With cultural reawakening, Egypt poised to enchant the world once again

Egypt, the land of Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, Naguib Mahfouz and Ahmed Zewail, is witnessing a renaissance in its arts and cultural scene. (Supplied/May Barber)
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Egypt, the land of Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, Naguib Mahfouz and Ahmed Zewail, is witnessing a renaissance in its arts and cultural scene. (Supplied/May Barber)
JR’s Installation ‘Greetings from Giza’ - Credit: Hesham El Sayfi - Courtesy of Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)
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JR’s Installation ‘Greetings from Giza’ - Credit: Hesham El Sayfi - Courtesy of Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)
Contemporary Art displayed in old Downtown Cairo. (May Barber)
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Contemporary Art displayed in old Downtown Cairo. (May Barber)
A close exchange between French Artist JR and his friend, musician Pharell at Giza. (May Barber)
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A close exchange between French Artist JR and his friend, musician Pharell at Giza. (May Barber)
Egyptian Guide Hiba leading a tour Inside the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. (May Barber)
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Egyptian Guide Hiba leading a tour Inside the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. (May Barber)
Lorenzo Quinn’s Sculpture ‘Together’ at Forever Is Now - Credit: Hesham El Sayfi - Courtesy of Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)
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Lorenzo Quinn’s Sculpture ‘Together’ at Forever Is Now - Credit: Hesham El Sayfi - Courtesy of Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)
Views inside the late Egyptian Sculptor Museum Adam Henein. (May Barber)
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Views inside the late Egyptian Sculptor Museum Adam Henein. (May Barber)
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Updated 19 November 2021

With cultural reawakening, Egypt poised to enchant the world once again

Egypt, the land of Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, Naguib Mahfouz and Ahmed Zewail, is witnessing a renaissance in its arts and cultural scene. (Supplied/May Barber)
  • The land of Tutankhamun, Cleopatra and Ahmed Zewail is witnessing a renaissance in its arts and cultural scene
  • The renewal movement is backed by the government, institutional players, independent patrons, artists and curators

CAIRO: Egypt, the land of Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, Naguib Mahfouz and Ahmed Zewail, is witnessing a renaissance in its arts and cultural scene. A few weeks ago, the 4,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site of the Giza pyramids was transformed into a platform for contemporary art at “Forever Is Now.”

The exhibition, organized by Art d’Egypte, showcased the work of 10 international artists for the first time in the historic setting.

The renewal movement is backed by the government, institutional players, independent patrons, artists and curators who are pushing the cultural scene in two directions: The revival of a prolific past and the celebration of a promising future.




JR’s Installation ‘Greetings from Giza’ - Credit: Hesham El Sayfi - Courtesy of Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)

Nadine Abdel-Ghaffar, the founder of arts and heritage consultancy Art d’Egypte, said: “The world knows Egypt’s artistic and cultural past. However, they are not aware of the present, the contemporary. We aim to educate, raise awareness, and bring opportunity to these places by activating spaces and involving the surrounding community.”

“Forever Is Now” presented artistic installations against the backdrop of the pyramids, and featured Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn and French artist JR — the latter accompanied by his friend and supporter American record-producer and singer Pharrell Williams.

The exhibition sought to establish a dialogue between the ancient past and the present,  and to “question time as a continuum that both separates and unites civilizations.” 

Abdel-Ghaffar told Arab News that the display, which ended on Nov. 8, “succeeded in its mission of democratizing art by making it accessible in public spaces, attracting 20,000 visitors a day from schools, universities and people from all walks of life.” 




Contemporary Art displayed in old Downtown Cairo. (May Barber)

In April this year, the world watched in awe as the “Golden Parade” of 22 mummies (18 kings and four queens) traveled in decorated carriages through the streets of Cairo from the Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square to their new home of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.

NMEC now showcases selections from the artifacts of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, highlighting their contributions, such as the invention of writing and mummification.

Royal mummies carefully displayed in temperature-controlled glass cases include Ramses II, known as Ramses the Great; Thutmose III, once described as the Napoleon of Egypt; and Queen Hatsheput, one of the few women who ruled ancient Egypt.

Preserving the past is central to today’s thriving Egyptian cultural scene, and lends itself to architectural restoration. Al-Ismaelia, an Egyptian real estate investment company, has joined partners in efforts to restore the capital’s 150-year-old architectural legacy established by the Khedive Ismail in the 19th century.




Egyptian Guide Hiba leading a tour Inside the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. (May Barber)

“Breathing life into design magic,” the company set out to preserve iconic buildings such as La Viennoise, a 125-year-old landmark built in 1896 by English architect La Viennoise, and Cinema Radio Complex, built in 1932 as the center of Cairo’s theater and performance arts scene. The center has hosted performances ranging from Umm Kulthum in the 1920s to recent acts by Bassem Youssef and Abla Fahita.

“In the pursuit of reviving a district and building of a community, some opt for politics and others opt for football. We opted for art and culture,” Eman Hussein, deputy CEO of Al-Ismaelia, told Arab News.

