“The Architect of Delight”…a book that captures the stories of the Nasserite state through art

Dr. Walid Al-Khashab published the second edition of the book “The Engineer of Delight.. Fouad Al-Mohandes and the Conscience of Cinema” by Dr. Walid Al-Khashab, published by Dar Al-Maraya in Cairo.

The reader of “The Architect of Delight” may feel nostalgia for the sixties and the outburst of national pride at the height of liberation from colonialism, and the emergence of Egypt as an international political and economic actor on the Arab and African arenas, especially in the aftermath of the political victory achieved by the national liberation regime in the Suez War in 1956.

The writer affirms the role of Fouad al-Muhandis as an actor, and even as a symbol of cultural production in the Nasserite period, or as he put it, as a representative of a kind of cultural production in the post-Arab liberation period. Fouad Al-Mohandes as a model for what he called “comedic Arabism”.

By this, he means the production of songs bearing the discourse of Arabism in the case of Abdel Halim, and humor representing production in the Arabic language in independent Arab countries, in the case of the engineer. However, the book does not carry a mere rumination of nostalgia for a “beautiful time”, but rather a critical and critical reading of the mechanisms of the comedy industry at that stage. And for the contribution of humor in the production of power discourses and in resisting those discourses together.

Waleed Al-Khashab

Comedy engineering is the engineering of society

The writer explains that his use of the phrase “engineer of joy” as a reference to the artist Fouad al-Muhandis is not just a play on words regarding the star’s family name, “the engineer” and his role as one of the great makers of joy. That is, in reshaping society’s institutions and values.

Just as the Nasserite state adopted the concentration of capital under its administration, and just as it launched the five-year plans as part of the economic planning and development process and entrusted the management of these files in a central manner to government agencies, the central national liberation state supported Fouad Al-Muhandis’ comedy to contribute to the modernization of society’s values, and to the propaganda of modernity and luxury that It is achieved by that modernity, which the nascent national state works to ensure its continuation and sponsorship after the July 1952 revolution.

The writer believes that the image of both Fouad Al-Muhandis and his wife in life, on stage and on the cinema screen, the artist Shweikar, is in itself a promotion of the model of the modern married couple open to the world, which represents the values ​​of progress and modernity brought about by the July 1952 revolution. As if the engineer and Shweikar are the embodiment of social modernization And the personal liberation that accompanied the July 1952 revolution, in terms of their being in life and in the roles they played together as a theatrical and cinematic duo, two independent, liberated personalities, linked on the basis of freedom, equality and respect for each other’s individual space at work and at home.

Waleed Al-Khashab

However, al-Khashab is not satisfied with fondling the memories and fantasies of Al-Arabiya readers about the Nasserite period or the period of outbursts of national pride and its successes in the sixties of the last century, by achieving independence, building a national state, and carrying out major modernization projects. Rather, he is a critic of the restriction of freedoms that that era carried, and he details the description of the contradiction he feels – sometimes likening him to schizophrenia – between a discourse on liberation from external Western colonialism, and practices that restrict freedoms at the internal level, under the pretext of unifying the national ranks in the face of external ambitions and dangers.

Al-Khashab monitors this contradiction in the comedies that Fouad Al-Mohandes starred in in the sixties and early seventies, through the concept of the cinematic unconscious. He sees the spread of police comedies and spy comedies such as the films “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” and “The Return of the Most Dangerous Man in the World” as a tribute to the security services and glorifying their knowledge of the “ant bear” and the traitorousness of the eyes and what the breasts hide, as these films end with the arrest of the criminal by the security services. And by revealing that she had followed the case since the first day, and informed her of all its details, and by her intervention at the appropriate moment to punish the offender, and to lift the injustice against the innocent accused, who is usually Fouad Al-Muhandis himself. However, al-Khashab suggests that these films unconsciously reveal a crisis that society feels deep within: the overwhelming presence of the security services is not only a tribute to their entrenchment, but an unconscious complaint about their control over many aspects of people’s lives in the Nasserite society, and that all people are under surveillance and follow-up.

book cover

Does comedy have an intellectual creed?

In Dr. Walid al-Khashab’s analysis, the state’s control over society is not limited to its excessive support for the security services. Rather, it is a control achieved by propaganda for modernity, and by emphasizing that the national state and the ruling regime are the guarantors of the continuity of modernization and the success of its projects economically and socially. In this context, al-Khashab introduces the term: “vaudeville ideology” and proposes understanding this ideology as the intellectual achievement that comedy achieves and promotes, and as embodied in its strongest form in Fouad Al-Muhandis’ theatrical, cinematic, and even radio works.

The reader may be surprised that Dr. Al-Khashab describes an intellectual ideology that he attributes to the post-national liberation regime in Egypt, i.e. the Nasserist regime, and the author calls it the vaudeville ideology, as this theatrical and cinematic artistic genre has a delicate specificity. Vaudeville was born in France and its shape changed over the centuries, but it settled in the nineteenth century as the most sought-after commercial theatrical genre, telling tales full of adventures, emotional betrayals, and sudden embarrassments summed up by a famous situation: the sudden return of the husband to the house while the wife is with her lover or with a friend who imagines The husband is her lover. Al-Khashab explains in his book that the movie “Confessions of a Husband” is a clear example of vaudeville comedy, as it is based on the paradoxes resulting from an imaginary betrayal relationship that brings together the triangle of husband / wife / wife’s girlfriend.

