The month of October 2023 has been a favourable one for Watani, one that brought smiles to faces despite the hard times.
On 14 October, Watani’s Editor-in-Chief Youssef Sidhom was awarded the “Leading by Example” award by Coptic Orphans in New York. As one viewer commented: “It couldn’t have been awarded to someone more deserving.”
On 20 October, the Coptic Heritage Lovers Society in Cairo honoured Watani for its decades-long commitment to spreading awareness of Coptic heritage.
And on 29 October, the Coptic Symphony Festival honoured Watani, its founder Antoun Sidhom, and his son and Editor-in-Chief of the paper Youssef Sidhom for playing a significant role as a Coptic- focused publication in the Egyptian media.
Coptic Orphans: “Leading by example”
On 14 October 2023, at a gala dinner in New York City, Youssef Sidhom was awarded the “Lead by Example” award by Coptic Orphans which was celebrating 35 years on its services to orphaned and underprivileged children in Egypt. The event was held under the rubric “From Generation to Generation”.
Coptic Orphans is an international Christian development organisation headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia. Its main activity centres on improving the lives of children in Egypt; in this it relies on a network of over 750 Church-based volunteers and through partnerships with local organisations. It works in 60 dioceses in Egypt, in close partnership with local bishops who also grant invaluable guiding as to the areas of local need, and nominate volunteers.
Coptic Orphans focuses on the children most likely to face the deadly combination of poverty and social injustice, but who have the greatest potential to change their lives and the lives of others. Through child sponsors and the network of hundreds of village-based volunteers, churches, and NGOs, it helps children stay in school and remain with their families.
Since it was founded in 1988, Coptic Orphans has helped transform the lives of some 75,000 children in Egypt.
Outside Egypt, Coptic Orphans spearheaded a groundbreaking study of the Coptic Diaspora and its engagement with Egypt.
The gala event started with a televised message from Pope Tawadros in which he congratulated Coptic Orphans, its founder and executive director Nermien Riad, everyone who works with it and all the beneficiaries, for 35 years of service through the work of God and a wise administration.
Comedian Fady Rizk, who has been active with Coptic Orphans for several years, gave an overview of the organisation’s work with children’s education, detailing the extended commitment to that end. His word was followed by live testimonies of collaborators, helpers, and workers with the children’s education, also of children who had grown up with and completed their education through Coptic Orphans. The testimonies came through as palpably warm and true to life.
Ms Riad then spoke of her happiness at celebrating the 35th anniversary of Coptic Orphans, expressing her gratitude to those present and to the Church and all who supported the organisation and worked to make it a success. She said she was proud to belong to Egypt’s Copts whose resilience and solid faith the whole world saw in the 21 men who were beheaded by Daesh in Libya in 2015. It was through this faith that generations of Copts survived long centuries of hard times.
It was then time for granting the Leading by Example awards, the two awardees coming from different generations. One was Watani’s Youssef Sidhom, who spoke about the paper’s journey throughout 65 years during which it mirrored Egypt’s history.
The paper, he said, had started off with a focus on Coptic and Church affairs. During the late 1970s and up to 2013, Copts suffered from waves of fanaticism and discrimination, and Watani reported on that while at the same time stressing that these were traits and actions not supported by the majority of Egyptians so will not go on interminably. Today this has been realised; discrimination is a thing of the past.
Watani has diversified its platforms by publishing its English and French-language pages, also Watani Braille which was issued in 2005 – 2010. Mr Sidhom said that this year 2023, he marks 35 years with Watani, and a new generation takes the reins, leading the paper into the digital age through its website and social media platforms.
The other awardee was Laura Michael who offers invaluable guidance and advice to Coptic families in the US through her blog Coptic Dad and Mom which describes its mission as “Learning to trust God and serve others in the lands of immigration, working to help fill the gaps between our Coptic faith and our Western culture through free resources, books, kits, and much more.”
Lovers of Coptic Heritage
On 20 October 2023, the Coptic Heritage Lovers Society (CHLS) marked 25 years on its foundation. In celebration, it held an event at Helwan University’s Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management in Cairo, which was attended by scholars, university presidents, experts on Coptic heritage, and previous Governor of Fayoum Hazem Attiya who is a renowned promoter of heritage awareness.
Renee Yacoub, Secretary-General of the Society, opened the event by inviting the attendants to observe a moment of silence for the souls of the war victims, stressing that: “We denounce everything that goes against international law and humanitarian norms.”
Hossam al-Rifaie, Vice President of Helwan University, expressed happiness at hosting the event, especially given that the Faculty of Tourism was the first in Egypt to offer in 2012 a programme on Egyptian cultural heritage studies.
The Society was founded in 1998 with the aim of “spreading awareness of Coptic Heritage as an Egyptian legacy, a ring in that legacy chain intimately linked to the ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman that preceded and the Islamic that succeeded it”.
