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  • Andrew Simon (a1)


In this article, I argue that audiocassette technology decentralized state-controlled Egyptian media long before the advent of al-Jazeera and the Internet. By enabling any citizen to become a cultural producer, as opposed to a mere consumer, the mass medium and its users sparked significant anxiety in the mid-to-late 20th century, when contentious cassette recordings led many local critics to assert that “vulgar” tapes were poisoning public taste, undermining high culture, and endangering Egyptian society. This article breaks down these arguments and shows that audiotapes actually broadcast a vast variety of voices. Thus, underlying many criticisms of cassette content, I contend, was not simply a concern for aesthetic sensibilities but a desire to dictate who created Egyptian culture during a time of tremendous change. By unpacking these discussions, this article harnesses Egypt as a case study to enhance prevailing investigations of sound, popular culture, and mass media in Middle East studies.

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Author's note: I would like to thank Ziad Fahmy, Jonathan Smolin, Tarek El-Ariss, Kholoud Hussein, and the editors and anonymous reviewers at IJMES for their sharp insights on this article. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the American Research Center in Egypt and the Social Science Research Council for generously supporting my research abroad. To my fellow panelists at MESA, at AHA, and in Tunisia, thank you for your comments and questions on Egypt's cassette culture.

1 Farid al-Atrash (d. 1974), Umm Kulthum (d. 1975), and ʿAbd al-Halim Hafiz (d. 1977), three leading emblems of state-sanctioned culture, all passed away within a few years of one another.

2 Fahmy, Ziad, “Coming to Our Senses: Historicizing Sound and Noise in the Middle East,” History Compass 11 (2013): 306. See also Fahmy, , Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).

3 Stanton, Andrea and Woodall, Carole, “Roundtable: Bringing Sound into Middle East Studies: Introduction,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48 (2016): 113–14.

4 Hirschkind, Charles, “Experiments in Devotion Online: The Youtube Khutba,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 44 (2012): 521; Hirschkind, , The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).

5 Eickelman, Dale and Anderson, Jon, “Redefining Muslim Publics,” in New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere, ed. Eickelman, Dale and Anderson, Jon (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1999), 1; Nieuwkerk, Karin, “Artistic Developments in the Muslim Cultural Sphere: Ethics, Aesthetics, and the Performing Arts,” in Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theater, ed. Van Nieuwkerk, Karin (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2011), 24; and Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 108. For three recent edited volumes that address the relationship between sound and Islam, see Frishkopf, Michael and Spinetti, Federico, eds. Music, Sound, and Architecture in Islam (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2017); Nieuwkerk, Karin Van, LeVine, Mark, and Stokes, Martin, eds. Islam and Popular Culture (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2016); and Hroub, Khaled, ed., Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

6 See, e.g., Danielson, Virginia, The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the 20th Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); and ʿAwad, Mahmud, Muhammad ʿAbd al-Wahhab Alladhi La Yaʿrifuhu Ahad (Cairo: Dar al-Maʿarif, 1991).

7 Swedenburg, Ted, “Saida Sultan/Danna International: Transgender Pop and the Polysemiotics of Sex, Nation, and Ethnicity on the Israeli-Egyptian Border,” The Musical Quarterly 81 (1997): 81108; and Gordon, Joel, “Singing the Pulse of the Egyptian-Arab Street: Shaaban Abd Al- Rahim and the Geo-Pop-Politics of Fast Food,” Popular Music 22 (2003): 7388.

8 See Armbrust, Walter, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 165220.

9 Zayani, Mohamed, Networked Publics and Digital Contention: The Politics of Everyday Life in Tunisia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); and Herrera, Linda, Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet (New York: Verso, 2014).

10 Kuntsman, Adi and Stein, Rebecca, Digital Militarism: Israel's Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2015); Mottahedeh, Negar, #Iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2015); Bunt, Gary R., iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Kraidy, Marwan, Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Olsson, Susanne, Preaching Islamic Revival: ʿAmr Khaled, Mass Media and Social Change in Egypt (New York: I.B.Tauris, 2015).

11 ʿAli, Ibrahim, “Hadhihi al-Aghani: ʿAyb fi Haqq al-Mujtamaʿ,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2378 (21 May 1980): 74.

