Nasser, Nubia, and the Stories of a People


hosted by Chris Gratien
| In 1952, a coup d'état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser ushered in a revolutionary period of Egyptian history in which sound played an integral role in shaping collective political consciousness. The culture of the 50s and 60s was dominated by songs by artists like Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez that still resonate within national consciousness, but as we explore in this third installment of our four-part series on "The Sound of Revolution in Modern Egypt," the period produced spectacular sound as well as conspicous silence. As our guest Alia Mossallam explains, triumphant musical celebrations of the Egyptian state's signature achievement --- the construction of the Aswan High Dam --- shaped the terms through which Egyptian's have come to remember this period. At the same time, songs of workers and Nubian villagers displaced by the dam captured subaltern sentiments beneath the surface of Nasserist cultural hegemony. We conclude our conversion with a reflection on the singular importance of sources like folk songs for writing histories erased by official sources.   


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In 1952, a coup d'état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser ushered in a revolutionary period of Egyptian history in which sound played an integral role in shaping collective political consciousness. The culture of the 50s and 60s was dominated by songs by artists like Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez that still resonate within national consciousness, but as we explore in this third installment of our four-part series on "The Sound of Revolution in Modern Egypt," the period produced spectacular sound as well as conspicous silence. As our guest Alia Mossallam explains, triumphant musical celebrations of the Egyptian state's signature achievement --- the construction of the Aswan High Dam --- shaped the terms through which Egyptian's have come to remember this period. At the same time, songs of workers and Nubian villagers displaced by the dam captured subaltern sentiments beneath the surface of Nasserist cultural hegemony. We conclude our conversion with a reflection on the singular importance of sources like folk songs for writing histories erased by official sources.




Contributor Bios

Alia Mossallam is a cultural historian, educator and writer interested in songs that tell stories and stories that tell of popular struggles behind the better-known events that shape world history. For her PhD she researched a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through the stories and experiences of the popular resistance in Port Said (1956) and Suez (1967-1974) and the construction of the Aswan High Dam through the experiences of its builders and the Nubian communities displaced by it. As a EUME fellow 2017-21 of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, she worked on her book on the visual and musical archiving practices of the builders of the Aswan High Dam and the Nubian communities displaced by it. Her new project at EUME (2021-24), “Tracing Emancipation Under Rubbles of War”, retrieves the physical and political journeys of Egyptian and North African workers on the various fronts of World War I through the songs and memoires that recount their struggles. Some of her research-based articles, essays and short-stories can be found in The Journal of Water History, The History Workshop Journal, the LSE Middle East Paper Series, Ma’azif, Bidayat, Mada Masr, Jadaliyya and 60 Pages. An experimentative pedagogue, she founded the site-specific public history project “Ihky ya Tarikh”, as well as having taught at the American University in Cairo, the Freie Universität in Berlin, and continuing to teach at the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts.
Chris Gratien is Associate Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. His first book, The Unsettled Plain: An Environmental History of the Late Ottoman Frontier, explores the social and environmental transformation of the Adana region of Southern Turkey during the 19th and 20th century.

Credits

Episode No. 560
Release Date: 4 December 2023
Sound production by Chris Gratien
Sound Elements: Umm Kulthum - Hayart Albi Maak; Death Of Nasser (B) (AP); Abdel Halim Hafez - Ahwak; Abdel Halim Hafez - Hekayet Shaab; دايماً نصريبو لا نيل (courtesy of Alia Mossallam); حنينة النوبة ،، سيد جاير (YouTube); اسمي هناك بلدي هناك اغنيه نوبية (YouTube); Chad Crouch - Pilgrims Progress


Further Listening
Alden Young 466
7/11/20
The Economic Roots of Modern Sudan
Jennifer Derr 408
4/3/19
Making Environmental Subjects on the Egyptian Nile
Suja Sawafta 414
6/14/19
The Environmental Politics of Abdul Rahman Munif
Lucia Carminati 551
9/28/23
Life and Labor on the Suez Canal
Omar Cheta 265
9/1/16
Capitalism and the Courts in 19th Century Egypt
Muriam Haleh Davis 278
11/3/16
Development, Race, and the Cold War in Algeria

Videos


Performance of "Hekayet Shaab" (Lyrics: Ahmed Shafik Kamel, Music: Kamal El Taweel) by Abdel Halim Hafez


Performance of "Haneenah" by Seyid Gayer


Further Reading

Danielson, Virginia. 1997. The Voice of Egypt : Umm Kulthūm Arabic Song and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hopkins, Nicholas S. and Sohair R. Mehanna. 2010. Nubian Encounters : The Story of the Nubian Ethnological Survey 1961-1964. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

Mossallam, Alia. “Specters of Labor. The Builders of the Aswan High Dam, between Propagandic depictions and workers’ community archives”. In: Ndikung, Soh Bejeng Bonaventure, Alampi Antonia,eds et al, Force Times Distance – On Labor and its Sonic Ecologies, The Sonsbeek 20-24 Reader. Archive Books, Berlin: 2021.

_____. “Nubian historiography, and the eternally beating river of return”. In: Rights of Future Generations, Sharjah Architecture Triennial Publication, Sharjah: 2021.

_____. “‘We were like ants, nibbling at the mountain…’. A critical look into a photographic archive of the Aswan High Dam”. In: Were it not for that wall, Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo, February 2018.

_____. “al Naksa kabedaya, thalaath mashahid min nidal al suez 1967-1974” (Al Naksa as a beginning. Three scenes from the struggle of Suez). In: Ma’azif, June 23 2017.

_____. “We are the ones who made this dam ‘high’. A Builders’ history of the Aswan High Dam.“ In: Water history. Volume 6, Issue 4, 2014.





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