The engineer and Shweikar, the wife and partner in the comedy

A picture of the engineer gathering in Shweikar

Al-Khashab suggests that such comedies carry rhetoric and propaganda for an intellectual ideology produced by the Nasserite state of national liberation, and he calls it “the ideology of vaudeville.” The summary of the discourse of that doctrine is that the state presents an image of the pleasures associated with modernity and entry into the world of the middle class and convinces viewers that loyalty to the state and the regime is the guarantor of joining the middle class, thanks to free higher education and thanks to the state guaranteeing employment for all graduates in its sectors. This ideology also suggests that joining the educated middle class and the ruling bureaucracy, in a sense, allows the citizen to obtain pleasures that only those who owe allegiance to the regime and those who accept repeating its modernizing and progressive rhetoric can get.

These promised pleasures in life are represented in the villas of the upper middle class, in which most of Fouad Al-Mohandes’s plays and films take place in the sixties, and in enjoying the bodies of women of the highest classes, who are the subject of love affairs in these works of art, and embodied by the artist Shweikar par excellence.

Engineer and Shweikar.

But the secret of invoking vaudeville lies – in al-Khashab’s analysis – in the inclusion of pleasures promised to those who barter their loyalty to the regime to enter the middle class with pleasures that rebel against legal frameworks, such as the pleasures of love affairs outside marriage, as promoted by the artistic vaudeville genre in theater and cinema, as we see in my film “I, he, and she” and “Husband’s Loves”, or in multiple love affairs at the same time, as in the movie “Far from Marriage”, and these are the first three films that Fouad Al-Mohandes starred in in the early sixties.

However, the reader may assume that Walid al-Khashab relates this term coined by “the ideology of vaudeville” to the type of vaudeville alone, because the description of that intellectual ideology as put forward by al-Khashab, of exchanging the promise of pleasure and the bliss of the middle class for loyalty to the regime, applies to many comedies in which Fouad al-Muhandis starred. And it’s acts that don’t fall under vaudeville at all.

For example, some of the engineer’s most famous works – especially in cinema – are considered action or action comedies, or are considered police comedies such as “Women’s Killer”, or spy comedies such as “Al-Ataba Jazzaz”, “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” and “The Return of the Most Dangerous Man”. In the world”. However, these films bear the same features of the social message broadcasted by the vaudeville plays and films in which the engineer starred, in terms of portraying the bliss of the middle class, and suggesting that enjoying this bliss can only be through the mediation of state institutions or obtaining jobs in various sectors of the state. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the author to use a more inclusive expression such as “comedy ideology”.

Fouad Al-Mohandes and others

A picture of the late artist Ismail Yassin, an example of comedy trends in the state of July and Nasserism.

The author mentioned some of the comedian stars of Fouad al-Muhandis’ contemporaries, but very briefly. Dr. Al-Khashab chose to dedicate his book to analyzing the works of a specific artist, the artist Fouad Al-Muhandis, so there is no room for criticism of him because he did not make his study a comparison between the works of the engineer and the works of other laughing stars from his peers or from the pioneers who preceded him, or from the stars who occupied the scene after the decline of the lights from the “professor”. “. However, Al-Khashab made some comparisons in his book between Fouad Al-Muhandis and Naguib Al-Rihani on the one hand, and between him and Adel Imam on the other hand, in addition to that he elaborated on the analysis of the relationship of the artist Fouad Al-Muhandis with the artist Shweikar. Therefore, it becomes legitimate for us to wonder about the secret of the author’s choice of those names alone to be the object of comparison with the engineer, and to hope that an upcoming edition of the book will deal with comparisons between the engineer and some prominent stars in the field of Arab comedy, from a generation before or after the engineer, in a more detailed manner than In our hands. It is noteworthy that the artist Ismail Yassin, who was the king of comedy in the fifties, when the engineer took his first steps in the world of art, has only a few lines in the book “The Engineer of Delight”. Although both artists starred in works that supported in one way or another the regime’s orientations after July 1952, as Ismail Yassin did in his series of films about the army and the fleet.

Engineer and Shweikar.

Perhaps Al-Rihani was the comedian who had the lion’s share of the cultural analyzes in the book “The Engineer of Delight”. However, the reader regrets that the book did not continue with the same logic in studying the relationship of the engineer with his student, Adel Imam, who was the successor to his predecessor Fouad Al-Muhandis on the throne of cinematic and theatrical comedy in Egypt and the Arab world.

In any case, whatever the notes on the book, the effort expended in analyzing films and their historical and social context, the novelty of the serious approach to the world of comedy, and its treatment of humor as a sober art, not mere clowning, all of these factors make The Architect of Delight a book worthy of reading and discussion. From more than one angle and from one era to another, specifically in the paths of Egyptian comedians.