Interview by : Noor EL Hooda Foad
CAIRO, Oct. 9 (SEE) – Dr. Intessar Abdel Fattah is an Egyptian artist who has a dream to make Egypt a peace destination, gathering for various people through the language of art.
He believes that there is a big difference between winning the praise of audience, and winning their hearts by inspiring their feelings, attitude as well as how they see themselves and others who are different.
Abdel Fattah fights bureaucracy to achieve his dream with the help of his wife, Mrs. Seham Ismail, the executive manager of ‘Samaa’ festival who also manages ‘Qobbat Elghoury innovative center’.
Speaking to ‘SEE’, both of them talked about their dream, and here is the full interview with the General Supervisor of ‘Ebda Qobbat Elghouri’ innovation center and Head of Central Administration of National Center for Theatre, Music and Popular Arts.
You have organized many annual festivals.. Which one do you consider the most important? And why?
Despite the success of festivals such as “Samaa” and “Altobool”, I consider “Moltaka ElAdyan” (Interfaith gathering.. Let’s pray together) my biggest dream. It was organized in Saint Catherine, after getting the official approval. Its first round was in 2015 with the participation of 5 countries. Its second round was held under the auspices of UNESCO with the participation of 11 countries.
The Fourth round of the festival was held at the religious complex, an inspiring place.. In particular, I chose the Coptic museum for its spiritual nature.
This, however, does not fulfill my dream, which is to turn this idea of “peace destination” into ‘peace vehicles’ touring all Egyptian governorates with its sacred spots before going global by reaching the Vatican. I know that this idea is similar to the Pope’s. It is to disseminate a message of peace and vitalize its human connotation in people’s hearts.
Do you expect the interfaith gathering to be a turning point in your ‘innovative’ career?
This project is not mine… but it’s a national project that has to do with Egypt’s soft power. I wish it to be organized under the auspices of President Abdel Fattah El- Sisi, which could turn it into a big event and perfectly portray Egypt in political, cultural, economic and tourism fields.
It would link it to bigger political and diplomatic goals as well as international art fields. This would boost Egypt’s economic and tourism sectors. ‘Interfaith gathering’ is not less important than projects of infrastructure. According to plans, it can play a great role in attracting visitors around the world.
Why did not you present this project to any businessman to finance it?
I have already suggested an idea to Engineer Naguib Sawiras under a title “A message of Peace”, but he refused without giving any justification. I never repeated the attempt with festivals ‘Samaa’, ‘Altobool’ and “Moltaka ElAdyan”.
What about festival ‘Altobool’ (drums) which you talked about its year-long preparation?
This festival was a real challenge as it was organized during the reign of the Muslim brotherhood. There were attempts to erase the traits of the Egyptian character. I was then managing the National Center for theatre, music and popular arts. I propose the idea of the festival to Dr. Saber Arab, then minister of culture, he welcomed the idea which implied the conversion of war drums into peace drums. The festival was held during a crucial time in Egypt full of turmoil.
The festival which I cooperated with Dr. Ashraf Elaraby, then minister of international cooperation who organized it, had 27 participating countries.
What do you remember about its first round?
I remember the audience and youth who made a ring around the art crew to protect them, as there was not enough security presence. That’s why that festival remains significant historically. We are preparing now to launch its second round.
Wait for the surprize. I am also preparing to organize a theatre show about the popular art of street vendors and their narrative. We hope to tour regions as a live theatre.
What do you say about “Samaa” which was concluded successfully?
This round of festival “Samaa” constituted the first national team of religious singers in the world. The festival has now a global eco, where 170 countries are taking part in it. We don’t know the reason for which the Association of Cultural Palaces had apologized to join, but we understand that the significance of the festival is how it could transcend the barriers and differences between people all over the world, and articulates it message: “Home is human, and the human is borderless home”. The audience continue to be the official sponsor of the festival.
“Samaa” seems to have a special place in your heart, doesn’t it?
Yes, that’s correct. It was the first achievement I made, in addition to the many success stories which lie behind it as well as the unforgettable situations that happened then.
For instance, Dr. Hossam Nassar, former manager of the foreign cultural relations, who was contacting the ambassadors directly to get their feedback. He spent hours in doing so. Visionary leadership contributes much to the country.
I also still remember the words of Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League. He said “We spend months and hours trying to gather nations at one stance and position, and here (in the festival) you could unite their feeling and hearts in 45 minutes only”.
So “Samaa” started it all. Would you tell us about your successful journey?
In 2007, I endeavored at first to establishing a global center for religious songs. I started with a band called “A message of Peace”. I worked hard to find good voices and talents from different Egyptian regions and towns: that is to spot real Egyptian identity.
I organized the “Sufi room” and “Alghouri monshed” (Alghouri religious singer) workshop. That was the first phase. I, then, informed the Coptic Pope Shenouda about the project, and he welcomed it and even wrote on the proposal “let’s go for it”.
I participated with a team from the church led by Antoun Ibrahim Ayyad, and another group of church singers. I formed a group that included Indonesian students at Al-Azhar University. These were all the seeds of “Samaa”… they successfully made a mix at religious singing which reflected the real inclusive environment of the Egyptian society.
How could this turn into an international event?
Our tours in Europe and China constituted the turn to an international festival. We visited San German church in France, the oldest church in Austria where our show was attended by around one thousand people. We also travelled to many churches in Germany. At first one of the officials of a certain church opposed the idea in fears from terrorism, but after we persuaded him, he delivered a speech expressing his pleasure and promised to promote Egyptian tourism. We also travelled to England and China.
These are intelligent and promising ideas. Do you think the innovation journey is easy?
Ideas never die, especially the innovative ones which come from the heart. It’s only the bureaucracy that might undermine certain international delegations. For instance, this may prevent others from participating in our events here. I assume the regulations and procedures should help and serve the innovation and not otherwise.
After conducting the interview with Abdel Fattah, we also posed questions to his spouse, Mrs. Seham, who preferred to talk about her husband.
What is the impact of all these journeys on the family?
My husband and I often could not see our children for weeks. We always get exhausted after performing in a festival since we exert great efforts, and this is despite the energy Abdel Fattah might seem to have when he stands on the stage.
Typically, the official papers are approved but the effort of organizing the workshops and rehearsals, in addition to the live shows, are all our personal endeavors.
How would you evaluate the ideas and projects of Dr. Abdel Fattah?
My husband aims to affect positively and change lives into better ones. He never thinks about the media. The results are the most important for him. Those are carved in the history and add to its soft power. When he was offered to do this job in a certain Arab country, he refused because he wanted it to be solely for Egypt. We are here exporting the principles of love, peace and tolerance to the rest of the world. All we lack is a clear strategy and big goal, for an art that originates from the heart can never be a job.
(Hymns in all languages of the world)