Marching and Laughing: the Rebel Clown Army reaches Egypt!
Video report will follow later
30 October 2012 - The Amsterdam Rebel Clowns have been invited to introduce the 'Rebel Clown Army' in Egypt. A week of performances, a presentation and a Basic Rebel Clown Training. Loads of interviews, media attention, problems and challenges. The Red Nose Arabic Spring in Egypt has only begun!
Wednesday, Oct 3rd
Arrival at Cairo Airport on a warm night. A bus brings the rebel clowns to Giza, but first we see the city of Cairo, the river Nile and other spots we only knew from pictures. Giza is a place south of Cairo, close to the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx. The Amsterdam Rebel Clowns stay in a lively neighbourhood: cafés and shops are open till late. Much poverty, much spirit and many super friendly people!
Thursday, Oct 4th
The night of the opening of the CIRCAIRO Festival which invited us. In the night the clowns arrive at Abdin Square. The square is close to government buildings. Maybe one of the reasons it wasn't easy to get permission to have the festival there. It took even till Oct 4th till it was sure the festival should go on. First of all the festival is a circus festival, but has also some political cultural components. In an earlier edition they invited a very political Palestinian group of clowns, this year it's Rebelact. The plan is to be a living connection between the neighbourhood and the festival area. Especially a country like Egypt needs a 'Rebel Clown Army'!
The place to change clothes and to clown make up is a tent on the Abdin Square. But... when people of the festival discovered the clown army jackets a big bomb exploded! "This uniform cannot be shown at the opening of the festival! We might get troubles from security, the festival might get troubles, the relation between Egypt and the Netherlands could get bad, we even cannot tell what consequences it might have!".
What happened was a big surprise, because during the preparations the festival organisation clearly asked to bring the 'Rebel Clown Army' to Egypt and yeahhh... pimped uniforms are part of it!
What to do in this situation? For the time being the clowns who all were wearing uniforms stayed in the tent, internal discussions followed. Public was waiting outside, got the request to adapt from the organisation. In the meantime Egyptian media entered the tent. Making films and pictures of the rebel clowns in army dress! A perfect moment to start marching in the tent and spread our message by the media!
Visits and negotiations in the tent. Several people of the organisation came in the tent and asked to don't wear the uniforms. Police and security should be on the square. But several clowns said we didn't came to Egypt to just be a clown! Finally it looked like we got a permission to have a small round on the Abdin Square in our beautifoool pimped uniforms... But then another person entered the tent and the whole discussion started all over again. The European woman didn't introduce herself, but the way she behaved it looks like she was the boss of the festival. She wasn't! After a while one of the clowns asked who she is. An employee of the Dutch Embassy... (probably afraid the performances should damage the Egyptian-Dutch relationship)
Shortly after these talks we got a definitive no. Some of the clowns protested by staying in the tent, others made a short round without army jackets in the backstage area. Again confusion. Some people of the organisation stopped the clowns in their way to the public. Finally the public could be reached. It didn't take long. All clowns returned to the tent. Introducing the 'Rebel Clown Army' in Egypt wasn't easy that night!
Friday, Oct 4th
Dressed normally several clowns passed the security check near the Pyramids and Great Sphinx. Afterwards the clowns took their noses and wigs and tried to give the Sphinx his nose back. Even more beautiful: a round red one!
The clowns were an extra tourist attraction: several people wanted to make pictures with them.
Of course the proof the clowns really were in Egypt are the pictures with them, the pyramids and the Sphinx!
Friday was also the first day of the 'Basic Rebel Clown Training'. About 20 / 25 people who live in Egypt joined. Most of them have a theatre or clown background. They were highly motivated, participated actively full of energy.
Someone had to translate, but everything went very smoothly, as they understood easily what they had to do. Their response was really enthusiastic.
Like on the Abdin Square also at the training in the cultural centre there were moments with Egypt media, making interviews, pictures, films, etc. A great opportunity to spread the rebellious clown message!
Saturday, Oct 6th
Already in the afternoon the clowns arrive in Mansoura. The performances in the Shagaret El Dorr Park are in the night. There's time left for a Nile cruise with a party boat. Also joined by a big group of children from the Egyptian Circus.
Mansoura is a conservative place. In the weeks before the festival started there's a campaign to stop the festival entering Mansoura. But luckily the campaign isn't successful. Hundreds of people are in the park. Now the clowns are better prepared to don't wear uniforms; instead they use green self made 'camouflage' shirts. Then all kind of manoeuvres followed. The public and especially the children are very enthusiastic. They follow the rebel clowns wherever they go. Even in the dress up tent where they ended the performance with giving a lot of red noses to the children.
Sunday, Oct 7th
After an afternoon seeing the oldest parts of Cairo the rebel clowns have a presentation in the evening in the theatre space of the cultural centre where also the training has been organised. Two female rebel clowns explain about the history of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army and how in several countries gaggles (local groups of rebel clowns) started. Several videos from Scotland (G8 2005) and the Netherlands (Rebelact, 2007 - 2012) were shown on the screen. Again Egyptian and Arabic media are there.
The night ends around 22.00 with several questions by the public. One of the most interesting questions is: "How to translate the 'Rebel Clown' concept (and other forms of creative activism) into the Egyptian circumstances?". A question which probably only could be answered by Egyptian people.
Monday, Oct 8th
The last day of the Basic Rebel Clown Training in Cairo After hours of physical exercises where the participants learn spontaneous play and typical 'Rebel Clown Army' manoeuvres and much more, the training ends with a brainstorm about what to do with rebel clowning in the Egypt circumstances. Although the original plan was to have practice on the streets, this exchange of thoughts was maybe one of the best moments of the training. The picture was great: very concrete problems asking for very concrete rebel clown attention!
It was a moment we didn't allow the media to film in the space. Earlier again interviews. This time independent film makers, but also Al Arabiya - a well known Arabic TV station.
The Basic Training will most probably get a follow up in November. Wait and see! Rebellious red noses will conquer the streets of Cairo soon!
Tuesday, Oct 9th
Tired but satisfied the Amsterdam Rebel Clowns fly back to Amsterdam. In their bags the contact info of great Egyptian people who invited them to come back.
Rebel clowning started as part of the Alterglobalist movement around summits like G8. Here the Amsterdam Rebel Clowns had the unique chance to really connect with the 'South'. Egypt after the revolution of 2011 is one of the most interesting parts of the southern countries. By connecting with people there the rebel clowns could bring some of their alterglobalist ideals into practice.
Let's end with a personal quote from one of the rebel clowns: "People show high enthusiasm. It was like they see us coming from out of space. We got a lot of attention, much more than you can ever dream of in the Netherlands. People are very reactive, because their life there is quite different. They struggle a lot to survive and are much more social".
It was absolutely great to be in Egypt! It opened our eyes, ears and hearts for real people with real problems. People thanked us for the inspiration. But we were inspired by what happened starting January 25th in 2011. People who were so courageous! We talked with one of the people who joined the Arabic Spring; last year he was on Tahrir Square and showed us his mortar scar, fired by the army.
He's one of the courageous people wearing such a medal of honour.
Let's keep in touch with him and many others!
Photographer: Karen Eliot