The production of an Egyptian film about the Palestinian struggle has faced challenges and contradictions since Egypt’s opening to global capital under Anwar al-Sadat’s neoliberal infitah policies from the early 1970s onwards, and Egypt’s subsequent move toward a “peace agreement” with Israel at the 1978 Camp David Accords. Yet the Egyptian-French co-production Bab al-Shams (2004), directed by the prominent Egyptian auteur Yousry Nasrallah, illustrates how even a couple of decades after Egypt normalized relations with Israel, the unresolved Palestinian struggle continued to be an urgent concern for politically committed Egyptian artists and the public at large. Indeed, popular perceptions and artistic expressions of support for the Palestinian cause have been comparatively consistent, even as Egypt’s official policies vis-à-vis Palestine have fluctuated and adopted different forms over the years. At once critical of Egypt’s normalization with Israel and the state’s embrace of neoliberalism, leftist intellectuals and artists such as Nasrallah engaged in cultural activism for a cause they understood to be intimately connected to their own struggle against capital accumulation, political repression and problematic foreign policy. This paper offers an aesthetic analysis and politico-historical contextualization of the epic, two-part film that traces the history of the Palestinian struggle up until its diasporic present in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut during the 1990s. An adaptation of Lebanese writer Elias Khoury’s (1998) meticulously researched testimonial novel, the film represents a paradigmatic example of cinematic solidarity and transnational collaboration across nations and media, and a creative act of resistance toward the political status quo and the persistence of the Palestinian Nakba. It is a polyphonic oral history about the loss of Palestine and its enduring aftermath, in which reflexively staged acts of telling and listening become just as significant as the multiple histories themselves. In its commitment to preserving historical memory and to redirecting attention to the Palestinian diaspora and its right of return, the film constitutes an important counter-narrative emanating from of Egyptian cinema at the time.
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