Three dignified camels with children on board, strolling on green grass on a drizzly day, set the scene for the celebration of Egyptian day in Tumbalong Park at the Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia.
Anyone entering the park from either side could not miss the statues of pharaonic-era girl dancers standing behind a stage at one end of the park; or the carved sphinx seated on the right hand side of the stage, giving an impression of grandeur and protection.
To celebrate Egyptian Day on 8 November for the ninth time, the Egyptian Australian Council Forum invited Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike to an open day to celebrate and enjoy Egyptian culture.
According to forum member Safwat Riad, the event is an opportunity to promote Egyptian culture in Australia and gather together Egyptians living in Sydney.
Song and dance
Despite the wet weather, young Egyptians under a canopy of coloured umbrellas stood close together near the stage to hear the speeches of political figures and later enjoy the variety of dances and performances. Their patience was later rewarded as the rain stopped and the weather warmed up.
The beat of the tabla, the traditional Egyptian drum, could be heard as people celebrated the day with dancing and singing, while playing instruments in between stage performances.
Egyptian music echoed as the DJ played a variety of modern Egyptian music, including songs by Ihab Tawfik and others. More Egyptian folk songs were played by a band led by Egyptian musician Emad Nosseir.
“I can’t wait to see the belly dancer,” said, first-time festival goer Heather Charltoe. Ms Charltoe told Watani it was a forerunner to her planned visit to Egypt next March.
There was a burst of applause as the belly dancer took the stage and demonstrated traditional dance moves.
Among young people near the stage were Christine and George Sidhom.
Mrs Sidhom, who has lived in Australia for nine years, expressed her admiration for the dancers’ statues behind the stage. The couple, who originally came from Alexandria, agreed that the festival was a good vehicle for bringing Egyptian culture to Australia.
The stage artwork and design were created by designer Lucy Wang who spent six months preparing for the event, working to create a parallel between the Egyptian and Australian environments. “I thought about desert sand in Egypt and sandy beaches in Australia. These two themes signify two communities, and I lived them out through the stage work.” Ms Wang told Watani.
Ms Wang designed the stage in such a way as to present an image of the Egyptian desert with yellow satin drapes. As the fabric blew in the air behind the camels, it created the visual image of a desert, she said.
Donating the proceeds
The event began with speeches from political figures. Among the invitees were the minister of fair trade and the minister for assisting the premier on the arts, Virginia Judge, the minister for local government, Barbara Berry, and Member of Parliament Anthony Paul Stuart.
The Egyptian ambassador in Canberra, Omar Metwalli, and Ambassador Tarek Abu Senna, the Consul General of Egypt in Sydney also attended.
“We want to show the world our civilisation, and let them know we can do things and what we are really made of, so the whole world can appreciate our Egypt,” Victor Bassily, President of the Australia Egyptian Council Forum, said.
The festival was not all dances and camel rides; the audience also took part in a draw offering a ticket to Egypt on Singapore Airlines.
Not only did the festival help promote Egyptian food, dance, handicrafts and organisations, not forgetting the Coptic school, but it also raised money for the children’s cancer hospital in Sydney by donating the proceeds from the camel rides.
The first festival in 2001 was the brainchild of Wafik Latif, a past president of the Egyptian Australian Forum and its current treasurer. Since then it has continued to grow in popularity.
Mr Bassily says the festival aims to create a network linking Egyptians living in Sydney. “We need to unite together, meaning we should at least share common ground to unite. We don’t have many occasions to get all Egyptians here together. This is a day for every Egyptian—Muslim and Christian—and I’d like to see this happening and people forgetting their religion and colour and coming here to celebrate the day.”