A special correspondent for the leading Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram wrote from Alexandria on 28 May 1936: “One of the effects of the Al-Bosfur nightclub murder in Cairo is that its circumstances have led to an interest in the problem of ‘al-futuwwat’ [sing., al-futuwwa] and how much power and influence (al-sat˙wa) they have in the capital and in other Egyptian cities.” The murder referred to was that of a popular singer and dancer, Imtithal Fawzi, by a band of assassins led by failed businessman and weight-trainer Fuad al-Shami. I argue here that this murder can be read as an instance of a larger event, which might be inscribed in the following way: a moment that irrevocably branded the public figure of futuwwa with the additional meanings of thug, mobster, and nefarious villain—bal ˙tagi. This is not the conventional way of registering this moment; indeed, the modern transformation of al-futuwwa is rarely considered as a historical event. It is not my aim here to affirm or deny the outcome of this transformation, nor am I suggesting that the normative conception of al-futuwwa as an Islamic ideal of masculinity had never before had any negative connotations. Rather, I posit—and want to interrogate—a changed historical relationship in the constitution of al-futuwwa, in which the nature of history itself was radically transformed and contributed to the formation of a new politics and a new subject of politics. As part of the hegemonic rise of this field of politics and its subject, history typically shows, or simply presumes, that other life-worlds, like that of the futuwwat and their particular form of power, were rendered exceptional and ultimately obsolete. In a larger project from which this article is drawn, I explored the gendered constitution of that new cultural and political hegemony. I labeled the gender norm that emerged at the intersection of colonial modernity and nationalism as effendi (bourgeois) masculinity, which I located in a new constellation of practices and discourses around the desirable, modern body. The present essay is in part an effort to de-center this bourgeois figure and the terms of its narration, which I unwittingly reproduced in the original study by rendering the event of the futuwwa's transformation as a bit part within a larger story of ostensibly greater national and historical import.
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