In the movie Aladdin, Disney’s fantasy powerhouse translates a One Thousand and One Night’s story likely filled with licentious characters, murder, and the utter evil of mankind into a tale involving a blue genie, a sorcerer serpent, and characters wearing egregiously fluffy pants that find true love in less than 24 hours. Most people have agreed that the depiction of the Near and Farther East is spot-on and lacks nothing except for more harems scene and a speedier love and marriage process.
I bring this movie up because recently, feeling a little more adventurous than usual, friends and I decided to watch Aladdin after a successful soup making endeavor. While watching it, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible parallels between the world of the American University of Cairo and the poorer neighborhoods of this dusty city: Jasmine’s palace and Aladdin’s shabby home smacked of the walls of AUC’s Tahrir campus and the winding markets of Islamic Cairo.
I decided to flesh out this idea and undertake a partial retelling of the story (aided in party by friends’ input), in order to place it in a more realistic setting and deflate it completely of any magic it may have once had.
Without further ado:
Once upon a time, in a city of 20 million people called Cairo, there lived a lonely Egyptian girl named Jasmine. Daughter of a natural gas CEO, Jasmine is quite wealthy and studies Literature at AUC’s new campus. The one time she saw Tahrir Square was on television, also the only place she has seen any kind of market selling food. She dresses in the latest styles of skinny jeans and exclusively wears heels that are taller than 5 inches and made out of some kind of animal.
She owns a tiny dog that she dresses in clothing like a human. Though the dog is yappy, incapable of being potty trained, and disliked by the family, her father lets her keep Dot because it was a gift to Jasmine after her mother’s death. Also he’s never disciplined his daughter or denied her anything so it would be awkward to begin now after 20 years of blind pacification.
Yet he tires of her maintenance and really wants her and Dot to get out. The best way to do this, of course, is to marry her off to the next CEO’s son she meets at the McDonald’s on campus. Unfortunately, she has proven an unwilling participant in this marriage endeavor, having watched Titanic too many times. Now, like Jack and Rose, she wants raw, uneducated love from an unpretentious commoner, a regular shab (young man) from Shubra (poorer area of Cairo).
She’s even tried to sneak off with the car and leave the suburbs in attempts to meet the common folk of her city. For her own protection, her father has prohibited her from leaving the confines of their gated community or the gates of the university. Yet she grows restless, yearning for the authenticity she cannot find amongst the waxed eyebrows and chests of AUC. One day, she takes matters into her own hands, bribes the necessary people, and gets her hands on the car keys. Little does she know how much her life is about to change.
to be continued……