Media of the Masses
Cassette Culture in Modern Egypt
Andrew Simon



IN THE CAIRO SUBURB OF MAADI, A SMALL SIDEWALK KIOSK, KNOWN locally as Farghali, supplied passersby with basic goods in the summer of 2015. Bags of potato chips blanketed the sidewalk, soft drinks filled a wall of refrigerators, and cartons of cigarettes lined the shelves. Of all the products at the makeshift market, one, in particular, seemed to be of noticeably less use. Below boxes of Johnson’s baby wipes and behind bags of sunflower seeds, a crowded glass case, no less than six feet tall, housed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cassettes covered in a thick coat of dust (fig. 1). The audio recordings on display, unlike the store’s other wares, varied widely. Everyone from ʿAmr Diab, a pop-music icon, to ʿAmr Khalid, a popular Islamic preacher, to a British rock band by the name of the Beatles endured as material traces of a once-robust cassette-tape culture.

Like the sounds they carried, the costs of the cassettes varied. Recordings of Umm Kulthum, an iconic singer known simply as “the lady” (al-sitt) across the Middle East, sold for as much as E£25, while albums featuring Ahmad ʿAdawiya, a pioneer of popular (shaʿbi) music, fetched as little as E£15, or about $2. According to Nasir, the stand’s manager, these prices were well within reason since companies had ceased to manufacture cassettes. “The age of cassettes,” the proprietor emphatically exclaimed, on more than one occasion in the same conversation, “was over” (ʿasr al-kasit khalas)! Once an ordinary object, cassette tapes, he contended, had become a collector’s item. Although cassettes certainly no longer enjoyed the same degree of popularity they once did, one thing held true: the history of audiocassette technology in Egypt had yet to be written.

FIGURE 1. A collection of cassette tapes at a Cairo kiosk, 2015. Photo by the author.

Media of the Masses offers the first in-depth engagement with Egypt’s cassette culture. In focusing on the social life of a single mass medium, this book presents a panoramic history of a modern nation through the lens of an everyday technology. Over the course of six thematic chapters revolving around the ideas of consumption, the law, taste, circulation, history, and archives, it places cassettes, cassette players, and their diverse users into direct dialogue with broader cultural, political, economic, and social developments unfolding in the mid- to late twentieth century. Accordingly, a wide array of actors, from singers and smugglers to politicians and police officers, surface in this investigation, which contributes to debates on sound, technology, and archives in and outside of Middle East studies. In the process of discovering what the vibrant biography of one technology can teach us about a society’s dynamic past, this history, in many ways, serves as extended caption to the photograph of the cassette case in figure 1.

Over the pages to follow, we will explore how cassette technology decentralized state-controlled Egyptian media long before the advent of satellite television and the internet, enabling an unprecedented number of people to participate in the creation of culture and the circulation of content. In these regards, cassettes and cassette players did not simply join other mass media like records and radio; they were the media of the masses. In the midst of investigating these forgotten developments, this book presents a novel approach to the study of Middle Eastern media, proposing that media technologies and the stories they tell may assist us in radically reenvisioning the making of modern nations. Accordingly, in the case of Egypt, we will consider how cassette technology may serve as a historical window onto everyday life. It is in this context that we will encounter both elite and ordinary Egyptians who came into contact with the technology once it shifted from being a concept to a commodity. By placing cassettes and cassette players into constant conversation with Egyptian society and its members, broader historical developments, such as the fashioning of black markets and the forging of “modern” homes, come into relief. The resulting story features two complementary parts. In part 1, “Cassette Culture, Mass Consumption, and Egypt’s Economic Opening,” we will unpack the birth of Egypt’s cassette culture in relation to the creation of a wider culture of consumption. In part 2, “Making Sense of a Medium: The Social Life of Audiocassette Technology,” we will uncover the impact of cassettes and their users on the creation of culture, the circulation of content, and the writing of history.


Upon entering the Philips Museum in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, one encounters a timeline celebrating the electronics company’s many accomplishments. The commanding display spans the length of a long glass hallway and highlights the development of several technologies for all to see. Among the devices of note is an instrument whose origins may be traced back to 1963, the year Philips introduced the compact cassette and consequently set the “global standard for tape recording.”1 The man behind this breakthrough was Lou Ottens, a Dutch engineer. As the head of product development at Philips’ factory in Hasselt, Ottens was determined to design something that was cheaper, smaller, and easier to use than the reel-to-reel tape recorder, a device that left much to be desired in his eyes.2 To ensure that this sound-system-to-be satisfied these aims, Ottens proposed that spools of magnetic recording tape be contained within it. This recommendation became a reality in the world’s first compact cassette and its player: the EL-3300. In the operating instructions for the new machine, the emphasis placed by Ottens on usability and portability is immediately evident. “Now that you are the proud owner of this handy pocket recorder,” the opening lines of the manual read, “you can record and play back wherever or whenever you wish.”3 Much like the entry on the Philips Museum timeline, many historical accounts of the cassette tend to conclude here, with the item’s invention comprising the entirety of its biography. A technology’s creation, however, is only one small part of its story. As we will see, once cassettes and cassette players came into existence, they traveled well beyond the walls of their workshop in Europe.

In Arjun Appadurai’s seminal edited volume The Social Life of Things, Igor Kopytoff makes a provocative observation concerning objects. “Biographies of things,” the anthropologist proposes, “can make salient what might otherwise remain obscure.” To assist readers in imagining what such an account may look like in practice, the writer briefly introduces the example of cars in Africa. By exploring the foreign technology’s transfer, purchase, use, and movement, he maintains, one would be able to “reveal a wealth of cultural data.”4 Since the publication of Kopytoff’s remarks, scholars working in multiple disciplines and localities have demonstrated what such biographies may contribute to our understanding of diverse historical contexts. To recognize only a few, more recent, examples, Carl Ipsen has engaged cigarettes to cast new light on twentieth-century Italian society, Kerry Ross has employed cameras to unpack the making of an everyday activity in Japan, and Marie Gaytán has harnessed tequila to chart the rise of a national emblem in Mexico.5 Meanwhile, in Middle East studies, academics have detailed the social life of olive oil, an ancient statue, and a sought-after stone when empires prevailed.6 Taking a cue from the theoretical frameworks of these accounts, we will consider what the journeys of everyday technologies may add to our understanding of Middle East history. In the spirit of uncovering the “wealth of cultural data” to which Kopytoff alludes, we will explore what the untold story of one mass medium may teach us about the history of modern Egypt.

According to David Nye, historians of technology generally fall into two camps. Those in the first group, “the internalists,” play the part of the inventor’s assistant, witnessing and recording their every action and thought, while those in the second cohort, “the contextualists,” concentrate on those who encountered things once they became available, documenting the use and reception of inventions.7 As David Edgerton has explained, this second perspective, which he calls the “history of technology-in-use,” liberates researchers by enabling them to look beyond a limited set of dates, places, and people. “In the innovation-centric account,” Edgerton forcefully contends, “most places have no history of technology. In use-centred accounts, nearly everywhere does.”8

Historians of the Middle East have crafted detailed accounts of technologies in action. Covering devices we seldom contemplate, as well as enterprises that command our attention, they have scrutinized the social life of widely varying instruments. Cameras, timepieces, telegraph lines, dams, printing presses, and means of transportation, all surface in this body of literature, which transcends any single historical genre, spanning the local and the global, the national and the imperial, the social and the cultural, the intellectual and the environmental.9 Collectively, the thoughtful case studies at the heart of this corpus evidence how the trajectories of technologies, small and large, are integral to the making of the modern Middle East. One area of inquiry that remains on the relative margins of this scholarship, however, is mass media, or, more specifically, media technologies predating the internet and satellite television.

