The Abolition of El Gouna Festival and Egypt’s loss of soft power

The administration of El Gouna Film Festival declared, days ago, the abolition of the sixth convention that was decided next October. According to the statement, the decision was attributed to the “current international challenges that could hinder the international and regional character of the festival.” The actual decision, however, is supposed to be the arduous regional competition between the Arab film festivals and the related political and security pressures.

The Sawiris family sponsors El Gouna Film Festival, the wealthiest family in Egypt and Africa, according to Forbes and is considered the most critical private film festival in Egypt and the Arab World. The festival has recently succeeded in competing with the state-sponsored Cairo Film Festival. Some journalists fear the recent abolition being an introduction to the final dissolution of the festival entirely.

The Gulf competition

Over the last decade, Egypt has lost several tools of her cultural power in favour of the Gulf states that recently started competing with Egypt vigorously in this field. The gulf states traded on the Egyptian deterioration and failure to retain pioneers in the Arab region. Cairo Book Fair lost its status as the most successful Arab book fair, while Riyadh, Doha and Abu Dhabi have prominent book fairs. Emirates, for instance, presents the most essential and valuable Arab novels award, the International Prize for Arab Fiction, while Qatar presents the respectful Sheikh Hamad for Translation and International Understanding.

Step by step, Carthage Film Festival and the Red Sea Festival are taking the chronic Cairo Film Festival status. Saudi Arabia made a breakthrough in art production and entertainment industries acquiring the title of the new Orient’s Hollywood. Within such a setting, the abolition of the El Gouna Festival, which acquires the highest fund in Egypt and hosts hundreds of film stars from all over the world along with the giants of the cinema industry and cinema experts, adds to Egypt’s losses in this regard.

Closure of the public sphere

Money plays a significant role in making the soft power, and by nature, Egypt cannot compete with the wealthy Gulf states in extravagant spending. Egypt, however, accommodates thousands of talents in art as in other fields. Those talents are waiting for the opportunities to express themselves, but they bump into the security obsesses that eliminate the public sphere and closes the road against free expression. Art production and media were monopolized by the Intelligence business organs that imposed superficially politically oriented messages on drama and cinema production and prevented any form of social or political criticism producing pure political propaganda such as the well-known Choice drama that was imposed on media and TV watchers to glorify Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and demonize his adversaries.

El Gouna festival was a victim of this police state when the last convention witnessed a crisis over displaying the Cannes-awarded movie Feathers because the movie showed the poverty in Upper Egypt. Several movie stars withdrew from the movie display, declaring it was distorting Egypt’s image, which was changed by Sisi’s achievements. Those stars are subjected to the instructions of Intelligence officers who control art production and have the de facto authority to choose whom among the stars to work with and whom not to be cast.