A crowd got together at the Al Sakia El-Sawi Cultural Center, located by the River Nile in Cairo, to watch the lecture by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho on May 23. He spent four days in the Egyptian capital to participate in a series of events.
At the cultural center, located in upper class neighborhood of Zamalek, more than 2,000 people, most of them youngsters, as well as writers, actors and intellectuals, settled around as best as they could, standing or sitting, to hear the Brazilian who is a world best seller.
“The first book written by him that I read was The Alchemist. A friend of mine, at university, gave me the book as a present and I liked it so much that I read all the others I could find,” said Marwa, 19 years old, law student at the Cairo University.
Such popularity surprised even the author himself, who didn’t know he was so renowned in Egypt or the Arab world.
“For a long time I wished to come back to Egypt. I had been here in 1987. For me this is an emblematic country, where everything has a lot of meaning. Every sign has its own power, for this is where civilization began,” he said, adding that it was Egypt and Morocco that inspired him to write “The Alchemist”, one of his greatest hits.
“I remember this vision I had of the Pyramids at night with the lights of Cairo lighting the space behind them. I felt something extraordinary. And it was at this exact moment that my shepherd in the Alchemist found himself in this place,” he stated.
The book, which sold more than 40 million copies, is strongly influenced by the Arab culture. In it the author tells the story of Santiago, a young shepherd who abandons his flock in Andalusia and goes off in search of an illusion. In a journey that begins in Morocco, crosses the Sahara desert and end at the pyramids of Egypt.
According to Paulo Coelho, nothing happens on chance: “Maybe this is why for many years I have wanted to come back to this country. I wanted to come back to Cairo and meet the public. I didn’t have here an editor that officially published my books, the situation was complicated.
“In the end I decided to come on my own, with help, of course, from normal people, representatives of the organized civil society. And thanks to the efforts of people like Heba Ezzat or Ahmed Abdulla, of the Group of the South (an NGO formed by professionals of the academic circle) all events were organised. Hence it is also thanks to them that this visit had such positive repercussions,” said the writer.
As well as the El-Sawi center, Paulo Coelho participated at the roundtables at the Union of Egyptian Writers, gave a lecture at the Economics and Political Sciences school at the Cairo University and participated in an autograph session in one of the greatest bookstores of Cairo, located in the First Mall shopping center, which is one of the fanciest in the city.
There a group of at least 500 people patiently waited in line to shake hands or receive an autograph of the Brazilian writer. During the event, Paulo Coelho heard commentaries of the sort: “we like you, your books and Brazil very much,” or “welcome Paulo Coelho, we love your country”.
In the meetings, themes such as the dialogue between cultures and the similarities between the Arab and South American people were discussed many times.
“In what concerns dialogue, this is about a very explicit concept and it implies two parties interacting. Personally I am here more to listen and understand the people, than to give lectures or impose my point of view,” said Coelho, adding that it is important to know the Arab and Islamic countries.
“To know this world all you need is to look at a website on the Internet about it, visit it or simply talk to someone coming from it. When we do that immediately we notice that these are people with whom we have many values in common, amongst which are tolerance and respect for others.”
He also highlighted the role of art in this dialogue. “I am sure that art is the best instrument for us to get to know each other,” he said.
“The best proof of this is that even if sometimes we don’t understand particular points of view, be they political or religious, when we look at art or literature, we see that there is a universal language, that represents the most important of bridges among the different civilizations,” concluded the writer.
Paulo Coelho’s journey through Cairo coincided with the launch of his last book, “The Zahir”, in English. He said he autographed the first copy of the English version in Cairo.
However, many of his works have already been published in Arab by an editor in Beirut, in Lebanon, such as “The Alchemist”, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept”, “The Fifth Mountain”, “Veronika Decides to Die”, “The Devil and Miss Prym”, and “Eleven Minutes”.
ANBA – Brazil-Arab News Agency – www.anba.com.br