Empire, space rockets and raw concrete

Sandcrawler hotel

The dilapidated Hotel du Lac in Tunis looks a bit like the Sandcrawler, a tank-like vehicle featured in the first Star Wars movie. Campaigners hoping to save the hotel from demolition argue that it was, in fact, the inspiration for the vehicle. This story began life as a simple effort to fact-check that claim. It turned into something looser, weaving through sci-fi, architecture, the end of one empire in Africa and the dawn of another. It got more than 800,000 hits on the BBC News website, which makes it my most successful story ever, in so far as hits are a measure of success. Never thought so many people would be into Afro-Brutalism….

Egyptian history: The Director’s Cut

Egyptian history in six movies

Egypt’s post-independence history resembles a series of remakes of a classic film, with a fresh cast trying out traditional roles, enacting a familiar script of revolution and repression. Throughout these years, Egyptian cinema has flourished, with many of the best films serving as vehicles for satire, social commentary or national pride.

In this feature for the BBC News website’s Magazine, I used six clips from popular Egyptian movies to explore six decades of Egyptian history.

The clips are among dozens of snippets from Egyptian cinema featured in the three-part documentary, Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs, screened on BBC World. The documentary-maker, Jihan El-Tahri, uses the clips as illustration or counterpoint to her interviews with key players and witnesses. The result is enthralling – a spliced-up history lesson.