Reading advertisements in a colonial/development context: Cigarette advertising and identity politics in Egypt, c1919-1939 Academic Article uri icon


  • The article explores advertisements as a source for historical ethnography. It argues that ads serve this purpose well because they preserve the cultural repertoire of their intended audiences. By means of cigarette advertisements the article examines identity politics among a new, "middle" (effendi) stratum in Egypt—the cultural understanding of the effendiya is better tuned to inter-group distinctions and intra-group contradictions than earlier, more rigid economic and political definitions of an emerging middle-class. The analysis of contemporary smoking patterns in ads further reveals the methodological benefits of studying their "contextualized" meaning. In Egyptian culture the cigar was associated with elite and modern consumption patterns, the water-pipe with a lower class and traditional lifestyle, and the cigarette with the new group which was negotiating ways to be modern but authentic/local at the same time. Advertisers used such negotiations of binary oppositions to promote their cigarette brands to men; in their ads, cigarette smoking retained the earlier social etiquette of the water-pipe, while simultaneously being considered up-to-date and future oriented. The conservative nature of the business led advertisers to treat women's smoking as a "veiled" activity, to be taken in public only under the tutelage of men. Because smoking was associated with adult power, youth as a particular consumerist age was too contested to be openly promoted.

publication date

  • January 1, 2005