Modeling the Collective Hero: An Interview with Egyptian Playwright Ibrahim El-Husseiny


Ibrahim El-Husseiny wrote the play “Comedy of Sorrows” only a few months after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February of 2011.  As such, it was one of the very first creative pieces produced in response to the Egyptian revolution.  Following a run of 60 performances in Egypt, a translation by Rebekah Maggor toured the States in Spring of 2012 as a staged reading, with performances at CUNY Graduate Center, the Radcliffe Institute, and Vanderbilt University, amongst other venues.  Two years into the revolution, Hani Omar Khalil sat down with El-Husseiny in Cairo to discuss both his own evolution as a political playwright as well as the role of theatrical narrative in the shaping of national discourse.  Questions and answers were given in Arabic, with translational assistance provided by Omar S. Khalil.

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“Sumeida’s Song: Giving Operatic Voice to Revolution in Egypt”






“Egypt is heading towards civil war”, composer Mohammed Fairouz plainly states in discussion of his opera, Sumeida’s Song, which premiered at the Prototype Festival in SoHo. Civil war is perhaps too strong a word to describe the current state of affairs in Egypt, but few would argue with Fairouz that the country is going, in his words, in “a particularly bad direction.”

After a series of electoral victories, Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood effectively spent the final months of 2012 fast-tracking drastic changes to the constitution that many seculars, liberals, and democratic activists believe provide inadequate protection for women, religious minorities, and other groups, while laying the groundwork for implementation of Sharia law in the country (“Sharia law in Egypt?” Fairouz asks plaintively, before giving in to nervous laughter. “I mean, it’s not Saudi Arabia, it’s Egypt!”).

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“The Unknown”: A Coptic Spring?

Coptic_02202012It is September 2009; I’m in Upper Egypt, on this particular night, at the monastery and commemoration site of three martyred youth of Coptic history in a suburb of Luxor. As I passed a pathway littered with garbage set ablaze, I am told to look down, walk fast, and stay close to the Coptic sisters as we walked by a crowd of Muslim men or so my Coptic sisters told me. I felt their fear while we were walking through this neighborhood, but I didn’t entirely understand why. As soon as we arrived at the monastery, I asked my Coptic friends why we walked so timidly. They replied, “This area is unsafe for Christians at night.” With those words, I began to reflect on the reason and context for such words, and why fear of the Muslim other was so deeply seated in the Coptic community, at least the one I was acquainted with in Sheraton, Heliopolis. Continue reading “The Unknown”: A Coptic Spring?