The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Salata Baladi

My profile of "Salata Baladi" director Nadia Kamel and of her film has just come out in The Review. The film is a documentary about Kamel's family, which includes Jews, Christians and Muslims who today live in Italy, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. I see the film as fundamentally a critique of Egyptian nationalism. But it has mostly attracted attention because in it Kamel and her parents travel to Israel to visit relatives of her mother's--this caused accusations that Kamel is "pro-normalization" with Israel. 

I think this is an extremely simplistic view of the film. In Egypt today, being "pro-normalization" has become a smear that is too often used for petty personal reasons, on the part of people whose own commitment to doing anything helpful for the Palestinians seems pretty thin. I fear that clinging to a dogmatic boycott of Israel allows one to avoid thinking about new, more efficient, creative ways of trying to support the Palestinian people (such as this rather inspiring venture). I'm not saying one should stop boycotting Israel--but it irks me to no end (as I think it irked Kamel) to have any debate over what normalization consists of or accomplishes shushed up by self-appointed guardians of the public debate. These guardians in Egypt often belong to the left, which unfortunately shows itself to be incapable of self-criticism and innovation, and as disrespectful of freedom of thought and expression as its antagonists. 

In any case, the normalization controversy has dominated the discussion of the film, but it actually is not the only or even the main point of the story. The documentary should be available in the States in the Fall from the distributor Women Who Make Movies and you can reads tons of articles about it at the Salata Baladi blog.