Land in Revolt

Eco-criticism and the Roots of Resistance

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Rachel Webb Jekanowski Concordia University

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In this article, I examine the politicization of natural resources like water and land, and the wider entanglement of environments and politics, in Egyptian cinematic imaginaries. I focus on Youssef Chahine’s film al-Ard (The land, 1969) and its politicization of agricultural land during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954–1970) and the British colonial occupation of Egypt (1882–1956). Because histories of colonialism and nationalism in the Arab world are rooted in the economic and political exploitation of material resources (including land, water, and people), I draw on eco-criticism as a method of critical reading to analyze the film’s depictions of these configurations of political power and resource management. I argue that al-Ard roots its depiction of the resistance of the Egyptian peasantry (fellahin) in environmental terms, namely, restrictions to resource access and the affective relationships of the peasants to the land. By tracing these imbrications, I seek to relocate environmental concerns in scholarship on political resistance with reference to Nasser-era cinema.

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