By JENNIFER K. BAUER
The shock waves hit her full blast in 2011, when she stood with thousands of protestors demanding liberty in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as the president’s supporters rode through the crowds swinging swords from the backs of horses and camels.
“You’re alive like you’ve never been alive before,” the activist and storyteller says of living in the eye of change. “You’re defending the future.”
The lively and energetic 46-year-old is in Moscow this week where she will present her play “Solitaire” Thursday, Oct. 9 at the University of Idaho Hartung Theater. The play tells the story of an Arab-American woman choosing her political identity between 9/11 and the Egyptian Revolution.
Ask Basiouny what she does for a living and she’ll ask, “What day?”
Last week she was a farmer at home in Egypt picking and pickling olives. Another day she served on a jury at the National Festival of Egyptian Theatre. She has worked at the United Nations, studied shiatsu and been a journalist. During the revolution, she was the main source of information for the Huffington Post.
“I don’t see things in isolation,” Basiouny says of her varied interests and explains she was 4 years old when she realized the political was personal. Egypt shifted alliances from the U.S. to Russia, and sanctions eliminated her favorite chewy vitamins.
Basiouny was in New York studying theater when 9/11 happened. In the aftermath, she saw Arabs and Arab-Americans targeted and screened because of how they looked or dressed. Some were attacked. Many people working in the public sector changed their names to sound less Arab, she says.
“At the same time, a lot of artists became more Arab,” she says.
People who were half Arab, or two or three generations removed, found an opportunity to connect with their culture and challenge negative views, she says. One way this happened was through what she calls “easily digestible theater” — plays about food.
“I am different. You don’t know me, but you know falafel, hummus, pita bread,” she explains.
Basiouny believes she is familiar with nearly every play written about Arab-Americans since 9/11. Her play tells the story of a woman who struggles with her identity as an Arab and a Muslim in America and in times driven by technology. She struggles with the decision to take an oath to become an American citizen. She must decide whether to go to Egypt to take part in the Arab Spring. Basiouny has performed the play around the world and short-listed for this year’s Gilder/Coigney International Theatre Award presented by the League of Professional Theater Women.
Basiouny always leaves time for comments at the end of her play, for while her character meets a happy ending, the events the performance documents continue to play out. Egypt is in a volatile state of instability. There have been four presidents in the last four years. There is no traffic control, and law and order do not exist, she says. The underworld has flooded the country with weapons, and the sound of gunshots is common. Car theft is rampant; people have stolen master keys from factories and steal vehicles off the street, demanding a ransom from owners. Even if the ransom is paid, the car is not likely to be returned, she says. When people turn to police, the police blame those who wanted the revolution, she says.
“People are really tired of it, especially the many people living under the poverty line. The whole system is in collapse. People want stability. Freedom is not even on the table anymore,” she says.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, once the country’s largest and best-organized political party, are being imprisoned without a fair trial, sentenced to death or killed by ordinary citizens.
“A majority of the population is becoming fascist,” Basiouny says.
“It is very volatile. We are at a moment where a new map is being drawn. History is being changed, but it is happening so fast.”
Some Egyptian media outlets are now calling the revolution “the conspiracy,” she says, blaming it on people paid by foreign agencies. She’s had people tell her they would believe that if they didn’t know her personally.
“I feel like it’s really important to keep telling the story,” she says, especially as she watches it be erased.
if you go
What: “Solitaire,” a play by Egyptian writer, director and activist Dalia Basiouny
When: 7:30 Thursday, Oct. 9
Where: University of Idaho Hartung Theater
Cost: $15 general admission, $10 seniors, UI staff and faculty. Tickets are available at BookPeople of Moscow; the theater office in Shoup Hall, Room 201; or at the door.