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Monday, 10 May 2021

INTERVIEW: ElBeit - Two decades of showcasing the creative power of Egypt

Sawsan Mourad, editor of Al-Ahram’s art and décor magazine ElBeit, shares reflections on a 20-year long journey of encouraging Egypt's growing industries of art and design

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 30 Sep 2020
Sawsan Mourad
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It has been 20 years since the launch of the first issue of Al-Ahram’s monthly magazine ElBeit, which focuses on creative industries, especially interior design. Across these two decades ElBeit has documented the profound evolution of the interior design market in Egypt and its companion industries.

From 2000 to 2020, ElBeit itself evolved from being the first Egyptian platform to focus on interior design concepts and ideas to being a magazine that helps launch new talents.

“When we started, the idea of interior design seemed quite an exclusive thing for the well-off. Designers worked on cinemas or theatres, and a few homes. And many designers entered the field simply by interest, rather than upon academic merit,” recalls Sawsan Mourad, editor-in-chief of ElBeit.

“Today, we don’t just have a booming interior design industry in Egypt; we also have a wide range of specialities within the business, with designers working specifically on lighting, textiles and so on,” she added.

Mourad was on board from the beginning, first as an intern with the magazine, then as staff, and eventually as executive editor and finally editor-in-chief. Meanwhile, the magazine worked to map and encourage the evolution of design in Egypt.

At its beginning, ElBeit displayed beautiful and atypical homes to its readers. Mourad recalls that this, in and of itself, was "out of the ordinary”, because most Egyptians traditionally would not have wished to have their homes photographed and displayed in a magazine.

The putting together of an art and décor magazine in Egypt was not easy back then, not just because of a nascent industry and apprehension among many to show their homes in a magazine, but also because of the required techniques involved, in terms of photography and layout, to reach a level of professionalism in output.

Some years down the road, Mourad recalls, things started to change, allowing for a more defined presence of interior design and for décor photography. Along with that, she adds, there were growing companion industries of furniture and home décor accessories.

“The business was expanding and interior designing was being increasingly acknowledged as an essential job, not just for hotels and or cinemas, as it had been, but also for homes. This was the time when more and more people were showing an interest to live in homes over apartments. It was the time when many of the upscale housing compounds were being built,” she said.

“This expansion of construction opened the door for growing industries related to furniture, décor materials, lighting, and so on, and Egyptian interior designers were there to help make the best out of these made-in-Egypt products,” Mourad added.

ElBeit is dedicated to highlighting and promoting the “Made in Egypt" slogan. “In Egypt, we have incredible artisans and incredible talents that have been producing amazing work, and ElBeit has been keen to shed light on this wealth of creative power in Egypt,” she said.

Last year, ElBeit dedicated two successive issues to "The Master Artisans of Egypt" and “The Factories of Egypt."

Mourad said that she would not hesitate to promote any artisan or designer, provided that she or he has a real talent to display. Being a strong believer in the creative power Egypt has in its design sector, Mourad is convinced that Egypt is well placed be a hub for interior design and its companion industries.

In addition to promoting talent, ElBeit has also been highlighting and promoting new concepts arising among newer generations. “I think that it is important for us to acknowledge clearly changing tastes, and the tendency of younger people to make homes based on concepts such as minimalism, and actually the tendency of older people to de-clutter and to maximise the use of the spaces of their homes, and also to have gardens or to use their balconies as a space for gardening,” she said.

Consequently, ElBeit started to offer its readers a cataloguing service to help them find their way to places where they can acquire new pieces for their homes at a wide range of prices, or to access craftsmen or designers who can help in redoing homes, whether fully or partially.

And with the growing space of information technology, Mourad said, ElBeit is also reaching out to its readers with ideas and information through social media. “We are planning to expand there because obviously there is growing demand and bigger options for communication,” she said.

ElBeit is also launching initiatives to connect homes to the city. “We have fascinating cities and I think it is important for all of us to really see through these cities, to get inspiration for our homes,” she argued.

In 2018, ElBeit launched its “Cairo 18” initiative that offered readers an alternative view of the beauty of many quarters of the city, and to engage them in thinking of the future of Cairo and the New Administrative Capital. In 2019, ElBeit dedicated an issue to reflection on the association of the city and its homes to the Nile.

“The Nile is not just an incredible source of inspiration for creators, it is also a central segment of the consciousness of the people who live in the city. Our taste is very much impacted by the place in which we live — the place we call home,” Mourad said.

Meanwhile, Mourad has been keen on opening for readers of ElBeit a window on the diversity of cultures and concepts of art and design from all over the world. With glimpses from different countries, she said, ElBeit has been trying to bring the world to its readers in the comfort of their reading areas at home.

Bringing to readers trends and approaches from around the world, Mourad argued, is not just about sharing what is beautiful but also introducing what is more functional, and “indeed this is an important matter for those us committed to being ecologically friendly.”

During the month of September, ElBeit dedicated an issue to reflect on art, design and creativity in Sweden, a country known for its modern and relatively minimalist furniture, and with a forward-looking design outlook.

In the hope of expanding its outreach, Mourad said, ElBeit has for the first time included an insert of selected articles from the September issue produced in English.

“It was always my idea that ElBeit is a venue to display Egyptian creativity. Not just for local consumption, but also for international attention. We are starting something in this regard that I am keen to expand on,” she said.


*In cooperation with ElBeit, Ahram Online is planning to run selected articles from the September issue and on monthly basis going forward. 

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