Scholars have spilled no shortage of ink on social media and its significance in relation to the mass uprisings that shook the Middle East nearly a decade ago. Indeed, a quick survey of recent publications reveals that Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms have supplanted al-Jazeera, a transnational news channel based in Qatar that became a household name in the early 2000s, as the subject of choice for many studies on the region’s media.10 Although offering key insights into the intersections of activism, authoritarianism, and contemporary politics, these works unanimously lend the impression that only the most recent media matter in Middle East studies. This notion, to be certain, is not restricted to accounts of the Arab Spring. Perceptive treatments of Israel’s occupation and military culture, dissent and solidarity during Iran’s Green Revolution, and virtual Muslim communities similarly foreground social media, while astute examinations of reality shows, Ramadan programs, and religious broadcasts spotlight satellite television.11

What might be gained by reorienting such discussions of media in the Middle East? How might we expand the conventional parameters of media studies? And in what ways might we begin to question the “newness” of new media? In the chapters to follow, we will attempt to address these inquiries by venturing beyond satellite television and the internet to an earlier mass medium whose connections to politics, culture, and everyday life in Egypt remain largely unknown and whose ability to serve as a productive point of entry into one society’s past waits to be uncovered. In the process of utilizing cassettes and cassette players as a historical lens, we will bridge close readings of cultural products performed by anthropologists and broader investigations of mass media generated by historians in Middle East studies.12 Attuned to both content and context, the resulting account reveals how one might reimagine a nation through an everyday technology.

To date, scholars have illuminated only selected aspects of Egypt’s cassette culture. Contemporary writers have noted the role of audiotapes in the revitalization of local culture in the Western Desert, the exchange of personal messages between Egyptian migrants in the Gulf and their loved ones back home, and the presence of censored music in Cairo’s kiosks.13 Additionally, academics have tried to periodize the advent of cassettes, usually dating their emergence to the late 1960s or, more often, the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, one author estimates, Egypt’s cassette industry encompassed “close to four hundred cassette companies.”14 These formal outlets produced and released thousands of songs, which were joined by countless other recordings on pirated tapes, and cassettes continued to be popular in Egypt after the arrival of compact discs.15 Together, these enticing observations offer a small glimpse into a more expansive cassette culture.

Indeed, the most extensive study of audiotapes in Egypt to date is limited to Islamic sermons. In The Ethical Soundscape, Charles Hirschkind deftly complicates discussions of cassettes as vessels for militant messages by scrutinizing the technology’s part in the fashioning of moral sensibilities. He situates cassette sermons in relation to Egypt’s wider Islamic revival and sheds valuable light on the “ethical labor” undertaken by ordinary Muslim listeners in Cairo in the mid-1990s.16 Undoubtedly an important dimension of public piety, the cassettes introduced by Hirschkind account for only a fraction of the tapes circulating in Egypt at any one time.17 In an effort to render a more panoramic picture of cassette technology and its users, this book navigates a wide array of audio content across multiple decades. At the same time, our discussion of Egypt’s cassette culture builds on a few other foundational explorations of the technology further afield, such as Peter Manuel’s work in India, by elucidating not only the “effects” of cassettes and the materials on them but also broader historical matters, a number of which, at least at first glance, may appear to have little or nothing to do with the mass medium.18

This approach to an everyday technology in the context of Egypt’s past is perhaps best illustrated in a photograph that appeared on a popular Instagram page, Everyday Egypt, in 2017. In the black-and-white shot, a young boy, no more than ten years of age, plays on a concrete rooftop in the seaside city of Alexandria (fig. 2). A “Blackstripe 3 System” Toshiba television accompanies the child and surfaces in the image’s foreground. No longer possessing a screen, the aged object, acting as a window, perfectly frames the picture’s subject, capturing an ordinary moment in the child’s life that appears to be a scene from a show. Much like the television set in this photo, we will mobilize cassette technology as a window onto everyday life in this study. Instead of privileging engineers, investors, and inventors like Ottens, we will prioritize a wide range of Egyptians who came into contact with cassettes and cassette players once they existed. As one sociologist has observed, “objects do not speak for themselves.”19 The burden of imbuing inanimate things with a voice falls upon people. This book takes up this challenge by recounting some of the stories cassette technology would tell if it could speak in modern Egypt.

FIGURE 2. A boy behind a broken television, 2015. Photo by Mohamed Mahdy.


I was studying Arabic in Cairo during the downfall of Husni Mubarak. Just beyond the walls of the American University’s downtown campus, I listened to millions of Egyptians express their frustrations with the present and their aspirations for the future. In Tahrir Square, I witnessed scenes that came to characterize these mass demonstrations in the eyes of many people: an effigy of Egypt’s president hanging from a traffic light; colorful graffiti criticizing a repressive regime; signs asserting demands, calling for unity, and mocking political authorities; and citizens from all walks of life risking bodily harm in the pursuit of meaningful change. These sights were arresting, but the sounds accompanying them also played a pivotal role in what was taking place: protesters ordering a helicopter to “leave” as it hovered overhead in a failed show of force; poets confronting poverty, corruption, and hypocrisy in rhyming couplets atop makeshift stages; children reciting subversive slogans whose meaning likely eluded them but whose words they easily memorized; and the rise of new voices, like Ramy Essam, who amplified the chants of his compatriots, alongside the revival of others, like Shaykh Imam, who challenged those in positions of power decades earlier. Egypt’s revolution was far from a silent affair, and its acoustic elements opened my ears to the significance of sound and the senses in understanding the present as well as the past.

In an article published in 1994, George H. Roeder Jr., a prominent scholar of visual culture, encouraged his fellow historians to pay more attention to the sensory elements of the past. “Ours is a nearly sense-less profession,” he boldly declared in the Journal of American History.20 Nearly fifteen years later, Mark Smith, a leading advocate of sensory history, responded to this call on the pages of the same publication. In the introduction to a roundtable titled “Still Coming to ‘Our’ Senses,” he pointed to the “explanative power” of the senses, which had come to captivate historians with a wide array of interests.21 Likely much to the delight of both Roeder and Smith, an increasing number of scholars have begun to take touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing more seriously in their work since the turn of the century. Indeed, in the inaugural issue of The Senses and Society, an academic journal launched in 2006, the anthropologist David Howes went as far as to proclaim that a “sensorial revolution” was under way in the humanities and social sciences.22 One key aspect of this “revolution” and resulting wave of scholarship is sound.

As early as 1977, R. Murray Schafer, in The Tuning of the World, introduced the term “soundscape” to a wider audience, a concept he defines as “any acoustic field of study.”23 It was not until the past couple of decades, however, when “sound studies,” whose participants routinely cite Schafer’s monograph as a foundational text, came to constitute a better-defined field of interdisciplinary inquiry. Historians have played an incremental part in this development. Whether uncovering past acoustic terrains, charting the trajectories of technologies, or teasing out the intersections of sound, noise, science, politics, and culture, they have shed light on “the audible past.”24 Although these investigations, along with many others, have led one scholar to claim that “auditory history has entered the discipline with a vengeance,” the history of the Middle East remains firmly on the margins of this growing body of scholarship.25 This fact, perhaps, is no more apparent than in multiple “sound studies” readers, which neglect the region’s acoustic past.26 To begin to redress this imbalance, we will examine the materiality, making, and meaning of sounds through the lens of audiocassette technology and its users in modern Egypt.

Historians of the Middle East have long overlooked the acoustic as a site of serious engagement. Ziad Fahmy, for example, has called attention to the “soundproof, devocalized narratives of the past” produced by historians of the Arab world, and Andrea Stanton and Carole Woodall have questioned how sound may feature more prominently in Middle East studies.27 In the case of Egypt, the ease with which many academics write about society, culture, and everyday life without interrogating the auditory is especially striking. To consider only one notable example, in his sweeping history of Egyptian culture Paul Starkey cites no fewer than ten periodicals and fifty literary works, but he references only two radio stations and three singers. In the event that theater surfaces in his authoritative discussion, it is often in relation to the texts penned by playwrights rather than the performances of them.28 Ultimately, such one-dimensional narratives reveal only a fragment of people’s sensory worlds, since, as Steven Connor correctly observes, “the senses are multiply related,” and as such, “we rarely if ever apprehend the world through one sense alone.”29 Building on the recent efforts of scholars undertaking audible histories of the Middle East, we will investigate how Egypt’s cassette culture may serve as a springboard for writing a multisensory history of the modern nation.30 In so doing, we will break new ground for a still-nascent “acoustic turn” in Middle East historiography and contemplate how the study of sound can significantly enrich our understanding of the Middle East and the world around us.

