Singing, Chanting, and Chatter: Street Sounds and Songs of the 1919 Egyptian Revolution

A lecture by Ziad Fahmy, Cornell University

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Duration: 36:57

The 1919 Egyptian revolution demonstrates the need to incorporate non-elites into the historical narrative.  The reaction of the Egyptian masses to the exile of the nationalist leader Sa‘d Zaghlul was violent, spontaneous and involved every segment of Egyptian society.  Despite the obvious populist characteristics of the revolution, the existing historiography places early Egyptian nationalism within the realm of elite politics.  The principal reason why historians have missed the significance of the masses is their neglect of vernacular Egyptian, either in its written, spoken or recorded forms.  The primary objective of this presentation is to examine the 1919 Revolution, through the lens of Egyptian popular culture.   We will examine the “street politics” of the revolution, and as much as possible cover the lives of ordinary Egyptians who acted en masse during the spring and summer of 1919.  The role of illicit circulars on the Egyptian streets, especially those containing colloquial poetry and song lyrics, will be closely examined.  Lastly, I will examine the almost instantaneous celebrations of the revolt in theater and in song, and the role these depictions played in shaping the memory of 1919 in the Egyptian national imagination.

Ziad Fahmy is an Assistant Professor of Modern Middle East History at the Department of Near Eastern Studies. Professor Fahmy received his History Ph.D. in 2007 from the University of Arizona, where his dissertation “Popularizing Egyptian Nationalism” was awarded the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award (2008) from the Middle East Studies Association. His first book, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford University Press, 2011), examines how, from the 1870s until the eve of the 1919 revolution, popular media and culture provided ordinary Egyptians with a framework to construct and negotiate a modern national identity. His articles have appeared in Comparative Studies in Society and History, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and History Compass. Professor Fahmy is currently beginning another book project tentatively titled, Listening to the Nation: Sounds, Soundscapes, and Mass Culture in Interwar Egypt.

A PDF version of Ziad Fahmy's powerpoint presentation is available here.