A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, January 4, 2013

Something Different for the Weekend: Mish-Mish Effendi, Egypt's First Cartoon Star

I like to do something a little different for the weekend, so how's this: Egypt's first animated cartoons began in the 1930s, produced by the Frenkel brothers, and clearly directly influenced by (and imitating) American pioneer cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Tom & Jerry. Their character, Mish-Mish Effendi, is an Egyptian everyman; his lady-love, Baheya, is a belly-dancer (and looks like a direct steal from Betty Boop). ("Mish-mish" means apricots, but he apparently got his name from the Egyptian phrase bukra fi'l mish-mish, "tomorrow in the apricots," a way of saying "never.")

The first Mish-Mish cartoon dates from 1936. They were made into the 1950s, when the Frenkel brothers, who were Jewish, left Egypt for France. You can find a short history in English here, though it is in an English that looks like it's been machine translated.

 One that survives complete dates from 1939-1940, ordered by the Ministry of War to support a national defense bond issue aimed at strengthening the Egyptian Army as World War II began in Europe. It's in Egyptian colloquial with some titles in English, but is pretty straightforward for anyone familiar with 1930s cartoon tropes, for those who don't know Arabic. (And this YouTube version is for some reason subtitled in German.)

It's called "Mish-Mish Effendi and the National Defense." Like other cartoon characters in the era, Mish-Mish is used to spread some patriotic propaganda. In part one we see Mish-Mish wooing Baheya, then see her belly-dance (with cameo appearances by bad caricatures of Laurel and Hardy and other celebrities). In the second part, we see Egyptians contributing to the war loan. Then Mish-Mish Effendi goes to war, becomes a war hero, beats the (unspecified) enemy, and gets the girl. It's not up to Disney standards (though a lot of US cartoons have provided inspiration), but it's a fascinating artifact. Parts one and two:

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