Egyptian author Lenin El-Ramly is a versatile writer who uses his work to link comedy to drama and social involvement. He utilizes a variety of genres, including parody, satire and the theatre of the absurd, in television series, films and plays. His sassy, stimulating exposure of the hypocrisy and intolerance in Egyptian society and the Arab world won El-Ramly a Prince Claus award in 2005. With support from the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo and help from the Intercultural Exchange program of the University of Amsterdam, he recently visited the Netherlands.
Emancipation, religion and terrorism. These are only a few of the many themes of El-Ramly's work. "Censoring was very strict in the 1960s and 1970s in Egypt, which is now one of the few Arab countries that make at least some room for art," he says. "Circumstantial factors are therefore determinant for and even stimulating to creativity. Indirectly addressing essential matters is a challenge for me as a film and theatre-maker."
And yet El-Ramly believes that ultimate artistic freedom does not exist. "Creativity has limits. Even if you have limitless freedom as an artist, you ultimately want your message to be heard."
The Egyptian's work is also being noticed in other countries. A significant share of his almost forty plays have been performed in countries including Tunisia, Kuwait, France and Denmark. El-Ramly himself, however, does not appear to place great store in his international reputation. "Success is not what matters to me," he says. "I believe it is much more important to explore the philosophical thought processes that occur in the minds of men - these are universal and recognizable. And you can say more with art than you can with words. In the end, you want to get people thinking."