Other films from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s also depicted the image of the fida’i (freedom fighter) and the popular armed resistance movement which spread in the late 1940s in the lead-up to the 1952 Revolution. In other words, discontent with the king and the British was not only strongly felt within the army, but in society as a whole. This point is of particular significance because it emphasises, as part of the collective experience, that the national army and the people are ‘one hand’ against the enemy. This metaphor of the one hand together with the iconic chant ‘The Army and the People are One Hand’ will be revisited in the early days of the 2011 January Revolution, as will be discussed in Chap. 4.

Cinema has portrayed both the military figure and the freedom fighter as multi-dimensional in the sense that not only are they the disciplined ‘soldiers’ whose lives are centred around their military duties and armed struggle, but they are also the kind-hearted fathers or brothers or husbands; they are good-natured and their loyalty is granted only to the mother nation; they are great lovers and fall in love like other human beings, and aspire to have a family and children. We continue to see these recurring motifs in numerous films of the period, specifically how the love story is interwoven with the larger picture of one’s love and sacrifice for the nation.5

One significant film which follows the story of the freedom fighters and their relationship with other sectors of society to form a solid resistance movement is La Waqt lil-Hobb (No Time for Love), produced in 1963. The story and dialogue were written by the prominent author Youssef Idris, and the script was written by Lucien Lamberi and directed by the veteran filmmaker Salah Abou Seif. We see here, once again, a film which relied on a big production budget starring the popular actors Faten Hamama and Rushdie Abaza. The film opens with the subtitle ‘Cairo 1952’, and the location is the desert surrounding the pyramids, showing a group of feda’iyeen (freedom fighters) running a training camp and sitting in a tent discussing how to get weapons to fight the ‘enemy’ (in reference to the British colonialists) after one of their fellow fighters was killed. Since their financial means are very limited, these fighters are discussing how to involve al-sha‘b and initiate a national campaign of donations for this noble cause.

It is by coincidence on that day that two female teachers are accompanying their pupils to the pyramids, when they come across the camp. One of the teachers, Fawziyya, meets Hamza, one of the men at the camp. She likes him, so she boasts in front of him (lying) that she too is taking part in the popular resistance movement against the colonialists through charity work. She promises that she will help the men in collecting donations to buy weapons. At the beginning, we see her doing this only to be able to see Hamza again. Two days later, the massacre against Egyptian policemen takes place, when fifty were killed by the British troops occupying Isma‘iliyya city. This leads to the escalation of anger, tension and resistance against the British, especially within the ranks of the feda’iyeen. It is important to note here that the date of this massacre, 25 January 1952, became a national day in Egypt to celebrate the bravery of policemen and was coined Police Day. In 2011 the Egyptian uprising sprang up on this day in defiance of police brutality and the arrest and torture to death of many activists in Egyptian prisons by the former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly. The date was chosen carefully by the Egyptian protesters who called for the demonstrations on that particular day in 2011 to reveal the irony embedded in celebrating Police Day by the Mubarak regime.

In the film we see how the famous Cairo Fire occurs just after the massacre, an event perceived by the nationalists as a conspiracy by the king and his men to justify the declaration of martial law in the country in order to overshadow the massacre of the policemen and uproot the resistance efforts. The regime was increasingly feeling threatened by both the popular resistance movement and the army officers who were showing discontent. The police begin to arrest dissenters from amongst the freedom fighters, so Hamza runs away and hides in an apartment of one of his friends. Through his network of friends, he manages to locate

Fawziyya, who gradually becomes involved in the revolutionary struggle. She becomes Hamza’s aide and they fall in love. However, he repeatedly explains to her that the national cause does not allow him any space to live a normal life and be able to love and start a family. Yet Fawziyya continues to support him and sacrifices everything for the nation. They both feel they have to win this struggle to free the nation from the corrupt king and the colonialists and go through many dangerous moments trying to hide from the police and the informers.

