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This quote from a character in the 1974 novel Al-Karnak (Karnak Café) by Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) sums up the reaction of millions of people in Egypt and the Arab world to the June 1967 Arab–Israeli war. Why did this war shatter their worldviews? A military defeat may occur for purely military reasons, in this case the better preparation of Israeli troops. Why should it cast doubt on a whole way of life? The answer to this question lies in the social and cognitive structure of nationalism, which I examine in a moment of crisis, after the 1967 war, when it became necessary for nationalist intellectuals to debate issues that had previously been taken for granted. Al-Karnak, which was made into a highly profitable and controversial film, provides a good starting point for studying these debates. However, it is important to understand them as products of the nationalist project of which Mahfouz was a part. I first analyze the history of that project, explaining its raison d'être and its success by the 1960s.

Corresponding author
Benjamin Geer is a PhD candidate in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, U.K.; email:
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Author's Note: I thank Wen-Chin Ouyang, Ayman El-Desouky, and the four anonymous IJMES reviewers for their comments on previous drafts of this article.

1 Mahfouz Naguib, Karnak Café, trans. Allen Roger (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2007), 6566.

2 When giving English equivalents for the titles of Arabic literary works, I use the titles of published English translations.

3 See ʿ Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi, Contemporary Arab Thought: Studies in Post-1967 Arab Intellectual History (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 5759; al-Din Durriya Sharaf, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr 1961–1981 (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 1992), 115, 119.

4 Laurens Henry, Paix et guerre au Moyen-Orient: L'Orient arabe et le monde de 1945 à nos jours, 2nd ed. (Paris: Armand Colin, 2005), 239–41.

5 See, for example, Mitchell M. Marion, “Emile Durkheim and the Philosophy of Nationalism,” Political Science Quarterly 46 (1931): 87106; Smart Ninian, “Religion, Myth, and Nationalism,” in Religion and Politics in the Modern World, ed. Merkl Peter H. and Smart Ninian (New York: New York University Press, 1983), 1528; Hobsbawm E. J., Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1992), 72, 81, 85; Kedourie Elie, Nationalism, 4th ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 4043. Also note Bell David A., The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1600–1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2223.

6 Billig Michael, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage Publications, 1995), 86.

7 Bell, The Cult of the Nation in France, 1–3, 137, 165–68.

8 Winock Michel, “Jeanne d'Arc,” in Les Lieux de mémoire, 3 vols., ed. Nora Pierre (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 3: 4427–73; Bell, The Cult of the Nation in France, 119–39.

9 Yunis Sharif, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas: Muzaharat al-Tanahhi wa-Tashakkul ʿIbadat Nasir (Cairo: Dar Mirit, 2005), 132, 158, 207; Gülalp Haldun, “Enlightenment by Fiat: Secularization and Democracy in Turkey,” Middle Eastern Studies 41 (2005): 351–72; Hazareesingh Sudhir, “Memory, Legend and Politics: Napoleonic Patriotism in the Restoration Era,” European Journal of Political Theory 5 (2006): 7184; Tulard Jean, Le mythe de Napoléon (Paris: Armand Colin, 1971), 8592.

10 Jacquemond Richard, “Thawrat al-Takhyil wa-Takhyil al-Thawra: Qiraʾa Jadida fi ʾAwlad Haratina,” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 23 (2003): 118–32.

11 See, for example, Apter David, “Political Religion in the New Nations,” in Old Societies and New States: The Quest for Modernity in Asia and Africa, ed. Geertz Clifford (New York: The Free Press, 1963), 57104; Anderson Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006), 912.

12 See Burrin Philippe, “Political Religion: The Relevance of a Concept,” History & Memory 9, no. 1 (1997): 321–49; Maier Hans, “Political Religion: A Concept and its Limitations,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 8 (2007): 516.