To be certain, Middle East studies is not a noiseless enterprise. Anthropologists, (ethno)musicologists, and religious studies experts have exhibited a greater interest in sound than historians have, especially in relation to Islam and state-sanctioned culture. Since the turn of the century, discussions of “audible Islam” have assumed multiple forms.31 Building on earlier accounts of Muslim preachers and Qurʾanic recitation, scholars have unpacked specific sounds, such as the call to prayer (al-adhan), in addition to the formation of pious communities.32 The resulting analyses introduce us to preachers, performers, and ordinary believers in mosques, festivals, and several other settings where sound and Islam intersect around the world. With respect to the Middle East, academics have illuminated the responses of Muslim authorities to music and new technologies, the productive power of mass media in the cultivation of religious sensibilities, and the ways everyday objects transmit and reshape the ethics-laden messages they relay.33 Whether embracing the idea of a “Muslim public sphere,” a “Muslim cultural sphere,” an “Islamic counterpublic,” or another faith-centric framework, writers have regularly adopted Islam as an overarching reference that demarcates the boundaries of their scholarship and, ultimately, limits the scope of their contributions to the study of the Middle East and its acoustic terrains.34 Although enjoying a disproportionate amount of attention from scholars, “Islamic sounds,” in the case of Egypt’s cassette culture, have constituted only a small percentage of the content available to listeners at any given time. Audiotape technology, therefore, presents a valuable opportunity to look and listen beyond Islam when unpacking Egypt’s soundscape.

In addition to reorienting discussions of sound and Islam, this book strives to enhance prevailing treatments of cultural production in the Middle East. At the start of her seminal study on Umm Kulthum, a leading emblem of “high” Egyptian culture, Virginia Danielson makes a simple yet significant observation. “Listening,” she states, “begins with the choice to pay attention to certain sounds rather than others.”35 In Middle East studies, state-sanctioned musicians, from Fairuz to Muhammad ʿAbd al-Wahhab, have inspired numerous explorations that evidence a clear preoccupation with the same individuals deemed important by ruling regimes.36 Collectively, this literature succeeds in highlighting the fashioning of select entertainers as national icons, the development of music industries, and the relationships between performers and political elites who benefited from one another’s presence. The limited breadth of this scholarship, however, begs this question: what about artists who were not routinely praised but were nevertheless popular in the Middle East?37 In the spirit of broadening the parameters of these works, Media of the Masses offers a counterhistory of cultural production in modern Egypt. By placing subversive and state-sponsored voices into conversation with one another, and by bringing into the historical fold performers and producers who do not enjoy exhaustive biographies, public monuments, or an enduring presence in state-controlled media, a more nuanced picture of Egypt’s acoustic culture is possible.

One of the instruments at the center of this acoustic culture is radio. From the late 1920s to the mid-1930s, around a dozen different independent radio stations, run by individuals, existed in Egypt.38 The freedom enjoyed by this small community of broadcasters, however, was not destined to last. In 1932, Egypt’s minister of transportation declared that one could no longer set up a radio and a receiver without a license.39 Shortly thereafter, he presented the government’s plan to establish a state-operated channel, at which point all other stations would be compelled to close. Over the following two years, radio entrepreneurs resisted this looming silence.40 Their opposition, though, was ultimately in vain. By 31 May 1934, private airwaves fell quiet in Egypt, and the government’s station, with the support of the British Marconi Company, issued its first broadcast, signaling the official start of state-controlled Egyptian radio. In the years to come, the relationship between radio and Egypt’s ruling regimes would only deepen. In 1952, a group of men within the military, known as the Free Officers, seized control of the radio’s headquarters in Cairo and announced the overthrow of Egypt’s monarch King Farouk (r. 1936–1952).41 A few years later, when Gamal Abdel Nasser became Egypt’s second president, the radio’s reach expanded dramatically under his watch and at the leader’s behest. A brilliant orator, Nasser relied extensively on the medium to relay his beliefs to a mass audience.42 It is against this historical backdrop that cassette technology and its users would later democratize sound, subvert state-controlled Egyptian radio, and decentralize other “big media” dominated by local gatekeepers.43

In the preface to the English translation of Les cloches de la terre, Alain Corbin, a pioneer in the field of sensory history, entices readers with a curious opening comment. “Many will be astonished,” he suggests, “at the idea of treating bell ringing as a subject of historical investigation, and yet it offers us privileged access to the world we have lost.”44 Corbin’s remark, which precedes his now-foundational exploration of bells and their significance in nineteenth-century France, resonates with the historical study at hand. Set in a different place, at another point in time, this book strives to provincialize several histories of recorded sound that prioritize the “West” and demonstrate how the social life of a second technology may offer “privileged access” to a recent period of Egypt’s past that, in many ways, remains unchartered waters for historians.45


Missing documents, censored periodicals, restrictive research clearances, and shuttered state archives are among the myriad obstacles inevitably faced when writing histories of Egypt after the ascent of the Free Officers in 1952. In light of these challenges, it is not surprising that earlier periods of Egypt’s past, such as the British Occupation, have received considerably more attention from historians than the second half of the twentieth century. In the spirit of illustrating how one may paint a richer picture of Egypt’s recent history in the absence of the Egyptian National Archives (Dar al-Wathaʾiq al-Qawmiyya), where records following the fall of the monarchy are unavailable to researchers, this study considers a number of pressing questions.

What “alternative archives” are available to historians of modern Egypt and how might the events, actors, and ideas surfacing in these collections enrich and transform accounts of the country under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Husni Mubarak? How might those working outside formal repositories contribute to discussions of archives, official histories, and counternarratives in the case of Egypt as well as other contexts? And how might we think more critically about archives, the sources that constitute them, and the sorts of scholarship they impede or enable by navigating materials from a wide range of sites? With these inquiries in mind, this book sets out to catalyze a conversation on archives and the writing of history in Middle East studies by demonstrating how one may unpack an era of Egypt’s past that has yet to be sufficiently explored.

With a few notable exceptions, scholars of the modern Middle East have yet to join their colleagues working on places as disparate as Indonesia, Peru, and France in what Ann Laura Stoler has termed the “archival turn,” a theoretical shift from treating archives as “sources” for producing scholarship to positioning archives as “subjects” of scholarship.46 Historians, in particular, engage surprisingly little in what Kirsten Weld has called “archival thinking,” an interdisciplinary mode of analysis that treats archives as an area of inquiry rather than the subject of footnotes.47 In the event that historians of the modern Middle East do address archives at any length, it is often in the context of absence, scarcity, or the security sector. As early as 1975, Ibrahim ʿAbduh described the difficulties of writing on Nasser’s Egypt, a task plagued by “lost” papers, inaccessible archives, and scattered materials monopolized by individuals.48 For all these reasons, ʿAbduh pointedly contended, it is a “history without documents” (tarikh bila wathaʾiq). More recently, Anthony Gorman has similarly identified a “dearth of documents” when it comes to historicizing postmonarchical Egypt, Khaled Fahmy has highlighted what is lost when historical research is a matter of “national security” in Egypt, and Omnia El Shakry has discussed the “impermeability” of postcolonial archives across the greater Middle East.49

In conversation with these scholars, we will consider the opportunities inspired by these obstacles. More specifically, this book introduces and navigates Egypt’s “shadow archive,” a constellation of visual, textual, and audio materials that exist outside of the Egyptian National Archives. Drawing inspiration from an article by Jean Allman on Ghana’s shadow archive, which consists exclusively of “formal” holdings in foreign archives, libraries, and research centers, my use of the term departs from hers insofar as it encompasses primary sources from both “official” and “informal” settings, ranging from street markets and public libraries to private holdings and commercial enterprises.50 In so doing, this history endeavors to craft a richer picture of Egypt’s past and to expand the methodological horizons of Middle East scholarship.