The latter part of the film takes place in Isma‘iliyya, where Hamza and his comrades decide to carry out a military operation against the British troops stationed there. Fawziyya helps them by transferring the ammunition (dynamite) in a cask whilst pretending to follow a coffin with a group of villagers. The film ends with a memorable sequence where the children of the alley act out a song in loud voices so as to warn Hamza not to approach the alley because the British are waiting there to arrest him. There is emphasis in the film on the popular resistance movement at the time, and how it was a large national-armed movement stretching across Egypt, in cities and small villages, where ordinary men and women, and even children, took part with whatever means they had, a theme which was underscored over and again in numerous films, songs and literary works.

Perhaps another significant example which further illustrates this theme can be found in Latifa al-Zayyat’s classic novel al-Bab al-Maftouh (The Open Door).6 Al-Zayyat’s novel was published in 1960 and is now considered a canonical work of modern Arabic literature.7 It was made into a film directed by veteran filmmaker Henri Barakat in 1963 (the same year of the production of the film No Time for Love). Al-Zayyat participated with Barakat in writing the film script and she also wrote the dialogue together with Youssef Eissa. It is interesting that the film stars Faten Hamama, who also played the main female roles in the two films discussed above. In the iconic film’s poster, Hamama, who played the main role of Layla, is portrayed as the central figure.

In the novel, al-Zayyat situates her protagonist Layla within a nationalist discourse, whilst depicting Layla’s development and formative years, first at school and then at university, during a crucial decade in Egypt’s history, 1946-1956, in the lead-up to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the Suez War in the aftermath. The novelist narrates Layla’s coming of age as intersecting with the major political events taking place in Egypt at the time, both the setbacks and the victories—emerging from the colonial experience, the national liberation movement, the Cairo Fire and the 1952 Revolution.

Such successive events eventually lead Layla to take an active part in the armed resistance movement in the city of Port Sa‘id during the Suez War.

The novel opens with the date 21 February 1946. It was the date of a huge demonstration of over 40,000 Egyptians against British troops, calling for the abrogation of the 1936 Treaty and a stop to negotiations with the colonialists. There was a call for a general strike, which the British responded to by sending armoured vehicles to crush the demonstration that took place in Isma‘iliyya Square in downtown Cairo, before its name officially became Tahrir (Liberation) Square after the 1952 Revolution. There was much resentment towards the British in the aftermath of the Second World War, as the Egyptians had believed that the new Labour government would agree to negotiations for the country’s independence. The nationalists saw how Egypt’s resources were being drained by the colonialists, which put the economy in a far worse situation than before the war. During the February demonstration of 1946, many Egyptians were killed when British soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators, a large segment of whom were students. Around that time, there was a national upsurge against the British, particularly from within student and worker’s sectors. Latifa al-Zayyat herself was a politically active university student in the 1940s, and in 1946 she was elected the secretary general of the National Committee for Students and Workers (Elsadda 2012, p. 97).

In the opening chapter of the novel, the narrator fictionalises the historical details and describes what happened during the February demonstration. We begin to follow the conversations between a number of characters who witnessed the events. One of them says: ‘Now, personally, I consider this demonstration a new stage in our national struggle. First, this was a direct clash with the English. Second: the army refused to break up the demonstration. Not only that - our army vehicles were moving through the city plastered with nationalist slogans!’ (TOD, p. 4). The people who are gathered around continue to offer their own accounts of the events and the bravery of the demonstrators in the face of the English bullets. Another witness makes this revealing conclusion: ‘This wasn’t simply an anti-English thing today. No, people were attacking the English and the king, and agents of imperialism in general. And I say this is a new stage of national consciousness, that’s my own personal view of the situation’ (p. 4—emphasis in original).

For al-Zayyat’s protagonist, Layla, who was only eleven years old in 1946, this date marked a particular memory and an insight into her identity as an educated Egyptian girl living in Cairo and brought up in a middle-class family. Her older brother Mahmud joined the demonstrations and was wounded in the leg. It was Mahmud’s awareness of the national question and his activism as a freedom fighter in the armed resistance movement that accompanied Layla’s experience as she grew up. Mahmud’s character here reminds us of Hamza in the film No Time for Love. Both men volunteered to train in the use of weapons, with the aim of building a ‘popular army’ to liberate the nation from colonialism.

