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Ballerinas bringing defiance back to Cairo

AAP logoAAP 12/01/2017 Isaac J Martin

Amid the hustle and bustle of Cairo's labyrinthine streets, several women striking a pose in their ballet dresses and shoes catch the curious gaze of the passers-by.

This juxtaposed scene - where a young, modern Egypt meets an older, traditional one - is part of a photographic project called Ballerinas of Cairo.

"The principal aim (of the project) is to show the city where we live from different perspectives and to accentuate the contrast between the roughness of Cairo and the sweetness conveyed by the dancers," one of the main drivers of the project, Mohamed Taher, told EFE.

Inspired by the work of Dane Shitagi, who in 2009 captured similar images in New York, Egyptian creatives Taher and Ahmed Fathy sought to return art and happiness to the streets of Cairo by photographing ballet in some of the city's most iconic locations.

"People share these photos because they like to see the difference between and the old and the modern," said Marina Bahy, one of the ballerinas being photographed for the project who spoke to EFE in the city's famous Al Azhar park.

Throughout history, Egypt was a launchpad for artistic styles until that suddenly disappeared, said Bahy. That's why people are happy that art is returning to the streets of Cairo, he said.

Photographers Taher and Fathy said the project sought to show a "flash of joy" in a community still reeling from the Islamic State terror attack against a Coptic Christian church on December 28, 2016, in which 28 worshipers lost their lives.

Promoting Cairo as a tourist destination did not figure among Taher's initial goals, however.

"I don't think this project will help to bring tourism back to Egypt," he said, adding that this sector was seriously affected by the 2011 revolution (the so-called Arab Spring), and even more so by the 2015 downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula.

Badgered by these events and continued instability in the region, Egypt's tourist industry dropped by 50 per cent in 2016.

Rather, Taher suggested that this project was about the empowerment of women.

He stated that by taking to the streets freely, the ballerinas were confronting the widespread issue of harassment in Egypt.

The two ballerinas admitted they were worried at first about the possible reaction of the young men on the street in a country where violence against women continued to be a threat.

The photographer said the public reaction to the project had been incredible so far and that most passers-by had simply been intrigued by the sight of the ballerinas in the heart of antiquated Cairo.

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