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How Egypt’s Cultural Renaissance is Making the Country a World Destination Once Again

With more than 100 million citizens and a history spanning 7,000 years, Egypt is a land of heritage and culture. Now, a new creative wave names the country a world destination once more.

Photo: Elizaveta Porodina

Once again, Egyptians are leaving their mark on art, fashion, cinema, music, and more. As Egyptians shape a new landscape, characterized by unique vantage points and fresh voices, local creatives are owning their roles as pathfinders. Over the course of the past few months, Egypt has witnessed several unprecedented advancements – between highly praised drama productions, internationally acclaimed film festivals, regional fashion expansions, and fine culinary metamorphosis. Creatives are flocking to Egypt from all ends of the Arab world, contributing to the country’s ongoing flourishing.

Greetings from Giza, an installation by JR at the pyramid of Khafre. Photo: Hesham Al Sayfi

The country’s rise as a destination has been powered by growing international interest. Film festivals across different governorates and events featured entertainers like Black Eyed Peas, Black Coffee, and Oscar and The Wolf. One event garnered the interest of millions, including Angelina Jolie, who posted about it on her personal Instagram account. Held in October and November, the contemporary art exhibition Forever is Now by Art D’Égypte displayed the work of several global artists at the 4 500-year-old Unesco World Heritage site of the Pyramids of Giza and the adjacent plateau, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. “Egypt has always been attractive to tourists because of its rich heritage and, recently, initiatives like ours started using this heritage to show that we still have an ongoing, vibrant culture scene,” says Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, Egyptian curator, art consultant, and founder of Art D’Égypte. “When people realized that there are new things to be seen and new unconventional experiences in Egypt, it regained this exciting image. There are plenty of impressive talents, artists, and spaces where those talents are displayed and nurtured. The number of initiatives in the art and culture scene is growing and so are the collaborations. Even our Egyptian art history shows how our artists were pioneers to modern art movements in the region.”

Nadine Abdel Ghaffer, founder of Art D’Égypte

Embracing their leading role in bringing forward a new dawn, local talents are now immersed in shaping a new landscape, inviting expression to prosper. With an increased number of films participating in international festivals – such as Souad (Cannes 2020), Lift Like a Girl (Toronto 2020), and Feathers, which won the Nespresso Grand Prize at the 2020 International Critics’ Week at Cannes – the cinema and drama industries are enjoying an unprecedented expansion of horizons. “For the past five years we have seen an unmatched number of Egyptian films being selected for acclaimed film festivals and receiving prestigious international awards,” shares Amr Salama, a director and filmmaker that has numerous highly praised films and drama productions under his belt, including Netflix’s first Egyptian production, Paranormal, which was named one of the best international TV series of 2020 by Variety. “In parallel, over the past two years, we have been witnessing a huge increase in demand for more films and TV productions, due to the establishment of new online platforms, which require more shows to build and expand their libraries,” he continues. “With more projects being produced more frequently, we will have a bigger chance to enjoy better productions and even identify new filmmakers.”

Rami Kadi Retrospective

Simultaneously, the fashion industry is at the heart of the country’s current revelation. Slated to open in 2023, Fashion Avenue is a new luxury mall that is expected to bring in a wide diversity of new high- end brands. Implemented by Al-Futtaim Malls and attached to Cairo Festival City Mall in New Cairo. International brands such as Giuseppe Zanotti and Karl Lagerfeld are finally opening branches in Egypt, and regional powerhouses – including Nicolas Jebran, who recently announced the upcoming opening of his first store and cafe in Egypt, as well as Rami Kadi, who celebrated his brand’s 10th anniversary in Cairo – are directing their attention towards the land of the pharaohs. Local designers are also pushing boundaries. Introduced in 2018, the Egyptian Fashion & Design Council has been working hard to realize an Egyptian fashion week to promote local brands in an attempt to increase exposure and sales, especially in foreign markets. “The local fashion industry currently has an optimum opportunity to grow and prosper,” says Yasmine Tharwat, founder of Posh Management.

Omar Chakil at the recently opened Le LAB in Giza,Egypt’s first collectible design gallery

“Moreover, the government’s endeavors to facilitate investment opens the door for fashion brands to maximize their presence in Egypt. My dream is to organize international fashion shows at our most famous archeological sites.” Passionate about expanding the horizons of the local fashion industry, Tharwat is one of many pathfinders who have invested their efforts in breaking glass ceilings. Featuring the best local and regional fashion brands, Posh Management organized more than six events during 2021, garnering US $4.5 million in sales as well as a digital reach of 235.1 million people.

“Egypt has had untapped potential for many years and now that people are finally realizing this, it is booming,” says Ayman Baky, founder of Baky Hospitality Group, which comprises Kazoku, Shinko, Lexie’s, Sachi, and Reif Kushiyaki Cairo restaurants, which are ranked among the best in the region. Baky believes that Egyptians are currently more eager than ever to embrace new feels. “Egypt has experienced a great economic shift. This introduced many opportunities for growth in various industries. People’s attitudes shifted as they tend to look for different experiences, such as more refined dining, as the passion for trying out different cuisines increased greatly. People are exposed to new experiences as they travel more. Customers’ mindsets are more open to change; they actually demand it,” Baky says.

Mario Haddad

According to a report published by Egypt’s Information and Decision Support Center in December, the International Monetary Fund expects the Egyptian economy to become the second largest Arab and African economy during 2022. “The infrastructure is changing,” notes Mario Jr Haddad, the producer behind Netflix’s Arabic adaptation of Perfect Strangers and one of Lebanon’s most well-known chefs and restaurateurs. “There are investments currently being put into that as well as building new compounds, cities, centers, and malls. These projects naturally need to be filled with new brands.” He continues, “I believe that after the revolution and with people traveling more, there is a hunger for something that they did not have. The introduction of regional and international expertise will change the game, as the standards are different. Bringing in a culture of perfection and not accepting mediocrity is pushing everybody forward. The market has never had the need to be pushed like this.” Haddad, who gravitated towards Egypt’s current flourishing, has already brought his Japanese dining experience Kyuka, soulful Asian street food concept Don, and home-cooked Lebanese haven Tawlet Yvonne to Cairo. Moreover, after a successful pop-up on the north coast last summer, he is currently developing Mariolino, as well as working on Don and Tawlet Yvonne as multi-brands.

Grand Egyptian Museum

Full of optimism and ambitions, 2022 is bringing forward a continuation to the past year’s milestones. With the long-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum and the 100th anniversary of the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun both scheduled to take place this year, alongside the recent opening of the Grand Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor last November, Egypt’s tourism is expected to continue its current rise. From Luxor’s wealth of Ancient Egyptian archeological sites to Hurghada’s Red Sea marine life, Cairo’s Nile cruises, and Dahab’s Bedouin charm, the country has much to offer curious travelers and long-time admirers. “Never will I dare not to call Egypt my home. Egypt is the origin, from where all I am comes,” shares Farrah El Dibany, the first Arab opera singer to enter the Paris Opera Academy. “I am grateful for being Egyptian, for the culture that I got from it, for the different tastes, languages I learned here, my openness to the entire world and, above all, the sense of giving I learned here, which is priceless.”

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Originally published in the March 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

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