Archive for January, 2012

Egypt Inspired Ice-dance

Excerpt from here (Golden Skate)

Pechalat and Bourzat defend European ice dance title

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France danced to gold, taking their second consecutive European title at the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia claimed the silver medal like last year, while Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia clinched the bronze.

Tension was high in the ice dance competition. The favorites, Pechalat and Bourzat, had lost to Bobrova and Soloviev in the short dance, and the teams from fourth through seventh were separated by less than one point. Anything seemed possible at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield, and there was a lot of movement in the standings.

The French had announced that they weren’t willing to give up and went out with determination. Their Egyptian free dance, entitled “The Pharaoh and His Mummy”, was full of energy, highlighted by beautiful lifts and fast paced step sequences. Their ending was emotional with a long hug.

Pechalat, 28, and Bourzat, 31, picked up a level four for the lifts and the spin, while the circular steps and twizzles were a level three. The diagonal steps merited a level two. The Grand Prix Final bronze medalists were ranked first in the free dance with 99.29 points, and overtook the overnight leaders with a total of 164.18 points.

“We’re pretty happy at this moment,” Bourzat said. “After the hard beginning with the short dance, we just had to go on the ice and fight. We were the reigning European champions and there is no way we would let go of this. We trained to get more relaxed on the ice and we went out with anger and determination.”

“It is easier to attack than to defend,” added Pechalat. “It was very important for us to win. Also we were thinking of Worlds where we want to take a medal.”


Here is a video we found of the performance, the music at the end is none other than the wonderfully Egyptian Oum Kalthoum.



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How Art Is Healing Post-Revolution Egypt

Graffiti artwork about the January 25th revolution seen in the Nasr City district of Cairo in April 2011. (Photo: Maggie Osama, Demotix, Corbis)
Sally Zohney
January 23

The revolution drastically transformed everything in the lives of Egyptians. Yet while there has been quite a bit of attention paid to the dramatic political changes, more attention needs to be paid to the cultural and artistic scene that has been taking Egypt by storm since early 2011. Rather than being confined to art galleries or movie screens, this new wave of artistic expression is spilling over into all areas of life and causing previous boundaries to crumble.

Since Mubarak’s removal in February 2011, anyone walking the streets of Cairo might see stenciled graffiti calling for protests and encouraging people to join them. The proliferation of this type of socially engaged graffiti becomes even more significant in the context of increased control over political participation, including mass arrests of young activists as well as brutality by police and military forces against protesters and revolutionaries. When you walk now in downtown Cairo and see graffiti portraying a young man or woman, it is likely that he or she either died in the revolution or was arrested.

But art is not being used only to inform the public, it is also used to bridge divides. Art has always been a successful tool in bringing people together, and this is especially true of Egypt after Mubarak. The revolution broke many boundaries and stereotypes: In the streets, men and women became equals, and rich and poor people shared food and slept in the same tents. All demanded equality and justice.

Graffiti artwork about the January 25th revolution seen in the Nasr City district of Cairo in April 2011. (Photo: Maggie Osama, Demotix, Corbis)

Gradually music, chants, jokes, theater, poetry and literature began to reflect these new realities. Young revolutionaries started to identify more with the Arabic language as well as Egyptian culture and identity. The working classes began to feel more important and appreciated; previously marginalized groups saw their problems discussed openly through street songs, videos and community events.

“Tahrir Monologues” is a fine example of revolutionary art and one to which I am personally linked. This independent project uses a series of chronological monologues and aims to recreate the emotions and experiences of different people during the 18 heady days that toppled the Mubarak regime. Conceived by a group of amateur young Egyptian artists, the monologues serve as a cathartic reminder of the uplifting local scene during the uprising. The monologues not only reflect the lives and emotions of the revolutionaries, but also take you through the feelings of very different characters: a young female revolutionary who challenged her family to take the streets, a mother who brought food to the square every night, an artist, an old street vendor, a police officer, young members of the upper class, and individuals who felt they had nothing to live for. 