One of the sources at the center of this shadow archive is the state-controlled Egyptian press. Over the past decade, historians have increasingly turned to magazines and newspapers to make sense of modern Egypt. Building on Beth Baron’s pioneering analysis of women’s journals, Hanan Kholoussy, Ziad Fahmy, and Michael Gasper, for example, have availed themselves of Arabic-language periodicals to rethink gender, nationalism, and collective identity under British colonial rule.51 In an effort to show what the press stands to offer to a more recent period of Egypt’s past, we will conduct a sustained reading of two leading state-controlled magazines, which covered a wide array of cultural, political, economic, and social affairs on a weekly basis during the final three decades of the twentieth century.52 By utilizing both periodicals, it is possible not only to overcome the absence of the Egyptian National Archives but also to explore a series of topics that often escaped “official” records altogether. The first of these magazines, Ruz al-Yusuf, surfaced in 1925, having adopted the name of its actress-founder.53 Initially committed to artistic matters, the publication began to devote more attention to politics by 1926 and soon became one of the most prominent magazines in Egypt. This success, in part, was due to its editor, Muhammad al-Tabiʿi, who ultimately left Ruz al-Yusuf in 1934 to establish a second weekly, Akhir Saʿa, which similarly amassed a large audience.54 On 24 May 1960, both periodicals were nationalized under Nasser in accordance with Law No. 156 for the “organization of the press” (tanzim al-sahafa).55

As a result of this legal measure, which ushered in a new era of direct oversight, the Egyptian press, one scholar mourns, “becomes less valuable as a source for critical commentary.”56 What was once a “voice,” another historian laments, turned into an “echo.”57 Notwithstanding such negative assessments, this investigation illustrates how state-controlled magazines, like Ruz al-Yusuf and Akhir Saʿa, may be read against the grain to reveal valuable insights into Egyptian society. What this reading looks like in practice will gain greater clarity in the chapters to follow, but, for the time being, one example is perhaps beneficial. Consider two letters to the editors. The first appears in Akhir Saʿa on 18 May 1988.58 Its author, one Salah Mutawalli, resides at a distance from Cairo in the province of al-Sharqiyya. The subject of the document is Cairo Radio. Like the Egyptian town, Salah explains, Cairo Radio has transformed from a producer into a consumer. Instead of creating new content, he claims, it “lives on the melodious morsels of the giants of tarab who have since left our world.”59 To redress this situation, Salah urges Cairo Radio to return to being a producer of “refined” songs. Less than two months later, a second note on the same topic ran in Ruz al-Yusuf.60 In fact, with the exception of the title and the author, the item matches the earlier text in Akhir Saʿa to the letter. What could explain this puzzling occurrence?

Although it is possible that the citizen behind the more recent message read Salah’s letter and agreed with his critique to such an extent that he decided to resubmit it, nearly verbatim, it is more likely that the two documents originated from the editors, not the readers, of the state-controlled magazines. As will become clear in chapter 3, Ruz al-Yusuf and Akhir Saʿa both popularized attacks on audiocassettes deemed to be “vulgar” by Egyptian critics, who, at times, looked to state-controlled Egyptian radio as a means to protect and elevate “public taste.” Thus, what appears at first glance to be a simple case of plagiarism may actually serve as a window onto a larger discussion concerning cultural production, media technologies, and public taste in Egypt.

If not for an in-depth, issue-by-issue reading of Ruz al-Yusuf and Akhir Saʿa, over an extended period of time, it is all too likely that the similarities between the aforementioned letters would have gone unnoticed. More important, the full potential of the Egyptian press as a historical source would remain unrealized. Drawing on extensive runs of magazines from multiple collections, including the Moshe Dayan Center’s Arabic Press Archives in Tel Aviv and the library of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo, we will mobilize editorials, advertisements, crime reports, cartoons, celebrity news, court cases, and pictures, among other items in the popular press, to chart broader historical debates and developments that often rest on the margins of secondary literature. Looking beyond state-controlled Egyptian periodicals, we will also employ films, memoirs, foreign newspapers, consular reports, personal photos, private papers, and oral interviews. Likewise, we will make use of cassettes, the colorful sleeves that encase them, the catalogs that market them, and the diverse places that contain them. Collectively, these multisensory materials converge to constitute Egypt’s shadow archive.

FIGURE 3. Sur al-Ezbekiya paper market in downtown Cairo, 2019. Photo by the author.

On many occasions, the sources at the heart of this project surfaced in a haphazard manner, whether turning up in a pile of personal ephemera at the Ezbekiya Wall (Sur al-Ezbekiya), a sprawling paper market atop a bustling metro station in downtown Cairo, or appearing in kiosks, bookstores, or antique shops across the capital (fig. 3). In this regard, Lucie Ryzova’s concept of the “Ezbekiya methodology” is particularly poignant. Instead of directing historians to things they “should look for after defining a research project,” this approach, she explains, “gives one a fairly good idea of what there is: what generations of people left behind.”61 Expanding this concept beyond the paper market after which it is named, Media of the Masses draws on sources that escape formal collections as well as those that complete them. In the process of doing so, this interdisciplinary endeavor bridges multiple sorts of sites and types of materials while also challenging conventional understandings of what constitutes an “archive” in Middle East studies and calling attention to the kinds of alternative histories that such a rethinking may make viable. By offering a methodological opening to democratize historical research in a time of overzealous gatekeeping and an intellectual opportunity to pursue new topics, Egypt’s shadow archive in this book enables us to reconsider the writing of the recent past and our collective knowledge of it.


The distant past, present, and future of the Middle East have been discussed and debated by scholars at length. The recent past, in comparison, has merited less attention from experts, who are perhaps waiting for more time to pass before revisiting and reinterpreting this important period. The reasons for this imbalance are twofold. First, serious restraints on archival resources across the Middle East and lengthy declassification procedures abroad limit public access to key historical documents, making relatively recent matters all the more difficult to decipher. Second, few disciplines focus on the recent past. Weary of encroaching on the present and eager to utilize traditional archives with accessible sources, historians generally gravitate toward what happened long ago, whereas anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and media experts mainly research what is happening now. In theory, religious studies and literature scholars should be less preoccupied with the passage of time than their peers, but they tend to examine particular processes, like radicalism, and selected genres, such as the novel, that circumscribe the scope of their analyses. By offering an expansive engagement with Egypt’s recent past, free of conventional categories, this history extends an invitation to reconsider the types of materials we explore and the disciplinary conventions we follow in the spirit of opening new frontiers in Middle East studies.

Since the Arab Spring, a growing number of scholars have started to reassess aspects of Egypt’s modern history. In the case of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule (1954–1970), researchers have documented and detailed the gendered politics of nation building, the Egyptian army’s ill-fated intervention in Yemen’s civil war, and the not-so-clear divide between Islamism and Arab nationalism.62 Building on these explorations, we will venture beyond Nasser to explore a more recent period in Egypt’s past that witnessed a series of significant developments. During the final three decades of the twentieth century, these changes included the demise of one authoritarian ruler and the rise of two others in his wake, the renewal of war and the forging of peace with Israel, a shift from state-sponsored socialism to open-market economics to neoliberalism, and the revival of Islam in public and political life.63 Egypt, in short, was evolving.

Following Egypt’s defeat to Israel in the 1967 war and Nasser’s death three years later, Anwar Sadat came to power (1970–1981). Having strengthened his immediate foothold through a corrective movement targeting those in positions of influence whose loyalty was deemed to be suspect, Sadat strove to enhance his legitimacy and establish a legacy. In 1973, he resumed armed conflict with Israel. A military stalemate, the ensuing October War provided Egypt’s president with a significant political victory. Sadat marshaled his newfound currency as the “Hero of the Crossing” to chart a different course for Egyptian society. In 1974, he released the “October Paper.” One key element of his exposition was the infitah, or the “opening up” of Egypt’s economy. Egypt’s move from state-sponsored socialism to open-door capitalism was intended to generate foreign investment, strengthen private enterprises, and curtail state intervention in economic matters. This transition was not without tribulations, and Sadat would pass before it fully took shape. Shortly after signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Sadat was assassinated by a group of Islamic militants in 1981. This irony was not lost upon observers. One of the entities behind the assassination, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, surfaced under Sadat, who strategically empowered Islamists and paved the way for a broader Islamic revival in Egypt.

