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Sawiris prize unveils Egypt's hidden literary talents
Published in Daily News Egypt on 27 - 01 - 2009

For the fourth consecutive year, the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development is focusing its efforts on developing the cultural scene in Egypt by recognizing literary and film writers.
The Sawiris Foundation Prize for Literature and Film Scripts was recently awarded in a lavish celebration at the Cairo Opera House, and the ceremony was attended by the country's top intellects, artists, writers, literary icons, businessmen as well as a number of ambassadors.
"For four years, the Sawiris Foundation has been giving the prize, which proves our commitment to support literature, the Egyptian book and writers as we truly believe in the vital role literature has on the cultural scene, said Samih Sawiris, member of the board of trustees at the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development and sponsor of the prize.
The Sawiris Foundation began the literary contest in December 2005 with the aim of reviving the literary scene in Egypt, encouraging creativity and discovering young talent.
Renowned director and member of the judges' panel for the film script award, Samir Seif, said that this prize is significant because it helps "revive the literary scene in Egypt, which has taken a backseat to audiovisual arts.
"The rate of readers has gone down tremendously and the only books demanded are science fiction and books on religion, he added.
"This prize promotes literary creativity, especially since it includes an exceptional monetary prize which is a great incentive to both professionals and amateurs in the field, said Seif.
The competition was quite fierce this year, mainly due to a record number of submitted works: a total of 313, far exceeding the number in previous editions. The literary prize saw 119 works (67 novels and 52 collections of short stories) vying for the title. As for the film script awards, there were 86 contestants in the professional scriptwriters category and 108 in the new scriptwriters section.
As for the quality of submitted works, Seif said, "Some are really good and the effort put in them is clear, however the majority of applicants lacked the know-how of basic scriptwriting; but the fact that they applied is a great step.
"The role of the Sawiris Foundation in the cultural and literature arena in Egypt is greatly influential. They are doing what the ministry should be doing to motivate writers and introduce a new generation of [talent], said Hassan Abdel Rahman, winner of the best screenplay prize for "El Gossa Raqam 13 (Corpse Number 13) in the professional writers category.
For aspiring young writers, the prize is an incentive to put their talent into practice and improve their skills.
"The prize made a huge difference to me. This is my first work so receiving an award for it has given me a great push. It is a sign that I'm going in the right direction, especially since the judges' committee includes great writers, said Basma Abdel Aziz, recipient of the second prize in the literary category for her collection of short stories "Alashan Rabena Yesahel (So God would Make it Easy).
The multi-talented Abdel Aziz also happens to be a practicing doctor and an artist with numerous painting and sculpture exhibitions on her resume. The prize has encouraged her to focus more on writing.
Her next step will be to publish her second literary work, another collection of short stories entitled "Nighttime Agreements.
There's even bigger news for scriptwriters; the winning works will be filmed.
Seif said that the contest is "a real addition to Egyptian cinema, coming at a time that has seen a significant drop both in the quantity and quality of screenplays.
"This tells the writers that if you are talented, your work will not be shelved.
On the contrary, it will be produced for the whole world to see, he added.
Four winning screenplays are currently in production, the first of which is "One-Zero, scheduled for a summer release and starring Khaled Abol Naga. Two other scripts are being filmed at the moment, one of which is an independent production.
Unlike other contests in Egypt, notorious for bribery and certain choices imposed on the jury, the winners asserted that the Sawiris Foundation Prize adheres to strict guidelines that allow no room for manipulation and the awards are indeed given to the best of the contending works.
"I applied after I read the advertisement in the newspaper and found that I met all the requirements, however, I was de-motivated since people kept telling me I had to know someone on the board who would back me. It didn't turn out that way at all, said Abdel Aziz.
Sawiris announced in the ceremony that this year's monetary prize was increased and starting next year, a new prize will be granted for best play.
Abdel Rahman used to write plays in the 1970s but stopped when he left the country in the early 1980s following a major decline in Egyptian theater.
He said: "We are desperate for an award for playwrights because right now the Egyptian plays are in intensive care, and they need to be revived with a new generation of young writers.

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