Thus, the novel charts Layla’s years of struggle to carve an independent voice and character of her own within a middle-class milieu which had strict and conventional expectations of young women: to pay meticulous attention to their looks and appearance in order to attract rich suitors; to be obedient to the male figures of the family; to be obedient to their husbands after they leave home; and so on. These are the ‘fundamentals’ or usul in Arabic, which Layla’s parents continue to remind her of. Layla goes through a long and arduous journey to break away from these conventions, until she finally finds her lost soul in the midst of the Suez War amongst the masses when she decides to travel to Port Sa‘id to join Mahmud and his wife Sanaa in the national resistance movement there, hence defying her parents’ as well as her fiance’s expectations. Breaking the relation with her domineering fiance, Dr Ramzi, serves as a symbolic end to her obedience and loyalty to conventions. Here, al-Zayyat intertwines Layla’s story of her quest to achieve liberation with Egypt’s national struggle for independence. Layla, Mahmud, Sanaa and Husayn (whom Layla eventually falls in love with) represent the ordinary Egyptians who formed the popular movement across the country from ‘below’ in support of Nasser as he declared the nationalisation of the Suez Canal.

In the final chapters of the novel, the narrative follows Layla to Port Sa‘id and her complete transformation as a result of the war experience. The novel ends with the crowds gathered in the central square of Port Sa‘id celebrating their victory and jubilation after the evacuation of the foreign troops from the Canal cities. This moment of victory is marked by the symbolism embedded in the blowing up of the statue of de Lesseps: ‘It was a symbol of the ages of slavery and colonialism that they had inherited, a symbol that pulled them back into a loathsome past, that put a barrier between them and a finer future. The symbol must be shattered’ (p. 362). The crowds gently push Layla and Husayn ahead in their forward movement, and when Layla asks him if that was the end, Husayn replies: ‘This is just the beginning, my love’ (p. 364).

The film, carrying the same title as the novel, came out in 1963. Similar to the novel, the film interweaves Layla’s story of personal and emotional maturity with the national struggle for liberation, whilst emphasising the theme that personal liberation could not be complete without the end of colonialism in the country. Mahmud and Husayn are portrayed in a positive light as nationalists and brave men fighting in the armed resistance movement. The film also ends with Layla’s decision to break away from her family and fiance (or Fuad in the film). However, the final scenes take place in the train station, showing the wounded being carried back from the Canal Zone to Cairo. When Layla sees these ‘heroes’ in front of her eyes, she immediately jumps on the train with Husayn, marking a new chapter in her life and in their relationship.

Through such cinematic representations as No Time for Love and The Open Door, we begin to realise that not only were the army officer and the soldier the heroes of the national liberation movement whether before or after 1952, but more importantly there was also a parallel army composed of popular heroes and heroines such as the characters we have seen in these films: Hamza, Fawziyya, Layla, Husayn, Mahmud, Sanaa and many others. These freedom fighters were in support of Nasser after 1952 and their efforts, exemplified in the armed resistance movement from below, went hand in hand with Nasser’s nationalist dream of a new and liberated Egypt:.

Interestingly, around the same time of the publication of al-Zayyat’s novel al-Bab al-Maftouh, the veteran Egyptian writer and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz published his critical novel al-Summan wal Kharif in 1962 (Autumn Quail),8 also made into a film in 1967. In the novel, Mahfouz’s narrator charts a counter-narrative of the Free Officers’ regime through the lens of his protagonist Isa al-Dabbagh. Roger Allen (1985) writes in the Introduction to his translation of the novel that this work ‘possesses considerable significance as one of the very few works to treat the events of the Revolution itself within a fictional context’ (p. 6). As a recurrent motif, this novel also opens with the events of the Cairo Fire in January 1952, which erupted after the massacre of fifty Egyptian policemen in Isma‘iliyya by the British troops occupying the Canal Zone. Isa, the novel’s protagonist, who is a prestigious senior civil servant in the government, arrives on the train from Isma‘iliyya to Cairo and is immediately struck by the mayhem at the railway station. None of his secretaries or messengers was waiting at the station to meet him. Isa thinks to himself that something terrible must have happened, before he realises that the chaos pervading the city is a result of the fires. The day before, he was a witness to the massacre of the policemen in Isma‘iliyya and was questioned about its consequences by the freedom fighters stationed there:

