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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

8 - Egypt

from Part III - Where?

On 25 January 2011, millions of predominantly young Egyptians staged a historic popular uprising to demand the immediate end of Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule. Their action marked Egypt’s most recent major appearance on the global stage, performed in the hail of worldwide acknowledgements of the country’s history and civilisation. Holding that their homeland’s past should have earned it a better present, many of the protestors proclaimed it as umm al-dunnia (‘the mother of all the world’), a popular phrase that invokes a reminder of Egypt’s distinction as, perhaps, the longest existing political entity on earth. A closer look at the case of Egypt may reveal more to this claim than mere euphoric exceptionalism.

To be sure, Egypt seems unique in its fabled defiance of time, having preserved its borders virtually intact since time immemorial. Located at the centre of the Arab world, it was once hailed by its neighbours as ‘the beating heart of Arabness’, a carry-over from Arab nationalist times when Egypt became the de facto capital of the region’s culture and civilisation. Its Arab identity aside, however, the oft-invaded Mediterranean country has equally been shaped by its location at the intersection of different civilisations and continents, with each contributing a share to its makeup. As such, Egypt proudly bears the imprints of civilisations as diverse as the ‘Pharaonic’, Mediterranean/Graeco-Roman, Coptic Christian, Arabo-Islamic, Turco-Circassian and Nilotic/African. Yet this richly hybrid nature is but a facet of what gives meaning to the phrase ‘mother of all the world’, since today’s Egypt is, perhaps, the sum total of its myriad historical constituents in a single, potentially conflictual composite whole.

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The Cambridge Companion to Theatre History
  • Online ISBN: 9781139019651
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Enani, M. M., ‘Introduction’, The Trial of an Unknown Man, by Ismail, Ezzeldin, trans. Enani, M. (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 1985), p. 16.
Sadgrove, Philip, ‘Pre-modern Arabic Theatre’, in Allen, Roger and Richards, D. S. (eds.), The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic Literature in the Post-Classical Period, Vol. III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 369–83.
Abu-Lughod, Janet, Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 112.
Mostyn, Trevor, Egypt’s Belle Epoque: Cairo and the Age of the Hedonists (London and New York: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2006), p. 44.
Sadgrove, Philip, The Egyptian Theatre in the Nineteenth Century (1799–1882) (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1996), p. 179;
Badawi, M. M., Early Arabic Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 67.
Troutt Powell, Eve M., A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
Salem, Ali’s The Comedy of Oedipus (1970) and Diab, Mahmoud’s Bāb al-Futūh (‘The Gateway to Conquest’, 1971).
Carlson, Marvin, ‘Avant-Garde Drama in the Middle East’, in Harding, James M. and Rouse, John (eds.), Not the Other Avant-Garde: The Transnational Foundations of Avant-Garde Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), pp. 125–44.
Abu-Lughod, Lila, ‘The Objects of Soap Opera: Egyptian Television and the Cultural Politics of Modernity’, in Miller, Daniel (ed.), Worlds Apart: Modernity Through the Prism of the Local (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 191.
Selaiha, Nehad, The Egyptian Theatre: New Directions (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 2003).
Further Reading
Rubin, Dan, ed. The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Vol. : The Arab World (London and New York: Routledge, 1999).
Sadgrove, Philip.The Egyptian Theatre in the Nineteenth Century 1799–1882 (Reading: Ithaca Press, 2007).
Selaiha, Nehad.The Egyptian Theatre: New Directions (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 2003).
Selaiha, Nehad.The Egyptian Theatre: Perspectives (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 2004).
Selaiha, Nehad.The Egyptian Theatre: Plays and Playwrights (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 2003).
Zaki, Ahmed. ‘Egypt’, in Banham, Martin, ed., A History of Theatre in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 13–36.