13 Bourdieu Pierre and Wacquant Loïc J. D., Réponses: Pour une anthropologie réflexive (Paris: Seuil, 1992), 78. For an excellent introduction to Bourdieu's theory in English, see Swartz David, Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

14 Bourdieu Pierre, “La production de la croyance,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 13 (1977), 343; idem, Raisons pratiques: sur la théorie de l'action (Paris: Seuil, 1994), 116–17.

15 Bourdieu Pierre, La distinction: critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1979), 137–38.

16 Bourdieu Pierre, “Une interprétation de la théorie de la religion selon Max Weber,” Archives européennes de sociologie 12 (1971): 321. See also Swartz David, “Bridging the Study of Culture and Religion: Pierre Bourdieu's Political Economy of Symbolic Power,” Sociology of Religion 57 (1996): 7185.

17 Bourdieu Pierre, “Legitimation and Structured Interests in Weber's Sociology of Religion,” in Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity, ed. Lash Scott and Whimster Sam (London: Allen & Unwin, 1987), 130.

18 See Bourdieu, Raisons pratiques, 185, 200–11.

19 Gershoni Israel and Jankowski James P., Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs: The Search for Egyptian Nationhood, 1900–1930 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 9193. See also Kedourie, Nationalism, 97.

20 Gershoni and Jankowski, Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs, 4–10.

21 Beinin Joel and Lockman Zachary, Workers on the Nile: Nationalism, Communism, Islam and the Egyptian Working Class, 1882–1954 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 142–43.

22 Schulze Reinhard, Die Rebellion Der Ägyptischen Fallahin 1919 (Berlin: Baalbek, 1981), 150–92, cited in Gershoni and Jankowski, Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs, 48.

23 This view contrasts with theories that see nationalism's main or only goal as control of the state, for example, Gellner Ernest, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), 1; Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, 9; Breuilly John, Nationalism and the State, 2nd ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), 2.

24 Anderson, Imagined Communities, 143.

25 Bourdieu Pierre, “The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed,” in The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Johnson Randall (London: Polity Press, 1993), 40; idem, Raisons pratiques, 200.

26 Jacquemond Richard, Entre scribes et écrivains: le champ littéraire dans l'Egypte contemporaine (Paris: Actes Sud, 2003), 113–14.

27 al-Hakim Tawfiq, ʿAwdat al-Ruh (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2008), 108; see Gershoni and Jankowski, Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs, 80.

28 See Bourdieu, “Un acte désintéressé est-il possible?” in idem, Raisons pratiques, 147–71.

29 Bourdieu, “Une interprétation de la théorie de la religion selon Max Weber,” 17–19.

30 Bourdieu Pierre, Le sens pratique (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1980), 8889.

31 Bourdieu, “Une interprétation de la théorie de la religion selon Max Weber,” 20; Verter Bradford, “Spiritual Capital: Theorizing Religion with Bourdieu against Bourdieu,” Sociological Theory 21 (2003): 150–74.

32 See Medina José, “Wittgenstein and Nonsense: Psychologism, Kantianism, and the Habitus,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11 (2003): 293318.

33 Billig, Banal Nationalism, 42.

34 See Bourdieu, Raisons pratiques, 126–27.

35 Bourdieu, “Une interprétation de la théorie de la religion selon Max Weber,” 6.

36 Al-Hakim, ʿAwdat al-Ruh, 281–82; Vatikiotis P. J., Nasser and His Generation (London: Croom Helm, 1978), 28.

37 Reid Donald Malcolm, Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 197, 200–206.

38 Jankowski James, Nasser's Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and the United Arab Republic (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002), 25. See Yunis, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas, 33.

39 See Bourdieu Pierre, Les règles de l'art: Genèse et structure du champ littéraire, nouv. éd, rev. et corr. (Paris: Seuil, 1998), 279–82, 376–77.

40 Vatikiotis, Nasser and His Generation, 27–28, 175; al-Hakim Tawfiq, ʿAwdat al-Waʿy, 2nd ed. (Cairo: Maktabat Misr, 1988), 4849.

