I have a hard time with titles. Perhaps the single most challenging aspect of thinking through this folio was the perplexing question of what to name it. Several, ultimately futile, brainstorming sessions produced little promise and plenty of frustration. I skimmed song lyrics, speeches, classic cinema; all the clichés, all to no avail. Inevitably, I had to give up and settle for the simple “Egyptian Writers Folio”. I had deadlines and work to be delivered. But what seemed like a defeat ended up representing the whole point of this project for me; you can’t define Om El Donia (forgive me). Not with a few words, not with a thousand.
The idea for this project began with an odd observation. Despite the prominence of Egyptian literature, art and cinema within the Arab cultural landscape, Egyptians are drastically underrepresented abroad, despite being all over the place. For instance, after Lebanese-Americans, Egyptian Americans form the second largest national identity within the Arab-American community. And yet, Egyptians are scant to be found in Anglophone Arab literature and art. Of course, it is nothing short of a delight for me to witness my Lebanese and Palestinian siblings thriving, but as an Egyptian I itched to create a space for the empowerment of Egyptian and Egypt-centric writing.
As the subject of feverish mythologizing, ancient and modern, and a crossroads of African, Mediterranean and West Asian cultures from time immemorial, Egypt has long provided an infinitely rich, complicated and painful heritage that continues to be in desperate need of interrogative unraveling. This became the larger goal of the folio, the reason I could not settle on a single buzzword to define it. More and more of us are growing tired of state-sanctioned narratives and neat, essentialized understandings of our messy heritage. Despite the best efforts of certain forces, Egyptians across generations, both within the country and the diaspora, continue to question the future and ‘essence’ of Egyptian identity and statehood. By gathering these diverse and phenomenal voices, I hope this folio can do what little it can to expand our understanding of the ever-growing mosaic that is Masr.