Some flashes of modern Egyptian history can be found in the film Suez (1938), a highly fictionalized account of the building of the Canal, which opened in 1869. There is no sight quite like traveling across the Sinai desert and suddenly seeing an oceangoing vessel plowing through the sand.

In the romanticized account of the career of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), T.E. Lawrence is headquartered in Cairo (although those scenes were filmed in Spain). Cairo has been a place of intrigue for the movie industry throughout the 20th century, similar in repute to Casablanca in Morocco. See Lawrence of Arabia for a full report. There are two movies with the title Cairo. The one from 1942 is a truly forgettable “musical comedy spy thriller.”

The Egyptian Museum in happier times.

The Egyptian Museum in happier times.

The other, from 1958, features George Sanders as a museum thief intent on stealing the treasures of Tutankhamun from the Egyptian Museum. The museum settings are authentic enough to make it difficult to tell if they are real or fabricated. Sanders made a spy movie called Trunk to Cairo in 1966.

There is a long tradition of films drawn from the curse associated with the discovery and excavation of King Tut’s tomb in 1922-23. The real life reasons for suspicions of a curse on those who dug up the boy King have been embellished many times over in lurid horror films. See for example the two iterations of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb in 1964 and 2006. Both offer a rough approximation of the dismantling of Tut’s tomb, and the latter film is even set in Cairo of 1922. After this nod to history, factuality goes out the window. Often these films feature a bold archaeologist, now a movie archetype thanks to the Indiana Jones franchise.

I cannot find any movies made in English about Egypt’s struggles to throw off the burden of foreign domination, which lasted for over 2000 years until the winning of independence in 1957. As if to hearken to a more placid time not so long ago, there is a very watchable movie called Cairo Time (2009) about a chaste love affair between an American woman and an Egyptian man in Cairo. It’s a vision of lost east-west harmony.

The Square (2013) – Netflix Documentary

This film appeared toward the end of my movie search and helped to sum up the theme. It is a generational film with the cameras following young revolutionaries as they throng into Tahrir Square to oppose the old order represented by Hosni Mubarak. He speaks to them on television likening himself to a grandfather advising his grandchildren. They are jubilant when he is driven from the palace, but they depart from the Square prematurely. The mechanics of building a new government move too slowly, creating new unrest and impatience. When finally a democratic election results in the installation of Muslim leader Mohammed Morsi as the head of government, the young revolutionaries return to the Square for yet another rebellion. When Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are driven out of power, there is another wave of revolutionary jubilation followed by an even deeper remorse at the loss of leadership. Egypt, “mother of the world,” becomes an object lesson in the challenge of self-governance. Older men attempt to step into the power gap but clearly it is the leaderless community of young men and women who hope to determine the future of the nation. There is very little mention of the use of social media.

 Egypt Related Posts:

Return to Middle East & Egypt Overview