Lebanese security halt Egyptian theatre performance

Sayid Mahmoud, Saturday 25 Feb 2012

In a stroke of irony, Egyptian play, On the Importance of Being an Arab – previously performed in Egypt – is banned by Lebanon's National Security for criticising ousted Mubarak


Theatre director Ahmed El-Attar was left in a stupor when he discovered his play, On the Importance of Being an Arab, scheduled to be performed in Monnot Theatre, was postponed for undisclosed reasons. He later discovered Lebanese security stopped the performance.

“I got told by the management of the theatre that the monitoring body associated with Lebanon's National Security objected to parts of the script that criticise Mubarak’s regime and its figures,” El-Attar confirmed.

“What was even more surprising was that the same scenes were performed in Egypt without intervention or monitoring during Mubarak’s rule,” he added.

The play was presented during the festival for free theatre in the Rawabet space in Cairo in April 2010, eight months before Mubarak stepped down, under the title “Obama’s Tapes.”

The play is on a tour of 15 Arab and foreign states, representing Egyptian theatre under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Culture itself.

Before the show was banned in Beirut, El-Attar had presented it in Amman, Jordan in a downtown theatre with no interventions or monitoring. This only served to confuse Attar even more. He could not digest the idea that  “The space for freedom in Lebanon is being threatened to that extent that this play - that has nothing to do with Lebanese issues - was banned,” he said, astonished.

El-Attar recounts that he refused to change or remove certain scenes that Lebanese security had problems with because he insisted on showing the reality in Egypt. The scenes revealed how corrupt Egypt's media is and mentioned the name of the Minister of Media Anas El-Fekki (who is behind bars); ex-editor in chief of Al-Ahram newspaper, Osama Saraya and the ex-prime minister currently on trial, Atef Ebeid. The play also describes some celebrities known as "mercenaries," who act as mouthpieces for the ousted regime, including football players and actors.

The director synthesises a collage of telephone calls Attar actually had with friends, which comment on Egyptian and global issues. El-Attar was inspired by his friend, the activist and artist, Hassan Khan. He recorded over 20 hours of phone calls, whereon he built the play, which can be described as "live theatre," as there is element of improvisation. He presents it in five different versions.

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