Despite his death over four decades ago, the late president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, remains an iconic figure in his country and the Arab world. A new book by Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) professor delves into how his memory has been kept alive and reimagined through art and literature.

Nasser in the Egyptian Imaginary by GU-Q assistant professor of Arabic literature and culture, Dr Omar Khalifah, is an analysis of the many cultural representations of the president in novels, short stories, autobiographies, and films. The work was recently introduced to the community in Qatar through a book launch event at the University’s Education City campus.

In the book, Khalifah argues that representations of Nasser continue to have an active presence in everyday life and discourse within the country. He also traces and contextualises the timeline of the creation of Nasser’s image in this nationally-shared cultural imagination.

“Nasser’s place in Egyptian history came at a time of dynamic change culturally, politically, and militarily, whose legacy continues to be invoked in attempts to understand the past or to explain the present,” said Khalifah, an expert in Arabic literature and intellectual history of modern Egypt. According to him, the reemergence of Nasser in literature and film demonstrates how the memory of Nasser is subject to plural interpretations.

He has become a rhetorical device or figure of speech who connotes specific ideas or images when mentioned.’

Khalifah’s study makes a case for how literature and art provide a way for history to be interpreted and recorded. They can be seen as an alternative archive that questions, distorts, adds to, and even erases aspects of the official history of Nasser.

Published by Edinburgh University Press, this book contributes to the ongoing debate on Nasser and his relevance to modern Egyptians. It shows how, for many Egyptians, Nasser functions as a repository of cultural memory that isn’t always rooted in historical accuracy, and is often disconnected from the real historical figure he once was.

Khalifah received his MA and PhD from the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, where the focus of his PhD dissertation was on the representations of Egyptian president Nasser in Egyptian fiction and film.

In addition to modern Arabic literature, Khalifah’s research interests include textual and visual representations of memory, world literature, and cinema and nationalism in the Arab world. He has taught classes on the Arabic novel, freedom in modern Arabic literature, and Arab women’s autobiography.

The Egyptian Imaginary