Adventures in Socialist Advertising

Reading al-Tali‘a, the leftist Egyptian political-literary journal (1965-1977), I am struck by, among other things, the advertising. Started under Nasser's period of rapprochement with the USSR, al-Tali‘a was a platform for communist intellectuals who had just suffered under Nasser's attack on the Egyptian Communist Party (1959-1964). It is unclear what function advertising was supposed to play given the history and ideological orientation of its editors, like Lutfy al-Khouly. 

Scholars have explored the paradoxes of consumer culture—and advertising—in other socialist states. In particularly, I am thinking ofJonathan Zatlin's work on East Germany. But the topic of Arab socialist consumer culture calls out for similar attention. In a way, the road map for such study is already there in some of the cinema and literature of the period. Sonallah Ibrahim's novels, in particular, pay extraordinary attention to the details of consumer culture. In Dhat, most famously, Ibrahim documents the radical changes in Egyptian material life that took place during Sadat's infitah (Open Door Policy), which was nothing less than a top-down social revolution that sought to undo the state socialism of the Nasserist era. Sadat's counter-revolution largely succeeded—and gave birth the neoliberal consumer culture that thrives in the country today.

Below is an unthorough survey of advertising in the pages of al-Tali‘a. The images and slogans show the linkages between Egyptian nationalist strategies of import substitution and pan-African developmentalist appeal. As to be expected, advertisements featuring trade with the Soviet bloc stop suddenly in 1972. In the mid-1970s, these are replaced with public sector ads from Algeria and Iraq. Finally, just before al-Tali‘a was shut down in the wake of the 1977 Bread Uprising, we see a flurry of full-color ads for Western luxury products. 


In 1969, Port Said was very much on the front lines. Under Israeli military occupation, the city was also a center for guerrilla tactics in the war of attrition. For nationalists and revolutionaries, the very name of the city was a rallying cry for the unfinished business of national liberation. But Port Said was also the name of an Egyptian brand of cigarettes...

Aeroflot airlines ad announcing flights connecting to Bangui and Brazzaville. 

Egypt was more than just a leader in the steel industry... there was brass and aluminum, too.


Dear Smoker…we present to you the one and only Cleopatra cigarette, made from Arab knowhow and the very finest tobaccos from around the world...

Aronal toothpaste


The Nasr Import-Export Company. 


Nefertiti: Egypt's first e-cigarette?

On the move, on time, where you want it... drilling rigs. 



OPEC-era advertising. Algerian National Petroleum Company: Arab Petroleum belongs to the Arabs. 

Iraqi State Publishing: Saadi Yusuf... Muhammad Afifi Matar...

Jabra Ibrahim Jabra...


Soon after the mass uprisings against Sadat's economic policies, Lutfi al-Khuli is replaced as editor, and the journal struggles on for a few more issues. But not before becoming the platform for the new consumer culture.