Rawabet is a unique Egyptian initiative that began in 2006, serving as a platform for the independent performing art scene in Cairo and the country as a whole. It was founded by a group of independent artists who recognised the urgent need for an artistic venue for independent groups and for an audience base interested in alternative contemporary performing arts, including theatre, music and film. Its name ‘Rawabet’, Arabic for ‘links’, expresses its overriding objective; to offer a space that creates constant connections among artists and between artists and audiences. The lack of independent, non-profit performance and rehearsal spaces has long been a problem for performers in Egypt, where the vast majority of facilities are either state-run or commercial in nature. This major deficiency within the performing arts scene has left artists in dire need for approachable and inexpensive rehearsal and performance space, not to mention access to equipment and technical resources.
Many independent performers also require administrative support and assistance from professionals familiar with tasks such as grant writing and reporting, managing complicated production budgets, marketing etc, which other facilities simply do not provide. In the face of all these deterrents and with the support of Townhouse, the founders identified a suitable space; an old unused warehouse located in Downtown, Cairo. With the help of initial funding, the space was converted into a fully-functioning theatre with a capacity of up to 150, and in September 2006, Rawabet opened its doors to host its first show. This marked the beginning of a series of uninterrupted artistic ventures and to this day Rawabet’s calendar is forever filled with theatre acts, musical shows, contemporary dance performances, film screenings, workshops, cultural festivals and symposia. Throughout the last few tumultuous years in Egypt, the Rawabet space has proved more valuable than ever. It offers transparency and a lack of censorship at a time when such freedoms are near enough non-existent and affords a source of fresh air for performers who are faced with low morale and what they perceive as a lack of opportunities.
In spite of the exceptional circumstances that have defined this period, in terms of political upheaval and endless unrest, and indeed the location of Rawabet in relation to many of the clashes, the space and its activities have remained a vital cornerstone for the performing arts in Egypt. Rawabet is a rare and heavily relied upon facility in a country where arts and culture are hardly at the top of the agenda. The performing artists derive experience, support and motivation from Rawabet and in return Rawabet and the audiences are laying much needed future foundations for Cairo’s arts and culture scene.