His mind still held the bloody scenes at the Canal, the slaughtered policemen, their defenseless heroism. He still heard the ear-splitting shout of the young commando: “Where are you people? Where’s the government? Weren’t you the ones who proclaimed the holy war?”

“Yes!” He’d replied in anguish, “That’s why I’m standing here in the middle of nowhere.”

The young man had turned on him. “What we need is weapons!” He’d shouted. “Why aren’t you people providing them?” (AQ, p. 11)

As someone high up in the government and a member of the Wafd party, Isa was well aware of the discontent amongst the freedom fighters on the ground, yet he seemed indifferent and unwilling to engage or respond to their concerns. In the above conversation, we notice the recurring theme of the lack of weapons to fight the enemy (the British) by the freedom fighters. Isa asks the men to be patient, but their response shows outrage and resentment against the government, which Isa represents.

The next day when he arrives in Cairo, he is bewildered as to why the police and the army could not stop the fires. His instincts and political experience tell him that the Cairo Fire was a ‘conspiracy’ and an act of betrayal intended to destroy the nationalist movement: ‘But here was Cairo burning. And these traitors standing on the street corners—there were so many of them! Everything was quite obvious, but there was so little that could be done about it (p. 15). Indeed, the Cairo Fire, at the start of the novel, comes to symbolise the internal fire which will eat away at Isa, as political events in Egypt continue to unfold.

The novel follows Isa’s trajectory in the aftermath of the 1952 Revolution and the rise of the Free Officers to power. As seen by many as belonging to the ‘old regime’ and as being accused of corruption and bribery, Isa is presented to the Purge Committee. He is unable to defend himself since he did accept bribery during his time in office, and became a rich man as a result. However, he is angered by the decision of the Committee to pension him off since he believed that the system itself was corrupt and he had only followed in the footsteps of other senior officials who undertook favours in return for money or gifts. While we follow Isa’s downfall from office, prestige and the high lifestyle, we also see how his cousin Hasan rises to power under the new regime after the 1952 Revolution. In a turnaround of events, Hasan marries Isa’s ex-fiancee,

Salwa, who comes from a rich family that were loyal to the king. Isa considers Hasan to be a hypocrite, like many others, who has taken advantage of the new political situation. The conversations which take place between them reveal an unresolved tension between the past and the present. The new regime under the military is viewed with a sceptical lens in the novel, significantly different from the positive and nationalist outlook we have seen in other works discussed earlier, such as al-Zayyat’s The Open Door. In Autumn Quail, the angle is slightly shifted to show new connections, deals and networks formed by military men. Isa is adamant in remaining outside of this new system altogether, and does not succumb to Hasan’s advice to take on a new post in his office.

However, Isa’s character is not presented in a positive light either. On the contrary, we continue to follow his downfall not only socially and politically, but also morally. The novel depicts his new relationship with Riri, a prostitute from Alexandria, and how he kicks her out of his house when he learns she is pregnant. He then marries an older and rich woman, Qadriyya, in order to keep up his high lifestyle. He degenerates into alcoholism and gambling, and his marriage begins to fall apart. Isa is represented here as an ‘outsider’ who is unable to fit in with the new scheme of things. However, towards the end of the novel, and with the events of the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the Tripartite Aggression, Isa begins to shift his political perspective and tries to find new meanings in the context of the war: ‘Yes indeed, he thought, the fate of the revolution is swaying in the balance. However, his own nationalist feelings burst out and overwhelmed everything else [...]’ (p. 107). In a discussion between Isa and his friends about the war, they express their dismay with the army and reiterate that it was ‘finished’ and that was ‘its end’ (p. 109). When Isa asks them if they really wanted the army to be defeated by the Israelis, further scepticism is expressed by one of his friends, Ibrahim Khairat:

