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Is Egypt rewriting its history?
Published in Daily News Egypt on 08 - 08 - 2010

CAIRO: Any observer of the Egyptian sociopolitical scene would not fail to spot the changing public perception of the monarchical era of Egyptian history.
A few years ago ordinary Egyptians knew their controversial ex-monarch Farouk merely as a corrupt womanizer and a gambling addict.
Yet, the King Farouk TV series, which was aired in 2007, put Egyptians face-to-face with the fact that they knew very little about their country's modern history, and that the very little they knew had been shaped by movies and school textbooks that spared no effort to discredit the monarchical system.
But it seems that the passion of drama makers for royal history is still running high.
Early this year there had been reports about two competing TV series on Queen Nazli — the last mother queen of Egypt — being aired in Ramadan before one of the two production companies postponed its series to next year.
“Malika Fil Manfa” (A Queen in Exile) is the series that will be aired on the small screen this year. The grand production is starred by Nadia El-Gindy and produced by Ismail Kutkut, who produced the King Farouk series a few years ago. The script is based on a book that carries the same name.
According to some views, the "royal nostalgia," which has been sparked by the media, will not end any time soon, and that TV drama will serve only to enhance the rising interest in monarchical history.
One-sided media
For decades, the mass media and school textbooks have regularly highlighted the shortcomings of the monarchical era, portraying its major figures as incompetent and corrupt.
"All I knew about Farouk was that he was a cruel, evil king," says Rana El-Menshawy, 27, describing how school curriculum taught her that the 1952 revolution saved Egyptians from tyranny.
She describes how she joined the Facebook group “Egyptian Royalists” after watching the King Farouk series.
The 30-episode series has ignited much interest in the monarchical era by offering a different portrayal of Egypt's ex-royal family and introducing a revisionist reading of an important part of Egyptian history.
Many satellite channels and papers capitalized on the TV drama's success, conducting interviews with members of Egypt's ex-royal family, including the country's last king Ahmad Fouad. Also, the sales of books written by and about members of the royal family skyrocketed.
“TV drama urged me to buy and read the book ‘Sanawat Ma'a El-Malek Farouk' (Years with King Farouk),” El-Menshawy told Daily News Egypt.
Lateefa Salem, professor of modern Egyptian history, believes that Egyptians do not view history objectively.
“After the 1952 revolution, the monarchical system was portrayed as corrupt and it was described as ‘Al-‘ahd Al-Ba'ed' [The Obsolete Era],” she told Daily News Egypt, explaining how Nasser was idolized.
Egyptian national TV channels have no shortage of movies (mostly produced in the 1950s and 1960s) that describe the "horrors" of the monarchical era.
The list contains a big number of movies, from “Rod Qalbi” (Return My Heart, 1957) — in which the son of the poor gardener failed to marry his sweetheart because of her haughty, blue-blooded father — to “Al-Qahira 30” (Cairo 30, 1966), in which the modest government employee allowed the aristocratic pasha to sleep with his wife in his house in order to ascend the career ladder.
But in the age of globalization, it is difficult to tell people only one side of the story, and it seems that a revisionist reading of history is winning ground, particularly among young Egyptians.
"The monarchical era of Egyptian history has been neglected whether deliberately or not," says Amr Aboseif, the founder of a popular website on King Farouk (www.faroukmisr.net).
Despite not having a particular passion for the monarchical era, Aboseif believes that younger generations should learn about their country's modern history.
Osman Rifat, a descendant of Mohamed Ali's son Ibrahim Pasha, believes that Egypt's ex-royal family was deliberately discredited by the "post-coup d'état regime."
He told Daily News Egypt that there were attempts to "erase all the memories about the monarchical era."
Yet, Salem — who did the historical review of A Queen in Exile's script, believes that the King Farouk series focused so much on the positive aspects of pre-revolution Egypt, arguing that the TV series on Queen Nazli offers a more balanced portrayal.
“The script shows both the positive and negative sides of the ex-Mother Queen's personality,” she told Daily News Egypt.
Interestingly, the famous scriptwriter Waheed Hamed has announced recently that he is writing a movie about the life of King Farouk.
Official support?
Some observers have gone as far as arguing that the state is supporting the popular interest in Egypt's former ruling family.
Amira Nowaira has recently written for The Guardian that the Egyptian government is encouraging the wave of nostalgia for the monarchical era in order to legitimize the hereditary model.
Despite this being a far-fetched scenario, it is understandable that the government might be tolerating — not supporting — the increasing visibility of Egypt's ex-royal family.
Although they are not the Egyptian government's cup of tea, at the end of the day, ex-royals are less threatening than its real rivals in the opposition, especially that Egypt's former blue-blooded elite do not seem to be interested in politics.
Rifaat, who spent 23 years of his life in exile, says that he is merely interested in visiting Egypt regularly as his Egyptian passport had been given back to him.
Reflection of disillusionment
According to many analysts, the growing interest in the country's monarchical history is simply a reflection of disillusionment with the status quo.
"If people were happy and satisfied, they wouldn't have thought about Egypt's royal history," Aboseif told Daily News Egypt.
Despite all its imperfections, according to many Egyptians, the country's experience with constitutional monarchy, which started by the election of the first parliament in 1924 and ended by the fall of the monarchical system, was much more promising than the present situation.
Rifaat describes monarchical Egypt as "the only democracy in the region" back then.
He argues that the current wave of nostalgia for monarchy has much to do with the country's suffocating problems.
It has become such a common thing to hear Egyptians comparing between the royal era and post-revolution Egypt, and lamenting over the revolutionary promises that have never been fulfilled.
Salem expresses a similar opinion, arguing that the growing passion for the monarchical era is connected to Egyptians' growing despair.
“Before the revolution, there was a middle class, which is not the case anymore,” she added.
Aboseif, however, describes the rising popular interest in royal history as a naïve passion among young people for a historical period that they had not witnessed.
"You cannot feel nostalgic about an age that you haven't lived. It's an empty fascination," he argues.
In his recent article “Nostalgia for the monarchy or the big illusion,” the political analyst Amr El-Choubaki compared the longing to monarchy to the dream of the theocratic state, describing both as distracting ideas that “mobilize people for unreachable goals.”
“Protecting the Republic from the threat of hereditary rule is the real cause that all Egyptians should rally behind despite their affiliations,” he wrote.
But still many older Egyptians regard the first half of the 20th century as “the good old days.”
In an article published in 2007, Saad Eddin Ibrahim — professor of sociology and political activist — praised the King Farouk series, describing how people of his generation “[admired] the monarchical era retrospectively.”


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