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.


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 9 min 8 sec ago

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 19 min 19 sec ago

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 9 sec ago

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”