The history of Egyptian cinema is long and varied. From modest beginnings with the projection of Lumière shorts in the Tousson Pasha hall of Alexandria and the Hammam Schneider baths of Cairo in 1896, film was transformed from an exclusively foreign import for the foreign elite into a national industry by the 1940s. This "Hollywood on the Nile," established in its initial phase in the mid-1930s by nationalist financier Talaat Harb, was equipped with studios, a star system, the production of syncretic genres, and mastery of the three-tiered system of production, distribution, and exhibition. Its subsequent domination over the cinema of other Arab and North African countries was uniquely binding at the cultural level, working in conjunction with the radio (established in 1926) and music recording industries. Together these media familiarized the inhabitants of other countries with the Egyptian dialect and culture; drew upon the preexisting cultural diversity of Egypt to further the aims and sense of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, from the cosmopolitanism of Alexandria to the work of Lebanese and Syrian artists in Cairo's theater and recording industries; entertained the masses through generic forms copied from Hollywood but customized to fit the cultural context and issues specific to Egyptian culture; and proved that while the technology of cinema was a Western invention, it could be used to serve the needs and contexts of the non-Western world—in this case, cultures that were predominantly Islamic in religion but tolerant and culturally diverse.

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