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By Ramadan A. Kader

In 1969, Egypt’s state censors blocked the showing of “Shai Min Al Khouf” (Something of Fear), a local film dealing with despotism and oppression. The ban came amid reports that the film, based on the story of the same name by writer Tharwat Abaza, has unfavourable overtones against then president Gamal Abdul Nasser and his government.

The star-studded film was made two years after Egypt’s military defeat by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, a rout that dealt a harsh blow to Nasser’s pan-Arab dreams and deeply traumatized Egyptians. To many Arabs, the defeat is known as naksa or a setback.

“Shai Min Al Khouf” is set in an Egyptian village terrorised by a gang and its ruthless chief, portrayed by great actor Mahmoud Morsi.

Nasser learnt about the row over the film and reportedly saw it twice before he ordered its release.

“Are we a gang? If I act like Atrees [the chief gangster in the film], then I deserve everything bad,” Nasser was quoted as saying after watching the film. “If I were so brutal like Atrees, the people would have killed me,” the iconic leader added before giving the go-ahead for its public showing.

At the time, Nasser also intervened and ordered the showing of several other films and stage works, including a film based on Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s novel “Miramar” after censors had banned them due to their varying political messages.

Nasser’s aide, Sami Sharaf, recalls the presidential intervention. “After the 1967 naksa, President Abdul Nasser sensed what people felt that freedoms were incomplete. He was overwhelmed by a desire to allow more freedom in literary works,” said Sharaf, who
served as director of Nasser’s office.

Sharaf added that “Shai Min Al Khuf” was one of a long list of cinematic works that Nasser approved.

“Shai Min Al Khouf” was screened and proved one of the greatest film productions in the history of the Egyptian cinema. It has claimed several prizes at home and abroad since it was premiered in February 1969.

The cast includes big names of the time. Besides Morsi, it features versatile singer- actress Shadia and accomplished actor Yehia Chaheen. Shadia presented in it one of her most memorable roles as an actress.

She plays Fuada, a female villager whom Atress has loved since early childhood. She stops reciprocating his love after he succeeds his grandfather in terrorising villagers, and looting their limited properties.

In a powerful scene, Fuada defies Atress the Jr after he cuts off water supplies to the village in a punitive step over the killing of one of his henchmen.

In the lead-up to the act of defiance, eerie gloom permeates the scene. Fear-stricken faces are featured as the land appears parched and plants shriveled as a result of the punishment, the most dreadful for villagers who earn their living by working as peasants.

Fuada daringly open the sluice gate, letting the water flow into the barren farmland amid traditional joy cries from the village’s women.

When Atrees proposes to Fuada, she spurns his offer. He marries her under duress. The act draws public condemnation from the local mosque preacher depicted by Chahin.

“Atrees’ marriage to Fuada is void” is the sheikh’s protest cry against the oppressor, who tries to silence him by killing his son at his wedding ceremony.

Undaunted, the aggrieved father roams the village, chanting the slogan that gradually rallies support from the villagers as they break down the barrier of fear.

In the final scene, the angry villagers, holding torches, march on to Atrees’ residence where he has held Fuada against her will. She is freed while he is left to face his doomed fate.

The film’s timeless message is enhanced with expressive music score composed by celebrated musician Baleegh Hamdy and a chorus voiceover based on lyrics by veteran vernacular poet Abdul Rahman Al Abanudi, who also wrote the dialogue.

“Shai Min Al Khouf” is also a strong statement on women’s empowerment through its female protagonist Fuada, seen as representing a strong-willed and indefatigable Egypt. Images of Fuada were painted on the nation’s walls during the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime.

The film’s iconic slogan, about the invalidity of the Atrees-Fuada marriage, was also revived and reverberated in Tahrir Square during the anti-Mubarak protests.

By Paolo Sabbatini

Some nights ago, I had the honour and pleasure of inviting to dinner, Senator Leila Takla, who is famous in Egypt and the world for her passionate ethical campaigns, her commitment to the conservation of cultural and environmental heritage.

When I asked her what she wanted to drink she replied, "half a glass of water: It is the symbol of my intention not to waste this blessing for humanity". I was surprised and filled with admiration: What a lesson in ethics and love for our entire world, especially since these days, Cairo is very hot and I myself quench my thirst with a profusion of water, on a daily basis. So I decided to dedicate this article to her and to water, which St Francis, 700 years ago, proclaimed to be "humble, precious and chaste”.

The obtuseness of contemporary man ignores, in everyday life, that this universal blessing is not infinite; in the past, however, in the days of St Francis, water was a very important symbol, on a sacred and also on a profane level. We must not allow the acclaimed evolution to become an involution and we must be attentive to this phrase by Alessandro Manzoni: "What comes next is not always progress”.

