In the early 20th century, members of the Greek and Italian communities of Egypt in general, and multicultural Alexandria in particular, were designated by the locals as khawaga (pl: khawagat), which later became a synonym of “Western.” Along with the effendis, Upper Egyptians, and others, khawagas were frequently among the staple characters appearing in Egyptian theatre and films, both as members of the local/national community and the non-Egyptian “Other.” The main tropes of their representations evolved in the 1940s and 1950s, then under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956–1970), when the national film industry became an instrument of nationalist propaganda, and the multicultural nature of Alexandrian society gradually came to an end.
Khawaga roles were often played by mutamassireen, foreigners who had settled in Egypt, adopted the culture, and were accepted as locals, but sometimes also by native actors. Constructing the image of the khawaga involved a uniquely Egyptian notion of “white-facing”, a complex set of representations concerning race, class, masculinity, language, and appearance. Such representations were mainly rooted in local understandings of class, race, and ethnicity and were affected by colonial experiences and the transnational flow of silver screen images.
Through the performances of three renowned actors, the Italian-Hungarian mutamassir Estefan Rosti (1891–1964), Lebanese-Egyptian Edmond Tueyma (1897–1975), and native Egyptian Fouad Ratib (1930–1986), this paper explores the representations of the khawaga in the golden age of Egyptian cinema and its subsequent development in the Nasser era.