The ten-day Dawayer Cultural Festival in Downtown Cairo brought “a cool breeze” to a time of year which used to be dull and colourless, said the Kuwaiti novelist Bothayna Al-Essa. Al-Essa, who ran a three-day creative writing course during the event, added that she hoped the festival becomes an annual event.
More than a dozen well-known writers, scriptwriters, cultural scholars and other figures took part in the festival, which was organised by the Diwan and Tanmia bookstores. Twenty-five Arab and Egyptian publishing houses also participated, showing off their latest books in an exhibition that also featured 3,000 secondhand books.
During a tour of the festival, Ahmad Al-Qarmalawi, a novelist and the director of publishing at Diwan Bookstore, told Al-Fanar Media that the idea was to “create movement” in a period usually devoid of cultural events and give young people something to do.
“The main energy of the culture audience is young people and university students, who are looking at this time of the summer vacation for activities,” said Al-Qarmalawi.
Historic Venue in Downtown Cairo
The Dawayer Cultural Festival’s organisers had thought about holding a book fair, but settled on the idea of an integrated festival involving publishing houses and the cultural audience in Egypt and the Arab world, especially in historic Downtown Cairo, which already hosts cinema, contemporary dance, and arts events.
“The main energy of the culture audience is young people and university students, who are looking at this time of the summer vacation for activities.”Ahmad Al-Qarmalawi, director of publishing at Diwan bookstore and one of the festival’s organisers
“Umm Kulthum sang here,” Khaled Lotfy, founder and director of the Tanmia Bookstores and publishing house, said as he launched the festival’s first session in Cinema Radio. The venue is one of Cairo’s most prominent theatres. Dating back to 1930, its famous stage has attracted many big names of Egyptian art and culture.
Lotfy, who received the International Publishers Association’s 2019 Prix Voltaire, told Al-Fanar Media that the festival’s organisers had tried to create an event that would “invigorate the spirit of Downtown Cairo”, which is widely known for its history and relationship with Arab intellectuals.
During the festival, which ended on July 15, dozens of titles from Egyptian and Arab publishing houses filled Cinema Radio’s foyer, while free seminars, writing workshops, and discussions with authors took place inside the theatre and other spaces.
Over the past five years Cinema Radio has been transformed into a cultural complex featuring cultural, artistic, and and entertainment activities as part of a wider renewal project that is attracting tourists to Khedivial Cairo, as the historic, protected area is known.
Bothayna Al-Essa, whose tenth novel, “Blind Sinbad”, was published in 2021, told Al-Fanar Media that the Dawayer Cultural Festival had created a cultural buzz. “This effort, the quality of the guests, and the titles of the events all indicate an attempt to create a creative and cultural incubator,” she said.
Another participant, the Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada, whose novel “The Drowning” won an award from the Arab World Institute in Paris last year, said he too hoped the festival would become an annual fixture.
Book Signing Clamour
The Iraqi novelist, poet and scholar Sinan Antoon appeared on a panel that discussed his latest novel, “Khuzama” (“Lavender”), and the number of young people clamouring afterward to get a signed copy was remarkable.
One of them, 24-year-old Marwa Alaa, told Al-Fanar Media she had previously read Antoon’s “The Pomegranate Alone”. “It was one of the most inspiring literary works, and my gateway to Iraqi culture,” she said.
Alaa and friends attended festival events for three consecutive days. “For the first time, we have been able to meet so many of our favourite writers in one place,” she said.
Several prominent Egyptian writers took part in a panel called “Passion for Writing”. They included Ibrahim Abdel Maguid, Ezzat El-Kamhawi, Abla El-Ruwaini, and Hamdy El-Gazzar.
“The Dawayer Cutural Festival has brought a cool breeze to a time of year that used to be dull and colourless.”Bothayna Al-Essa, a Kuwaiti novelist who led a workshop during the festival
Another panel, called “Self-Writing”, featured the Egyptian writer and poet Iman Mersal, the novelist Miral al-Tahawy, and the writer Mohammed Abdel Nabi, while the “Thousand and One Nights” panel featured the novelists Mansoura Ez-Eldin and Sinan Antoon.
In other events the psychiatrist Nabil Elkot held an open dialogue on mental health, and the screenwriter Mohamed Hisham Abia discussed his trade.
The Egyptian actress Menna Shalabi attended the opening ceremony, at which the festival honoured her as “one of the most accomplished female actresses of her generation who contributed to cinematic and television productions based on literary works.”
Shalabi expressed her happiness at being honoured by a festival that celebrates writing. She said she considered herself lucky because to have appeared in films based on works by famous writers like the Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, Bahaa Taher, and Ahmed Mourad.
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