Representations of Nasser and Sadat in Media

Originally submitted as coursework at UT-Austin.

Media and cultural products often highlight the political and social climate of the particular time periods in which they are produced. This can be observed in the media representations of both the Nasser and Sadat periods of Egyptian history. These periods are similar on many fronts. Both Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat lead military oriented regimes, and the media of the time reflects that. Additionally, one can observe Western influence, particularly in films from both eras. Most notably, the films and stories produced during these period or discussing these figures generally portray the figures predecessor negatively. We observe this in the treatment of Farouk and the aristocracy by Nasserist media and the treatment of Nasser and his secular-nationalist regime by Sadat and the productions of his time. The approaches to this sort of defacement vary, but the objective is very similar. Despite similarities in Notable literature, film, and media in general, that of the Nasser period takes a less obvious approach to its attacks on Farouk, while the media of Sadat is bold and aggressive toward Nasser’s legacy.

Similarities are abundant between the media of these two eras. This is particularly noticeable in film. This paper examines two films in particular, Return My Heart[1], a 1957 picture and 1974’s The Bullet is Still in My Pocket[2] from the Sadat period, both of which were immensely popular. Western influence is abundant in both, from the dress to the soundtrack, and is an overarching connection, aside from military presence in media, between the two periods. Hollywood’s influence is easily noted, as these films incorporate tracks every audience is familiar with, from the music of a dangerous situation or a tense fight to the song played as lovers reunite. In addition, many characters wear clothing commonly found in Western dress. Interestingly, in both films socioeconomic status is denoted with clothing, as the middle and upper class wear suits and dresses, leaving their heads uncovered and beards untrimmed. The architecture of the characters’ homes also seems to be very European and American, though this is less evident in The Bullet is Still in My Pocket[3], which is set primarily outdoors.

Aside from these aesthetic similarities, both eras also seek to attack the regimes that came before the one currently in power. Return My Heart[4] displays this by painting of the aristocracy as villainous and demonstrating a revolution against this social class, one that is ultimately successful[5]. This draws parallels to the overthrow of King Farouk by the Free Officers. The Bullet is Still in My Heart also launches an attack, this time on Nasserist policies. The film portrays the state of Egypt as in dire need of rescuing after the enactment of such policies and paints Nasser and his officials as corrupt.[6]

Though similarities are easily found in media from the two periods, the differences in attack strategy clearly distinguish them from one another. Nasser’s media is bright and positive, with fewer shadows. It seeks to paint the new regime in a flattering light, and is less direct in its attack on Farouk, shown in Return My Heart[7]. The film spends more time creating a positive association with its hero, rather than a negative one with its villains. The setting is lush and green, immediately instilling a favorable impression of the country. The actors are well-dressed, even those playing lower-class characters, and the peril of the early scenes is limited to childish clumsiness and resolved by the heroics of the protagonist. In these first minutes, the viewer glimpses the negative casting of the aristocracy, as the protagonist and his brother are subject to the disdain of the wealthy man for which their father works.

Continuing through the film, the military is painted positively, rather than oppressive or aggressive, as it is in later films, including The Bullet is Still in My Pocket[8]. The main character in Return My Heart[9] is a military officer, someone the audience already perceives as good, which places more force behind positive impressions of the institution. There is a revolution, much like that of the Free Officers, that frees the lower-classes from the oppressive upper-classes, and liberates the hero’s long lost love, Angie, saving her from her family’s station. Further highlighting the merits of the military and the evil of the elite, it is the woman’s companion that attacks Ali when he comes, peacefully, to repossess their wealth for the government.

In contrast, the media of Anwar Sadat’s rule is gloomy, constantly focused on the fallout from the policies enacted before he came to power. The stories told are laid on a foundation of Nasser and his actions, and usually paint those actions in a negative light. The Bullet is Still in My Pocket[10] clearly demonstrates this, set in the desert most people commonly associate with Egypt. It is desolate and almost depressing, opening scenes filled with tension and distress wrought by the Nasser period. The movie as a whole is more dark and aggressive than Return My Heart[11], incorporating heavy themes, rape and war in particular. The military are ever present and war scenes are a significant portion of the film, as the characters fight to defeat Israel, though Nasser could not.

Despite a more aggressive approach, it is worth noting that Sadat struggled more with the shadow of Nasser than did Nasser with Farouk’s memory. This battle with the memory of Nasser plagues Sadat even after his death, as the story that Yoram Meital discusses demonstrates. Even after he has seemingly rescued the country and brought about peace, the character of Sadat is challenged for daring to reject Nasserist policies and to attempt to take back the Sinai, which Nasser was unable to do. Even in this story, however, an attack on Nasser is made. The Sadat character targets the Nasser character, claiming to have been forced to “[correct] mistakes [he] inherited from [Nasser’s] period.”[12]

In many media productions from the Nasser and Sadat time periods, the audience can observe a number of similarities, most notably, attacks on the leader that served prior to Nasser or Sadat. The feature that distinguishes these eras and attacks is the approach media from each period takes in disparaging the previous regime. Media of Nasser’s time paints Nasser positively while subtly placing characters reminiscent of King Farouk and aristocrats in the role of antagonist. On the other hand, Sadat-era media is aggressive, focusing on damaging the image of Nasser, despite such endeavors resulting in less welcoming media.

Bibliography

Gaffney, Jane. “The Egyptian Cinema: Industry and Art in a Changing Society.” Arab Studies Quarterly 9, no. 1 (1987): 53–75.

Gordon, Joel. Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nassers̀ Egypt. Chicago Studies on the Middle East. Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002.

Meital. “Who Is Egypt’s ‘Hero of War and Peace’?: The Contest over Representation.” History and Memory 15, no. 1 (2003): 150. https://doi.org/10.2979/his.2003.15.1.150.

Return My Heart, 1957. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwKTWrw2qLE.

The Bullet Is Still in My Pocket, 1974. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4yfXIfT9EM.


Published by K. E. Diller

Young adult attempting to do a million things at once, including write books and follow my dreams.

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