41 Bourdieu Pierre, “Le champ scientifique,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 2, no. 3 (1976): 88104.

42 See Bourdieu, Les règles de l'art, 550.

43 Al-Hakim, ʿAwdat al-Waʿy, 20–21, 28–29.

44 Ibid., 58–59.

45 Brown Daniel, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 6080.

46 Rizq Yunan Labib, Al-ʿAib fi Dhat ʾAfandina: Dirasa Tarikhiyya Muwaththaqa min 1866 hatta al-Yawm (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2008), 77, 81–82; see also Sharaf al-Din, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr, 46–48.

47 Bourdieu, La distinction, 190.

48 Shukrallah Hani, “Political Crisis and Political Conflict in Post-1967 Egypt,” in Egypt under Mubarak, ed. Tripp Charles and Owen Roger (London: Routledge, 1989), 53.

49 See Rizq, Al-ʿAib fi Dhat ʾAfandina, 77–78.

50 See Yunis, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas, 199–200.

51 al-Sakkut Hamdi, Najib Mahfuz: Bibliografia Taghribiyya wa-Sirat Hayah wa-Madkhal Naqdi (Cairo: Al-Hayʾa al-Misriyyah al-ʿAmma li-l-Kitab, 2007), 1721.

52 Mahfouz Naguib, Najib Mahfuz Yatadhakkar, ed. al-Ghitani Jamal (Beirut: Dar al-Masira, 1980), 73.

53 Ibid., 76.

54 Colla Elliott, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007), 234–72.

55 El-Enany Rasheed, Naguib Mahfouz: The Pursuit of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1993), 8.

56 Colla, Conflicted Antiquities, 249.

57 El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 99–100.

58 Jacquemond, “Thawrat al-Takhyil wa-Takhyil al-Thawra,” 119–20.

59 El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 30.

60 See Gershoni and Jankowski, Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs, 32–33, 48–50, 85–87.

61 El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 25.

62 Jacquemond, “Thawrat al-Takhyil wa-Takhyil al-Thawra,” 125.

63 Najjar Fauzi M., “Islamic Fundamentalism and the Intellectuals: The Case of Naguib Mahfouz,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 25 (1998): 139–68.

64 El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 111–12.

65 See Yunis, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas, 165.

66 Allen Roger, “Some Recent Works of Najib Mahfuz: A Critical Analysis,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 14 (1977): 101–10; Gassick Trevor Le, “Mahfuz's Al-Karnak: The Quiet Conscience of Nasir's Egypt Revealed,” in Critical Perspectives on Naguib Mahfouz, ed. Gassick Trevor Le (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1991), 151–62; El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 116–18.

67 Amaldi Daniela, “La guerra dei sei giorni in Al-Karnak di Nagib Mahfuz,” Egitto e Vicino Oriente 4 (1981): 381–88; El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 200–204.

68 See Jacquemond, “Thawrat al-Takhyil wa-Takhyil al-Thawra,” 122.

69 El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 101.

70 Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz Yatadhakkar, 89; Mehrez Samia, “Respected Sir,” in Naguib Mahfouz: From Regional Fame to Global Recognition, ed. Beard Michael and Haydar Adnan (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 6180.

71 Mahfouz, Karnak Café, 8.

72 Mahfouz Naguib, Al-Karnak (Cairo: Dar Al-Shuruq, 2007), 34.

73 Ibid., 74.

74 On conceptual blending, see Fauconnier Gilles and Turner Mark, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

75 El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 13, 21, 48, 52–53.

76 Mahfouz, Karnak Café, 96.

77 Hopwood Derek, Egypt: Politics and Society 1945–1990, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge, 1993), 112–13; Sharaf al-Din, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr, 131–33.

78 Bourdieu, Raisons pratiques, 31–35.

79 Vatikiotis, Nasser and His Generation, 158–66.

80 Estimates of the number of victims vary. See Waterbury John, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), 338–42; Abdel-Malek Anouar, Egypte: société militaire (Paris: Seuil, 1962), 100, 126, 130–31; Baker Raymond William, Egypt's Uncertain Revolution Under Nasser and Sadat (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), 99; Stagh Marina, The Limits of Freedom of Speech: Prose Literature and Prose Writers in Egypt under Nasser and Sadat, Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1993), 6580.

