Egypt’s cinematic gems: ‘Fawzeya al-Borgowazeya’

In the 1980s and 1990s, movies produced by state television were quite common. Low budget, weirdly shot dramas that constantly showed on TV at all times and rarely had any cinematic value. Ibrahim al-Shaqanqeri’s Fawzeyaal-Borgowazeya (Fawzeya the Bourgeois) was an exception, value-wise.

The 1985 production tells the story of a leftist couple, Abdel Wahed (Salah al-Saadani) and Enayat (Esaad Younis), who move into a modest Cairo alley called Darb al-Mawardy. With their Karl Marx books and scruffy clothing, their presence in the building of Osta Baddar, the barber of Al-Mawardy, and in this poor neighborhood that is mostly populated by uneducated traders and middle-class government employees, stands out like a sore thumb.

Ibrahim al-Doksh (Sanaa Shafei) is the only other person who is like them. A poor law school student, he apparently heads a communist organization called Al-Khobz Awalan (Bread First) and represents the intellectual for his illiterate neighbors in the alley.

The odd leftist couple start to clash with their surroundings as soon as they move into Al-Mawardy. In a not-so-friendly gathering at Horeyya, the famous downtown cafe known for its clientele of leftists, writers and intellectuals, Abdel Wahed and Ibrahim get into a fistfight after the latter belittles the former’s literary talent. At the same time, Enayat clashes with her neighbor Fawzeya (Nabila al-Sayed), Baddar’s wife, and calls her a “damn bourgeois.” Fawzeya, unable to understand what bourgeois means, thinks the communist woman has insulted her honor.

Before long, a fiery rivalry erupts between the inhabitants of the alley. They split into two conflicting teams, right-wing and left-wing, without even knowing the meaning of the terms. Baddar paints his barbershop white and calls it the White House while Aboul Yazeed calls his grocery shop the Kremlin and paints it red. Misled, they participate in a political war thinking it’s merely like any Ahly vs. Zamalek soccer feud.

Despite the naïve, rushed and unsatisfactory ending, this movie is a gem for its depiction of a certain social segment. Writer Ahmed Ragab draws a fun, almost cartoonish image of the intellectual leftist elite represented by Abdel Wahed and Enayat with their idealism and contradictory behavior. They believe in equality among social classes, yet despise their illiterate neighbors.

The film coincided with the disintegration of socialism and communism in Egypt. In his memoir Hekayet min Zaman Fat (Tales from the Past, 2013), engineer and leftist labor activist Kamal Khalil admits that after decades of fieldwork and university protests, leftist organizations in the 1980s became scattered, riddled with infighting and too weak to even form a political party.

Leftism has become “an outmoded fad,” as Gigi, Ibrahim’s rich (capitalist) girlfriend tells him.

The movie may have been intended as propaganda against the left, which was unnecessary by then as socialists and communists were mostly working underground and whatever they produced was too weak to influence anything or anyone. But if that was the aim, it didn’t serve its purpose as its leftist characters are mostly funny, art-oriented and harmless human beings.

Propaganda or not, however, the movie highlights a political misconception that still lives with us today: In the battle between reds and whites, leftists were automatically described as the enemies of God. Fawzeya al-Borgowazeya sheds light on the increasing gap between Egypt’s intellectual elite and the people, and points a finger at the idealistic approach of political groups that are disconnected from ordinary citizens, a trait the leftist movement has been plagued by since the influence it wielded in universities and schools in the 1960s and 1970s dwindled.

Salah al-Saadani and Esaad Younis’s caricatures of a communist couple is priceless, exaggerated to the point where it no longer is realistic. His peculiar geeky glasses and her outdated clothes and untamed hair were clichéd staples for communist characters in Egyptian cinema.

The dialogue plays on the ignorance the couple face the moment they move into the alley. For instance, Fawzeya can’t pronounce “borgowazeya” (bourgeois) and keeps saying “turqioseya” (turquoise) instead, while Baddar pronounces it “babourgowazeya.” Likewise, “imberialy” (imperialist) become “bembenrialy.” Atef Beshay, the scenarist, portrays an immense lack of knowledge with hilarious mispronunciations while managing not to be condescending.

Despite the video-like quality of the film and the forced finale, the movie touches on major social issues that are still pertinent.

The director, Shaqanqeri, is mostly known for the 1981 movie Ana La Akzeb Walakeni Atagamal (I Do Not Lie, I Beautify) starring Ahmed Zaki. It was another TV production telling the story of a poor student who tries to hide his dad’s profession and social status.

Amany Ali Shawky 

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