Ramadan Festival in Korba, Heliopolis
By Seif Kamel
Many tourists to Egypt wonder whether Ramadan is a good time to visit Egypt. This being a major holiday in Egypt, many believe that tourist facilities might have limited hours, or might not be open at all. Though there are some very small exceptions, this, for the most part, is not the case. In fact, Ramadan is a wonderful cultural experience that brings a little more sparkle and fun to the Egyptian streets. It is a grand time in Egypt, and for many tourists, a great time to visit. Particularly during the evening, Egyptians are in a very festive mood during Ramadan, which has a very similar flavor to Christmas in the west.
It was a different day in Heliopolis. Friday the 29 of October was one of the sweet Ramadan evenings that will have a special memory in my mind. The neighborhood of Korba was dressed in its best. Cars were not permitted to go inside Baghdad Street, one of most popular and important streets of Korba. Ramadan Decorations were everywhere in the street with lots of Fanoos (The Ramadan famous lamp). Many Cafes such as the Marriott Bakery and Beano's had tables set in the street and there were vendors selling Beliela and Homos El Sham, the most popular Ramadan items. It was really, as the organizers of the event named it, the Ramadan Korba night.
This was the second street festival in Heliopolis. The last time was the 100 year birthday celebration for Heliopolis, but the Ramadan Korba night was different.
I was there at eight o'clock and the festival was about to begin. The members of the Heliopolis development organization who were responsible for the event built two huge stages, one at the beginning and the other in the middle of Baghdad Street. The place wasnt really crowded when I first got there but afterwards the street was full of people. The street contained more than 15 thousand people at times. Many famous companies sponsored the event, including 7 Up and Pepsi, who were promoting their new mineral water, Aquafina.
The festival started with a group of five men who performed the oriental Tanoora dance. They are usually referred to as the whirling dervish, though technically they are not. The Tanoora is the large costume that looks like a skirt that the dancers wear around their waist. The dancers than whirl in circles. This part was held on the stage in the middle of the street. By the time the dancers started, the street was full of people watching and singing as the dancers danced to many famous eastern tunes. Suddenly, with no one expecting it, the group left the stage and started dancing in the midst of the audience. After the Tanoora dancers finished their show, suddenly the eyes of the people went in another opposite direction.
This wasnt because of the festival or any of the shows. It was a surprise for us to suddenly see Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, the First Lady of Egypt, and Gamal Mubarak her son, the leader of the Watany political party, walking in the street and going to a table set for them. It made us feel like we all belong to the same family of Egyptians. Of course, everyone had to have pictures of the First Family. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak noted after the festival that it was a great night to see the people of Heliopolis enjoying themselves and she hoped that similar events would take place in other Cairo and Egypt districts.
The second part of the festival was began on the other stage. It was a musical with Selim Sahab and the coral of the Egyptian opera house. They sang around six famous Ramadan pieces. The most popular was Wahawy ya Wahawy, a very old Ramadan song that children sing while playing with the Fanoos. A lot of people gathered around the stage to listen to the music that everybody loves. Many other people just stood around or sat on the pavements. The festival was a great event to meet old friends that you never thought of seeing as there were so many people all around the street.
The third part of festival was the El Leila El Kebeera, a famous musical play in the Egyptian culture. The original play was performed using puppets but the one performed in the festival was full of children dancing and singing. I believe this was the best part of the festival because this play is loved by many people. The forth part of the festival was the performance of Yehia Khalil, the international Jazz drummer. Many people thought he would not fiind the mood of Ramadan with its eastern atmosphere.
However, he was very successful in choosing his songs and he added a lot to the festival and many people danced to his music. The last part of the festival was very interesting. It consisted of Mohamed Meta'al, the Son of Sheikh Meta'al, who is considered to be by many the best Rababa player known in Egypt. Rababa is a string instrument that sounds much like a Guitar. Young Meta'al and his band sang many famous songs and it was a fine ending to a different evening.
The festival ended at two in the morning and I believe more than thirty-thousand people attended. When a thousand people left the festival, another thousand came in. All the people I met felt the Ramadan taste in the festival, and everyone seemed to consider it a wonderful evening of free entertainment. It was great to see all sectors of the Egyptian society mingling together in one place, having fun and enjoying the festival. Young and old, rich and poor, and men and women all were present in a special night of Ramadan for Heliopolis.
One of the bands on stage in Korba