Theater of Cruelty

Ibsen at the pyramids

In recent decades, Egyptian soap operas have been dominated by strong women figures, women like Nora.


[chronicle] «In time a realization arises; people get closer to each other; the distance between the unknown and the pocket-known becomes smaller – and all in all, the one who has traveled a lot around – will end up having the experience that nations in their inner cores, nowhere near turn out to be so fundamentally different as one tended to believe beforehand. "

This is how Ibsen described his feelings and thoughts when he visited Egypt in 1869. I am in Cairo. The year is 2006 – a hundred years after Ibsen died. Maybe Ibsen was sitting here by the banks of the Nile when he wrote his memoirs, as I sit here now. Maybe not.

It is difficult to know whether Ibsen would have recognized himself in today's Egypt. The streets are different, the houses are different and the people are different. The modern contours rise high up along the Nile in an attempt to cover the less modern, less developed and less beautiful sides of the city of millions. This is how the city – or rather the people in the city – try to "be themselves enough" and avoid the challenges of society.

I walk around the metropolitan city, I pass people – unknown faces – some female, others male. There are many of them in Cairo – over 17 million unknown faces. Who are these people? If you ask them, they will probably provide a name and a profession. If you had the opportunity to ask Peer Gynt who he was, he would also have given you his name and profession. It would hardly have told you much about who he really was, would it?

Today, however, a name can tell a whole lot. A name often defines its restrictions. If you are called "Mohamed," the borders of the nation, whether real or man-made, will rise on the horizon to confirm themselves. Nations today are forced to be different, even in their "inner core."

Peer Gynt had the chance to travel around the world and meet the challenge of finding himself. Peer came to Egypt, met the Sphinx and was forced to take a step or two on the way to find out who he is. If Mohamed or Ahmed today wanted to go to Dovre, London or Washington in search of themselves, they probably would have been denied a visa, wouldn't they? For many, the pursuit of an identity is limited to the borders of the state.

Soha Mohamed is 18 years old. I meet her and some of her friends outside one of the many shopping malls in Cairo. Soha, Maha, Mohamed, Ibrahim and Yousef meet regularly. Apart from the scarf on his head, Mohamed is dressed like any young woman in the West. Mohamed and her friends are part of the new global world. They wear jeans, listen to western music and eat western fast food. In short, they appear to be part of the world in which “nations in their inner cores do not appear to be so fundamentally different as one had in advance tended to

to believe."

Under this surface, each of these young souls is looking for themselves. Who are they really in this new global world? They are fighting a kind of modern bend. They are also encouraged to "be themselves enough", and many of them are just "themselves enough".

Mohamed's dreams for the future are as simple as the fantasies of many young girls in Egypt – she wants to be picked up by a prince on a white horse. And when that happens, she and her friends are ready to sacrifice themselves for love and affection.

Soha and many of the other girls I meet in Cairo's streets are raised to be as faithful as Solveig is to Peer and as faithful as Agnes to Brand. But do they really accept such a role? Will they, when it comes down to it, find such pages in themselves?

In recent decades, Egyptian soap operas have been dominated by strong female figures. Strong women who are not happy to be the devoted housewife, women who demand their right to a life, a career, a choice and unconditional love from their husbands. Women like Nora, who can slam the door behind them and go out. Not necessarily to a better world, but to a world they have chosen for themselves. In Egypt you meet such women too – many of them! Whether soap operas have created them or whether they have only dramatized them is not a topic here.

Hind El Fishawy is a living example of such strong women. She was 26 years old when she became pregnant, as a result of what she claims was a secret marriage to Ahmed El Fishawy – a marriage she could not prove. Hind El Fishawy chose not only to take on the unique role of single mother in such a conservative country as Egypt, but also to fight for his daughter's rights.

She could have done things like Gina. She could have allowed the grandfather to escape from his responsibilities. But she didn't! Instead, Hind slammed the door behind him again, walked out, and declared war on Ahmed El Fishawy and the entire community. She is a modern version of Nora. When Hind's daughter was two years old, the sentencing judge ruled that Ahmed was the child's father, without even forcing him into a DNA test. Hind El Fishawy has forced Egyptian men to "be themselves" and not "be themselves enough"!

One hundred years after his death, Ibsen and his dramatic figures live to a very high degree among young Egyptians – even among those who have never heard of him. This is precisely the brilliant charm of Ibsen: he manages to capture the human aspects independently of time and space, independent of culture and religion and independent of nation and state.

The article is written by: Amal Wahab, Journalist in Cairo

This text was taken from the program booklet for

Peer Gynt setup in Egypt October 26 and 27.

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