[This is the second part of a series translating articles in historical Egyptian newspapers. For other parts please navigate to the "Blog" section of my site where all the posts are listed.]
Welcome to another article in which I translate articles from 1960s Egyptian newspapers. As I mentioned previously, this series is about two historical newspapers last year at the Sur al-Azbakeya book market in downtown Cairo. They were doomed to become unread souvenirs until I decided to turn them into a quarantine translation project.
There's lots of interesting political content in these papers, but because I think we've had enough politics this week, here's something fun: advertisements! If you're like me, you find flipping through old ads in your own language fun - they genuinely reflect the tastes and cultural norms of the time and may even be difficult to understand based simply on outdated expressions or information.
These ads come from a newspaper/magazine called اخر ساعة (Akher Saa, or "The Last Hour"), founded in 1934. Like the newspaper I drew from for my last article, it was state-owned starting in 1960 (around the beginning of Gamal Abdel Nasser's presidency). In the news and commentary articles that I'll translate later on, the political angle of the publication will be blindingly clear.
Advertisements, however, are supposedly apolitical. While the newspaper would've had rules on who could advertise for what in their pages, most generally popular and family-friendly products would be able to buy ad space without a problem. Looking back, however, there are some interesting historical messages to be gleaned from the contents and imagery of the advertisements.
(Please note that my formatting of my translations here is not intended as a good-quality design transposition! I simply wanted anyone reading here to be able to see where phrases were located on the page.)
Let's take a look:
A book giveaway by an Egyptian publishing house
This ad, placed near the beginning of the paper, offers a free book courtesy of a major publishing house. Dar al-Maaref, or "House of Knowledge", still exists as one of the oldest and largest publishers in the Middle East. Like this magazine, it was nationalized in the early 1960's under Nasser's socialist program.
Notable here is the number of stars of Arabic literature who wrote chapters for this free book encouraging reading. Taha Hussein, for example, was a prolific author and widely renowned academic famous for propagating a strain of Egyptian nationalism similar to Nasser's. Abbas Mahmoud al-Aqqad was similarly well-known, especially for his novels, his political career, and his writings opposing Nazism.
A bank account at Port Said Bank
This ad speaks for itself, but left me wondering why an Egyptian bank would have a branch in Somalia, and why that would be something they'd specifically advertise. Were lots of Egyptian businesses active in Somalia in the 1960s?
Two very fancy cigarette brands
Here is a lesson in translation and localization. I didn't have to translate the Benson and Hedges ad, because the Arabic is itself a translation of the original English. I assume the difference in design is due to the company creating separate color versus black-and-white designs for the same ad copy. I couldn't find the original English ad for Marcovitch Black & Whites, but the writing style is awkward enough to give away that it's also a translation.
Today, companies advertising in foreign countries will "localize" their marketing, instead of simply translating it. This means that they use a translation and localization company to adapt their content to the audience in whatever locale they will run the ad in. Ads run by American companies in Egypt today will use language and design they think will appeal to Egyptians, instead of whatever the ad company thought up for an American audience. But "localization" was not even a term in use until the past two decades or so, and clearly in 1966 it was not seen as an imperative for international business operations.
It's worth mentioning that Egypt used to be a major exporter of tobacco until WWI. Greek-owned companies in Egypt produced cigarettes that they exported to Western countries with labels showing Cleopatra and the pyramids. (Yes, 19th century Greek-Egyptians were localizing their marketing, knowing that the exoticism would appeal to foreigners.) Middle Eastern strains of tobacco were popular enough that they inspired Western brands like Camel to design their packaging to match the "Oriental" themes of Egyptian cigarette brands, even when their products were produced domestically.
By 1966, the Egyptian cigarette industry had been nationalized and then declined, and it was instead Western companies selling their cigarettes in Egypt. But clearly they made little effort to actually appeal to local people, because their ads are direct and awkward translations from English advertising copy.
The first of these ads is in the women's section of the paper that includes articles on fashion and society. The second takes up the entire back cover of the magazine.
Culturally, the appeal of these ads are a little confusing, because they show a two white (or very fair-skinned) people, one of whom is playing tennis, which isn't a very popular sport in Egypt. Again, it seems like they are direct translations from English ads, with no changes to the drawings.
Tide, America's Favorite
My favorite part of this full-page ad, part of the women's section, is the decidedly modernist building in the background. Anyone who grew up in a US city will recognize this type of building, but it's very uncommon in Egypt - at least today. Rapid development in Egyptian cities has led to much of the architecture of that period being destroyed. I wish I could know whether a house like that would've been familiar to Egyptians.
I assume this was also a direct translation from English with the design preserved, but I couldn't find this exact ad online.
These ads can teach us a few things about Egypt in 1966. Most obviously, foreign brands did not localize their products for marketing and sale in Egypt, but rather produced word-for-word translations of the ad copy they already had.
But given the other content in this state-owned newspaper, which focuses on the accomplishments of Egyptian workers under Nasser's socialist system, the fact that most of the advertisements are for foreign brands might be surprising.
Clearly, Egypt was never as closed off as the USSR, even if they enjoyed a strong alliance at this time. American consumer culture was not only present but popular, and media restriction on criticism of the ruling party didn't extend to things like ads for cigarettes that were overtaking local brands.
I've also learned that people used to care about the box they bought their cigarettes in!
I hope to post soon with some more political content - I have a lot of articles glorifying Nasser and reporting on Palestine and Sinai to go through. Thank you for reading!
10/21/2020 12:42:03 pm
This is so cool, Cara. Impressive translation skills and insightful commentary. Well done!
10/22/2020 05:38:55 am
Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
Leave a Reply.