As different as they may seem from us, we as audience members learn to identify with each of their stories and motives. By highlighting individual stories from such diverse people, the monologues also treat other social and cultural issues: the limitations on women’s participation in public life, freedom of expression, and sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians. They thus challenge earlier social norms about staying silent on these issues and limiting individual freedom. 

Another inspiring project led by a talented group of young artists is the Mars Project, which is now traveling across Egypt visiting communities in the south where young people rarely receive attention, as well as Bedouin groups, in order to hold open-microphone community events that allow everyone to express themselves. Bringing energy, warmth and creativity to the streets, this project encourages people to embrace their national identity regardless of any possibly divisive affiliations. This wave of art is brand new in Egypt, challenging preconceived notions of certain communities or sectors of society that have long been misrepresented despite their rich heritage. 

In this newly liberated creative space of post-revolutionary Egypt, artists of all kinds continue to blossom. Beyond mere self-expression or art for art’s sake, the significance of this artistic renaissance is also clearly social and political. It promotes education on a broad scale as well as challenging issues once considered taboo, such as women’s freedom, limits on political participation and the oppression of minorities. In the new Egypt, art is an instrument for social change.

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Young Artists of Post-Revolutionary Egypt

Almost a year after the Egyptian Revolution, the young artists, writers and musicians who are producing creative works after decades of self-censorship.

Watch this video that highlights how street artists are painting the stories of the struggle against Egypt’s military government and how using social networks once blocked by the government,  can bring their daring art and message to a much wider audience.

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The Travel Detective Blogs: Is it Safe to Travel to Egypt?

The Travel Detective is never one to lead people into danger, nor is he willing to buy into fear-mongering. A frequent traveler to Egypt, Peter reports on travel safety on the ground in Cairo and throughout the country.

I’ve been traveling to Egypt since I was 24 and I can never get enough of it. One thing is consistent: Every time I tell friends I’m going to Egypt, they always say: “Be careful,” “Be safe” or, quite recently, “Are you nuts?”

I am not crazy. I’ve always said that the best time to visit a destination is immediately after a civil disturbance or a natural disaster. The worst four-letter word starting with “f” is “fear,” and Americans know no shortage of it when it comes to making their travel choices. They are directly motivated by it. I put my money where my mouth is…and I go.

From the moment most Americans land at the airport in Cairo, there is a certain anxious feeling that surrounds visitors. For the few American travelers visiting the Egyptian capital, the questions are somewhat obvious: Is it safe? Will the streets be occupied by Army troops?

But, it’s the first question that YOU are asked that sets the tone: “Where are you from?” Guess what, when you say America, a smile emerges from the person who asked you. “We are honored that you are here. Thank you so much for coming to our country. Thank you…we NEED you!”

Within minutes, it becomes clear that Egypt is, indeed, safe. That the streets are only dangerous because of the usual chaotic Cairo traffic, and you’re in for a treat. And that, ever since the revolution started January 25, 2011, not a single American tourist has been killed.

What does that tell you? That when the going gets tough, the smart travelers… And they then have an amazing, affordable, life-changing experience. It’s more than just being the beneficiary of a buyers’ market. It’s seeing a place the way it was meant to be seen, with no crowds, better deals and better service.

People are truly happy to see you, and they show it. And from the moment I arrived, I knew I had made the right decision to come.

I flew in Cairo stayed at the Four Seasons hotel on the Nile. Occupancy was about 40 percent…in high season. I went to the Pyramids. Nearly deserted. I went to the Khalili bazaar, one of my favorite shopping destinations, which was empty so storekeepers were more eager than ever to make me a deal…on anything. Then I flew to Luxor and boarded Uniworld’s MS Tosca for a cruise on the Nile.

There are currently about 400 ships set up for cruising the Nile, but only about 40 are currently operating. That’s how much tourism has dropped since the Arab Spring began about a year ago.