There will be a superficial defeat [.] which will rid us of the new occupation army. Then Israel will be forced to retreat and maybe even to be satisfied with taking over Sinai and making peace with the Arabs. England and France will interfere to settle the problems connected with the Near East and return things to normal in Egypt. (p. 110)

This particular part of the conversation demonstrates the kind of sentiments which were prevalent within a sector of the Egyptian society who did not back the military regime or the revolution, even when the country was under such a deathly threat as the Suez War. However, it can also be argued that Naguib Mahfouz was so perceptive at that point, in the early 1960s, that what the character said in the above quote actually happened in the aftermath of the June 1967 War defeat, when Israel occupied Sinai, and then when president Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979. But as for Isa at that point in time, he declares to his friends in response that a defeat in the war would be catastrophic (p. 110). As the news of the resistance continued to arrive in Cairo from Port Sa‘id, Isa’s state of mind was in turmoil, and he began to hope for one thing: victory (p. 114).

Thus, ironically, we see how both Isa in Mahfouz’s novel and Layla in The Open Door, each in his/her own way, emerge from the sense of detachment and alienation in the midst of the Suez War. As represented in multiple works, this was a moment when the army and the people were indeed one hand against foreign aggression.9 But while The Open Door concludes with Layla and Husayn being reunited in their love with an optimistic outlook to the future, Autumn Quail continues to follow Isa’s trajectory after the war to chronicle the cracks in his marriage, and how he unexpectedly comes across Riri when he travels again to Alexandria, only to find out that he had a daughter with her. When he tries to make amends with Riri, she shuts him out from her life completely. It is as if Mahfouz seeks to unsettle his readers’ perception where Isa’s character is concerned. What he did to Riri, kicking her out when she was pregnant while knowing she had nowhere else to go to, was a point of no return. Both political and social relations are complex, and Isa is not yet able to overcome his internal sense of defeat in order to find a new direction for his lost self.

Despite Isa’s despair, Autumn QQuail concludes with a note of hope, even though it comes about while he is drunk. Isa sees a young man in Alexandria, whom he clamped down on when he was still a high-profile official in the government. This anonymous man was then sent to prison as a result. When he meets Isa under the statue of Sa‘d Zaghloul, he says to him that what’s past is past and they should rather move on. After some hesitation, Isa decides to follow this man leaving the statue behind him ‘in solitude and darkness’ (p. 143). The shadow of Sa‘d Zaghloul’s statue suggests that Isa is trying to break away from his past, since he was a member of the Wafd party which was founded by the popular figure of the 1919 Revolution Sa‘d Zaghloul. Although the ending here is somewhat ambiguous and abrupt, it indicates that Isa is at least feeling more optimistic than what we have seen throughout the narrative. Thus, the novel charts four years in Isa’s life (1952-1956), and depicts his internal turmoil as an integral part of the turbulent political situation in the country during the early years of the Free Officers’ reign. The nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the final evacuation of foreign troops from the Canal Zone are marked, once again, as decisive moments when the people (al-sha‘b) embraced Nasser and offered him mass support.

Interestingly, the film, which carries the same title as the novel, came out during the year of the defeat in the Six Day War with Israel (1967). It was a large production starring two prominent actors, Nadia Lotfi and Mahmoud Morsi, and directed by Hossam Eldin Mustafa. The film opens with Isa’s high posture against the backdrop of the freedom fighters in Isma‘iliyya and expands on his meeting with them, where they tell him clearly that what they needed most was ammunition. The film also includes documentary footage of the army vehicles surrounding Abdeen Palace to chronicle the events of 23 July 1952 when the Free Officers carried out their coup, as well as footage of King Farouq leaving the country from Alexandria port, and parts of Nasser’s speech on the day of declaring the nationalisation of the Canal. There is also footage taken from documentaries about the Suez War. These visual images reinforce such important political events and immortalise them in the viewers’ memory. However, the film does not complicate Isa’s position vis-a-vis the revolution as we have read in the novel, but rather focuses in the latter part on how he decides to volunteer in the armed resistance movement after the nationalisation of the Canal. The tone of the film turns into a nationalist one towards the end, when Isa finds Riri and his daughter and is reunited with them. Riri has forgiven him, as well as his nationalist friends from the past. Isa has finally come back from his diverted path to be part of the new society and to embrace the ideals of the revolution.