After Sadat’s sudden demise, Husni Mubarak became Egypt’s fourth president (1981–2011). Unlike both of his immediate predecessors, who had tried to refashion Egyptian society, Mubarak often prioritized stability above all else. To consolidate his authority from the outset, Mubarak swiftly restored Egypt’s state of emergency. On paper, emergency law targeted terrorism and ensured security. In practice, it often served a different purpose. By magnifying the powers of the police and suspending the constitutional rights of citizens, the law permitted Mubarak to rule in an increasingly oppressive manner. Six years after Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak ran unopposed for a second presidential term. Following his reelection, by referendum, he set out to revive regional relationships and to further cement his authority at home. The Arab League readmitted Egypt in 1989, and Mubarak led a nationwide crackdown on religious militants in the 1990s. Mubarak’s stability and Egypt’s renewed centrality in regional affairs drew the interest of Western powers. Intent on identifying a Middle Eastern partner, foreign leaders routinely bolstered Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was extended three more times between 1993 and 2005. Despite growing repression, stalled reforms, and the failure of neoliberalism to benefit the masses, Mubarak ultimately presided over Egypt for thirty years before resigning amid a revolution in 2011.

In navigating a dynamic time in the making of modern Egypt, which routinely serves as “historical context” for later mass uprisings rather than an avenue of inquiry in its own right, this book departs from traditional themes to tell a different story. First, we will redirect accounts of momentous affairs, like armed conflicts, to more mundane matters, such as music. Second, instead of detailing the consolidation of power, we will call attention to its contestation. Last, we will look past the religious to the profane, harnessing Islam as but one of many lenses to make sense of Egypt. The result is a more grounded, rhizomatic history that moves beyond political programs, watershed events, religious movements, and intellectual debates. It is a history that weaves together widely ranging developments that rarely surface in concert to illuminate how Egyptians from all walks of life experienced a changing society.

Egypt’s cassette culture lends itself particularly well to rethinking the nation’s modern history. In 1963, Philips introduced the very first compact cassette player at the Berlin Radio Exhibition. The mass medium did not make waves in Egypt, though, until the 1970s. Over the course of Sadat’s tenure, cassette technology flourished. Bolstered by mass consumption, cassette culture boomed and continued to gain ground long after the dawn of the compact disc in the early 1980s and its subsequent spread in the 1990s. In fact, cassettes remained popular well into Mubarak’s rule in the 2000s. Media of the Masses, accordingly, treats the decades leading up to Mubarak’s downfall not as a mere precursor to a revolution but as its primary focus. Rather than summarizing away a key period in the making of modern Egypt to contextualize one chapter of the Arab Spring, we will take this era seriously. Unencumbered by the burden of big ideologies, like secularism and sectarianism, neoliberalism and nationalism, Islamism and authoritarianism, we will strive to transcend the confines of conventional concepts to undertake a more expansive exploration of one nation’s recent past and the lives of those who occupied it.


In lieu of adopting a rigid chronological approach to Egypt’s recent past, this book operates as a mix tape, with each track, or chapter, revolving around a particular theme. Starting with side A, the first of two complementary parts, we will explore how the advent of cassette technology in Egypt coincided with the creation of a wider culture of consumption under Sadat, the face of Egypt’s economic opening. The story of the infitah rarely departs from the realm of elite politics. Part 1 of this study, though, presents a novel social history of economic developments. In detailing the making of Egypt’s cassette culture, we will shed new light on a vibrant era and its wide-reaching impact on the everyday lives of countless Egyptians.

In chapter 1, I begin to unpack the making of Egypt’s cassette culture through a low-resolution photograph of three men posing with a cassette radio. After charting the image’s recent circulation on social media, I consider how the picture’s untold story and the curious scene it presents may serve as a point of departure for writing a social history of Sadat’s infitah and its initial aftermath under Mubarak. In the course of exploring how ordinary and elite Egyptians came into contact with cassette technology—in print, abroad, and at home—I demonstrate how the mass medium’s commercial life may elucidate wider historical phenomena. These matters range from the making of the “modern home” and the material impact of migrant workers to the creation of “coveted” commodities and the crossroads of leisure and technology. By unraveling these interconnected topics, this chapter offers an alternative history of economic change, spotlights the origins of Egypt’s cassette culture, and advances discussions of consumers and consumption, which generally take a back seat to workers and work, in Middle East historiography.

If chapter 1 prioritizes the outward appearance of a robust commercial landscape for cassette technology, chapter 2 illuminates some of its inner dynamics in relation to the law. Paying particular attention to the “criminal biography” of cassette technology, I scrutinize two practices: theft and smuggling. From a counterreading of “popular crime reports,” I show how stories praising the security sector and publicizing the downfalls of thieves in the press actually reveal a thriving black market for cassette players that proved difficult to police. This theme of the law and its limits carries over to my discussion of smuggling, where I explore how citizens wielded and flouted the law to smuggle cassette players across Egypt’s national borders. Through navigating places like Port Saʿid’s free zone and Cairo’s airport, I follow a portable technology on the move and reorient drug-centric accounts of smuggling in the Middle East by uncovering the suspect transit of ordinary things. In addressing both theft and smuggling, this chapter enhances the making of Egypt’s cassette culture as well as discussions of the infitah and mass consumption.

Having unpacked the advent of Egypt’s cassette culture in the context of a wider culture of consumption, side B considers the impact of cassette technology and its operators on Egyptian society. In decentralizing state-controlled media, cassettes and their users inspired important changes in the domains of culture, politics, and history. In part 2, we will investigate the impact of this mass medium and those who wielded it on cultural production, contemporary politics, and Egypt’s historical record in order to demonstrate how everyday technologies and the stories told by them may assist us in better understanding the making of modern nations.

Starting in chapter 3, I target the crossroads of class, culture, and politics in Egypt. By enabling any citizen to become a cultural producer, as opposed to a mere cultural consumer, audiotape technology and its users sparked significant anxiety in the mid- to late twentieth century, when cassettes carrying content local gatekeepers considered “vulgar,” most notably shaʿbi music, were censured by several critics for poisoning public taste, undermining high culture, and endangering Egyptian society. This chapter breaks down those arguments and shows that tapes actually broadcast a vast variety of voices. Thus, underlying many criticisms of cassette content was not simply a concern for aesthetic sensibilities, but a struggle over what constituted Egyptian culture and who had the right to create it during a time of tremendous change. By navigating and elucidating Egypt’s “vulgar soundscape,” this chapter presents a fresh counterhistory of Egyptian cultural production that casts new light on the cultural politics of Sadat’s economic opening.

If cassettes and their users significantly expanded the creation of Egyptian culture, the technology and its operators also broadened the circulation of cultural content. Piracy, as a popular practice, began not with digital files online but with magnetic tape reels decades earlier. In chapter 4, I scrutinize how a wide range of Egyptians, from private citizens to state employees, copied sounds in the mid- to late twentieth century. I open with a long-forgotten court case pitting two leading artists against a third performer who managed to legally “steal” their music. Once unpacking this fascinating confrontation, I historicize the steps taken by musicians, police officers, and company executives to eradicate counterfeit cassettes across Egypt and well beyond its borders, before detailing how multiple forms of piracy hampered these efforts. As will become clear, copying sounds was not simply a matter of replicating recordings. This mundane activity, at a more fundamental level, radically altered the very movement of cultural material by empowering anyone with a tape recorder to become a cultural distributor at a time when recording labels reigned, mass media was state-controlled, and elite artists enjoyed great power in Egypt.

