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Acting Egyptian

Acting Egyptian
Theater, Identity, and Political Culture in Cairo, 1869–1930

Putting the spotlight on theatrical performance and cultural identity in Cairo at the turn of the last century, a historian reveals new aspects of the transition from the Ottoman to the British regimes on Egypt’s path to self-rule.

November 2019
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192 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 b&w photos |

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the “protectorate” period of British occupation in Egypt—theaters and other performance sites were vital for imagining, mirroring, debating, and shaping competing conceptions of modern Egyptian identity. Central figures in this diverse spectrum were the effendis, an emerging class of urban, male, anticolonial professionals whose role would ultimately become dominant. Acting Egyptian argues that performance themes, spaces, actors, and audiences allowed pluralism to take center stage while simultaneously consolidating effendi voices.

From the world premiere of Verdi’s Aida at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House in 1871 to the theatrical rhetoric surrounding the revolution of 1919, which gave women an opportunity to link their visibility to the well-being of the nation, Acting Egyptian examines the ways in which elites and effendis, men and women, used newly built performance spaces to debate morality, politics, and the implications of modernity. Drawing on scripts, playbills, ads, and numerous other sources, the book brings to life provocative debates that fostered a new image of national culture and performances that echoed the events of urban life in the struggle for independence.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Transliteration
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Aida in Egypt
  • Chapter 2. How to Be an Effendi
  • Chapter 3. The Story of Ahmad the Rat
  • Chapter 4. Cabarets and the Mothers of the Nation
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Carmen M. K. Gitre
Blacksburg, Virginia

Gitre is an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech University. She holds a PhD in history from Rutgers University and previously taught in the international studies and history departments at Seattle University.


Acting Egyptian offers a rigorously researched scholarly publication while avoiding the stuffiness of (some) academic writing…Theatre, history, and other humanities scholars interested in performance traditions and identity politics [in] the Middle East and North Africa will find Acting Egyptian especially worthwhile.”
Al Jadid

“Gitre writes a rigorous and enjoyable book of social history that points to exciting new avenues for Arabic theatre research...The way that Gitre positions her subjects as both objects of elite imaginations of collective identity and as active agents who trouble these imaginaries owes much to her attention to the slippages and inconsistencies of her archive. This, along with a lively prose style and attentive historical framing, makes Acting Egyptian an easily recommended book of social history, one that anyone interested in global theatre and performance history can learn from.”
Theatre Journal

“This cleverly framed book uses theater and music performance as a lens for viewing the emergence and contestation of effendi nationalism in early twentieth-century Egypt. Gitre draws on little-known scripts, Egyptian and British archival sources, and articles in the vociferous Egyptian press. Her close readings and historical research show how jesters, comedians, and women both reinforced and challenged the efendiyya's antiroyalist and anticolonial moralizing discourse at every turn. This accessibly written book will interest students and scholars of Arabic theatre, the "Arab Renaissance," anticolonial nationalism, and vernacular theatre traditions.”
Margaret Litvin, Boston University, author of Hamlet's Arab Journey: Shakespeare's Prince and Nasser's Ghost

Acting Egyptian explores the world of theater during a formative period of Egyptian history. Gitre draws insights from architectural, social, labor, and women's history in order to examine Egyptian identity on and off the stage. In the process, she recounts for her readers vivid vignettes of the playwrights, actors, audiences, and performers of the era. This work will be of interest to historians of Egypt and the Middle East as well as historians of the arts who wish to explore Arabic theater traditions.”
Hoda Yousef, Denison University, author of Composing Egypt: Reading, Writing, and the Emergence of a Modern Nation, 1870-1930


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca