On Thursday afternoon 6 January, the gates of El Sawy Culturewheel opened and slowly people started filling the River Hall. Television cameramen began setting out their equipment, while others started filming the entrance of the hall, where the organisers of the event displayed a number of articles on the latest terrorist attack on Copts in Alexandria. There were lists and pictures of the victims on a black-drop and underneath stood a table covered with a black cloth, and large bowls of candles for attendees to light and pray.
People walked through the entrance and began to take their seats. Before long there were a large crowd. Women from Al Mawred Al Thaqafy distributed black ribbons to the audience and they tied them around their arms, heads and wrists as a sign of mourning.
“ The Arts are the best medium to express our feelings of this dreadful event,” says Mohamed El Sawy, founder of El Sawy Culturewheel.
God’s mercy and guidance
Thirty minutes past the hour, Salib Fawzy and Bassem Wadee, church-choir singers and members of Warsha Masraheya (Theatre Workshop), sang a Coptic hymn “Ya Rab Irham” (God Bless), in both Arabic and Coptic, calling for God’s mercy and guidance. It also carries a special prayer against those who torture Christians and stand against the church.
Following the special prayers, Egyptian writer, Bahaa Taher took to the stage to share his thoughts and feelings about the distinction among Muslims and Christians that has divided the country in the last 20 years. He also highlighted the importance of uniting the public.
Taher is famous for his novel entitled Khalty Safia wel Deir (Aunty Safia and the Cathedral). He wrote about the relationship among the Muslim and Coptic members of a small village in Egypt, highlighting the harmony among the residents in a very humorous way. Taher took the opportunity of this event to read a chapter from the book. He wanted to illustrate to the audience how Egypt used to be in the past. “This is how Muslims and Copts co-existed harmoniously; no segregation and no differentiation,” he said.
The right of freedom
Among other key speakers was the Egyptian film producer and scriptwriter Mohamed El Adl, who spoke firmly and briefly but to the point. He pinpointed the threat we face today because of social division. “Keep your faith in your heart and not as a facade,” he said. “There is no need for the public display of religious identity.” He also called for the right of freedom for Coptic Christians. “I ask the government to remove our religious identity from our national identification cards,” he declared.
Another two members of Egypt’s movie business, actors Khaled Abu El Naga and Olfat Imam made a surprise appearance, after being invited to participate. As a Muslim Imam felt apologetic and was stunned at how the community had divided over the years. She called for tolerance, appreciation, solidarity and unity.
The first civilisation
Abu El Naga talked about his visit to the victims and their families. “Family members of my colleagues in my latest film Microphone were unfortunately affected,” he announced. He called for unity and said, “Remember my follow Egyptians, our country existed before religion had been created. We were the first civilisation to consider the idea of a great creator and called for his sole divinity.”
Other poets, writers and artists shared their thoughts and feelings, including Sahar El Mogi, Khaled El Khameesy, and Samia Shahin (on behalf of the poet Bahaa Shahin).
To end this patriotic night there was another surprise performance by Eskenderella’s lead singer Hazem Shahin. along with poet Amin Haddad. They performed some of Haddad’s nationalistic songs, shedding light on the political and economic status of Egypt today.
Goosebumps spread across the hall when Shahin ended the evening with the Egyptian national anthem, Belady Belady (My Nation) written and composed by Sayed Darweesh. The second Shahin started playing the song, the entire audience stood still to demonstrate their respect.
Among the 18 foundations that participated in “We are all Egyptians” were Culture Resource Al Mawred Al Thaqafy, El Sawy Culturewheel, Townhouse Gallery, the Egyptian Centre for Culture and Arts (Makan), Art Loa, Darb1718, Mastaba Centre for Music, CIC, Independent Filmmakers for Production and Distribution, Studio Emad Eddin, Zero Film Production, Orient Art Production Division, El Warsha (workshop) Band, Al Rihla Cultural Foundation, Godran Institution for Arts, the Crossroads of Alexandria’s Contemporary Arts, Society Eskenderella for Cultures and Arts, Alexandria Atelier, the Association of Independent Egyptian Artists, and Fayyoum Centre for Art.