The creative power and circulatory potential of audiotapes are no more evident than in the case of Shaykh Imam, a blind Egyptian singer whose informal cassette recordings unsettle Egypt’s historical record. In what is widely regarded as one of the warmest receptions an American president ever received overseas, Richard Nixon landed in Cairo in the summer of 1974. In chapter 5, I examine the writing and rewriting of this historic event. Once unpacking what I call a “sonorous spectacle,” I explore how one contemporary song, “Nixon Baba” (Father Nixon), directly challenged the Egyptian government’s “official story” of the state visit. To make sense of this subversive soundtrack, I start with its singer, Shaykh Imam, an “ordinary icon” whose voice spread near and far on noncommercial cassettes created and circulated by individual listeners. After elucidating Imam’s historical trajectory and the centrality of audiotapes to his career, I illuminate the movement and lasting resonance of “Nixon Baba,” which witnessed a resurgence during the Arab Spring. In so doing, I illustrate how cassette technology served as a powerful tool not only to criticize ruling regimes but also to counter the very narratives crafted by their advocates.

The sounding of some stories and the silencing of others continue to gain greater clarity in chapter 6, which brings this history of Egypt up to the twenty-first century by contemplating the material remnants of a once-lively cassette culture. Following in the footsteps of anthropologists who have utilized oral interviews to write innovative histories of the Middle East, and taking a cue from historians who have made use of ethnographic methods to uncover a more vivid picture of the past, I draw on the voices of a religious scholar, a library director, and an electronics dealer, among others, to provide a microhistory of cassette technology that offers insights into the production, preservation, and study of Egypt’s acoustic past. Two inquiries guide these case studies. What questions do contemporary cassette collections raise? And which kinds of histories do these alternative archives and their attendant voices make viable? In covering the lives of audiotapes and their ordinary users, this chapter rethinks “the archive” in Middle East studies and paves the way for future ethnographies of sound that are historically rigorous.

Last, in lieu of simply ending a conversation, the conclusion of this book strives to spark future exchanges. Opening with the physical traces of a once-vibrant cassette culture introduced in chapter 6, I return to the Cairo kiosk at the very start of this introduction and investigate the recent disappearance of its cassette recordings. Using this curbside stall as a starting point, I consider the opportunities afforded by sound and the senses, everyday technologies in action, and shadow archives in the field of Middle East studies. Ultimately, I conclude by placing Media of the Masses into conversation with the Modern Egypt Project, an ongoing undertaking led by the British Museum in London to present and reimagine Egypt’s recent past through the window of the country’s everyday artifacts. With this mix tape in mind, let’s begin to consider how the most ordinary things may yield the most surprising insights.


1. Timeline, Philips Museum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands. One key factor in Philips’s establishing of this “global standard” for cassette-tape technology was Ottens’s push for the company to freely license his invention, which would serve as a model for the Dutch company’s competitors in Japan and elsewhere around the world. See Neil Genzlinger, “Lou Ottens, Father of Countless Mixtapes, Is Dead at 94,” New York Times (11 March 2021).

2. Notably, Ottens’s vision for what would become the compact cassette was inspired by his frustration with the reel-to-reel tape recorder and his hours-long struggle one day to operate the existing technology. See Zack Taylor, “Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape,” 87 (2016).

3. “Philips Operating Instructions: EL-3300,” 3.

4. Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 67.

5. Carl Ipsen, Fumo: Italy’s Love Affair with the Cigarette (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016); Kerry Ross, Photography for Everyone: The Cultural Lives of Cameras and Consumers in Early Twentieth-Century Japan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015); Marie Sarita Gaytán, ¡Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014).

6. Beshara Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 131–81; Elliott Colla, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 24–66; Arash Khazeni, Sky Blue Stone: The Turquoise Trade in World History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).

7. David Nye, Technology Matters: Questions to Live With (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 56–61.

8. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), xi–iii.

9. For histories of technologies in action, see, e.g., Stephen Sheehi, The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait Photography, 1860–1910 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); Daniel Stolz, “Positioning the Watch Hand: ‘Ulama’ and the Practice of Mechanical Timekeeping in Cairo, 1737–1874,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47, no. 3 (2015): 489–510; Mostafa Minawi, The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016), 99–139; Nancy Reynolds, “Building the Past: Rockscapes and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt,” in Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Alan Mikhail (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 181–205; Nile Green, “Journeymen, Middlemen: Travel, Transculture, and Technology in the Origins of Muslim Printing,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 41, no. 2 (2009): 203–24; Eric Tagliacozzo, “Hajj in the Time of Cholera: Pilgrim Ships and Contagion from Southeast Asia to the Red Sea,” in Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print, ed. James Gelvin and Nile Green (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 103–20. See also On Barak, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); Toby Jones, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Avner Wishnitzer, “Into the Dark: Power, Light, and Nocturnal Life in 18th-Century Istanbul,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46, no. 3 (2014): 513–31.

10. On social media and the Middle East uprisings, see Mohamed Zayani, Networked Publics and Digital Contention: The Politics of Everyday Life in Tunisia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Linda Herrera, Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet (New York: Verso, 2014); David Faris, Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013); Philip Howard and Muzammil Hussain, Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). On al-Jazeera, see Marc Lynch, Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006); Mohamed Zayani, ed., The Al Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2005); Hugh Miles, Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel that is Challenging the West (New York: Grove Press, 2005). For a study connecting al-Jazeera and the Arab Spring, see Sam Cherribi, Fridays of Rage: Al-Jazeera, the Arab Spring, and Political Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

11. On social media and the World Wide Web, see Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein, Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015); Negar Mottahedeh, #iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015); Gary R. Bunt, iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009). On television, see Marwan Kraidy, Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Susanne Olsson, Preaching Islamic Revival: ʿAmr Khaled, Mass Media and Social Change in Egypt (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2015); Walter Armbrust, “The Riddle of Ramadan: Media, Consumer Culture, and the ‘Christmasization’ of a Muslim Holiday,” in Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East, ed. Donna Lee Bowen and Evelyn A. Early (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 335–48.

12. For ethnographies, see Lila Abu-Lughod, Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Christa Salamandra, “Moustache Hairs Lost: Ramadan Television Serials and the Construction of Identity in Damascus, Syria,” Visual Anthropology 10, nos. 2–4 (1998): 226–46; Walter Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). For historical works, see Andrea Stanton, “This Is Jerusalem Calling”: State Radio in Mandate Palestine (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013); Rebecca Scales, “Subversive Sound: Transnational Radio, Arabic Recordings, and the Dangers of Listening in French Colonial Algeria, 1934–1939,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52, no. 2 (2010): 384–417; Ziad Fahmy, “Media-Capitalism: Colloquial Mass Culture and Nationalism in Egypt, 1908–18,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42, no. 1 (2010): 83–103; Ali Jihad Racy, “Musical Change and Commercial Recording in Egypt, 1904–1932,” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1977). For two studies that strike a middle ground, see Joel Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser’s Egypt (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002); Jonathan Smolin, Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime, and Politics in Popular Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

13. Lila Abu-Lughod, “Bedouins, Cassettes and Technologies of Public Culture,” Middle East Report, no. 159 (1989): 9–10; Farha Ghannam, Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002), 142–44, 146, 148–51, 155; Ted Swedenburg, “Saida Sultan/Danna International: Transgender Pop and the Polysemiotics of Sex, Nation, and Ethnicity on the Israeli-Egyptian Border,” Musical Quarterly 81, no. 1 (1997): 89, 91. See also Ted Swedenburg, “Nubian Music in Cairo,” in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 6, The Middle East, ed. Virginia Danielson, Dwight Reynolds, and Scott Marcus (New York: Routledge, 2002), 642.

14. El-Shawan Castelo-Branco S., “Some Aspects of the Cassette Industry in Egypt,” World of Music 29, no. 2 (1987): 36.

15. According to one Egyptian commentator, cassette companies produced 8,960 songs from 1990 to 1998. See Muhammad Qabil, Mawsuʿat al-Ghinaʾ fi Misr (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2006), 13; Joel Gordon, “Singing the Pulse of the Egyptian-Arab Street: Shaaban Abd Al-Rahim and the Geo-Pop-Politics of Fast Food,” Popular Music 22, no. 1 (2003): 75.

