Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Pack of cards

By Madame Sosostris

Freefalling into history

The mission was close to impossible and took five years of diligent planning. But Felix Baumgartner has taken a brave leap into the history books and broke the sound barrier with his own body together with multiple world records.

Freefalling through space for 4.20 minutes at a speed of 1173km/h, the 43-year-old Australian pilot last Sunday ascended for 2.5 hours through the atmosphere, stepped onto the edge of the space capsule, stared 24 miles below at our planet... and jumped.

Baumgartner achieved the highest altitude skydive in world record books, the longest freefall without a parachute and the fastest speed ever reached in a skydive.

But factored in, of course, was hazard. And this is why the over 10 million viewers who tuned in to watch the event live -- with the help of 30 cameras used to record the stunt -- were receiving the transmission with a 20-second delay. The critical time (10-20 seconds) for Baumgartner was when his body started spinning out of control when he first jumped out of the capsule. "At a certain RPM," he said, "there's only one way for blood to leave your body, and that's through your eyeballs. That means you're dead." Luckily, Baumgartner was back in control once the atmosphere thickened.

It took the skydiver 10 minutes to complete his journey from the stratosphere to Earth, something which led many Egyptians to go green. On social networks Egyptians complained that it took Felix just a few minutes to get from space to Earth. Wrote one, "It takes me two hours to go to work which is on the same planet, and the same country."

ô Last week the Cairo Opera House organised a large celebration to mark the 39th anniversary of the 6 October victory, which coincided with the 24th anniversary of the Opera itself. Opera goers were surprised to see Prime Minister Hisham Kandil on the premises; there to receive him was Culture Minister Mohamed Saber Arab and Cairo Opera House Director Ines Abdel-Dayeim.

The lovely ballerinas of the Talents Development Centre received the dignitaries with flowers before said dignitaries proceeded to inaugurate the newly renovated Opera museum. The evening featured a Pharaonic dance show, a singing recital with some 300 performers representing all the Opera House troupes and a performance of Beethoven's Fantasia by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nayeir Nagui with pianist Ramzi Yassa.

ôï Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa received Indian Ambassador Navdeep Suri at his office to discuss bilateral relations and Gomaa's upcoming visit to India. Gomaa stressed the long-standing relations between the two countries since the Non-Aligned Movement that linked Nasser and Nehru. Suri also confirmed the crucial role played by Al-Azhar in spreading moderate Islam and educating Indian religious scholars.

ô To mark Malaysia's National Day, Malaysian Ambassador Mohamed Fakhruddin Abdul Mukti gave a media lunch last Thursday. He talked about the warm links the two countries have enjoyed since Egypt upgraded its representative office in Kuala Lumpur to the status of an embassy in 1959. Under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, he said, relations have broadened in various areas; and the Malaysian government is confident that President Mohamed Morsi will encourage this trend. Abdul Mukti announced that the prime minister has invited President Morsi to attend the eighth World Islamic Economics Forum (WIFE, 4-6 December). The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb will also visit Malaysia in 13-16 November to receive honorary doctorates.

¨ Producer-screenwriter Mohamed Hefzi, founder of the production company Film Clinic, is a Documentary Feature Competition jury member at the sixth Abu Dhabi Film Festival (11-20 October). Last year Hefzi won the Abu Dhabi festival best producer award for the critically acclaimed Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Political, the only documentary to be commercially released in Egypt for decades.

The jury is led by Chilean director Miguel Littin, two-time Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Joining Hefzi is Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, winner of the Venice Film Festival jury prize, Oscar-nominated director Carles Bosch and Safinez Bousbia, the winner of the Best New Director at ADFF in 2011 for El Gusto.

The Saudi actress and filmmaker Ahd is also taking part in the festival as a member of the Emirates Film Competition jury. The jury of that competition, headed by Tunisian director Ridha Behi, includes Bahraini director Ali Al-Ali, Iraqi actress Suha Salem and Yemeni director Bader Al-Hirsi. Ahd was a part of TROPFEST Arabia, the under seven-minute long film festival, in its first round which took place in Abu Dhabi in November 2011. She played a supporting role in her own Wadjda, the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia, which was part of the Venice Film Festival this year. Ahd is currently completing her second feature Sanctity, which is set in Jeddah and tells the story of a young widow who tries to do her best to protect her unborn child. Ahd is the first Saudi woman to study film direction and production in the USA, after which she worked on Hollywood films including The Kingdom with director Peter Berg in 2007. She acted in the Turkish film Razn, for which she won the Golden Gate Award for Best Actress at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

ô The Egyptian-Lebanese Friendship Association (ELFA), presided over by Samir Fahmi, held a seminar at the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel's Tiba Hall featuring Minister of Investment Osama Saleh, who discussed the plans of the Egyptian government concerning the budget deficit (already LE175 billion) and the high rate of unemployment (12 per cent). Fahmi stressed the need for society to cooperate with government policy to solve both problems. Present were the Lebanese Ambassador to Egypt Khaled Ziyada, who honoured President of Misr Bank Mohamed Barakat in the course of the seminar, financial expert Hatem Sadek and ambassadors Hassan Shash, Ahmed Al-Bedewi, Ghazi Nasser, Fouad Hadrag, Ahmed Baydoun and Amr Fayed, as well as Negad Shaarawi from the Lebanese embassy in Egypt.

ôï The Alexandria International Song and Music Festival headed by Ouf Hammam opened at the Alexandria Opera House this week; this, the ninth round, is dedicated to the memory of the late singer Laila Murad. The ceremony began with the screening of a documentary on Murad, followed by the handing out of honorary certificates to singers Walid Tawfik and Medhat Saleh as well as musicians Ammar Al-Sherei and Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman. The veteran actress Lebleba received Murad's own award on behalf of her family.

ô Spanish Ambassador to Egypt Fidel Sendagorta gave a reception at the garden of the Spanish embassy headquarters in Zamalek to celebrate Spain's National Day. Present were numerous diplomats, officials and high-profile figures including Minister of Utilities Abdel-Kawi Khalifa, Al-Ahram columnist Aicha Abdel-Ghaffar, writer Hala Mustafa, head of the Lions Garden City Club Awatef Serageddin, Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Farag Al-Dokali, Omani Ambassador Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al-Harithi, French Ambassador Nicolas Galey, Italian Ambassador Claudio Pacifico, Tunisian Ambassador Mahmoud Al-Khoumeri and Algerian Ambassador Abdel-Kader Al-Haggar.

¨ Khaira Al-Fassi, the spouse of Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Farag Al-Dokail, organised a reception at her residence in Garden City on the occasion of naming Amal Watt, the spouse of the British ambassador to Egypt, president of the International Club -- succeeding Al-Fassi. The ceremony included the screening of a documentary illustrating the history of the club since Al-Fassi's presidency, followed by a Moroccan banquet.

ôï Popular singer Hakim was honoured by Houriaty magazine at the new headquarters of the Al-Gomhuriya press establishment. The celebration included a seminar with Hakim discussing the difficulties he faced at the beginning of his career and his rise to (international)stardom.

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