Cairo | Staging a Revolution

A theatre production challenges murky rules of censorship in Egypt

01 December 2011
In a scene from Lessons in Revolting, choreographer Karima Mansour steps on the chest of actor Ruud Gielens as they play the characters of the revolution and its nemesis, respectively.
COURTESY ADHAM BAKRY
In a scene from Lessons in Revolting, choreographer Karima Mansour steps on the chest of actor Ruud Gielens as they play the characters of the revolution and its nemesis, respectively.
COURTESY ADHAM BAKRY

A MAN NAILS POSTERS titled ‘Lessons in Revolting’ on a wall by the entrance to Rawabet, a small theatre in downtown Cairo. The hammering rings like gunshots and, in the sweaty stillness inside the theatre, I am deceived. It is a summer afternoon in August, the month of Ramadan, and I’m there to see a final   dress rehearsal.

Days of fasting have subdued the nervous energy in the city. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has warned against demonstrations during the holy month.  Still, action ensues after the evening iftars. Angry protestors burn the Israeli flag, challenging the peace between Israel and Egypt that had been cemented by former president Hosni Mubarak. Meanwhile, the heat and the revolution keep tourists away.

Speaking loudly into the darkened room of the theatre, Aly Sobhy, an actor and activist, describes his arrest after the military dispersed a demonstration in March. As he talks, he juggles three balls, beautiful in their formation but threatening to fall apart like the social groups that came together in the name of the revolution. Sobhy mocks the military’s pronouncement that Egyptians should be grateful they did not face a violent backlash. Several moments after he exits the stage, Aida Elkashef, a filmmaker, enters and recalls the story of 14 army officers joining their sit-in during a protest in April, only to have the sit-in broken up by the military.

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    Betwa Sharma is a correspondent based in New York. She writes on international politics, climate change and art. Her work has appeared in several publications in the US and India.

    Keywords: military Cairo theatre Egypt censorship revolt activist regime revolution
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