16. Charles Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 39. For a second study addressing cassette sermons, see Aaron Rock-Singer, “Censoring the Kishkophone: Religion and State Power in Mubarak’s Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 49, no. 3 (2017): 437–56.

17. An EMI catalog, for instance, clearly underscores the breadth of Egypt’s cassette-tape culture. Arabic nursery rhymes, belly-dance tracks, Bollywood songs, Qurʾanic recitation, and the Beatles, to name only a few items, all appear on cassette recordings. See Kataluj ʿUmumi Kamil li-Kafat al-Tasjilat al-ʿArabiyya 1977 (Athens: EMI Greece, 1977).

18. Peter Manuel, Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). See also Negar Mottahedeh, Whisper Tapes: Kate Millet in Iran (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019); Flagg Miller, The Audacious Ascetic: What Osama Bin Laden’s Sound Archive Reveals About Al-Qaʾida (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Flagg Miller, The Moral Resonance of Arab Media: Audiocassette Poetry and Culture in Yemen (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2007); Annabelle Sreberny and Ali Mohammadi, Small Media, Big Revolution: Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1994).

19. Chandra Mukerji, “Entangled in Questions of Cultural Analysis,” History and Technology 30, no. 5 (2014): 255.

20. George H. Roeder Jr., “Coming to Our Senses,” Journal of American History 81, no. 3 (1994): 1112.

21. Mark M. Smith, “Still Coming to ‘Our’ Senses: An Introduction,” Journal of American History 95, no. 2 (2008): 380. See also Mark M. Smith, Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Mark M. Smith, Listening to Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

22. David Howes, “Charting the Sensorial Revolution,” Senses & Society 1, no. 1 (2006): 115.

23. R. Murray Schafer, The Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977), 7. This seminal text was later reprinted in the 1990s. See R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, NY: Destiny Books, 1994).

24. Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 26. For some seminal histories, see Karin Bijsterveld, Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008); Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006); Richard Cullen Rath, How Early America Sounded (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

25. Sophia Rosenfeld, “On Being Heard: A Case for Paying Attention to the Historical Ear,” American Historical Review, no. 116 (2011): 317.

26. See, e.g., Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Mark M. Smith, ed., Hearing History: A Reader (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004); Michael Bull and Les Back, eds., The Auditory Culture Reader (Oxford, UK: Berg, 2003). It is worth noting that one reader, which does manage to address sound in the Middle East, albeit sparingly, includes two entries from an anthropologist and a philosopher/activist, as opposed to historians, see Jonathan Sterne, ed., The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 54–69, 329–35.

27. Ziad Fahmy, “Coming to Our Senses: Historicizing Sound and Noise in the Middle East,” History Compass 11, no. 4 (2013): 306; Andrea Stanton and Carole Woodall, “Roundtable: Bringing Sound into Middle East Studies: Introduction,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48, no. 1 (2016): 113–14. Elaborating on these critiques, Jonathan Shannon has observed that “even the majority of ethnographic texts on the region depict Middle Easterners as living in near silence.” See Jonathan H. Shannon, “Roundtable: Sounding North Africa and the Middle East: Introduction,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 44, no. 4 (2012): 775.

28. Paul Starkey, “Modern Egyptian Culture in the Arab World,” in The Cambridge History of Egypt, ed. M. W. Daly (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 394–426.

29. Steven Connor, “Edison’s Teeth: Touching Hearing,” in Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening, and Modernity, ed. Veit Erlmann (Oxford, UK: Berg Press, 2004), 153.

30. For recent histories attuned to sound in Middle East studies, see Ziad Fahmy, Street Sounds: Listening to Everyday Life in Modern Egypt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020); Maria Malmström, The Streets Are Talking to Me: Affective Fragments in Sisi’s Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019); Mottahedeh, Whisper Tapes; Nahid Siamdoust, Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017); J. Martin Daughtry, Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Stanton, “This Is Jerusalem Calling”; Ziad Fahmy, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Carole Woodall, “Sensing the City: Sound, Movement, and the Night in 1920s Istanbul” (PhD diss., New York University, 2008).

31. Jeanette Jouili and Annelies Moors, “Introduction: Islamic Sounds and the Politics of Listening,” Anthropological Quarterly 87, no. 4 (2014): 977.

32. For early sound-sensitive studies, see Kristina Nelson, The Art of Reciting the Qurʾan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985); Richard Antoun, Muslim Preacher in the Modern World: A Jordanian Case Study in Comparative Perspective (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989); Patrick Gaffney, The Prophet’s Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). On the call to prayer, see Scott Marcus, Music in Egypt: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 1–15; Isaac A. Weiner, “Calling Everyone to Pray: Pluralism, Secularism, and the Adhān in Hamtramck, Michigan,” Anthropological Quarterly 87, no. 4 (2014): 1049–77. On Qurʾanic recitation, see Lauren E. Osborne, “From Text to Sound to Perception: Modes and Relationships of Meaning in the Recited Qurʾan” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2014); Anne K. Rasmussen, Women, the Recited Qurʾan, and Islamic Music in Indonesia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Michael Frishkopf, “Mediated Qurʾanic Recitation and the Contestation of Islam in Contemporary Egypt,” in Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, ed. Laudan Nosshin (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 75–114; Anna M. Gade, Perfection Makes Practice: Learning, Emotion, and the Recited Qurʾan in Indonesia (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004). On Sufi rituals, see Hager El Hadidi, Zar: Spirit Possession, Music, and Healing Rituals in Egypt (New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2016); Emilio Spadola, The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014); Samuli Schielke, The Perils of Joy: Contesting Mulid Festivals in Contemporary Egypt (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013); Michael Frishkopf, “Tarab (‘Enchantment’) in the Mystic Sufi Chant of Egypt,” in Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, ed. Sherifa Zuhur (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2001), 239–76.

33. On responses to music and new technologies, see Jonas Otterbeck and Anders Ackfeldt, “Music and Islam,” Contemporary Islam 6, no. 3 (2012): 227–33; Göran Larsson, Muslims and the New Media: Historical and Contemporary Debates (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011). For the use of media by Muslim authorities, see Jacquelene Brinton, Preaching Islamic Renewal: Religious Authority and Media in Contemporary Egypt (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016); Charles Hirschkind, “Experiments in Devotion Online: The YouTube Khutba,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 44, no. 1 (2012): 5–21; Yasmin Moll, “Islamic Televangelism: Religion, Media and Visuality,” Arab Media & Society, no. 10 (2010): 1–27; Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape; Lindsay Wise, “‘Words from the Heart’: New Forms of Islamic Preaching in Egypt” (MPhil thesis, Oxford University, 2003); Brinkley Messick, “Media Muftis: Radio Fatwas in Yemen,” in Islamic Legal Interpretation: Muftis and Their Fatwas, ed. Khalid Muhammad Masud, Brinkley Messick, and David S. Powers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 310–23. For a study of mass media in Egypt that focuses on religion but privileges Christianity, see Febe Armanios and Andrew Amstutz, “Emerging Christian Media in Egypt: Clerical Authority and the Visualization of Women in Coptic Video Films,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45, no. 3 (2013): 513–33.