81 Laurens, Paix et guerre au Moyen-Orient, 289–96.

82 Mahfouz recalled that the censors nevertheless cut about half of the novel. al-ʿAziz Ibrahim ʿAbd, Ana Najib Mahfuz: Sirat Hayah Kamila (Cairo: Nifro li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawziʿ, 2006), 139.

83 Faruq Munib, “ʿAn al-Hayah: ʿIndama Yusbihu al-Adab Wathiqa Tarikhiyya,” Al-Jumhuriyya, 22 March 1974.

84 Ahmad ʿAbbas Salih, “Naqd al-Karnak: Riwaya Jadida li-Najib Mahfuz,” Al-Jumhuriyya, 21 March 1974.

85 ʿAbbas al-Aswani, “Nuqat fawq al-Huruf: Hadha Huwa Dawruka Ayyuha al-Amin,” Al-Jumhuriyya, 28 March 1974.

86 ʿAbd al-Fattah Muhammad ʿUthman, “Al-Waqiʿiyya al-Tabiʿiyya fi Riwayatay ‘Al-Karnak’ wa-’Ya ʿAzizi Kulluna Lusus,’” Al-Thaqafa, August 1982.

87 Ahmad Husayn al-Tamawi, “Min al-Adab al-Siyasi ʿinda Najib Mahfuz: ‘Al-Karnak,’” Al-Qahira, 15 December 1988, 34–39.

88 ʿAbd al-Rahman abu ʿAwf, “Misdaqiyyat Shahadat Najib Mahfuz ʿala Marhalatay ʿAbd al-Nasir wa-l-Sadat,” Al-Mawqif al-ʿArabi, October 1986.

89 Rizq, Al-ʿAib fi Dhat ʾAfandina, 77.

90 Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz Yatadhakkar, 77–78.

91 Quoted in El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz, 44. See Idris Yusuf, “Idha Kunna Qadirin ʿala al-ʿAzamah fa Limadha al-Tafahah?” Al-Ahram, 28 May 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 1947–2000, 2 vols., ed. Thabit Madkur (Cairo: Akadimiyat al-Funun, 2006), 1:765–66.

92 See Yunis, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas, 38.

93 Shafik Viola, “Egyptian Cinema,” in Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film, ed. Leaman Oliver (London: Routledge, 2001), 9192.

94 Mustafa Khurshid, “Al-Karnak . . . al-Riwaya wa-l-Film: Bayn al-Thawra . . . wa-l-Thawra al-Mudadda!” Al-Katib, July 1976.

95 Gordon Joel, Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser's Egypt (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002), 236–37; Shafik, “Egyptian Cinema,” 124–25.

96 Sharaf al-Din, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr, 141.

97 Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama, 238–39; Salah Darwish, “Qadi al-Umur al-Mustaʿjala Yuʿainu Film Al-Karnak fi Dar al-ʿArd . . . Salah Nasr Yuʿlinu Iʿtiradahu ʿala al-Film Kullihi,” Al-Jumhuriyya, 9 January 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 1947–2000, 1:743; Mustafa Hasan, “Rafd Daʿwa Salah Nasr didd ‘Al-Karnak’: Khalid Safwan Laisa bi-l-Darura Huwa Salah Nasr,” Al-Akhbar, 27 January 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 1947–2000, 1:747.

98 ʿAbd al-ʿAl al-Hamamisi, “ʿAn al-Karnak Yuhaddithuna Najib Mahfuz,” Al-Kawakib, 7 April 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 1947–2000, 1:759–61.

99 Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama, 238; Shadi ʿAli abu, Al-Sinima wa-l-Siyasa (Cairo: Dar Sharqiyyat, 1998), 22; Sharaf al-Din, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr, 132–38.

