If you missed the Egyptian royal family…

Cairo is notable for the near-total absence of nostalgia for the Egyptian royal family that ruled until the coup d’état in 1952 that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power.  Unlike in Libya, where the revolution last year saw the resurrection of the old royal flag as an alternative to the Gaddafi’s solid green banner, the flag waved in Tahrir was the republican flag of the Nasser/Mubarak regime reclaimed by the activists.  But the man who could very nearly persuade you that royal Egypt was better than republican Egypt was Mahmoud Sabit, whom I visited a few times in the late-1990s with a mutual friend.  He lived then with his father — who, unlike Mahmoud, was old enough to have known the royal era firsthand — in a dusty, crumbling villa not far from Tahrir that never seemed to have enough lights on.  They told long, charming, rose-colored but undeniably appealing stories about the lives of the elite in the ancien regime that, in their frivolity and decadence, left me feeling 1) lucky them and 2) that’s why so many Egyptians welcomed their overthrow.

Now, the Arabist reports, Mahmoud Sabit has a documentary film coming out called In Search of Oil and Sand and its true-story conceit is irresistible: weeks before the coup d’état, some members of the royal family set about making a film about a coup d’état that was then lost for nearly sixty years.  In the trailer below, Mahmoud Sabit is the gray-haired gentleman with the of-course-he-is-an-aristocrat accent.  The politics of the film sound a little speculative but there are so few who keep alive the memories of that era that it is worth watching the film just to hear them tell of it.


A note on the photograph above, which I found in Cairo in September 2012.  It shows King Farouk in a carriage on a street that appears to be downtown in about 1950, with Nelson’s Pharmacy and the Church Missionary Society bookshop in the background.  I am sure Mahmoud Sabit could identify the precise location in a flash — and, undoubtedly, would also know who the man was in the carriage with the king.



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