Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Middle Eastern Studies


Christopher Stone

Subject Categories

African History | Epistemology | Ethnic Studies | Feminist Philosophy | Film and Media Studies | History of Gender | Political History


masculinity, race, gender, Egypt, film, performance, willfulness, Ahmed Zaki, biopolitics, militarism


Ahmed Zaki (1949-2005) is one of Egyptian cinema’s most prominent leading actors, with work spanning three decades of critical films that informed a generation’s visual register of masculinity. However, the beginnings of his career were marked by public skepticism around his place as a leading actor due to him being “too dark” and “too poor”; as his career continued to flourish, those very markings of racing and classing Zaki because a foundation for increasingly stamping his public image with the “authenticity” of an Egyptian citizen. At a particularly neoliberal moment in the Egyptian economy, that of the early 80s, new directors brought with them unexpectedly fresh faces for leading actors, including Ahmed Zaki. While his talent has usually been uncontested as an artist, his social place as a performative body shifted so much between his early and late career: while he started his career as a lead in the 80s playing mostly roles that challenged the middle-class, pro-military masculine ideal, his latter career became marked by playing some of Egypt’s most revered, and notorious, military leaders, such as presidents Nasser and Sadaat. Focusing mostly on Sara Ahmed’s performative theory of Willfulness, this thesis reexamines a nonlinear history of Ahmed Zaki’s social body and what it says about the tumultuous mechanisms of militarism in shaping notions of masculinity, and how gestures of inhabiting this masculinity can be quite effective – if a certain effect is to be desired – in laying bare the impenetrable foundations on which performances of militaristic masculinity usually rely. As a final note of artistic advocacy, this paper calls for a revisit of one of Ahmed Zaki’s early work given the renewed contract of austere militarism in Egypt after 2013, a time of a revolution that persistently is yet never was. The film is The Innocent (1984), where Zaki plays a soldier in a work of Egyptian cinema that is uncharacteristically so few of words, brimming with gestures, and concluding with a censored yet still viewable ending.