13 - 19 June 2002
Issue No.590
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By Madame Sosostris

Whenever I hear news of Egypt exporting some of its vast store of knowledge abroad, I get so excited, dears, that I can hardly contain myself. That's exactly how I felt this week, my sweets, when my dear friend Samir Farag, the energetic head of the Cairo Opera House, told me all about the arrangement that has been worked out between the Opera and the Syrian Ministry of Culture, which is proceeding with a plan to build an opera of its own.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni recently approved the plan, and

Farag just held three intensive days of discussions with Syrian Culture Minister Nagwa Qassab, to work out the details. It seems Egyptian technicians, as well as artistic and management cadres, including experts in the fields of sound and light engineering, theatre operations and many other skill-sets, will be helping Syria out as it develops its very own showcase of the operatic arts. The Syrian Opera House is set to be inaugurated in October and its first season will include shows by the Cairo Opera Ballet as well as repertoires to be performed by both Egyptian and Syrian artists. There will also be Egyptian performances of Aida and Tosca, as well as an exchange of soloists from the symphony orchestra. See you in Damascus, dears!

It's World Cup month, my sweets, a fact that has found its way even to my rarefied ears! And at its best, they tell me, football is a universal language, reaching across borders and bringing people together. So how fitting it was that British Ambassador John Sawers should invite the diplomats of Argentina and England, and Egyptian friends, to the British Residency in Garden City last Friday to enjoy the England-Argentina game together. The ambassador of Argentina, Osvaldo Santiago Pascual, his family, and colleagues, all joined in the festivities, showing their knowledge with some daring predictions! A delicious barbecue got everyone in the mood, while the vibrant flags and face paintings of the more dedicated supporters reminded us all of what was at stake. In the end, England emerged with the honours, but after such a good-natured occasion, the true winners, surely, were the spirit of friendship -- and the beautiful game itself.

Oh, how I love good news on a hot summer night! At the garden of the German Embassy in Cairo, I recently attended a reception held in honour of Gaballa Ali Gaballa, the former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities who is now a senior consultant at the Ministry of Culture. Gaballa was awarded the Knight Commander Cross of the German Order of Merit by the German ambassador in Egypt, Baron Paul Von Maltzahn. The award is an acknowledgment of Gaballa's devotion in promoting cultural exchange between Egypt and Germany in the field of archaeology. A bevy of luminaries and intellectuals attended the celebration, among whom were Minister of Local Development Mustafa Abdel-Qader, former Minister of Environment Nadia Makram Ebeid, Mustafa El-Fiqi, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee at the People's Assembly, as well as the current secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, Al-Ahram political analyst Salama Ahmed Salama, and gifted actor Mahmoud Hemeida.

On a particularly hot afternoon one likes no better than to be in the presence of people who -- no matter how serious their work may be -- seem to always exude a certain cool. One of those people is Adel Imam, one of my oldest friends, and a true star of the silver screen. One of the greatest comedians Egypt has ever seen, Imam is now also busy doing very good work with the United Nations. Yes dears, and earlier this week, I was there when Imam was handed a certificate by the United Nations officially declaring him the Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the Middle East and North Africa. The commissioner himself, Ruud Lubbers, held a press conference, during which he bestowed Imam with the honour, and told those of us gathered at the Conrad hotel all about the busy morning he and Imam had. The two visited Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh, Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox church, as well as Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, whom Lubbers invited to attend the annual UNHCR convention in Geneva as a step towards greater involvement of Arab nations in the UNHCR.

Thanks to my dear friend Abdullah Schleifer, director of the American University in Cairo's Adham Center for Television Journalism, a new graduating class of talented broadcast journalists are now set to succeed at various Arab and international television channels. The class -- composed of Dalia Ashmawi, Intisar El-Shukri, Mervat Abou Oaf, Dina Geith, Lena El Ghadban, Nadine Hallal, Dalia Mabrouk, and Caroline Ghali -- is a clear indicator that the fairer sex is starting to really dominate this business. That's certainly all for the best, dearies, and I'm sure you would all agree. I met these lovely women at the traditional annual awards dinner that Schleifer hosts, bringing together both new and old graduates. At the event, AUC Provost Earl (Tim) Sullivan appointed Abu Dhabi TV's Deputy Director Mohamed Dourrachad as an Associate of the Adham Center, an honourary faculty position which is awarded by the university to outstanding figures in broadcasting for their contributions to the industry in general and television journalism in particular.

My colleague Reham El-Adawi recently informed me that the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University has awarded its Shield and a certificate of recognition to my dear friend Antonio Gil de Carrasco, the diligent director of the Cervantes Institute (or the Spanish Cultural Centre) in Cairo. Carrasco received the award from Cairo University Vice- President Ahmed Fouad Pasha and Dean of the Faculty of Arts Ahmed Hassan Ibrahim. Attending the ceremony was Spanish Ambassador in Egypt Pedro Lopez Aguirrebengoa, members of the Spanish community in Egypt and the staff of the Spanish Department at the Faculty of Arts, which is headed by Abdel- Fatah Awad. Carrasco was honoured in recognition of the tremendous role he has played, as head of the Cervantes since 1998, in creating a cultural dialogue between Egyptian and Spanish literati. At the celebration, Carrasco said he was proud to work in Egypt, where he has always felt like he was an Arab. That feeling, he added, is revived whenever he goes to Granada.

It is with a special thrill that I impart to you the news of my dear and beautiful friend Dina Shawki's engagement to talented architect Karim Farah. After a private family prayer, the charming couple popped the champagne with their friends at one of the hippest nightclubs in town. Dancing the night away euphorically, Dina and Karim were all smiles and giggles by the early hours of the morning. And their special souvenir? Keeping the champagne cork on a key chain as a memento of the night they will never forget. To their health!

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