The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Egypt's first private sector arts and culture facility, Cairo's El Sawy Culture Center
Are there any unique aspects of your management policies?
The El Sawy Culture Wheel is a 100% private sector organization that receives no support or financing from the government whatsoever. Conversely, we are in a position where we pay the government a monthly rental fee on the land our facilities occupy. Almost all of our financing of our facility operation and programs comes from private-sector sponsors. We solicit both year-round sponsors and one-time sponsors for specific events and when there is a deficit in funding it is covered by the Ad and PR company Alamia owned by myself and my brother.

We also work with the embassies of the world’s countries here in Egypt to jointly organize presentations of a variety of arts program, and we consider these to be an indirect type of support funding from them. Although we do not receive funds directly from these countries, their embassies pay for the air fare and accommodations for the invited artists while we provide the performance space stage production costs and PR, etc., and the ticket sales become revenue for our center. In these joint programs with the foreign embassies we adopt a cooperative working relationship with a clear division of roles. We plan to hold our first joint program with the Japanese Foundation this December (*). This type of cultural exchange with the embassies and organizations of the various countries has enabled us to present a wide variety of arts programs to our audience.

*Ha-ya-to Wadaiko (Japanese drum) Tour in Cairo sponsored by the Japan Foundation
Date: Dec. 11, 2006
Place: El Sawy Cultural Wheel

What is the nature of your theater contest?
In recent years, the theater world on Egypt is in what you could call a state of crisis. It is something like an unprincipled night club. We wanted to try to do something to stimulate the theater scene by starting the El Sakia Drama Contest three years ago, which is held now every year in July and August. Since one aspect of the contest is to discover new talent and nurture young artists, we solicit applications from a wide range of performing artists and groups for which to choose our winners. At the first stage of the judging process we look at the script, the staging and the technical aspects, then in the second stage we have the artists actually perform in front of our judging committee, The contestant artists or groups that pass this stage are then invited to perform at our theater festival. In the two weeks of the festival there are performances of over 50 works. The performance time for each work is up to one hour and the winner is announced at the end of the festival, with the closing ceremony also serving as the award ceremony. There are prizes not only for the best work but also for best director, best actor and best stage art. At this point we haven’t had any contestants from outside the Arabic world but for the future we want to find sponsors and solve the funding problems so that we will be able to solicit contestants from outside the Arabic world as well.

We understand that at your center you are dealing with social issues in Egyptian society.
In Egypt, before you talk about culture and the arts you have to deal with the social problems like beggars and the living standard and habits of the people and the problem of education. There are an endless number of people who pretend to be poor so they can beg in front of tourists. Still, I don’t think that just making laws to try to repress such action will really be very successful. It is a simple thing but I believe that in order to improve this situation you have to raise people’s consciousness so that they can change themselves and correct bad habits, and I believe that it is important for people to have the strength of will to tackle and solve even difficult problems in a short time. At the El Sawy Culture Wheel we are working to help heal the wounds of society and solve its difficult problems by doing what we can to enlighten the public and educate people.

One of the ways we do this is through a campaign to get more people to be aware of the spirit of charity that is fundamental to the Islamic faith. We have also begun a project called “The Year of Arabic” which aims to help people learn classical standard Arabic (fusha). Due to people’s progressing separation from the written language, Arabic is deteriorating today as a language. Even among adults today the number of people who can use classic standard Arabic properly is decreasing. There are many people who say they have read the entire Koran several times, but I wonder if they really understand what they are reading. Reading is not as important as really understanding what one reads, and the decreasing understanding of classical Arabic can’t help but weaken people’s identity as Arabs. We are conducting Arabic course to help people use Arabic more beautifully and with greater understanding and thus contribute to the people’s level of literacy.
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