34. Dale Eickelman and Jon Anderson, “Redefining Muslim Publics,” in New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere, ed. Dale Eickelman and Jon Anderson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 1; Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 108; Karin van Nieuwkerk, “Artistic Developments in the Muslim Cultural Sphere: Ethics, Aesthetics, and the Performing Arts,” in Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theater, ed. Karin van Nieuwkerk (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 2–4. For three edited volumes that address the relationship between sound and Islam, see Michael Frishkopf and Federico Spinetti, eds., Music, Sound, and Architecture in Islam (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017); Karin van Nieuwkerk, Mark LeVine, and Martin Stokes, eds., Islam and Popular Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016); Khaled Hroub, ed., Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

35. Virginia Danielson, The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 9.

36. See, e.g., Danielson, The Voice of Egypt; Laura Lohman, Umm Kulthum: Artistic Agency and the Shaping of an Arab Legend (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2010); Saʿd Ramadan, ed., Umm Kulthum: Sawt fi Tarikh al-Umma (Tunis: Maʿhad al-Musiqa al-ʿArabiyya, 2000); Martin Stokes, “ʿAbd Al-Halim’s Microphone,” in Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, ed. Laudan Nooshin (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 55–74; Joel Gordon, “The Nightingale and the Raʾis: ʿAbd Al-Halim Hafiz and Nasserist Longings,” in Rethinking Nasserism: Revolution and Historical Memory in Modern Egypt, ed. Elie Podeh and Onn Winckler (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004), 307–23; Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt, 63–94; Mahmud ʿAwad, Muhammad ʿAbd al-Wahhab alladhi la Yaʿrifuhu Ahad (Cairo: Dar al-Maʿarif, 1991); Christopher Stone, Popular Culture and Nationalism in Lebanon: The Fairouz and Rahbani Nation (New York: Routledge, 2008).

37. For a few treatments of “suspect” entertainers in Egypt, see Daniel Gilman, Cairo Pop: Youth Music in Contemporary Egypt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Mark LeVine, Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008), 60–105; Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt, 165–220; Karin van Nieuwkerk, “A Trade Like Any Other”: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995).

38. Ziad Fahmy, “Early Egyptian Radio: From Media-Capitalism to Media-Etatism, 1925–1934,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication [Forthcoming].

39. Hilmi Ahmad Shalabi, Tarikh al-Idhaʿa al-Misriyya: Dirasa Tarikhiyya (1934–1952) (Cairo: Al-Hayʾa al-ʿAmma al-Misriyya lil-Kitab, 1995), 27.

40. Station owners, for example, broadcast pleas for public support and made their case to remain alongside a government station in the press. Shalabi, 30.

41. The Free Officers consisted mainly of junior officers intent on bringing an end to the monarchy’s corruption and British influence in Egypt. Egypt’s first three presidents, Muhammad Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Anwar Sadat would all emerge from their ranks. For more on the Free Officers and this period in Egypt’s past, see Joel Gordon, Nasser’s Blessed Movement: Egypt’s Free Officers and the July Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

42. On Nasser’s investment in, and use of, the radio, see Adeed Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 147–48.

43. Another state-controlled medium, introduced in Egypt in 1960, was television. See, e.g., Elizabeth Seymour, “Imagining Modernity: Consuming Identities and Constructing the Ideal Nation on Egyptian Television” (PhD diss., SUNY Binghamton University, 1999), 24–30.

44. Alain Corbin, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-Century French Countryside, trans. Martin Thom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), ix. For the original monograph, see Alain Corbin, Les cloches de la terre: Paysage sonore et culture sensible dans les campagnes au XIXe siècle (Paris: A. Michel, 1994).

45. For histories of recording technologies in America alone, see Susan Schmidt Horning, Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); David Suisman, Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Tim Anderson, Making Easy Listening: Material Culture and Postwar American Recording (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2006); William Kenney, Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); David Morton, Off the Record: The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999).

46. Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 44. For detailed discussions of “archives” outside of the Middle East, see, e.g., Doreen Lee, Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); Kathryn Burns, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987). For a few Middle East exceptions, see Rosie Bsheer, Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020); Sherene Seikaly, “Gaza as Archive,” in Gaza as Metaphor, ed. Helga Tawil-Souri and Dina Matar (London: Hurst & Co., 2016), 225–31; Lucie Ryzova, “Mourning the Archive: Middle Eastern Photographic Heritage between Neoliberalism and Digital Reproduction,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 56, no. 4 (2014): 1027–61; Yoav Di-Capua, Gatekeepers of the Arab Past: Historians and History Writing in Twentieth-Century Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Marilyn Booth, “Fiction’s Imaginative Archive and the Newspaper’s Local Scandals: The Case of Nineteenth-Century Egypt,” in Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History, ed. Antoinette Burton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 274–95.

47. Kirsten Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 13.

48. Ibrahim ʿAbduh, Tarikh bila Wathaʾiq (Cairo: Muʿassasat Sajil al-ʿArab, 1975), 11.

49. Anthony Gorman, Historians, State, and Politics in Twentieth Century Egypt: Contesting the Nation (New York: Routledge, 2003), 76; Khaled Fahmy, “How Do We Write Our Military History?,” Ahram Online (2013); Omnia El Shakry, “‘History without Documents’: The Vexed Archives of Decolonization in the Middle East,” American Historical Review 120, no. 3 (2015): 924. On a related note, also see Dina Ezzat, “65 Years Later: The ‘Cairo Fire’ of 1952 Revisited,” Ahram Online (2017),‘Cairo-Fire’-of--revisited.aspx.

50. Jean Allman, “Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot Named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing,” American Historical Review 118, no. 1 (2013): 120.

51. Beth Baron, The Women’s Awakening in Egypt: Culture, Society, and the Press (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994); Hanan Kholoussy, For Better, for Worse: The Marriage Crisis That Made Modern Egypt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); Fahmy, Ordinary Egyptians; Michael Ezekiel Gasper, The Power of Representation: Publics, Peasants, and Islam in Egypt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009). See also Wilson C. Jacob, Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870–1940 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

52. In this regard, this study joins a limited number of other histories to use the press post-1952. See Laura Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminisms, Modernity, and the State in Nasser’s Egypt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Aaron Rock-Singer, Practicing Islam in Egypt: Print Media and the Islamic Revival (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

53. Born Fatima al-Yusuf, the actress came to fame as Ruz al-Yusuf. On the magazine’s founding, see Fatima al-Yusuf, Dhikrayat, 2nd ed. (Cairo: Muʿassasat Ruz al-Yusuf, 1976), 115–18.

54. On the start of Akhir Saʿa, see Huda al-Tabiʿi, “Taqdim,” in Muhammad al-Tabiʿi, by Sabri Abu al-Majd (Cairo: Muʿassasat Dar al-Taʿawun lil-Tibaʿa wa al-Nashr, 1993), 28–29.

55. Law No. 156 transferred the ownership of four publishing houses—al-Ahram, Dar al-Hilal, Ruz al-Yusuf, and Akhbar al-Yawm (which printed Akhir Saʿa)—to the National Union, which was later replaced by the Arab Socialist Union. The law required all papers and journalists to obtain licenses from the union to operate. See William Rugh, The Arab Press: News Media and Political Process in the Arab World, 2nd ed. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 37–8; Fouad Fahmy Shafik, “The Press and Politics of Modern Egypt, 1798–1970: A Comparative Analysis of Casual Relationships” (PhD diss., New York University, 1981), 402–3.

56. Gorman, Historians, State, and Politics in Twentieth Century Egypt, 77.

57. This remark applies to multiple postcolonial presses in the Middle East. See Ami Ayalon, The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 245.

58. Salah Mutawalli, “Idhaʿa ʿala al-Futat,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2795 (18 May 1988): 62.

59. Tarab literally means “to be moved” in Arabic. In the context of Salah’s letter, it refers to performers who enraptured listeners, generating an emotional response with their songs. For more on the meanings of tarab in the context of music, see Ali Jihad Racy, Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 5–6.

60. Muhammad Higazi, “Idhaʿa..Mustahlika,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3134 (4 July 1988): 45.

61. Lucie Ryzova, The Age of the Efendiyya: Passages to Modernity in National-Colonial Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 30.

62. Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood; Jesse Ferris, Nasser’s Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013); Fawaz Gerges, Making the Arab World: Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash That Shaped the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018). See also Reem Abou-El-Fadl, Foreign Policy as Nation Making: Turkey and Egypt in the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019); Mériam Belli, An Incurable Past: Nasser’s Egypt Then and Now (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013).

63. For a few recent treatments of some of these respective developments, see Rock-Singer, Practicing Islam in Egypt; Relli Shechter, The Rise of the Egyptian Middle Class: Socio-Economic Mobility and Public Discontent from Nasser to Sadat (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019); Zeinab Abul-Magd, Militarizing the Nation: The Army, Business, and Revolution in Egypt (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018).