Friday Film: ‘The Egyptian Citizen,’ Based on ‘War in the Land of Egypt’


Each Friday, we look at an Arabic book-and-film combination where each is a strong artistic work in its own right. At the end of 20 Fridays, we’ll have a list of 20 acclaimed films based on acclaimed Arabic novels:

Yusuf al-Qa’id’s award-winning novel, War in the Land of Egypt — chosen as one of the “top 105” of the twentieth century by the Arab Writers Union —  is an underappreciated gem translated into English by Lorne Kenny and Christopher Tingley, published by Interlink in 1997. The novel is set during the October 1973 war and was published in Lebanon in 1978, just before the signing of the Camp David Accords.

Al-Qa’id’s novel is powerfully critical, but not because it directly takes on the military or Egyptian foreign policy. Instead, it uses (unquestioning) Egyptian patriotism as a way into questioning patriotism, as well as interrogating the ruling classes’ corruption and greed. Each chapter is narrated by a different character in the village.

The novel bit was close enough to the bone that Anwar Sadat’s government banned the book, and it wasn’t available in Egypt until 1985, four years after Mubarak assumed power.

In 1991, it was made into a film starring Omar Sharif and directed by Salah Abu Seif, called  Al-Mowaten Masry (The Egyptian Citizen). As with the novel, it’s about a rural Egyptian worker called Masry who enters military service instead of a powerful man’s son. The film is one of a number that looks at the life of a conscript in Egypt, and had different resonances from the book, as it was adapted after Camp David.

Watch the film:

Previous Friday films:

A Nightingale’s Prayerbased on a novel by Taha Hussein.

 Kit Katbased on the novel The Heron by Ibrahim Aslan, available in translation by Elliott Colla.

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