The triumph of words: 15th annual Sawiris Cultural Awards

Nahed Nasr , Wednesday 15 Jan 2020


The 15th annual Sawiris Cultural Awards ceremony took place last Friday at the Cairo Opera House, and 12 winners were announced. The ceremony was hosted by renowned Egyptian actress  Sawsan Badr, a guest of honour, in the presence of intellectuals and celebrities including award founder businessman Samih Sawiris and the board of trustees.

This year the competition received a total of 719 including 181 novels and short story collections in the Senior Writers section, 219 scenarios, 102 plays and 36 works of literary criticism. According to board trustee Mohammed Abu El Ghar, only two screenplays were submitted to the Senior Writers section as a result of changes in the competition rules, and so the award was withheld.

In his speech  Abu El Ghar emphasized the importance of freedom of creativity as an essential element for artistic and cultural development: “Otherwise art loses its value”.  He also mentioned the very limited  number of Egyptian feature films produced in 2019, when only one documentary film participated in the main competition of the Cairo International Film Festival and no Egyptian films participated in El Gouna Film Festival at all.

“Egypt was a pioneer in the film industry of the region,” he said, regretting the present state of the industry. “Egyptian soft power in every artistic field is threatened unless it enjoys an  unlimited freedom of creativity. Even in the most critical times in history Egyptian artists proved to have a power capable of astonishing the entire world. This award seeks to support freedom in arts and literature, and to open further horizons for the emerging artists.”

The award winner of the literary criticism competition was the prominent writer Mohamed Shoair for his book Sons of Gebelawi: Biography of the Forbidden Novel (Al-Ain). According to the jury of the competition, headed by Nabil Abdel Fattah, the book is a quality historical and literary work research supported by rich resources. According to the jury statement, “It is an untraditional work of literary criticism, with its narrative style which took the form of a thrilling journalistic piece. Such a style is needed to approach a wider audience and to build bridges with the ordinary readers.”

In the drama competition the winner was Michael Wagih Rizk for his work Dr Stockman and Mr Kassem, followed by Ahmed Abu Khaniger for his work Night Lanterns. The jury of the competition headed by Dr Hoda Wasfy described Rizk’s work as a beautifully written text in which reality and imagination are expertly merged. “It takes place in one location over the duration of a few hours with a balanced interaction between features from the international and the Egyptian contemporary theater.” A short monologue from the play was performed on stage by actor Tony Maher.

As for Abu Khaniger’s work, the jury found it “representative of a human vision with diverse characters, simple but fluent dialogue in a philosophical form that full of symbols that go beyond time and place.”

The winner of the scenario competition is the emerging screenwriter Mohammed El Masry for his work And he goes for the wayward, which the jury headed by the prominent screenwriter and director Beshir El Dik, found “innovative in terms of its idea, treatment, and its adventurous style”.

The winner of the best novel award for an emerging writer is Ahmed Awny for Awards for Champions (Al Mahrousa). The jury headed by the prominent writer Ibrahim Abdel Meguid described the novel as “ine of the best literary pieces written about the 25 January revolution. It goes beyond documenting to self reviewing without political prejudgment”.

The second award for best novel by an emerging writer was shared by Mohamed Aballah Sami for The Embabi Pathway (Al Mahrousa) and Nahla Karam for The Back Seat (Al-Masriya Al-Lubnaniya).

The first award of the short story competition for an emerging writer went to Mustafa Zaky for The Christ of Bab Zuweila (Al Ain). According to the jury of the competition the book indirectly  evokes questions in readers’ minds. The second award was shared by Muhammad Othman Al-Fandi for Abdo Paradiso Films (Al Ain) and Heba Khamis for Zaar (General Egyptian Book Organisation).

The winner of the best novel award for a senior writer went to Adel Esmat for his novel The Commandments (Al Kotob Khan). According to the jury of the competition headed by Dr Hoda Abaza, “The novel is a work of generations which is well written merging traditional and contemporary elements. It presents a panoramic view of the Egyptian countryside that goes beyond time and place.” A short scene based on The Commandments was screened during the ceremony.

The winner of the short story award for a senior writer was Reda Al Bahat for Winter Tales (Badael). According to the jury statement “the work praises the value of life with an expert use of language and an imagined world inspired by the author’s own life”.   

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 January 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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