Sara Shaarawi talks about art, politics, and caring about the word ‘ken’
THE euphoria and sense of hope of the last weeks of the Scottish referendum campaign reminded Sara Shaarawi of the days immediately after Hosni Mubarak’s government fell, the Italian-Egyptian playwright tells CommonSpace.
Shaarawi, who has made Glasgow her home, will deliver a piece around the Scots word ‘ken’ at this year’s Fringe festival, as part of the Butterfly Rammy series of shows starting this Friday 7 August and running to 30 August.
There will be 18 unique shows which will each take a different Scots word as a way to explore different aspects of the independence campaign and its activism.
Shaarawi’s piece will be a personal account of her own journey of coming to ‘ken’ Scotland, and she says that ‘ken’ was the first Scots word she learned when she came to Scotland, but had mistaken it for ‘care’.
“In Egypt, anyone who is involved in art is automatically involved in politics, but I’m more interested in day-to-day social politics.” Sara Shaarawi
“I misheard it as ‘care’, but I think it’s a really nice mishearing of it,” she explains.
Shaarawi’s road to Scottish politics passes through Cairo, and she says just trying to live life as an artist is an act resistance in the Middle-East’s biggest city.
“In Egypt, anyone who is involved in art is automatically involved in politics, but I’m more interested in day-to-day social politics,” Shaarawi says.
“Walking in the street is a big political act for me in Cairo. Cairo is such a big, huge city, it’s really difficult to walk in the streets, because of the infrastructure. Even the sidewalks are broken; if you’re a women you’re constantly harassed; if you get lost it can take forever to find your way back.”
She continues: “I feel that people insisting on walking to work, for example, that’s their way for them to reclaim their city, as much as marching and demonstrating. Not letting the city’s pressures affect their day-to-day life and to keep going on with their lives.”
Shaarawi speaks of her initial “shock” at the scale of the Egyptian uprising against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Repression after the fall of the Mubarak government, whether by the Muslim Brotherhood, or by the military regime, has been part of a “severe rollercoaster” for Egyptians, Shaarawi says, which has left people “beyond depression”.
“I remember the tension getting really intense in the days running up to the [Scottish referendum] vote, and it was only in that moment that it kind of reminded me a bit of Cairo.” Sara Shaarawi
The conversation turns to Scotland, and in the context of the hijacked revolution in Egypt, the comedown of 19 September is put into perspective.
“I remember the tension getting really intense in the days running up to the [Scottish referendum] vote, and it was only in that moment that it kind of reminded me a bit of Cairo.”
Shaarawi said she felt a similar sense of hope and excitement during the referendum campaign as there was in the immediate aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, before things “went downhill”.
On her multilingualism (she speak Arabic, Italian, English and is picking up Scots), Shaarawi says that she has often mixed Arabic and English in her writing, as this reflects the way she would often speak with friends in Cairo.
Shaarawi’s English, she says, has begun to shift from a more-Americanised English, to being far more Scottish, to the extent that she has even written about Egypt in a Scottish voice. That journey – infusing geography, language and political movements – has what has brought her to this year’s Fringe and the Butterfly Rammy shows.
Shaarawi’s contribution to Butterfly Rammy will take place on Saturday 15 August in St Andrew Square in Edinburgh. More details are available on the event Facebook page .
Image: Butterfly Rammy