It is noteworthy to point here to this significant difference between the closures of the novel and the film. The visual medium aimed to maintain the line of the nationalist discourse and showed Isa as diverting from the right path (the path of revolution) at the start of the story only to return at the end to be part of it. The novel, on the other hand, diverts from such nationalist rhetoric and continues to depict the uncertain and ambivalent future of the revolution, which Isa was well aware of.

In this context, it is also of due importance to mention that Naguib Mahfouz published a number of works during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s where he dissected gender, social and class relations within the Egyptian society, mainly through irony, metaphor and symbolism, in order to critique the Free Officers’ reign and their policies. Perhaps one of his most metaphorical representations was the iconic novel Awlad Haratina (Children of the Alley), which was published in a serialised form in al-Ahram newspaper in 1959. It was banned from being published in book form in Egypt until 2006,10 as it had raised controversy and criticism at the time of the al-Azhar establishment. The Azhar Sheikhs considered the views expressed in the novel about religion as ‘atheist’. However, the novel was first published in book form by Dar al-Adab in Beirut in 1962. Other popular novels by Mahfouz during the 1960s which expressed social critique, and were all made into films, include al-Liss wal Kilab (The Thief and the Dogs) (1961), Tharthara fawqa al-Nil (Adrift on the Nile) (1966) and Miramar (Miramar) (1967).

Similar to cinema, the literary field came under state monopoly after the 1952 Revolution, according to Richard Jacquemond in his book Conscience of the Nation (2008, pp. 15-16). He discusses the idea of the writer as ‘the conscience of the nation’ and of literature as ‘the mirror of society’ (p. 5). Jacquemond makes the following remarks:

The major intellectuals of the liberal age, that is, of colonial and monarchical Egypt, welcomed the regime that emerged from the 23 July 1952 coup d’etat, believing that it would bring about their social and nationalist aspirations. However, they swiftly found themselves obliged to give up their political ambitions, for, between 1953 and 1955, dozens of intellectuals who risked such ambitions, whether liberals, communists, or Muslim Brothers, found themselves paying for them with periods spent in prison. The purge carried out at Cairo University in September 1954 also damaged the careers of several dozen of teachers [...]. (p. 15)

After 1956 and the consolidation of Nasser’s mass popularity following the Suez War, the state began setting up literary and cultural institutions with the aim of monopolising the intellectual and literary fields. This included for example ‘the establishment of institutions such as the Higher Council for Arts and Letters (1956) and the Ministry of Culture (1958), as well as the expansion of those state institutions that already existed in the field of theater and radio [...]’ (Jacquemond 2008, p. 15). Another crucial development was Nasser’s decree in 1962 that education should be free for all (Jacquemond 2008, p. 16). Jacquemond also points to a similar paradox in the literary field, which we have seen taking place in other cultural realms such as cinema: the regime aimed at control but also allowed a margin of freedom where the creative arts were concerned. He writes:

‘While the Nasser regime would not tolerate any kind of political opposition, it did allow for the expression of a degree of pluralism within the ideological institutions it had established and which it controlled’ (p. 17). Although such state institutions under Nasser constituted a tight web of networks bringing together state officials, army officers, writers and journalists, this state-run monopoly of the literary field became increasingly ‘contested by young avant-garde writers who had become ever more numerous and active [...]’ (pp. 19-20). Indeed, Jacquemond’s work is considered an essential reference source on the Nasser period and afterwards, as it maps out key changes to the literary field and illustrates their complexity.

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