The 2016 Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre

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The five years without a theatre festival coincided with political turmoil: first the populist hopes of the Arab Spring and the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. After the Revolution, a Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalist government was elected, in a rushed vote with what is widely regarded to be a fraudulent majority. The religious regime was toppled after a disastrous year of bad governance, but by a military coup that installed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egyptians now live in an increased security state in which all public protest is forbidden. A number of people from the Brotherhood, many awaiting execution, former President Morsi included, are in prison, but so are liberal dissidents, pro-democracy advocates and people in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Paradoxically, we find in Cairo a largely dissident theatre festival funded by a mainly authoritarian state. The festival is back, with the mandate of bringing world theatre to Cairo in a mix of panels, workshops with students, and productions open to the public. And most of us invited guests are political dissidents in our own countries. We write plays defying fundamentalism (Shahid Nadeem, Pakistan), governmental corruption and rape culture (Sitawa Namwalie, Nigeria), and plays that are antiwar and ecofeminist (me). Torange Yeghiazarian, Executive Artistic Director of San Francisco based Golden Thread Productions, was honored for her pioneering work producing Arab and Arab-American plays; New York’s Noor Theatre was represented by co-founder Maha Chehlaoui.

There were theatre groups from Sweden/Iraq, Poland, Rwanda, the United States, Chile, Lebanon, Tunisia, and elsewhere plus a number from Egypt. The festival selections were subtly but clearly critical of the status-quo. There were comedies, puppet plays, adaptations of classics, and serious new work.

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