Alaa Abdel-Aziz, playwright, former president of Cairo Int'l Fest for Experimental Theatre, dies

Ati Metwaly , Sunday 4 Feb 2024

Egypt's renowned theatre academic and former president of Cairo Int'l Festival for Experimental Theatre (CIFET) died on Sunday.

Alaa Abdel Aziz Suleiman
Alaa Abdel Aziz Suleiman (Photo: Alaa Suleiman Fb Page)

Known also as Alaa Abdel-Aziz Suleiman, the theatre academic was the president of the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre in its 27th edition, held in 2020.

Things were difficult for the festival and any cultural activity due to the lockdown accompanying the Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, Abdel-Aziz limited the festival to showcasing local live performances by Egyptian troupes and presenting international plays through online platforms. During that edition, Abdel-Aziz restored the festival's competitive character, which had been absent in CIFET's editions between 2016 and 2019 due to financial struggles.

Furthermore, the festival's name was changed post-revolution from CIFET to Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre (CIFCET), but Abdel-Aziz restored its original name as the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre (CIFET).

Before the CIFET, however, Abdel-Aziz presided over a short-lived Alexandria Theatre Festival for Specialised Institutes and Colleges, whose first edition took place in 2019. The festival focused on youth and students of many Egyptian and regional theatre institutes, hoping to expand to international academies in the following years.

Besides his commitment to managing the theatre festival, Abdel-Aziz established himself as one of the significant figures in Egypt's theatre academia. 

He received his PhD at The Royal Holloway, UK, before returning to Egypt, where he became a drama professor at the High Institute of Theatrical Arts.

Abdel-Aziz was also a chief editor of a literature series published by The Cultural Egyptian Institute and a board member of The Theatre High Council in Egypt. 

He authored several plays and novels, including Untold Tale by Scheherazade (2005), which was translated into English. The play was performed at one of the Egyptian theatres and directed by Hossam El-Shazly.

Painting in the Forbidden is another play by Abdel-Aziz that has also been translated into English by researchers at the Abu Dhabi branch of the NewYork University.

In 2019, Abdel-Aziz's play The Green Salt was staged by the Palestinian National Theatre El-Hakawat with mise-en-scene by Kamel Elbasha. In the programme notes accompanying the performance, Abdel-Aziz wrote: "I dedicate this play to the victims of the insanity of wars in the cities that used to be safe and sound." 

His other dramatic works include, among others, Waiting for Gouda and Al Waleema (The Banquet), all of which were staged at theatres operating under Egypt's culture ministry or the Higher Authority of Cultural Palaces. 

Following the news of his passing, the theatrical community expressed its sorrow on social media. In his condolences, Ashraf Zaki, head of the Actors Syndicate, referred to Abdel-Aziz as a "noble man," a quality that characterised him throughout the decades.

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