24 - 30 June 1999
Issue No. 435
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Features Interview Travel Sports Time Out Chronicles People Cartoons Letters
Pack of CardsBy Madame Sosostris
* This past week seemed to be one dedicated entirely to Professor Edward Said. You know how it is, when someone as famous visits, we all want to see and hear him; but of course there were just a few among the panting throngs who were selected to attend all the venues held in his honour. As you may well have guessed, of course, I did not miss a single instant.
Now I am sure that you are dying to know every detail of Said's schedule, and I feel that I should not keep you waiting any longer. On Wednesday, there was a special dinner at the Grill Room of the Semiramis Intercontinental, hosted by Dr John Gerhart, the new president of the American University in Cairo, and his charming wife. The event was attended by a large number of important personalities, representing most of the intellectual currents in Egypt. To name only a few of those I spotted in the crowd, there were Mohamed Hassanein Heikal and his lovely wife Hedayat, as well as pillars of AUC's English and comparative literature department, such as Ferial Ghazoul, and of the department of Arabic Studies, such as Samia Mehrez. Unfortunately, you know how it is at these formal affairs, I hardly had the chance to exchange a few words with Said and his charming wife Mariam, but I thought that I would make up for it with a vengeance on the following day, which was a Thursday.
From Top: Saad El-Din, Said, Guindy; Shukrallah, Said, Anis, Gerhart; Makram-Ebeid, Qandil, Abdel-Moneim Said; El-Alim; Ghazoul, Ghitani and daughter; Bahaaeddin, Elmessiri; Sobhi; Hassan, Mariam Said; Ghazaleh, Nkrumah; El-Muallim, Mona Anis; Youssef Chahine and producer Marianne Khouri with Edward Said
As you no doubt know if you have youngsters attending AUC, that was Commencement Day, and the students who had the honour of graduating during the university's 76th year in action donned their caps and gowns and shed a few tears as they prepared to graduate from this reputable institution. Impatiently awaited, the ceremony was a first for Gerhart as president of AUC, and was attended by the chairman of the board of trustees Paul Hanon. It took place, as it has every year since the Ewart Memorial Hall became far too small for the hordes of graduating students and their emotional friends and families, at the Cairo International Conference Centre. Just fancy, the students graduating last Thursday were the very last to do so this century. Sharing this honour were Radwa Mohamed Noureddin Hassan, who is Minister of Defence Field-Marshall Mohamed Tantawi's niece, Sarah Nour El-Sherif (you guessed it, she is indeed Nour El-Sherif's daughter), Mariam Ezzat Abu Ouf (another famous actor's daughter), Ahmed El-Degwi, Heba Ali El-Nasharti, Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel, Sherin Gamaleddin Abdel-Aziz, and Maha Abdel-Moneim, who is both the daughter of famous hair stylist Mohamed El-Soghayar and actor Ahmed El-Saqqa's bride-to-be. All in all, there were 338 young men and women awarded a bachelor's degree -- and to mark the momentous date, who better than Edward Said to deliver the keynote address (of which you can read the abridged text on p. 15)? Needless to say, he did such a marvellous job that one could have used a knife to slice through the intellectual energy his words generated in the minds of all these young people, entrusted with the honour -- and difficult task -- of ushering in the third millennium. I bet they felt like true pioneers, as they watched Professor Said and Senator Mark Hatfield, whose distinguished careers are so inspiring, receive honorary doctorates.
There was also someone else at this historic commencement, someone who we ordinarily associate with all things French and artistic: Youssef Chahine watched as his great friend Edward received his honorary degree. Did you know that the professor features prominently in Chahine's new film, Al-Akhar (The Other)? I strongly suggest that as soon as the film comes to town you go and see it. You might be in for a surprise. I must tell you that I was so completely taken by the sight of the new bachelors' caps flying through the air that I completely forgot to follow Said when he left the conference centre. By the time I reached the door, he had disappeared.
Friday, however, was the day slated for the dinner hosted by Mr and Mrs Heikal at the Cairo Capital Club, one of the most glamourous venues in Cairo at the moment. Foreign Minister Amr Moussa was keen to attend the reception though he had to catch a plane in the early hours of the morning. The same thick crowd was gathered around Professor Said, and I was left with the (non-negligible) pleasure of sampling the good food and admire the breathtaking view. Still, my day will come, I told myself, as I dug heartily into the mixed vegetables.
And come it did, finally, on the Saturday: Al-Ahram Weekly had organised a cocktail party in honour of Said, who is, among other things, one of our most distinguished regular contributors. Edward and Mariam had just been to a private screening of Al-Akhar and had liked it a lot. This of course was my cue and we were soon discussing Youssef Chahine's films, earliest and latest, comparing the old with the new. From there we moved to every other topic possible. There were veritable throngs at this event, among whom I spotted Al-Ahram Weekly's regular political commentator Mohamed Sid-Ahmed and his distinguished wife Maysa; bastion of the Cairene intellectual scene Mahmoud Amin El-Alim; media luminary Hamdi Qandil; UN audio-visual expert Ayman El-Amir; Ibrahim El-Muallim, head of Al-Shurouq publishing; Abdel-Moneim Said, head of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies; and Abdel-Wahab El-Messiri, the well-known intellectual, who has recently published a much-admired Encyclopaedia of Zionism. I also glimpsed AUC President Gerhart, writer Gamal El-Ghitani and his sweet daughter, professor of mathematics Abdel-Azim Anis, Ferial Ghazoul, and the dynamic former MP Mona Makram Ebeid, as well as renowned lawyer and writer Ziad Bahaeddin. From the Weekly family, there was our own Editor-in-Chief Hosny Guindy, Managing Editor Hani Shukrallah, Assistant Chief Editor Mona Anis; and Layout Editor Samir Sobhi.
Among my other colleagues, there to host our dear guests, were columnist and writer Fayza Hassan (whose satirical pieces, I find, compare rather unfavourably to my own inimitable wit); music critic David Blake, who became involved in a great discussion with Professor Said (for, as the ill-informed among you may not know, the professor is also an eminent musicologist); our own columnist Dr Mursi Saad El-Din; our features editor, the vivacious Pascale Ghazaleh; charming Peter Snowdon, his stiff upper lip camouflaged by a lush moustache; the jovial foreign editor, Gamal Nkrumah, in one of his trademark ties; and the very enchanting Nur Elmessiri, writer and culture page contributor. All those who had enjoyed the company of Edward and Mariam Said were happy to spend a relaxed couple of hours a once again at the Cairo Capital Club before saying good-bye. Somehow, however, we all felt that they would be back quite soon.
Top: President's cup winners Irene Bishai and Amir Shenouda
Bottom: Nader Shenouda, winner of the Parents Association cup