“We have dropped 85 percent,” Akram, my guide on the ship told me. “And in a country where so many of my fellow citizens depend on travel and tourism to feed their families, this has been a disaster.”

The cabins on the 3-year-old ship were surprisingly spacious (and even featured real bathtubs), satellite television and the Internet (connectivity is always a necessity for me). The food was excellent, and there’s even a spa on board (and the top deck features great sun areas and a sizeable pool. And for the moment, plenty of space and no crowds.

The bottom line here: now is the time to go to Egypt. Take that Nile cruise. Bookend your trip with a stay in Cairo. Visit the Egyptian museum on Tahrir square. (Yes, I went there my first day and…nothing happened). Get out to Giza, and, while you’re at it, try the Japanese restaurant at the Four Seasons. Excellent.

And if you’re friends think you’re crazy for going, look at it this way: Pack some common sense, be willing to immerse yourself in the culture, and then realize that you’d be crazy for NOT going.

Do you feel safe traveling to Egypt after the Arab Spring?

At one point a few months ago, the MS Toscaleft the dock in Luxor with only six paying passengers. “We decided to operate anyway,” said one of the ship’s officers, “because we needed to get the message out that we were in business, that Egypt was safe.” The passenger numbers have slowly come back up, but the number of Americans cruising is still hardly registering.

Slowly but surely that word is getting out (emphasis on the word slowly). Not once during my trip on the ship did i feel in any danger. Not once did I feel threatened or compromised. Instead, I, and my other passengers (mostly German, Swiss and French) were showered with service and legendary Egyptian hospitality.

My guides on the ship — Akram and Mohamed — were more than mere tourist guides. They were cutting edge egyptologists who didn’t just point things out at the iconic sites like the temples at Karnak, but took me deep inside to explain the granite etchings and the nuances of color still visible on the columns.

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Are you ready to see a different side of Egypt?

Being the second time visiting this Middle Eastern jewel gave us the chance to look at it with a different set of eyes. Yes, the pyramids are mesmerizing, but having seen them before, we could look beyond their majesty and take in the atmosphere around us. Instead of gazing out over Cairo, we could take in the polished marble of an abandoned mosque. The library of Alexandria is filled with one of the greatest collections of literature on earth but it is the modern architecture that is so striking. Students hang out in the complex and ponder the challenges of Egypt’s future while we snap shots of its striking design.

Egypt is filled with ancient monuments, but it is walking along the streets and meeting the people that is magical. Egyptians are right up there as some of the friendliest people on earth. As we walked through the streets we were invited into establishments for tea and people greeted us with welcoming smiles. Children approached us to ask where we were from and everyone asked us to take their photograph.

It is a country close to our hearts as the starting point of this great travel journey that we’ve been on for the past few years and it brought back fond memories walking through its ancient passageways. We didn’t have enough time to truly immerse ourselves in this culture, but we will definitely be back.

For now, check out to enjoy more photos of a different side of Egypt.

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Egypt 2011: Alternative Culture in the Square

By: Muhammad Shoair

It was the year of free thinking. Imagination without bounds in the face of authorities that have almost no imagination.

In past years, we would have been able to summarize the year with only one or two expressions: “The Year of Absence” or “The Year of the Novel.” These expressions were ways of avoiding talking about months that passed while virtually nothing happened. Everything recurred in a monotonous and boring rhythm.

Things have changed since the January 25 Revolution. The uprising paved the way for endless creative and cultural possibilities. Before that day, no one expected the Utopia Choir to play their music outside the Abdeen Palace of the Grand Pasha, when even venturing near the building was a dangerous adventure. When the choir performed hundreds of people sang along in front of the palace: “Tell the ruler inside the palace…You are a gang which rules Egypt.”

In Tahrir Square, there is a new spirit. It gives space for improvised performances which sometimes hit the nail right on the head.