So, I thought about what can be done, on an individual level, to follow the example of Laila Takla and to honour the memory of St Francis of Assisi:

1.    Inquire about what is done in the world to save water, fight the consequences of waste (such as climate change) and see that our mission is shared by thousands of others. This is how you can get the attention of those who can act even more decisively regarding the fate of the Earth!

2.    Avoid wasting water by always turning off the taps if you are not using them and do not use them unnecessarily if it is not to quench your thirst, wash or cook; as Leila does, do not fill the glass unless you drink it all!

3.    Try to minimise the use of polluting vehicles such as cars, scooters, buses and the like; walk, ride a bike! Cairo is beautiful on foot, take it from an enthusiast. We do not talk about the other beautiful cities, the countryside, the mountains of this country.

4.    A dispassionate piece of advice is to smoke less or not to start smoking, both for your health and for that of Mother Earth.

5.    Try to buy what has been produced by recycling waste to support a market that is more sensitive to the health of the planet.

And... last but not least, when you make a toast, do it with fresh water, remembering the most famous words for that occasion, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi: Libiamo, libiamo nei lieti calici che la bellezza infiora! (let’s drink a toast in the happy chalices, adorned by Beauty). There is no Beauty other than Nature. 

BEIRUT, July 22 ,2018 (MENA) - Egyptian Culture Minister Inas Abdel Dayem said the ministry is working on a comprehensive strategy for confronting extremist thought.

She made the remarks during an exclusive interview with MENA on the fringe of her participation in Baalbeck International Festival in Lebanon under the theme of "Baalbeck Remembers Umm Kulthum" which honours the legendary singer held in high esteem in Egypt and the entire Arab world.

Abdel Dayem said the ministry seeks to upgrade cultural centres to activate their role and make them attractive to people of all ages, especially youths, to save them from being victims to extremist ideologies.

She noted that the ministry had also opened centeres for talented children in various governorates to help them develop their artistic skills.

These centres, she said, organise cultural and artistic workshops which present cultural and artistic activities through new techniques and a modern perspective.

She noted that the huge cultural centre in the Sixth of October City - which was suspended for a long time - will be finalised soon. The minister explained that  the centre will present almost all activities and arts found at  Cairo Opera House. 

She added that several key cultural events will take place in Egypt this year, referring to ongoing preparations for the Arab culture ministers' meeting in collaboration with the Arab League, the Arabic Music Festival and the Cairo International Film Festival. 

By Ramadan A. Kader

“Something must have happened and prevented the sheikh from completing the prostration. At that point, real astonishment prevailed as a lot of possibilities moved through the bent heads that could not dare to rise.

Possibilities, similar and conflicting, moved back and forth. Has he fallen ill, dropped dead or passed out? Did some devil tempt him to take a piece of hash before the prayer and it now heavily weighs on him?”

In his short story “Did You Have to Turn on the Light, Li-Li”, the mastery of Egyptian writer Youssef Idris (1927-1991) peaks. In the story, part of his famed collection “A House of Flesh” that was published in 1971, Idris tells an imaginary tale about a crowd in a Cairo quarter, once notorious for drug trafficking, who went to the local mosque to perform the two-prostration dawn prayer.

Many of them had not gone to mosque for long years. Shortly before the end of the second prostration, the young imam – for a hitherto-unknown reason – fails to complete the prayer. As a result, the perplexed worshippers keep their heads bowed in the ground, fearing that any interruption on their part would invalidate the prayer.

On the surface, the incident sounds hilarious. Idris, noted for breaking taboos in his literary output, presents the incident in an engaging and fast-paced fashion.

“Ten low rows filled the small mosque. The people prostrated in piety, although in discomfort. Most of them did not pray for long, a matter that made their joints and muscles too stiff to cope with the postures of the prayer. They repeated ‘praise be to God’ three times, but when they did not hear the imam saying ‘God is the Greatest’ as a sign that the bowing on the ground is over, many of them suspected that they had miscalculated. They started again. But, the awaited declaration “God is the Greatest” did
not come.”

Soon after giving an insight into the befuddled worshippers’ surmises about the cause of their predicament, Idris switches from the third-person commentary to direct narration by the lead character, Sheikh Abdul Aal. Soon the reader becomes aware that the collective quandary is related to a raging conflict inside Abdul Aal, a devoted cleric appointed as an imam at a state-run mosque.

The writer adroitly whips up interest in the narration by occasionally quoting the protagonist asking: “Did you have to turn on the light, Li-Li?”