12 Al-Mansa, Osama, “al-Wajh al-Akhar li-l-Kasit,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2773 (3 August 1981): 54.

13 Al-Mutriba al-Maghribiyya Layla Ghufran: Khalaqtu li-l-Ghinaʾ,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3196 (11 September 1989): 54.

14 Muhammad, Ahmad, “Tijarat al-Ghinaʾ wa-ʿAbd al-Halim Hafiz!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. (29 August 1988): 55.

15 Saʿd, Faiza and Hammuda, ʿAdil, “Afwan: Hadhihi Qilat Dhawq – 2: Wabur Zalat fi Sharit Kasit!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2826 (9 August 1982): 27.

16 Raghm Najah Min Ghayr Layh: Iflas Tujjar al-Kasit!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3214 (15 January 1990): 60.

17 These themes permeate multiple histories of music in Egypt. See, e.g., Al-Nijmi, Kamal, al-Ghinaʾ al-Misri: Mutribun wa-Mustamiʿun (Cairo: Dar al-Hilal, 1993), 420; Qabil, Muhammad, Mawsuʿat al-Ghinaʾ fi Misr (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2006), 13; and Al-Nijmi, Kamal, Turath al-Ghinaʾ al-ʿArabi (Cairo: Al-Hayʾa al-ʿAmma li-Qusur al-Thaqafa, 2015), 180–81.

18 al-Karim, ʿAlaʾ ʿAbd, “‘Akhir Saʿa’ Taftah Malaf Qadiyya Fanniyya Khatira: Mafia al-Kasitat al-Mamnuʿa wa-l-Sharaʾit al-Habita!,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2788 (30 March 1988): 24.

19 Hani, Muhammad, “Tujjar al-Muharramat al-Fanniyya!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3255 (29 October 1990): 46.

20 ʿAbd al-Karim, “‘Akhir Saʿa’ Taftah Malaf Qadiyya Fanniyya Khatira,” 29.

21 Osman, Tarek, Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to the Muslim Brotherhood (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013), 127–39; Beattie, Kirk, Egypt during the Sadat Years (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 134–60; and Heikal, Mohamed, Autumn of Fury: The Assassination of Sadat (New York: Random House, 1983), 8489.

22 Ali Jihad Racy, “Musical Change and Commercial Recording in Egypt, 1904–1932” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1977), esp. 79–123; Gordon, Joel, Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser's Egypt (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002); Danielson, The Voice of Egypt.

23 Al-ʿAynayn, Saʿid, “Wazir al-Thaqafa fi Hiwar Sarih: Mujat al-Hubut Badaʾat Tanhasir,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2681 (12 March 1986): 36. My emphasis.

24 ʿUkasha, Tharwat, Mudhakkirati fi al-Siyasa wa-l-Thaqafa, vol. 1 (Cairo: Dar al-Hilal, 1990), 506.

25 Kamil, ʿIzz al-Din, Saʿd Kamil: al-Thaqafa al-Jamahiriyya (Cairo: al-Majlis al-Aʿla li-l-Thaqafa, 2010), 240.

26 li-l-Thaqafa, Al-Majlis al-Aʿla, al-Thaqafa fi ʿAhd al-Sadat (Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-Misriyya al-ʿAmma li-l-Kitab, 1981), 195.

27 al-Shinnawi, Tariq, “Saddiq aw la Tusaddiq: Kadre Umm Kulthum wa-ʿAbd al-Wahhab wa-ʿAbd al-Halim fi al-Idhaʿa,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2479 (15 December 1975): 41.

28 Suʾal Muhayyir fi Lajnat al-Istimaʿ: Ma Huwa al-Mustawa?,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2847 (3 January 1983): 52.

29 Al-Shinnawi, Tariq, “al-Ughniya fi Maʾzak wa-Khamsat Alaf Muʾallif ʿala Bab al-Idhaʿa,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2879 (15 August 1983): 50.

30 Idhaʿat al-Jumhuriyya al-ʿArabiyya al-Muttahida fi ʿAmiha al-Sabiʿ ʿAshr baʿd al-Thawra (Cairo: Hayʾat Idhaʿat al-Jumhuriyya al-ʿArabiyya al-Muttahida, 1969), 7, 2.

