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India through Egyptian Eyes

Mohamed Abla
Mohamed Abla

This article was first published at The Media Project.

Early Saturday morning, with a heavy heart Mohamed Abla traced his whimsical silhouettes with only a few looking on. Everywhere along his stretch of the 150 foot wall surrounding the famed Khan Market in New Delhi, folk art inspired images of children, animals, and birds burst into life. Previously drab and barren, the wall previously served as a garbage dump and public urinal. Over the past three years the Delhi Street Art group has been transforming similar locations of urban blight into monuments of community pride. But on this occasion their 62-year-old Egyptian guest felt compelled to add a sullen reminder.

He drew a stick figure of the Eiffel Tower, and enclosed it in a circle.

Paying homage to Paris through Jean Jullien’s image, Abla could have thought of Egypt. Five thousand kilometers from home, his native land has also witnessed terrorist atrocities hammering away at the effort to regain stability. For the past five years revolution has jolted the street and national psyche alike. But instead of lamenting Cairo, Abla ached for India.

“I felt that Indians were worried about terrorism,” he said, “having experienced it themselves in the past. Paris was a stark reminder.”

It can sometimes take the soft heart of an artist to commiserate with a people not one’s own. But Abla’s attachment to India runs deeper than just creative sentimentality. For the past seven years he has visited frequently, dazzled by the assortment of colour and smell, bewildered by the proximity of tradition and technology. His eyes and his canvas soaked in both big city and ancient village. He noted the simplicity of people and the grandeur of temples.

And his memories poured through his paintbrush.

“The eyes through which an artist sees another culture are always fascinating,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador in Egypt, opening the resulting exhibition at the Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture, in Cairo. “Abla has shown us things we haven’t seen.”

Please click here to read the full article at The Media Project, including more paintings and the artist’s history.

Abla Artwork
Arabic: Delhi Streets
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Mohamed Abla: A Voice for Culture in the Egyptian Constitution

Mohamed Abla
Mohamed Abla

From my recent article at Arab West Report, the first in a series of interviews of members of the committee which wrote Egypt’s constitution. Mohamed Abla is an internationally acclaimed Egyptian artist and was a leading figure in the protests against the appointment of an Islamist head to the Ministry of Culture. As such, protection of culture became a constitutional necessity:

One area that was mostly uncontroversial, but dear to his heart, was the inclusion of several articles promoting culture. Articles 47-50 oblige the state to foster cultural development and protect its cultural heritage, but this section was strange to many only in that it was new. In the end, only Salafīs opposed.

Most of the interview dealt with controversial elements, however. One area in question was the decision of the committee to yield the decision on electoral order and system to the president. Some have wondered if this was cooked in advance to make way for Sisi’s presidential campaign:

‘Ablah said this was completely absent from their negotiations. Some members favored presidential elections first, other parliamentary. Some favored a parliament elected by individual candidacy, some by party list or something in-between. As they debated, positions shifted. In the end, the Committee of Fifty decided two things. First, they were unable to come to an agreement. Second, they were unequipped to come to an agreement. Technical matters such as these require data that would take a long period to study judiciously. Given their sixty day timeframe, proper determinations were not feasible. The president, however, will be able to summon all the tools of state to engage in social dialogue, gather pertinent data, and make a decision in the best interests of the country. Beside, ‘Ablah stated, such matters should not be made permanent in the constitution. Members desired flexibility in the political system; if an individual candidacy is preferred now, perhaps party list will be better in ten years when political life is stronger.

‘Ablah admits he was an anomaly in the committee, as he is not connected to the government. But as such he may have been ignored in any backroom political machinations. He saw very little, however, that even approached the idea of trading votes for certain articles. “These issues were not postponed for anyone’s interests.”

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Arab West Report.