Li-Li is a gorgeous local woman, who puts the 25-year-old theologian to a tough test. The half-Egyptian-half-British woman’s initial attempt to seduce the imam fizzles out.

The conflict inside Sheikh Abdul Aal soon starts when the sweet-voiced man ascends the mosque minaret to call to the dawn prayer.

He happens to see the woman inside a lit room across the narrow street clad in a nightie while reclining in her bed. A gaze inside the room arouses the chaste cleric’s desire and makes him realise his vulnerability. In a succinct monologue, the preacher grapples with his sudden fall to temptation.

“For the first time in my life, I suddenly see so much of a woman’s body. I came to find myself in the middle stairway escaping, descending and gasping for breath. From sheer terror, I turned to extreme rage. I’m in a trap. I’m the one who came to expel the devil from here, have ambitions dwindled to avoid the devil, his dens and disguises? I find myself this dawn quite in the trap. I’m the one who wanted to vanquish it, is now running away for fear he would defeat me?”

The preacher, who originally came to the quarter to lead the obstinate flock to God’s path, increasingly feels vulnerable. He vows to overcome the devil’s temptation and implore God to support him:

“Oh God. I know I have loved You as pure as the serene water alone. As though You have created me only. I know that I should have been put to a test. I know if I succeeded, I would know that at last I’m worth accepting. I’ll make it a hard test. I won’t escape. I’ll double temptation. I’ll have gazes again. I’ll commit the lesser guilt so that my triumph over the bigger guilt will be paramount. I did gaze. It is Lil-Li in her flesh. It is the devil incarnate. Her temptation is complete.”

Overwhelmed by temptation-laden gazes, the young sheikh turns to his voice in his existential battle. He makes an evocative, desperate plea to God to save him:

“Oh God, does it please You that we fall? Does it please You that we sin? Does it please You that the devil overpowers us and prevails? Help me, my Lord. I’m in a pit. Who will save me except You?”

The cleric’s plea awakens the quarter’s dwellers from their sleep and motivates them to flock to the mosque, feeling they are close to God than ever before. The protagonist believes victory over the devil is in sight. He leads the congregation in the prayer. His putative triumph paradoxically proves false, though.

In the course of the prayer, the vision of Lil-Li haunts him. And he succumbs. He leaves the worshippers prostrating on the ground and slips away unnoticed from the mosque. He heads to the temptress, who ironically rebuffs him.

The story is among a few in the Arabic literature in which the devil emerges victorious.After reading the 18-page story, the answer to its title is “Yes”. By turning on the light of her room, the seductress has made the clergyman see himself in its true colours and
tested his faith.

Nicknamed Anton Chekov of the Arabic short story, Idris is skillful in unlocking the human psyche and frailties. His narrative as well as his personae are hewn from real life and its paradoxes, making them palpable and deserve sympathy.

CAIRO, June 26, 2018 (MENA) - The UNESCO Cairo office on Tuesday launched a project for enhancing national capabilities for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage in Egypt for sustainable development.

The project will last for 24 months with the support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority (ADTCA) of the United Arab Emirates, according to a statement issued by the United Nations Information office in Cairo.

The initiative is aimed at assisting Egypt to protect its intangible cultural heritage in co-operation with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

Within the framework of the 24-month project, UNESCO office hosted last week a workshop on developing policies in the field of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding which was particularly organised to address policy-makers and senior officials whose work is related to intangible heritage in Egypt.

CAIRO, June 25, 2018 (MENA) - Egypt's Culture Minister Enas Abdel-Dayem said that cultural events play key role in bringing various peoples together, terming them as “bridge for communication” between societies and individuals.

The culture minister made the remarks while inaugurating the Egyptian-Italian cultural activities taking place at the medieval Palazzo dei Papi, in the Italian city of Viterbo, according to a statement released by the ministry on Monday.

The minister asserted that strong and unique relations are binding Egypt and Italy, mainly in cultural and artistic domains, citing the great Italian cultural contribution to the artistic performances being given at Cairo Opera House as evidence.

The coming phase will witness further joint cultural activities, a move that stems from the great importance that Italian people attach to the Egyptian civilization and culture, Abdel-Dayem said.

For his part, the president of the Benedetti Cultural Foundation that is organizing the event, expressed appreciation for Abdel-Dayem and her ministry for accepting the invitation and calls by the Italians to intensify activities which reflect the Egyptian bright intellectual and artistic side.

He pointed out to the huge numbers of Italian and tourist audience who have flocked to the the medieval Palazzo dei Papi premises to attend the launching ceremony.

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