History, Culture and Memory
Edited By Katia Pizzi and Marjatta Hietala
8 A Room with a View: Cold War Cairo
Among the ‘fringe’ Cold War cities of the early 1960s, Cairo, then capital of the short-lived United Arab Republic (UAR), presents a fascinating study in modernization, decolonization, redefinition and Realpolitik.1 We enter the city through a guest room in the Cairo Hilton, part of Hilton International’s campaign to insert its luxury hotels into the hearts and minds of Cold War citizens. This phenomenon has been analysed by architectural historian Annabel Wharton who stresses not only the symbolic site and marked presence of these buildings, but also their performative function in orienting the gazes of the guests. In Cairo, the Hilton turns its back on the medieval and modern city to face the Nile and the Egyptian monuments. Our view is different, however, and somewhat ironic, as it comes directly from the camera of a Cold War tourist, a person who came to Cairo in the spring of 1963 to understand better the global conditions of the Cold War and to prepare for the possibility that it might turn ‘hot’. His attention was caught, and ours has been held, by a view from the ‘back’ of the Hilton onto Cairo’s historic Midan Al-Tahrir (Liberation Square). Janus-like, our Cold War tourist has left us with an image that escapes the Hilton programme – a visual micro-history of non-alignment.2 ← 191 | 192 →
Merely a snapshot – a tourist’s notation – the image is nevertheless tinged with memory of a curious sort. Based on intergenerational transmission, one might compare it to ‘postmemory’, though the...
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