100 Shafik, “Egyptian Cinema,” 35.

101 Sharaf al-Din, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr, 141–42.

102 Halim Zaki Malika, “‘Al-Karnak’ Zahira Sihhiyya li-Harakat al-Sinima al-Siyasiyya fi Misr,” Nashrat Nadi Sinima l-Qahira, 10 March 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 19472000, 1:752–54.

103 Vatikiotis, Nasser and His Generation, 195; Yunis, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas, 59–73. Also see Reid, Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt, 176–83.

104 Waterbury, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat, 123–86.

105 Shukrallah, “Political Crisis and Political Conflict in Post-1967 Egypt,” 70.

106 Hasan Shah, “Al-Karnak fi Muwajahat . . . al-Taghiya,” Al-Akhbar, 9 January 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 19472000, 1:744; Shafik Viola, Popular Egyptian Cinema (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2007), 99.

107 See Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama, 237.

108 Ibid., 240.

109 Baron Beth, Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005), 4553.

110 On the role of frames in conceptual blending, see Fauconnier and Turner, The Way We Think.

111 Armbrust Walter, “Manly Men on a National Stage (and the Women Who Make Them Stars),” in Histories of the Modern Middle East: New Directions, ed. Gershoni Israel, Erdem Hakan, and Woköck Ursula (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002), 247–75.

112 Malika, “‘Al-Karnak’ Zahira Sihhiyya li-Harakat al-Sinima al-Siyasiyya fi Misr.”

113 See Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama, 240.

114 Bourdieu, “Legitimation and Structured Interests in Weber's Sociology of Religion,” 131.

115 Hasan ʿAbd al-Rasul, “Hadha Huwa Film ‘Al-Karnak’: Wathiqat Idana li-l-Fasad wa-l-Irhab maʿ Wathaʾiq ‘Zid’ wa-’Qadiyyat Matih’ wa-ʿIntaha al-Tahqiq,’” Al-Akhbar, 8 January 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 19472000, 1:741–42.

116 Al-Hakim, ʿAwdat al-Waʿy, 112.

117 Muhammad Zuhdi, “Hawla Film ‘Al-Karnak,’” Nashrat Nadi Sinima al-Qahira, 25 February 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 19472000, 1:750–51.

118 Sami al-Salamuni, “‘Al-Karnak’: Ma Hiya l-Qadiyya?,” Al-Idhaʾa wa-l-Tilifizyun, 20 March 1976, in Mawsuʿat Najib Mahfuz wa-l-Sinima 19472000, 1:755–56.

119 See Crone Patricia, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 238.

120 Khurshid, “Al-Karnak . . . al-Riwaya wa-l-Film.”

121 Abu Shadi, Al-Sinima wa-l-Siyasa, 19–23.

122 Lecker M., “al-Ridda (a.),” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. Bearman P. et al. (Amsterdam: E. J. Brill, 2008),

123 Bourdieu Pierre, Choses dites (Paris: Minuit, 1987), 171. See Yunis, Al-Zahf al-Muqaddas, 29.

124 Lefevere André, Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (London: Routledge, 1992), 4.

125 See Shafik, Popular Egyptian Cinema, 255, 259.

126 See Bourdieu, Les règles de l'art, 280–82, 376–77.

127 Julien Duval, “L'art du réalisme: Le champ du cinéma français au début des années 2000,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 161–62 (2006): 96–115; see also Sharaf al-Din, Al-Siyasa wa-l-Sinima fi Misr, 5.

128 Al-Hamamisi, “ʿAn al-Karnak Yuhaddithuna Najib Mahfuz.”

129 ʿAbd al-Rasul, “Hadha Huwa Film ‘Al-Karnak.’”

130 Shukrallah, “Political Crisis and Political Conflict in Post-1967 Egypt,” 75–77, 79, 90–92.

131 Wickham Carrie Rosefsky, Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); Mahmood Saba, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

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