Traditional arts combined with new visions have made the year seem the “artistic” year of expression for academic Ashraf al-Sharif. He views the struggle in 2011 as a struggle between two ways of life: social control along with the politics of misery, oppression, and the enshrining of apathy against the joy of rhythm and freeing the mind from the shackles of prevailing social norms.

Perhaps freeing the mind from the bonds of the cultural status quo was the most significant achievement of the 2011 revolution. This is why we should name 2011 the year of “collective creativity” or resistance through art.

The arts declared that the “streets were ours,” echoing Salah Jaheen’s famous saying. Literature, art, and music were the precursors for a change imposed by the revolution, not only in the capital, but also in the provinces. But the fine arts also sacrificed a martyr to the revolution, Ziyad Bakir.


Graffiti by Ganzeer on a wall in Cairo. Graffiti reads “The martyr Saifallah Mustafa, 16 years old, student.” (Photo: Jenny Gustaffson)


Artists came out onto the streets, expressing their creativity on the walls. Graffiti artists such as Ganzeer, MoFa and Al-Teneen, played an important role in the revolution and are still doing so. A new generation of creative artists chronicled the revolution, turning the city into a huge open gallery for any and all passersby.

Poems and slogans had a new creative slant. The revolution this year produced names such as Fairouz Karawiya, Hamza Nimra, Rami Issam, Muhammad Mohsen, the Utopia Choir and many other groups, poets and musicians.

Of course, other critical events in the world of Egyptian art and literature occurred during the political upheaval too. Significant novels were published, escaping the attention of the critics, such as Al-Toghra by Youssef Rakha and The New Era by Khaled al-Berry. The revolution brought back the poet Ahmed Abdel Muti Hijazi with his new work The Remains of Time, which was not well received. Abdel Rahman el-Abnoudi carried on with his creative work, exposing and honest, defending Tahrir Square.

Sadly some famous names are no longer with us, such as novelist Khayri Shalabi, artist Ahmad Hegazi, actors Kamal al-Shinnawi, Hind Rostom and Omar al-Hariri, and the journalist Anis Mansur.

Intellectual battles continued when the Board of Commissioners of the State Council in Egypt (a high status judicial consultancy body) ruled that writer Sayyid al-Qimni’s Egyptian State Award for Social Sciences be revoked. A call for the revocation was made in 2009. al-Qimni is accused by the Muslim Brotherhood of being “a heretic against God’s laws and His teachings.”

The ruling military council also accused the head of the publishing house Dar Merit, Muhammad Hashem, of distributing helmets and masks to the demonstrators. Before that, the well-known publisher had started a hunger strike in protest against the military trials and received the Hermann Kesten prize which honors writer activists.

Radwa Ashour won the prestigious Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais prize.

Exhibitions and festivals took place everywhere, but the truth is that in 2011, the Egyptians, through paintings, songs and poetry, “pinned the tail on the dictator,” to rephrase Marquez.

This new creativity cannot be contained, neither in the name of religion, as those who wish to own the absolute truth claim, nor in the name of politics.

It is certain that 2011 in Egypt was the year of the fall of the General and the priest.

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A joyous and festive New Year’s Eve at Tahrir Square

People in Egypt have been talking about New Year’s Eve in Tahrir Square as a joyous and celebratory event that captured the essence of Egypt as we know it with Muslims, Christians–Protestants and Copts–welcoming the New Year with open arms and hope. They also remembered all those who died for Egypt.

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My First Coptic Christmas Party in Egypt

Words and Photographs: Londoneya Eyan
The sun floats above the horizon as I walk through the throng of bodies waiting outside the gates of a hotel situated on the outskirts of Cairo Airport. I almost feel lost in the midst of so many Egyptian youth wearing green and red, some of their enthusiastic chatter fading as soon as they notice a young woman in a hijab passing through. I see confused glances on a few faces but I smile at them, showing them that I mean no harm, that I was also present to celebrate the virgin birth of Jesus. It didn’t matter that people differed on the date of Jesus’ birth, what mattered is that we recognised his existence.
Although Coptic Christians in Egypt celebrate Christmas on the seventh of January, Scouts consisting of young Egyptians from both genders organised a charity event, with the proceeds going to their Coptic church, on the twenty-third of December to celebrate the festive season. And I was happy to accept my friend’s invitation. Her nineteen-year-old son, a member of the Scouts and one of the organisers of the event, had insisted that my parents and I come, surprising us with the hard-to-get-tickets.

