Beyond the East/West divide : the representation of middle Eastern politics in American and Egyptian cinemas
thesisposted on 15.12.2014, 10:40 by Lina Khatib
The Middle East is at the heart of political debate today. This study analyzes the representation of Middle Eastern politics in contemporary American and Egyptian films produced between 1980 and 2000. The study aims at complicating theories on the East/West divide, namely Edward Said's discourse on Orientalism, by showing not only how the Orient is constructed and dominated by the Occident, but also how the Orient itself engages in representations of the self and Others and how it is consumed by internal as well as external power struggles. The study identifies four main themes: the representations of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Islamic fundamentalism, and the use of space (both physical and mental) and gender as tools utilized in strengthening the nationalist stance each cinema takes. The study argues that the two cinemas both converge and diverge in their portrayal of those issues. While Hollywood constructs the United States as a world policeman, positioning itself above the politics portrayed, Egyptian cinema constructs Egypt as an Arab leader, yet positions Egypt as a sympathizer to other Arab nations. Hollywood also imagines the American nation as a masterful male, while Egyptian cinema imagines Egypt in terms of subdued femininity. The study shows that the two cinemas converge in their outlooks on Islamic fundamentalism, which is constructed as a common enemy. However while Hollywood's portrayal of Islamic fundamentalism is one-dimensional and based on terrorism, Egyptian cinema's is more nuanced, focusing on other dimensions of fundamentalists' lives, from every-day social matters to psychological trauma. The study concludes that the Egyptian films constitute a factor of resistance to Hollywood's global narratives yet the study's highlighting of the non-innocence of the Egyptian films in this context complicates an East/West binary that either views the East as an essential victim or as an incarnation of goodness.