Puppets in Egypt hold a special place in the way we tell stories. From folklore to children’s tales; puppets are not limited to a childish pastime, they are a way of expressing heritage.
Perhaps the one that evokes the most nostalgia, and a fair amount of romanticism, is El-Leila El-Kebeera. In the capable hands of Salah El-Saqqa, Salah Jahin, and Sayid Mekawy, the show has seen countless re-enactments, such as in the Cairo Opera House, and has left an indelible memory in the minds of many generations.
Yet puppetry in Egypt has become a dying art; the state-owned puppet theatre that produced the famous show has lost most of its former glory. From employing some of the nation’s best poets and composers to merely relying on their former legacy, the art has become marginalised, despite its treasured position in Egyptian culture.
Ahmed Naiem and Mohamed Fawzy say their lives revolve around puppets and they are trying to revive what to them is an important part of Egyptian heritage,
“We have always been interested in puppets, even as students, we took courses on puppets when we originally studied mixed arts,” said Fawzy, better known as Bakkar.
Together they started a puppet theatre called Khoyout, Arabic for “threads”, which offers workshops and offers knowledge about everything that has to do with puppets.
“We give workshops and advice to anyone who is interested and we put on shows for people of all ages. We recognise that people will not come to us so we go to them, we are a mobile theatre.”
Khoyout also sells puppets and can make one per your request, “if you give us a picture of someone we could make a puppet that looks like them and it makes for a great present,” said Bakkar.
Khoyout’s audience covers a wide range of people, which they take into consideration organising their shows, “the shows we put on for kids tend to be educational in nature, while the ones we put on for adults tend to be geared toward heritage. Our popular stories include belly dancers and a tin man in love.
Khoyout is planning to put on three more shows for kids in the near future and are working on a plan for the next year, “we think puppetry in Egypt is a marginalised art form and there is a problem with the state-owned puppet theatre that they have not tried to teach other people or create something new.”
To this end, Bakkar says Khoyout is planning on something more stable, to do the art form justice, “we want to establish a permanent school in a permanent location so we can teach others about puppetry and we hope we can hire a team of dedicated people to ensure the survival of this important piece of our heritage.”