INTERVIEW: Year of the Mediterranean: Director of Italian Cultural Institute in Egypt on 2018 plan for cultural engagement
Dina Ezzat, , Thursday 8 Mar 2018

Paolo Sabbatini, the director of the Italian Cultural Institute and the Cultural Counsellor of the Italian Embassy in Cairo, is promising a fruitful year of cooperation between Italy and Egypt with “a special budget and extraordinary programmes.”

This special plan, Sabbatini explains, is part of a programme by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to dedicate 2018 to celebrating the culture of the Mediterranean.

“Italy has always perceived itself as part of the heart of the Mediterranean, and we have always dedicated a lot of attention to the countries around the Mediterranean; this year we are going to reach out even more with plans of cooperation for art and science,” Sabbatini said.

He added that Egypt, an important Mediterranean partner for Italy, is set to receive considerable attention as part of this special plan for 2018, which is designed to “essentially give special attention to the countries of the southern Mediterranean.”

According to Sabbatini, this means more scholarships for university students who wish to study at leading Italian universities.

“We are not only talking about learning the Italian language; we are also talking about degrees in art and science, which have already been attracting Egyptian students for the several years now,” he explained.

Sabbatini says that around 100 scholarships should be distributed throughout the year among Egyptian students who are opting for graduate and post graduate degrees.

Along with the scholarships, Sabbatini explained, there will be an extensive programme of cultural exchange.

“We are talking about the exchange of musicians, opera singers and so on; this will not be just about Cairo and Rome, but also other major cities across our two countries,” he said.

In Egypt, the focus would expand beyond the traditional zones of Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor to include the cities along the Suez Canal, “a place where many Italians had lived in the past two centuries and also a zone of growing attention and interest to the Egyptian government.”

“Of course we already have a vibrant programme of cultural exchange, but this year we will see more activities for sure,” Sabbatini said.

Sabbatini is also promising a more active translation programme for this year. The Italian government has already been allocating resources to publish Italian literature in Arabic; both the classics and contemporary titles.

However, for this year, Sabbatini is hoping to at least initiate the translation of some more new titles that should be made available in big city bookstores.

Having served for 12 years as the Italian Cultural Counsellor in China, Sabattini has a cultivated an interest in the connection between the cultures of Egypt, Italy and China. Today, he is committed to reminding us of what brings these three old cultures together through a set of activities including film screenings, music shows and a calligraphy exhibition.

Also, as part of the year of the Mediterranean, Sabbatini is planning a special gathering for all Italian archaeological missions that have worked around the Mediterranean to meet in a conference that would focus on the shared elements of Mediterranean culture as reflected through the excavations by these missions.

“I think we will probably have this one in December, towards the end of the year of the Mediterranean,” Sabbatini said.

Meanwhile, Sabbatini said that he would make sure this year that the Italian Cultural Institute, which was first established in Egypt in the late 19th century, would engage in more active outreach, not just to those who wish to learn or improve their Italian, but also to those who wish to learn about the diverse and rich Italian culture, watch the country’s movies, get acquainted with its music and read its literature.

Sabbatini is also considering holding an event to celebrate the Italian cultural presence in Egypt throughout the past two centuries.

“The Italians of Egypt lived all across the country and have made so many contributions; some older people are still here and some young couples have chosen to come live in Egypt during the past years; my hope is that we will be able to reflect on this community and on the Italian schools and cultural centres in Egypt,” he said.

Late last month, Sabbatini received the honorary title of artistic advisor to the Cairo Opera House.

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