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Reviewed by:
  • MSH Zanbek (Not Your Fault)
  • Laila Ghoneim
MSH ZANBEK (NOT YOUR FAULT). Conceived and devised by Jillian Campana and Dina Amin. Written by Noran Morsi et al. Directed by Nadine Abdel Razek et al. American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt. March 22, 2021.

As the world collectively grappled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Egypt witnessed the birth of a movement combating sexual harassment and assault—an Egyptian #MeToo of sorts. In the summer of 2020, hundreds of young women took to social media to publicly accuse Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a former student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), of sexual assault. AUC became the subject of intense criticism when it was revealed that after several students had filed official reports against him, he was still allowed to enter campus, where he assaulted more women. In the wake of this call for justice, young independent artists wrote and performed Msh Zanbek (Not Your Fault) at the AUC campus, five short plays about sexual violence against Egyptian women. With its minimalistic nature and the use of the campus as an already-smeared canvas, the defiant nature of the plays rose to the forefront, showing Egyptian women who had been stripped of their agency regaining some semblance of power—if not to change anything, then at least to reclaim their narrative.

There was something both perverse and cathartic about watching this performance at what was essentially [End Page 561] the scene of the crime. The plays were site-specific, with the audience split into groups, each following a guide to a new outdoor location after a scene was finished. Set in a secluded corner of the AUC gardens, The Day We Met, written by Marwan El Gabalawy and Passant Faheem and directed by Salma Hassan, focused on a young upper-class couple, Laila and Youssef. He had just proposed, but she refused to accept until they addressed the moment on their first date when he kissed her against her will. They moved back and forth, in a simultaneously chaotic and choreographed dance, as she explained the feeling of powerlessness she had not been able to shed since that day, while he refused to acknowledge that he had been the cause. However, by the end of the play, she was the one comforting him through his realization, an infuriating but accurate reflection of the emotional labor that many survivors have had to exert so men would confront their complicity—further mirrored by this entire production.

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Lina Sakr (Asmaa), Menna Walid (Shahd), and Amena Ebeid (Nagah) (l-r) in What Do You Know? (Photo: Ahmad El-Nemr.)

Forget Him, written by Nour Coptan and directed by Jillian Campana, dissected the harrowing effects of unprocessed trauma on victims. Languishing in front of the administration building was Alia, a student just about to graduate, attempting to avoid the silent though imposing figure of the man who assaulted her four years ago. As it became clearer that the man onstage was actually a figment of Alia’s subconscious, watching her, never giving her a moment of respite, it was highly noticeable how his presence haunted the building—a reminder to the audience that this stain to the university and Egypt’s history could not be erased. “It feels like if I talk about it, it becomes more powerful,” she confessed to her friend trying to comfort her, but it was obvious that this caused her pain to fester as the ghost of her perpetrator remained. When she finally left the stage, he followed her, embodying her gaping wound that was nowhere near closing.

Yehia Abdel Ghany’s What Do You Know?, directed by Dina Amin, was the only play to address the plight of Egypt’s working-class women, whose intersecting struggles of class and gender had gone largely ignored in the recent movement. It was also the only play to be performed entirely in Arabic, providing a raw feel to the project: characters’ emotions were not neatly packaged in elaborate English terms that make the problem seem foreign, but made recognizable through the language of the people. We were introduced to two cleaners, Asmaa...


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pp. 561-564
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