Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Effigies for Easter

Sham Al-Nessim celebrations in Port Said, long famous for targeting despots, this year features straw effigies lampooning Islamic State terrorists, writes Mahmoud Bakr

Effigies for Easter
Effigies for Easter
Al-Ahram Weekly

Port Said is a city with a reputation that it likes to live up to. Perched between Sinai and the mainland, Port Said is tough, eccentric, artistic and has a mind of its own.

Named after the man who gave the green light for the building of the Suez Canal, but didn’t live long enough to see the project through, the city has served at various times as a cosmopolitan melting pot, a trading hub, a frontline battle zone and a national icon.

Some call the city Egypt’s Stalingrad in reference to its role in the 1956 Tripartite Aggression. Others, witnessing its odd dereliction and the burning of effigies that take place there it every year at Easter, don’t know quite what to make of it.

While other cities in Egypt greet the Easter and Sham Al-Nessim celebrations with coloured eggs, salted fish and onions, residents of Port Said like to sing and dance. They also parade straw effigies through the streets, sometimes of still-remembered historical figures and sometimes of long-forgotten ones.

Up until 2000, the residents of the city would burn such effigies in a public square, but the practice was banned by the government, which considered it a fire hazard. While such effigies are still made and paraded, they are no longer set on fire.

 The man who makes them, Khodeir Al-Borsa’idi, is something of a local celebrity. He has a spacious workshop in the Hayy Al-Arab district of the city, where he makes the remarkably life-like effigies.

Port Said is a town with its own rituals, he said, and Sham Al-Nessim is the time to place all the world’s despots on trial.

The Easter and Sham Al-Nessim celebrations start with music from the semsemiya (a harp-like instrument), amateur bands playing late into the night and people dancing till dawn.

The city’s most famous effigy was that of Edmund Allenby, the British WWI general who is still remembered with contempt in the city because of his exceptional brutality when he was the British high commissioner of Egypt and Sudan from 1919 to 1925.

No one alive in the city today can remember Allenby, however, and the enemy that residents rail against today is the Islamic State (IS) group, whose brutal murder of Egyptian Copts taken captive in Libya in February is something no one will ever be able to forget.

In this year’s parade, the main villains will be IS fighters, whose list of atrocities also includes the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Moaz Al-Kasasbah in January this year.

The art shows and exhibitions in the city’s public squares start before the Sham Al-Nessim celebrations take place and last for a few days after them. Visitors from other parts of Egypt flock to the city to see the art performance Al-Borsaidi stages at the intersection of Nabil Mansour and Safiya Zaghlul (or Eugenie) Streets on Easter Sunday, the day before Sham Al-Nessim in the traditions of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Mohamed Mowafi, a local resident, recalls seeing effigies of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in previous years. After the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, effigies were made of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and several of his associates, including ministers and businessmen Fathi Surour, Safwat Al-Sharif, Zakaria Azmi and Ahmed Ezz.

Al-Borsaidi is also the scion of a family of calligraphers. One of his brothers, Mostafa, is one of the world’s leading Arab calligraphers.

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