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S-Quark. Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby.
Articles, Current Issue, Volume 9

The Cairo International Festival of Experimental and Contemporary Theatre 2018

The Cairo International Festival of Experimental and Contemporary Theatre 2018
By Marvin Carlson
Arab Stages, Volume 9 (Fall, 2018) 
©2018 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

The Cairo Festival for Experimental Theatre (CIFET) is one of the most important and longest established in the Arab world. The 2018 Festival proudly hailed itself as the twenty-fifth, claiming a lineage of which the organizers can be rightly proud but which has not been achieved without considerable sacrifice, difficulty and determination on the part of the Egyptian artistic community. The CIFET was established in 1988 by the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, who expressed its mission in inspiring if not always totally fulfilled words: “to deepen the idea of dialogue and of accepting the other and to create a space that allows for the free play of passions and the imagination.“ While this high vision was not always fully achieved, the Festival operated for twenty-two sessions, up until 2010, and established itself among the international leaders of such gatherings. Martha Coigny, long-time president of the International Theatre Institute who served for several times on the CIFET international selection committee, called the Festival “a logical, necessary, enormous miracle,” that “transformed theatre in the Arab world and beyond” and “gave artists a sense of belonging to a world wider than the confinements of the boundaries of their own countries.”

Festival opening. Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby.

With the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011, the CIFET, like many of the institutions established under that regime, disappeared, and an event of this sort would have been unthinkable in the turbulent years which followed. In 2014, however, with the return of stability to the nation, the theatre community, under the leadership of Gaber Asfour, the new Minister of Culture, and their many supporters elsewhere in the Arab world and beyond, began to appeal to the new regime for a re-establishment of this important cultural event. Negotiations were long delayed over the name, the new regime being opposed openly to its associations with the Mubarak era and much less openly to the festival’s association with freedom of artistic expression. At last a compromise was reached by the addition of a new word to the title, “Contemporary” and by official acknowledgement that this was a continuation, but a “revised” one, of the original festival. The phrase “free play of passions and the imagination” disappeared from the goals, to be replaced by the rather more innocuous “to broaden the space for mutual understanding” and to “introduce the latest developments in the international theatre scene to Egyptian and Arab audiences.” The revised CIFCET was officially established by the Minister in November of 2014, with an executive board consisting of Hazem Azmi, Dina Amin, Nasser Abdel-Moneim and Abul-Ela Al-Salamoni, headed by Sameh Mahran.

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