Ishaq Agban, Dean of the Institute of Coptic Studies (ICS), relayed to the Society and guests greetings by Pope Tawadros II. He gave a word that centred on Coptic heritage as belonging to all Egyptians, and being an invaluable part of the wider human heritage. He said the ICS was proud of its extended cooperation with the CHLS, and offered its founder and head of its board of directors Samy Mitry the ICS shield.
It was then Mr Mitry’s turn at the dais; he gave a gripping account of the Society’s 25 years of work to preserve and promote Coptic heritage; “Coptic” in the wider sense of the word, meaning “Egyptian”. He gave a brief account of the Society’s activities which mainly focused on organising lectures, seminars, and scholarly conferences; a cultural salon; trips with in-depth guidance to various museums, historical sites and buildings, ancient monasteries and landmarks. Mr Mitry said that the Society also organised trips to interesting places where its members and guests could socialise and get to know one another; also to mark special occasions that closely relate to Egypt’s cultural heritage, such as Egyptian/Coptic New Year, the Coptic Feast of the Epiphany; the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Last but definitely not least, Mr Mitry cited the Society’s art exhibitions and traditional music concerts which normally drew wide approbation. He also stressed the Society’s close networking with other NGOs and institutions that work on heritage awareness and preservation.
The CHLS then went on to honour individuals and institutions that played significant roles on the Coptic heritage front. Among them were the names of iconographers Isaac Fanous, Youssef Nassif and Bodour Latif; musicologists Ragheb Moftah, Martha Roy and Margit Thot; Pope Kyrillos VI and Pope Shenouda II. Also honoured were archaeologists Zahi Hawass, Haggagy Ibrahim, Fady Mikhail, Monica Hanna, and Sherine Sadeq. The institutions honoured were the Coptic Museum in Toronto, and Watani for its enlightenment and heritage awareness roles. Samia Sidhom, member of the board of directors of Watani and Managing Editor of Watani’s English language pages and website, received the Certificate of Honour.
The event featured a choir that sang traditional Coptic hymns, a Muslim cantor soloist, and an exhibition of contemporary Coptic icons. It concluded with a seminar on “Coptic heritage between reality and aspirations”.
“The main goal of holding the Symphony Festival in its fourth edition is to express gratitude to those media figures who have played a significant role in providing the community with information and facts about everything that takes place.” The words were said by Malak Menassa, founder and head of Symphony Festival, during the opening of the festival on the evening of Sunday 29 October 2023 at Anba Rweiss Theatre in the grounds of St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo.
Symphony Festival was founded as an annual celebration to honour pioneers in the field of hymns and melodies in the Coptic Church, believing in the vital role they play.
The festival comes under the patronage of Pope Tawadros II, and under the spiritual supervision of Anba Abakir, Bishop of Scandinavian Countries.
Mr Menassa welcomed the guest of honour of this year’s edition: Lebanese TV presenter, media figure and journalist George Kordahi, as Symphony honoured a number of Coptic press and media figures. Watani’s Editor-in-Chief, Youssef Sidhom, was among the honourees.
The patriotic role played by Watani founder Antoun Sidhom, and his support for Coptic issues was highlighted, together with the roles played by other Coptic figures, in a play titled “Fahima Fahim”, performed during the ceremony.
Fahima Fahim’s was written by playwright Maher Farid Nicola and directed by Peter Adel. It depicts the history of Coptic print, audio, and visual media in Egypt through a brilliant narrative of the young female researcher Fahima Fahim who was working on a doctoral thesis on the history of Coptic media. She dozes off on her desk, only to see her heroes come alive in a dream. She sees Antoun Sidhom strive to establish Watani to give direly-needed media space for Coptic issues, and sees Pope Shenouda III (patriarch in 1971 – 2012) bless the establishment of Coptic satellite TV channels.
The role of Watani was highlighted as Mr Sidhom was being honoured.
Watani started off in 1958, founded by Antoun Sidhom (1915 – 1995), as an Egyptian Sunday weekly with an enlightenment perspective; the word ‘Watani’ is Arabic for “My Homeland”. The publication was a general all-round Egyptian paper that tackled varied aspects domestic and international, but placed special focus on Coptic issues, affairs, and culture.
Under Youssef Sidhom who has been Editor-in-Chief since 1995, Watani has attained significant milestones, including its English-and French language supplements, also its now defunct Watani Braille, the first paper for the visually impaired in Egypt and probably in the Middle East, which ran from 2005 to 2010. Watani is active on the Internet through its website wataninet.com and its social media platforms. The most recent project in which Watani is active is the promotion of the Holy Family Trail in Egypt, through cooperation with the NGO Blessed Egypt.
8 November 2023