A ballad drifted from the movie screen. The lyrics mourned a lost love, not an unusual climax for an Egyptian film. But this lost love was a place across the sea.
"New York," the singer asked, "why do you resist tenderness?"
It was music for the closing credits of "Alexandria . . . New York," the newest film by Egypt's leading director, Youssef Chahine. It is a cinematic divorce paper. Chahine said he had long admired the United States and its biggest city, but now he has made a film brimming with resentment.
The film, set to open in Cairo next week, is about an aging Arab moviemaker who returns to New York after some years, meets an old lover and discovers he fathered a son by her. But the son rejects the father and, in the end, the father rejects the son. The relation is a melodramatic metaphor for relations between the United States and Arabs. "The violence which started in Hiroshima ends with you," the father cries out at the son at one point.
In Cairo's entertainment world these days, it's hard to escape a wave of anti-Americanism. Often, a sure way to fill a theater is to lambaste U.S. foreign policy, cultural habits or military activity. One recent comedy lampooning the United States featured an exploding Statue of Liberty outside the lobby. Another stage production included a randy caricature of an American general and played to packed houses for four months.
The sentiment driving such works is widespread across the Arab world, a recent poll showed. Ninety-three percent of people surveyed in Jordan in March had a somewhat or very unfavorable view of the United States, according to the study by the Pew Research Center. In Morocco, the figure was 68 percent.
The invasion of Iraq and U.S. support for Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians are the prime causes of this trend, many political analysts say. A majority of the Arabs in the Pew poll said the United States attacked Iraq for oil, to protect Israel or to weaken the Muslim world.
In Egypt, the sentiments color popular music as well as film. Shaaban Abdel Rehim, one of the country's most popular purveyors of shaabi music, a kind of Egyptian funk, is turning out hit after hit critical of President Bush, his policies in Iraq, his allies in the Arab world and Israel.
Abdel Rehim's first bestseller was a thumping, danceable number called "I Hate Israel." His latest is called "Attack on Iraq." The music can be heard all over Cairo -- in cabs, in cafes and on the little cruise boats that take tourists on jaunts on the Nile River.
Some of the popular offerings are the work of long opposed to the decades-old alliance between the Egyptian government and the United States. But others are from newcomers to this point of view.
In Chahine's case, disillusionment represents a painful personal journey. "I studied in the United States," he said in his downtown Cairo offices recently. "Sixty years ago, I fell in love with the United States. But things have changed -- America has changed."
For decades, Chahine has made unbendingly sentimental films. He claims artistic descent from American moviemakers of the 1930s and '40s and fills his work with handsome young characters in love. Sometimes, he puts fantasy dance numbers in the middle of it all. On occasion, he has bucked conservative Middle Eastern tradition by portraying homosexual infatuation.
Chahine said that he, like many Egyptians, is disturbed by the relentless violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as Iraq. "All the time I am faced by these scenes, every night on TV. We Arabs feel rejection. But if it was only us, it may not matter. It seems it is also 1 billion Muslims are being rejected," he said.
He says he longs for the days of Busby Berkeley musicals, Fred Astaire dance numbers and Frank Sinatra crooning. Instead, he finds exploding cars and computerized robots. "All we see is Spider-Men and musclemen like Stallone and Willis," he said, referring to action stars Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis. "America has become violent like the new movies."
"Alexandria . . . New York" opens with the Arab filmmaker character deciding to travel to the United States despite his unease over its support for Israel. "It's hard to rip my deep love for America out of my heart," the character says.
The plot wanders into flashbacks about the man's education at a Pasadena, Calif., drama school and his struggles for acceptance. Someone asks him if he lived in a tent.
He enters into a tender affair with an aspiring actress. They separate but have a fling years later that produces a son. But the son turns out to be a hard young man who sees himself as American rather than Arab. He is a professional dancer and suggests that Jews in show business won't accept him as an Arab. None of the filmmaker's preaching about the fabled tolerance of his own home town, Alexandria, touches the son. And the two part ways.
"I don't know if this is a final divorce," Chahine, 78, said as he smoked cigarettes against the wishes of attentive aides. "I think about the friends I have had in America every day. It was in New York where I saw the greatest plays. I saw Sinatra at the Paramount.
"I don't think we Egyptians are fanatics. But I'm not optimistic about dialogue. Look, my generation learned about America from its movies. They were elegant. What would we learn now?"
The "I Hate Israel" pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rehim, a former laundryman, describes a similar falling-out. "You know, I was like other Egyptians. I liked America when I thought it was working for peace," he said in his dressing room at a Cairo theater.
This spring, Abdel Rehim recorded "Hey, Arab Leaders," in which he says the United States has made the world a "jungle." The song complains that the country flexes "her muscles on Syria and Iran, but when someone utters North Korea, she keeps her mouth shut." In "Attack on Iraq," he goads the U.S. government to inspect Israel -- widely believed to possess a nuclear arsenal -- instead of Iraq. "Enough!" he sings. "Chechnya, Afghanistan, Palestine, South Lebanon, the Golan Heights and now Iraq!"
Shaabi music traditionally deals irreverently with Cairo street life, and Abdel Rehim has sung about smoking and Nile pollution. He dresses in the flamboyant style that shaabi enthusiasts expect of their heroes: greased-down hair, a flaming red sports jacket, bling-bling around his neck with a portrait of himself attached, and a large diamond watch on his wrist.
"Egypt is ready for political messages in music," he said. "After all, I only sing about what people say on the streets. That's what shaabi is about. People are saying these things about America, so why shouldn't I say them?"
He crushed a cigarette and prepared to go on stage. "Hey, do you think President Bush has heard of me? I hope so."
The anti-American trend has often been a boon at the box office. "We had our first hit in 15 years thanks to Bush," said Khaled Sawi, leader of the Haraka Theater group and a left-wing activist. Sawi and his troupe put on "Messing With the Mind," a strident satire of U.S. power in the Middle East. The show opens with people portraying armed Marines entering the theater and shouting at the crowd: "You have the right to remain seated and to die. And turn off your cell phones!"
It ends when the main character, a Gen. Tom Fox (named after Fox News), yells, "I hate Arabs," and gets a pistol shot to the head.
The United States gets a pummeling even in light comedy.
Adel Imam, an enduring comic actor, turned out a film not long ago called "Hello America," about the adventures of an Egyptian immigrant in the United States. He is warned by his friends to be wary of "imperialism" and spends much of the movie looking for such a person.
At one point, he joins a freedom march, but is distressed to learn it is for gay rights. He kisses the son of his cousin and is charged with child molestation. Eventually, he strikes it rich by winning a lawsuit in a questionable auto accident, but has to pay all the winnings to creditors he left in Egypt.