31 Muntasir, Tuhami, “Raʾis al-Idhaʿa al-Jadid Amin Bassyuni: La Makan li-l-Aghani al-Habita wa-Munafasa maʿ al-Tilifiziyun,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2791 (20 April 1988): 64.

32 al-Mansa, Osama, “Wadaʿan li-l-Ughniyya al-Tafiha,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2650 (26 March 1979): 52.

33 Fannan, , “ʿAyb!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2638 (1 January 1979): 46.

34 Fannan, , “ʿAyb!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2666 (16 July 1979): 44.

35 Fannan, , “ʿAyb!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2711 (26 May 1980): 58.

36 Mansur, Fathi, “Kasit bila Riqaba: Limadha,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2758 (2 September 1987): 62.

37 Iʿadat al-Nazar fi Qawanin al-Riqaba!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2695 (4 February 1980): 48.

38 Fuʾad, Muharram, “Nahnu wa al-Ughniyya,” al-Fanun 1, no. 5 (1980): 109.

39 Al-Majalis al-Qawmiyya Tatasada li-l-Kasit al-Habit,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2861 (11 April 1983): 52.

40 al-Mansa, Osama, “al-Majalis al-Qawmiyya al-Mutakhasissa Tuʿlin al-Harb ʿala al-Kasit!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2872 (27 June 1983): 47.

41 ʿAbd al-Karim, “‘Akhir Saʿa’ Taftah Malaf Qadiya Fanniyya Khatira,” 26.

42 Ibid., 27; Taha, Muhammad, “Ziham, Ziham fi Tajdid al-Ughniya al-Misriyya,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2479 (28 April 1982): 42.

43 ʿItman, Muhammad, “al-Hurub al-Riqabiyya,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3219 (19 February 1990): 53.

44 Alif, Ta, “Kayf al-Hurub min Madrasa ʿAdawiya?,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2629 (30 October 1978): 56.

45 “Asrar wa-Khabaya Ahmad ʿAdawiya Yakshifuha Mufid Fawzi 3/3,” YouTube video, 32:40, posted by “Dream TV Egypt,” 28 February 2014,

46 Hassan, Sayyid Mahmud, “Ahmad ʿAdawiya wa-l-Mutʿa Kharij Nasqiyyat al-Nakhbawi wa-l-Shaʿbawi: Qiraʾa min Mandhur al-Naqd al-Thaqafi,” in al-Tarikh wa-l-Musiqa: Dirasat fi Tarikh al-Musiqa fi Misr wa-Swisra, ed. ʿAfifi, Mahmud and Matar, Nahla (Giza: Ein li-l-Dirasat wa-l-Buhuth al-Insaniyya wa-l-Ijtimaʿiyya, 2013), 93.

47 Fahmi, Tharwat, “Sirr ʿAdawiya Mazala Ghamidan,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2857 (26 July 1989): 39.

48 al-Shinnawi, Tariq, “ʿAdawiya al-Ustura wa-l-Ghaybuba,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3188 (17 July 1989): 70.

49 ʿAttallah, Samia, “Sultan al-Ghinaʾ al-Shaʿbi Yaqlib al-Maʾida,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2461 (11 August 1975): 52.

50 Muharram Fuʾad fi al-Kasino,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2567 (29 August 1977): 41.

51 “Al-Shaykh Kishk: Law ʿAwiz Tingah fi Masr Ghanni Zay al-Wad Ahmad ʿAdawiya – al-Sah al-Dah Ambu,” YouTube video, 4:48, posted by “Qanat al-Shaykh Kishk,” 6 June 2015, 5LQffcUiwE.

52 Fahmi, “Sirr ʿAdawiya Mazala Ghamidan,” 39; Muhammad al-Dasuqi, “Najib Mahfuz al-Samiʿa,” Majalat al-Fann (11 July 1994).

53 Nazmi, Iris, “Safahat Saqatat min Dhikrayatihim,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2195 (17 November 1976): 47.

54 Hal Yahtakir ʿAbd al-Wahhab wa-ʿAbd al-Halim Sawt ʿAdawiya,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2486 (2 February 1976): 64.

