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National Theater Festival postponed due to security fears

With audiences and critics anticipating the opening on Tuesday 19 July of the sixth session of the National Theater Festival, the Culture Ministry on Saturday announced its postponement.

“The organizing committee decided to postpone the festival in light of the Attaba violence last week,” Samir al-Assfoury, president of this year’s festival, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

“Plays were to be shown at the Attaba and Arayess theaters and we felt it might be unsafe to host a large audience, given the circumstances and security laxity.”

Violence erupted on Thursday night between street vendors and shop owners in downtown’s Attaba area after street vendors were asked to move their stands. Stones, knives and Molotov cocktails were used before police intervened and arrested 19 suspects.

“The decision to postpone the festival was taken collectively and it’s not meant to feed into the ongoing culture of fearmongering. We could have taken our chances and held the festival anyway, but given the persistent security laxity, we decided not to gamble on our audiences' safety,” explained Assfoury.

Assfoury was quick to assure participating theater troupes and the public that the festival is postponed, not cancelled.

As a first-time guest of honor at the festival, he explained that he doesn't feel responsible for the contentious legacy of previous editions and that he remains excited about the inclusion of street theater in the program for the first time. Several performances will be held at open-air theaters and outdoor spaces adjacent to state theaters.

“Street theater has been a strong feature of the 25 January revolution and performances held in Tahrir Square engaged the public. We wanted to allow participating theater troupes to reflect this emerging culture.”

The National Theater Festival would have been the first state festival to be held after the 25 January revolution, as both the Cairo Film Festival and the Experimental Theater Festival were cancelled earlier this year.

“Although I understand the troupe members’ disappointment, postponing the festival will also allow them, as well as the organizers, to be better prepared," added Assfoury.

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