “Between the Two Palaces,” Mr. Ahmed Abdel-Gawad his wife, Amina, to leave the house forever, except to visit her mother. The imam chose to lift the roof of the family home, where the chicken coop is located, the place where the wife and her two daughters can escape male control to entertain or communicate with neighbors, and this is also the place that young cared for. people with the possibility of forbidden love. The film captures one of the moments of change in the old city in the early twentieth century, as the growth of new neighborhoods outside the heart of Old Cairo encouraged wealthy families and the elite to move to new suburbs like Heliopolis, which middle class allowed. and its dealers to replace the former. In the film, the father, Mr Ahmed Abdel-Gawad (represented by Yahya Shaheen) summarizes the usual traditions of the local male dictatorship, as he does not expect objections to his orders from his wife.

In the second film, one of his sons is killed during the protests against the British occupation, and the issue of the divorce of his eldest son, Yassin, gets the biggest weight. While in the third film we see the multiplication of family members. Modern Cairo thus appears slowly in the course of the films, with shots such as the dome of the University of Cairo, streets, secondary girls’ schools and foreign-style buildings. We find that the roofs are no longer the places where lovers meet, as the family moves to Sokkariah to live in an apartment in a building with a staircase whose lower part is used for impermissible interaction between the sexes. In the first movie, we see the father sitting on a pallet while his wife and daughters preparing food are standing behind him waiting for all the male family members to finish their food. But by the time of Soukaria, all these hierarchical images seem to have disappeared. Mahfouz’s later works, such as “New Cairo”, came to tell us, by turning it into a film work, the story of Abbas El-Helou, the local hairdresser, and his love for his neighbor Hamida and his urgent desire to to marry her. But Abbas does not have the money to get married, so he decides to go and work in an English army camp, while a pimp manages to convince his girlfriend to enter the world of prostitutes. We also get a photo of the rabble-rouser or storyteller being suspended from the cafe owner because the radio has taken its place, referring to the role of modernity in replacing the folkloric instrument with the instrument. The scene thus becomes a microcosm of Old Cairo, the site of the post-war decadence of the small community.
In another chapter, academic engineer Tayseer Khayri discusses the idea of ​​escaping the city through two films screened in the mid-1980s. The first was “He Came Out and Did Not Return” 1984, directed by Muhammad Khan, and the second, “Lord Cairo,” directed by Muhammad Abdel Aziz. In the two films, she explores the experience of life in Cairo from two different perspectives, told by two separate personalities, urban and rural. In the first, the events revolve around (Atiya), a middle-class young man (played by Yahya al-Fakhrani) who is struggling to buy an apartment to start a family. The camera shows his life in a poor neighborhood full of garbage, and one day his fiancée invites him for lunch at her house, and there her mother utters her grumble about the length of their engagement, which lasted seven years, so the hero will decided to go to the countryside for two days to sell his inheritance of his agricultural land. As the car carries him out of Cairo, the horizon changes little by little, from the high concrete blocks of new homes to the green farmland, and his mood begins to improve as soon as he reaches the countryside.

Khairy notes that throughout the history of the Egyptian film industry, the city has often been romanticized as the center of culture and a beacon of modernity, but in the two films we see it appear as a highly polluted city.

He builds a strong relationship with the buyer, Kamal Bey (Farid Shawky), and marries his daughter (Khoukha) and eventually decides not to return to Cairo. In “Lord is Cairo” the film begins with scenes of the small town in which Senussi and his family live, where the family enjoys an early breakfast, followed by a shot of Senussi as he takes his son to school with a small boat crossing the Nile, but as soon as they reach Cairo, Senussi and Sabreen embark on a terrifying journey. They struggle through crowded streets, taxis and long traffic lights, and are robbed while on a public bus. In the end, Al-Senussi decides to abandon the bread production project and return to his village, repeating, “We need to move away from the city to a place far away.”
Khairy notes that throughout the history of the Egyptian film industry, the city has often been romanticized as the center of culture and a beacon of modernity, but in the two films we see it appear as a highly polluted city. Here the city is transformed into a negative thing, full of noise and thugs, and this is what we see in the first film when director Ahmed Adawiya’s song “Zahma Ya Dunya Zahma” is adopted, while in the countryside we only hear the tweets of beautiful birds, and thus a double (a wild city scene before the atmosphere rustic romance). Khairi believes this is an inaccurate vision, as the Egyptian countryside still lacks basic infrastructure, such as clean water, and therefore the chances of having such an easy mood in the countryside may not be accurate. This film image also creates a fantasy about the city, as if we are in a circus and need to escape from it, or rather from the urban nightmare that has become modernity, or suffering spiritual collapse if we stay in it.

The city in the eyes of a taxi driver

In one of the interesting and interesting chapters of the book, the architect Mariam Merhi tries to read the image of the city from behind the wheel, and tries to understand how the driver sees the city and the way of life in it from his own perspective. . There are many films that have tried to deal with this aspect, such as the movie “Asphalt Goblins 1996” (represented by Mahmoud Hemida), which tells the story of Sayed, who inherited this work from his father and grandfather. He lives in a poor neighborhood in one apartment with his parents, and drives the microbus alternately with his father (Jamil Ratib). In the film, the young driver has an affair with the neighborhood hairdresser’s wife while his sister, Inshirah, has an affair with Ringo. Drivers appear like orcs driving their cars on streets that do not look crowded (Maadi Helwan Road), giving the impression that the drivers are walking through an unreal fantasy world. At the microbus stations we see a large crowd with lots of activities, there is the cafe, there are verbal opposites and different music that uses vulgar vocabulary. The researcher believes that the film Cairo shows as if it is living a period of escape from modernity to a postmodern state. Postmodernism, as seen by David Harvey, is associated with fluid accumulation, diversity of sources and outputs, and decentralization of decision making. In the case of asphalt puck drivers, the microbus drivers community forms a new sector of finance, based on self-financing and building profits, and that’s what they may give, and they may not be rich, but they control a whole sector of the transport economy. Diversity is another aspect of postmodernism, as there is no center or concentration of power. In the 1990s, there were various sources of transportation: buses, minibus drivers, and taxis. Thus, the city or Cairo appears in these films that are not controlled by the government, or that there are sectors in which negotiations with the state on the control and management of public space.
The book also contains studies that are no less important than what was presented, such as studying the image of the cafe in the Egyptian film, Khaled Adham, and a chapter on the city of a thousand minarets and a million industrial dishes, Muhammad Imad Fatiha, which revolves around the role of Islam in the lives of Cairenes as it appears in the theater, and other titles that deserve All attention and praise.

Syrian author

Leave a Comment