AUC Commemorates Egypt’s 1919 Revolution

March 10, 2019, Cairo – The American University in Cairo (AUC) hosted yesterday a tribute as part of its yearlong centennial celebrations, in commemoration of Egypt’s 1919 Revolution and the inspiring art of the legendary Sayed Darwish. The day-long celebration included a press conference, lectures by prominent figures, an art exhibition and a musical concert.

Commemorating 1919

At the press conference, Alaa Eldin Edris, associate provost for research, innovation and creativity at AUC explained the significance of the celebration to AUC, saying: “In the modern history of Egypt, 1919 revolution is a political, social and artistic milestone. Our basic contribution was the authentication and the documentation of the art work of Sayed Darwish and the 1919 revolution. Darwish was the voice of the revolution and its magical communicating tool and we couldn’t let this milestone pass by, without at least recognizing such work and great history.”

Adris believes AUC, as a higher education institution, worked on emphasizing the power of arts and technology. “The power of art was almost the first aspect to identify during this revolution. When political parties and leaders were silenced by the British occupation, it was hard to stop people from singing and spreading their songs, especially with the technology of the gramophones at the time and the use of art through theaters.”

Adris also highlighted the role of graduate students of Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism at AUC, in producing two documentaries on 1919, through a documentary production course, highlighting the story of the revolution and focusing on using arts as a form of resistance.

Digitizing Music History

Wael El Mahalawi, associate professor, Department of the Arts, who is also the director of the authentication project and the archival songs of the 1919 revolution, said at the press conference: “There were no written musical notations and lyrics kept changing depending on the singers so we wanted to capture the very original musical melodies and document them in proper musical notation.”

El Mahalwai explained that many of the original records were distorted and the team worked on searching for the original lyrics to archive them. “We meant to reproduce the songs by an oriental band using music instruments similar to the ones used then. We worked on this project for six months and the recorded songs will be available on sound cloud.”

Students’ Exhibition

Graphic design students showcased their reflections of 1919 revolution through an exhibition that is held in Howard Hall in Tahrir Campus. “We are celebrating the people’s revolution, the one that can be marked without doubt in bringing Egyptians from all walks of life together. The students’ perspective towards 1919 is definitely different than that of politicians and historians. It was indeed a good way to celebrate 1919 by having students from various backgrounds analyze this event 100 years later for the first time with a fresh perspective,” said Naglaa Samir, associate professor of practice, Department of the Arts. At the press conference Samir, the curator of the exhibition, discussed how a course on packaging design evolved into an exhibition. “We looked at ten design proposals on musical archives by students. Student Helen Bakhoum work was selected as the high-end design for the 100 limited edition copies. Each student presented a packaging design and 23 album art works for the songs produced.”

Students used material from the RSCBL, pieces obtained from private collections, extensive historic research, and field work to produce their designs. Samir added: “the resulting work was contemporary reflections of graphic design students, some through poster arts and some through scrap book art.”

Preserving History, AUC Rare Books and Special Collections

At the press conference, Amr Kamel, assistant director, Rare Books and Special Collection Library highlighted the role of RBSCL in preserving the history and culture of Egypt for humanity “one document at a time. Vintage copies of the "Sphinx' magazine from 1919, photographs of Saad Zagloul, his wife's diaries as well as articles in the 'Musawwar" about the 1919 Revolution are valuable items we are preserving. Collections like our materials documenting the 1919 Revolution can now be shared internationally thanks to new digital media that makes this an easy and effective way to collaborate in scholarly fashion."

One of the primary pillars of the RBSCL mission is to document and conserve the historical record and artistic as well as the cultural achievements of Egypt. RBSCL accomplishes this mission by collecting primary source materials: vintage photographs, personal documents and even the oral histories of the people of Egypt.  “These physical items never leave Egypt but become part of its permanent record - and a source for AUC scholarly research,” said Kamel, “Today we also offer digital programs that convert these documents into new formats to be shared online and available for Digital Humanities projects."

1919 Day-Long Celebration

Following the press conference, speakers Mostafa El Feki, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina; Mohamed Abou El-Ghar, professor of gynecology at Cairo University and political activist; and Sania Sharawi, novelist and the granddaughter of feminist and women’s rights activist Huda Sharawi discussed the eruption of the 1919 revolution; the impactful role of women; and the aftermath and the socio-economic and public forces landscape at the time.

The panel was followed by a concert showcasing a compilation of the most influential songs written for the revolution in a historic archive of lyrics, musical notations and multi-track recordings. The concert, directed by AUC Professor Mahallawy, featured Eskenderella with lead singer Hazem Shaheen and the AUC Ferqa with lead singer Nesma Mahgoub ’13.

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Founded in 1919, The American University in Cairo (AUC) is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programs. 

The University offers 40 undergraduate, 52 master’s and two PhD programs rooted in a liberal arts education that encourages students to think critically and find creative solutions to conflicts and challenges facing both the region and the world. 

An independent, nonprofit, politically non-partisan, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.