From Chahine’s al-Iskandariyya … leh to Salata baladi and ʿAn Yahud Misr

Rethinking Egyptian Jews’ Cosmopolitanism, Belonging and Nostalgia in Cinema

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
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  • 1 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

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This study examines the discursive trajectories of the cosmopolitan Egyptian Jew in the documentaries Salata baladi (Nadia Kamel, 2007) and ‘An Yahud Misr (Amir Ramses, 2012) in light of Youssef Chahine’s classic al-Iskandariyya … leh (1978). Undoubtedly, each of these films provides a complex story of Jewish life in Egypt and, taken together, these creative works offer an alternative to formulaic representations of Jews in Egyptian cinema and television. Yet, a close analysis of the three films reveals an underlying problematic rendering of cosmopolitanism in the context of the Egyptian Jewish community. Arguably, the filmmakers’ main interest in attending to the Jewish question relates more to nostalgic views of Egyptianness (of the pre-1952 Revolution era) as a cosmopolitan, multiethnic and multi-religious identity, than to a genuine interest in Jewish life, history and religion. In other words, the limited and skewed view of the Jewish community, with its near exclusion of the poor, uneducated, monolingual and religiously traditional Jewish residents of Egypt, is driven primarily by anxieties about Egyptian identity in which cosmopolitan Jews are assigned a supporting role in the play of an idealized Egypt of the past and in challenging xenophobic sentiments in the present.

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    Interview, 10 August 2013.

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