The American University in Cairo (AUC) has been playing a large role in Egypt since its foundation in 1919 by Americans devoted to education and service in the Middle East.
Throughout its history, the AUC has balanced a strong commitment to liberal arts education with a concern for the region’s needs for practical applications and professional specialisations.
In the wake of his participation in the Narrative PR Summit 2018, Daily News Egypt sat down with Haynes Mahoney, advisor to the President of the AUC for Cultural Outreach and Campus Animation, to talk about the Egyptian cultural scene, and the AUC’s role in the country.
Mahoney, advisor to the President of the AUC for Cultural Outreach and Campus Animation, has served most of his career in the Arab world. His first post was in Amman, Jordan, from November 1981 to June 1982. Haynes continued in the region, serving in Syria, Yemen, and Egypt in various public diplomatic and cultural positions, with additional assignments in Washington D.C., Istanbul, Lahore, and Bonn.
He was Public Affairs Consular at the US. Embassy in Cairo from 2005 until 2011.
Mahoney believes that Egypt’s people enjoy a unique character, as the oldest ancient civilisation, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
What are the highlights of your participation as the AUC’s Cultural Outreach at this year’s edition of Narrative Summit?
I’ll be giving a presentation on how Egypt can tell its story to the world through its incredible array of iconic literary, film, and artistic figures, the likes of which include Naguib Mahfouz, Hoda Lutfy, Yusuf Chahine, and others who managed to transcend cultural and linguistic differences, and capture the world’s imagination.
From your point of view, what is the role such summits play in enhancing cultural interaction between Egypt and foreign countries?
They raise awareness that Egypt is about much more than tourism or commerce. Egypt’s people enjoy a unique character as the oldest ancient civilisation. Its ancient culture lives on, not in lifeless stones in Giza or Luxor as beautiful as they are, but in the soul of the ordinary Egyptian whatever he or she is about. And that soul is captured and conveyed by art and culture. So, the summit points to that richness, which I believe accounts for a huge proportion of what motivates people to visit or work here. I believe humans make decisions 95% with their hearts.
The AUC plays a prominent role in enriching Cairo’s cultural scene, how do you think the latest cultural centre, planned to open next year, will help with that?
Um Kulthum and Edith Piaf performed at Ewart Hall, which is the biggest venue of the Tahrir Cultural Centre, the TCC—which will be officially opened in February. The opening will launch the year-long celebration of the AUC’s centennial. We aim to revitalise the Centre, which also has several other venues for performances, exhibits, and of course classes in art and culture. The Tahrir Centre and the New Campus in the Fifth Settlement will be twin culture hubs in Cairo, supporting each other by trading artists and other cultural resources, to connect with audiences and artists among their respective neighbours, the region, and the world.
What are the main cultural scenes the AUC pays attention to invest into?
We try to participate in all of them: theatre, cinema, music, visual arts, and lifestyle courses which raise awareness and support lifelong learning.
Are there any exchange of cultural programmes that the AUC offers its students?
Well, of course, we bring lots of artists to the AUC, like the 14 foreign bands that played at the Cairo Jazz Festival 11-14 October. And the AUC students travel on many cultural tours are organised by the university. For example, there is a contest co-sponsored by the AUC and the Tameer real estate and construction company, to see who can come up with the best design for a water tower near the New Campus, which needs to be made more attractive. The winning team of students will visit Beirut, and be hosted by the Solidere company, which will explain their work in reconstructing downtown Beirut.
What are the modern cultural icons you find best represent Egypt’s heritage?
There are so many: Omar Sherif and Faten Hamama in film, Abdel Halim Hafez, Syed Darwish or Mohamed Mounir in music, Nazli Madhkour or Mohamed Abla in art. You get into trouble when you single out individuals but what they all have in common is a unique Egyptian character that reflects the pulse of this civilisation.
How do you see the current Egyptian cultural scene?
There’s a huge amount of creativity among young playwriters, novelists, actors, and other artists. They are eager to test out new media, especially social media. But they are also very eager to find platforms from which they can engage their audiences face to face. So that is what we are trying to provide in the AUC’s old and new campuses.