55 ʿAbd al-Halim Hafiz Yughanni al-Sah al-Dah Ambu!!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2488 (16 February 1976): 47.

56 Al-Shinnawi, “ʿAdawiya al-Ustura wa-l-Ghaybuba,” 70.

57 Siraʿ bayna Muharram wa-Ahmad ʿAdawiya,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2559 (27 June 1977): 40.

58 Yusri, Duʿaʾ, “Yuʿadhibuni ʿAqli wa-Dhakaʾi,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3170 (13 March 1989): 49.

59 For more on ʿAdil Imam and the vulgarization of one of his productions, see Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt, 165–73.

60 Hammuda, ʿAdil, “ʿIyun Jariʾa,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3018 (14 April 1986): 51.

61 Hilali, Hilmi, “Akhbarihum Kama ʿArifuha,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2475 (17 November 1975): n.k.

62 Gilman, Daniel, Cairo Pop: Youth Music in Contemporary Egypt (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 75.

63 ʿItman, Muhammad, “Inqilab fi al-Dhawq,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3149 (17 October 1988): 51.

64 This translation is my own.

65 Al-Shinnawi, “ʿAdawiya al-Ustura wa-l-Ghaybuba,” 70.

66 Both men and women traditionally take the masculine pronoun in Arabic songs.

67 Faiza Saʿd and ʿAdil Hammuda, “Afwan: Hadhihi Qilat Dhawq – 2,” 29.

68 1976: ʿAmm ʿAdawiya!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2534 (3 January 1977): n.k.

69 Hussayn, Nasr, “Kayfa Yabiʿ al-Fannan 2 Milyun Kasit?,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2740 (15 December 1980): 54.

70 Ministry of Information, al-Iʿlam al-Misri wa-l-Alfiya al-Thalitha (Cairo: al-Majmuʿa al-Thaqafiyya al-Misriyya, 1999: 174), 177.

71 Ibid., 182, 184.

72 Saharat Musiqiyya (Cairo: Sharikat Sawt al-Qahira li-l-Sawtiyat wa-Marʾiyat), n.d.

73 Kataluj al-Kasit li-l-Munawwaʿat al-Ghinaʾiyya (Cairo: Sharikat Sawt al-Qahira li-l-Sawtiyat wa-Mariyat, 2004).

74 Qurʾan Karim: Qiraʾa Mujawwada bi-Aswat Mashahir al-Qurraʾ (Cairo: Sharikat Sawt al-Qahira li-l-Sawtiyat wa-Marʾiyat, n.d.).

75 Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape.

76 Kennedy, Douglas, Beyond the Pyramids: Travels in Egypt (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1988), 42, 44, 57, 79, 80, 122, 141, 180, 215.

77 Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt, esp. 165–220.

78 Hiʾ.. Hiʾ fi Ustuwanat,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 1982 (6 June 1966): 39; Hamza, Muhammad, “Jarima…Ismuha al-Fulklur,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 2180 (23 March 1970): 32; al-Shammaʿ, Amal, “Idhaʿat al-Shataʾim fi al-Tilifiziyun wa-l-Idhaʿa,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2326 (23 May 1979): n.k.

79 Zakariyya, ʿIsam, “Durus Masrahiyya fi Qilat al-Adab!,” Ruz al-Yusuf, no. 3252 (8 October 1990): 44; Imnaʿu Hadhihi al-Aflam al-Habita,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2255 (11 January 1978): n.k; al-Qadir, Sayyid ʿAbd, “Sahir Khatir Yaqtahim Kul Bayt: Ismuhu ‘al-Fidyu’!,” Akhir Saʿa, no. 2568 (11 January 1984): 28.

80 Freemuse, “Egypt: Radio Station Bans Mahraganat Song,” 2016; “Mahraganat: Cairo's Music Revolution,” YouTube video, 12:07, posted by “DW (English),” 13 April 2014,

81 “Asrar wa-Khabaya Ahmad ʿAdawiya Yakshifuha Mufid Fawzi 3/3,” YouTube video, 12:11, posted by “Dream TV Egypt,” 28 February 2014,



  • Andrew Simon (a1)


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