Controversy over Israeli ambassador's attendance of Layla Min Alf Layla

Ahram Online , Sunday 9 Oct 2016

The director of Egypt’s National Theatre denied rumours that he personally welcomed the ambassador

Layla Min Alf Layla
Layla Min Alf Layla, a play by Egyptian actor Yehia Al-Fakharani (Photo: Al-Sayed Abdel-Qader / Ahram)

Controversy recently erupted over news that Israel’s ambassador to Egypt attended a performance on Thursday of Layla Min Alf Layla (One of a Thousand Nights), a theatre production starring Egyptian actor Yehia El-Fakharany at Egypt’s National Theatre.

Youssef Ismail, director of Egypt’s National Theatre, confirmed that the ambassador was among the play’s audience, adding that “the ambassador headed to the ticket booth upon his arrival to the theatre, and paid for the tickets himself,” according to a press release issued by the Artistic House for Theatre, one of the core artistic bodies operating under Egypt's Ministry of Culture.

Ismail also denied rumours that he personally welcomed the ambassador, asserting that no special treatment was granted to the ambassador and stressing that “the theatre’s administration completely ignored his presence.”

Thursday’s performance coincided with the 43rd anniversary of Egypt's 6 October War with Israel.

"Right after the performance, I congratulated the audience and the Egyptian people as a whole on the occasion of the war anniversary, which was met with warm applause from the audience,” Ismail said.

Ismail also stated that the play’s crew thought of cancelling the show for the night upon being informed of the Israeli ambassador’s presence, but “they found it necessary to respect the audience members who had already arrived, and also wanted to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the 6October victory [with the audience].”

Speaking to Al-Ahram Arabic news website, Ismail said that the ambassador had previously attended shows as part of the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre, adding that “there is no law that prohibits the Israeli ambassador’s attendance of cultural events.”

Ismail added "I have no explanation to give" for the ambassador's interest in Cairo’s cultural events, "except perhaps that Layla Min Alf Layla is one of the most successful theatre performances staged lately, which triggers [people’s] interest in attending the performance.”

Layla Min Alf Layla is directed by Mohsen Helmi and stars Egyptian actress Heba Magdy, singer Mohamed Mohsen, actor Lotfy Labib as well as Diaa Abdelkhalek, Salma Gharib and the National Theatre's artists.

The production premiered on 13 August 2015 and grossed EGP 1 million by October 2015.  It commenced its second season on 7 July. 

The performance is based on the poetry of late Egyptian poet ‪Bayram El-Tunsi, with music by late Egyptian composer Ahmed Sedki. 

The production will continue to be staged at Cairo’s National Theatre until the end of October, before it travels to Bayram El-Tonsi Theatre in Alexandria where it will be staged between 24 November and 10 January. 

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