Aiming to transform the downtown area into an inclusive district, Al-Ismaelia linked restoration projects with a range of art and culture exhibitions.

“When you uplift one aspect of the community, the whole ecosystem is uplifted,” said Hussein.




A close exchange between French Artist JR and his friend, musician Pharell at Giza. (May Barber)

Today, the company owns 25 properties in downtown Cairo, many of which have been transformed as co-working spaces, rental accommodation, retail outlets and offices.

Al-Ismaelia’s plans were put on hold amid the turmoil surrounding the 2011 Egyptian uprising before the projects resumed in collaboration with the government.

“Restoration has challenges in every step,” Hussein said. These range from acquiring the building from as many as 90 different owners all the way to licensing, infrastructure issues and operational limitations such as power supply.

However, she is pleased with the outcome, and said the district is benefiting from an authentic revival of the past, a contemporary flair, plus strong support for art, culture and homegrown concepts.




Views inside the late Egyptian Sculptor Museum Adam Henein. (May Barber)

The movement to revive the past is accompanied by a strong contemporary cultural agenda. Today, the historic old Cairo district is home to pop-up galleries and contemporary art exhibitions.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing showcases is Ai-Da, a three-legged robot that responds to the Riddle of the Sphinx with AI-generated messages and AI-informed drawings. Ai-Da’s arrival in Egypt caused controversy after the robot was briefly detained by authorities who feared that it was a spying device.

Cairo’s affluent Zamalek district is also home to established contemporary art galleries, including Zamalek Art Gallery, Art Talk Gallery and the Ubuntu art gallery.

The three-story Adam Henein Museum in the Giza district includes a sculpture park owned by the late artist Adam Henein (formerly known as Samuel) and managed today by Inas Luca, who, as the Adam Henein Foundation director, has been “entrusted with his treasures,” as she puts it.

Henein, who died in 2020, founded the annual Aswan International Sculpture Symposium. The museum is dedicated to displaying his drawings, paintings and sculptures, including a collection previously displayed in the Metropolitan Museum in 1999-2000.




Lorenzo Quinn’s Sculpture ‘Together’ at Forever Is Now - Credit: Hesham El Sayfi - Courtesy of Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)

What is next for Egypt’s cultural scene? The country is patiently awaiting the outcome of the latest expeditions of Zahi Hawass, the archaeologist, National Geographic explorer and former minister of state for antiquities

Hawass has partnered with Netflix for a five-episode docu-series to be aired next year that will unlock the mystery of the death of Tutankhamun.

The world is also eagerly awaiting the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, which promises to be another momentous occasion.

For a country of 105 million people and an ancient civilization that continues to influence literature, film architecture and fashion, it is evident that there is no shortage of human capital and intellectual wealth, and that Egypt is ready to enchant the world once again.

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May Barber is an architect and brand management consultant focused on sustainability and purpose-driven projects.


Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction
Updated 12 sec ago

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction
  • Police had accused several Salhiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance

JERUSALEM: Five members of a Palestinian family arrested after Israeli police demolished their house in East Jerusalem have been released, their lawyer said on Thursday.

The arrest of several members of the Salhiya family came as they were evicted from their house in the sensitive neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli authorities before dawn on Wednesday. Walid Abu Tayeh, the family’s lawyer, confirmed “the release of the five people detained since Wednesday, including Mahmoud Salhiya and his sons.”

Police had accused several Salhiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance.

Abu Tayeh said the release of the five on Thursday was conditional on payment of a 1,000 Israeli shekel ($320) fine, and that the group was forbidden from entering Sheikh Jarrah for one month.

The looming eviction of other Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in May last year partly fueled an 11-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza.

In those cases, Palestinians risked having to surrender plots of land to Jewish settlers who had mounted legal claims to the land.

But Jerusalem authorities have stressed the Salhiya family eviction is a different case and that the city intends to build a special needs school on the land, benefitting Arab residents of east Jerusalem.

The city has said it purchased the land from previous Arab owners and that the Salhiya’s had lived there illegally for years, but failed to agree to a compromise on an eviction order first issued in 2017. The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Italy and Spain urged Israeli authorities to stop the construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem.

In a statement, the European countries said that the hundreds of new buildings would “constitute an additional obstacle to the two-state solution,” referring to international peace efforts to create a state for Palestinians.

Israeli authorities recently approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, nearly half of which are to be built in the controversial areas of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa.

The foreign ministries said that building in this area would further disconnect the West Bank from East Jerusalem and that these settlements are a violation of international law.

The four countries also expressed concern about the evictions and demolitions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel captured East Jerusalem including the Old City in a 1967 war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which abuts the city, and the Gaza Strip. Israel views the entire city as its indivisible capital.

Most world powers deem the Israeli settlements illegal for taking in territory where Palestinians seek statehood.


Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution
Updated 5 min 24 sec ago

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution
  • The consultation will last until March 20. Topics include political, economic, financial, social, health, educational and cultural affairs

TUNIS: More than 50,000 people have participated in Tunisia’s national consultation that will feed into the drafting of a new constitution, authorities said.

President Kais Saied had announced the consultation in December when he extended a suspension of parliament, a move which fueled concerns for the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.

The consultation will last until March 20. Topics include political, economic, financial, social, health, educational and cultural affairs.

 “We are at the fifth day and the number of participants has reached 52,000 — that’s good,” Technology Minister Nizar Ben Neji said. “We will intensify our awareness campaign.”

The electronic platform for the consultations was fully launched on Saturday after it partially opened on Jan. 1.

Tunisians abroad are also able to participate, using their identify card to access the platform and register their remarks.

Authorities say more than three quarters of Tunisia’s 12 million population has internet access, while those without will be able to use computers in youth centers across the country.

A constitutional referendum is planned for July 25, 2022 — exactly a year after Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament and said he would assume executive powers.

The president later took steps to rule by decree, and in early December vowed to press on with reforms to the political system.

His intervention was initially supported by many Tunisians frustrated over repeated deadlocks within the fractious legislature.

On Dec. 13, Saied laid out a roadmap for drafting a new constitution, which is set to grant more powers to the executive branch at the expense of the legislature in the North African nation, before elections at the end of this year. Saied won elections in 2019 with a landslide 73 percent of votes.


Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians
Updated 8 min 15 sec ago

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians
  • On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched it’s push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement

BEIRUT: Shelling on the Turkish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed six civilians on Thursday, the latest in a spate of attacks, a war monitor said.

It was not immediately clear who fired the artillery shells but the attack came from a region where Kurdish fighters and Syrian regime forces are present, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Six people, including two children, where killed,” said the Britain-based monitor which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports.

Nearly 30 others were wounded, it added.

The shelling came a week after a suicide bomber launched an attack near a military base run by Turkey-backed fighters in Afrin, according to the Observatory.

Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria over several military operations launched since 2016 against Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia.

In March 2018, they seized Afrin after pushing the Syrian Kurdish forces out.

On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched its push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement.

“Recovering Afrin and (securing) the safe return of it’s inhabitants ... is our main priority,” Mazlum Abdi, the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, tweeted.

The war in Syria has killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, since it broke out in 2011.

Meanwhile, five Roman artifacts from the ancient city of Palmyra, a site damaged during the conflict, were returned to Damascus on Thursday by a private Lebanese museum where they had been on display since 2018.

The limestone statues and carved funerary stones dating from the Roman second and third centuries AD were returned at the initiative of a private Lebanese collector, Syrian antiquities chief Mohamed Nazir Awad said at a handover ceremony hosted by Lebanon’s National Museum in Beirut.

The collector, Jawad Adra, acquired them from European auction houses before Syria’s war began in 2011, Awad said, describing his actions as “a generous initiative.”

The pieces, which had been on display at the Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon, were returning to “their original homeland,” the Syrian regime official added.

During the Syrian conflict, the site of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural centers in the ancient world, fell under the control of Daesh, which blew up some of its major monuments, including the Arch of Triumph.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said talks were underway to arrange the return of other artifacts from the National Museum in Beirut to Syria.


Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor
Updated 2 min 59 sec ago

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor
  • A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh militants attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility
  • Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces blamed the attack on ‘Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces’

BEIRUT: Daesh attacked a Kurdish-run jail in northeast Syria on Thursday, freeing fellow militants, a war monitor reported without specifying how many escaped.

A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh extremists attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“A number of prisoners managed to escape,” said the Observatory which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. It did not specify how they managed to break out.

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in northeast Syria, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces confirmed the rare attack in a statement but did not mention any prisoners fleeing.

“A new insurgence and attempted escape by Daesh terrorists detained in Ghwayran prison in Al-Hasaka in conjunction with an explosion of a car bomb,” it said.

It blamed the attack on “Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces.”

The Observatory said the SDF has dispatched reinforcements to the prison and cordoned off the area.

Aircraft belonging to the US-led international coalition battling Daesh hovered over the facility and dropped flares in its vicinity, the monitor added.

The coalition was not immediately available for comment.

Daesh’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.

A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the extremist proto-state in March 2019.

The remnants of Daesh mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to harass Syrian government and allied forces.


Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah

Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah
Updated 24 min 55 sec ago

Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah

Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah
  • The port of Hodeidah is being used to smuggle Iranian weapons to the Houthi militia: Coalition

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Thursday it is carrying out air strikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah.

The port of Hodeidah is being used to smuggle Iranian weapons to the militia and is a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation, the coalition said.hodeidah port

It added that the Houthis are taking advantage of the Stockholm Agreement as an umbrella for protection.

Pirates and organized criminals are also operating from Hodeidah’s ports and the coalition has targeted a criminal den in Hodeidah, it said.