We could see my friend and her husband wave at us behind the hotel’s gate that blocked cars from entering, and as we greeted each other she led me towards the entrance. “You’re not the only one,” she pointed towards another young girl wearing a scarf standing with her friends, trying to me feel comfortable. But standing in a haphazard ‘queue’ where my friend, quite admirably, pushed her way to the front where her son stood, I didn’t feel out of place. Living in England my whole life gave me the perspective that we were all human- I only judged the person in front of me according to how they treated me, the judging in no way interfered with a person’s background or religion. But I knew many Egyptians didn’t see it that way, what with the sectarian divide the country has experienced, especially this past year.
The event was held in the hotel’s vast outdoor venue, with a stage in the middle where the church choir would be singing later on. But getting there was a bit overwhelming. After my friend had successfully pushed us through the crowd towards the entrance (the British side of me grimacing at the fact that I was ‘jumping’ the so-called queue) there stood a metal detector with several security guards around it. I suddenly felt like I was back in Heathrow Airport, but I knew that Christians in Egypt had every right to be worried about security. But I was grieved and angered that there were people out there who would maim and murder worshippers of a different faith from theirs. I condemned such atrocities and hoped that being present at this event would show the Christian community, albeit in a small way, that not all Muslims were terrorists.
The sun had already set as we walked carefully through the grass with our boots, and it was only natural to approach the many stalls set up around the garden. Alcohol was not being served like traditional Christmas parties in England; there was pizza, popcorn and hot drinks’ stands to warm people up as the cold front tucked in. A person on stage initiated the event through a microphone with a prayer that asked “Allah for safety and peace of mind”; my friend and I think I shocked a few people next to me when I said ‘Amen’. But because it was such a similar prayer to what Muslims ask for, it was only natural for me to take a moment to address who I believed in. But I didn’t blame those that stared with quizzical looks, what with Egyptian television recently airing debates with some Muslims following a radical interpretation of the religion, leaving the public to stereotype all Muslims wearing a religious symbol as the same.
As we walked around with our purchases, mainly jewellery and Christmas decorations, my Egyptian-born friend proudly told me, “Can you believe how many Christians there are here? The tickets sold out in a few days, all five-thousand! And they say so many left the country this year! I don’t believe them when I see this sight!” It was an amazing view, five thousand bodies huddled together under a blanket of stars, heat generating from their bodies against the cold night’s air. Although I was saddened that many Coptic Christians had left Egypt in fear this year and conveyed this to my friend- it was their country as much as anyone’s and no one had the right to make them feel otherwise-, I also conveyed how I loved how the Christian community came together, to meet each other, make new friends, and have a night out with family and friends. It was good, clean fun with both genders present that saw young people huddling in front of the stage hoping to get a good view of a well-known Christian choir, with the elderly sitting on chairs at the top of a hill looking down on generations of Egyptians.
By the time Santa had made a short appearance on stage, every young person had donned either a Reindeer’s hat or a Santa’s hat, making me feel quite at home, as though I was back in England at the many Christmas parties family friends held when I was growing up. Even though the choir sang in Arabic, they also sang familiar English songs I knew, reminding me that for most of my educational life in England we would gather in assembly to sing those very songs on the last day of term before breaking up for the Christmas holiday. And I sang along to timeless classics like Jingle Bells and The Twelve Days of Christmas under the Egyptian sky for the first time since I moved to Egypt.
It was fun- singing, talking, laughing and most importantly sharing. This is what religion should be about, I thought wistfully. Sharing; respecting our similarities, and celebrating what makes us human.
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