Theses Doctoral

Nasser in the Egyptian Imaginary

Khalifah, Omar Khalid

This dissertation examines the representations of late Egyptian President Gamal `Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) in Egyptian literature and film. It focuses on how the historical character of Nasser has emerged in the Egyptian imaginary--novel, short stories, autobiographies, and films. Rather than engaging in historical arguments about the deeds and legacy of Nasser, my dissertation makes a case for literature and art as alternative archive that questions, erases, distorts, and adds to the official history of Nasser. Employing the famous Aristotelian differentiation between the historian and the poet, and building on Hayden White's argument about the relationship between history and fiction, I argue that the meaning(s) of Nasser for Egyptians must be sought less in recorded history than in fictional narratives. Unlike history, literature and film give voice to marginalized, voiceless witnesses of society. By creating fictional characters that interact with Nasser, these works constitute a space of knowledge, an invaluable window onto the ways people see, personalize, and negotiate their relationships with the President. As this dissertation shows, Nasser constitutes a perfect site for literary and cinematic approaches. Largely seen as the Arab world's most influential political figure of the past century, Nasser was a larger-than-life character, a legend whose image, voice, ideals, accomplishments, deeds and misdeeds, and defeats have been shaping Egyptian and Arabic life to date. Historians, however, often recognize the complexity of Nasser's character, his contradictory traits, and his sometime inexplicable decisions. Particularly ambiguous is how the relationship between Nasser and Egyptians was personalized and often romanticized, transforming a political leader into an attentive audience, a heartthrob lover, and an enigmatic father. Herein lies a major contribution of this dissertation. I argue that history falls short on capturing the centrality of Nasser in Egyptian life. As will be demonstrated, Nasser emerges as a site for plural interpretations, an instance where narratives compete over the meaning of the past. In other words, there is no monolithic discourse on Nasser, but rather various, at times contradictory views that fragment the man into multiple "Nassers." The historical paths and developments which the literary and cinematic Nasser has traversed bespeaks to the shifts in ideals, hopes, and realities that swept the Egyptian society over the past fifty years.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Radwan, Noha
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2013