Arab Festival 2009

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Thank you for making the Arab Festival 2009 feel like home!

The breezes were warm and so were the people at the 2009 Arab Festival, held August 1-2 at Seattle Center as part of the Safeco Insurance Festàl Series.  A year of planning erupted into a splendor of sounds, colors, and tastes as friends and families gathered to celebrate their culture and learn about the Arab world.

Live music spilled from the Flag Pavilion onto green grass, where families enjoyed kabobs and kibbe, lahm bi ajeen, falafel and kenafe.  The coffeehouse offered shadde (cards), coffee, argila and backgammon, giving people space to read their programs and chat.  The volume went up later at an after-hours dance party.

Naser Musa and the Georges Lammam Ensemble, George Sadak, Fathia Atallah, and many talented musicians and dancers took us to Cairo, Algiers, and the Arab streets with joy.

Local residents hosted country booths representing Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, and Syria.  Visitors browsed booths and a souk, featuring handmade treasures and sweets.

Lectures, films and workshops  widen perspectives

At the Center House, storytelling and readings by local Arab writers and authors Rabih Alameddine and Alia Yunis reminded us that our points of view as Arabs are wide, humorous, and varied.

A panel of Iraqi immigrants described their journeys to America, touching the audience with their courage and warmth. The play “Samahtah” introduced a new audience to the Palestinian experience of memory and family.

In a quiet dark room, viewers savored films that included an Egyptian classic, a Syrian documentary, a Tunisian visual poem, and the first feature film to ever come from Yemen.

Master artists offered workshops on Arabic rhythm and percussion, folkloric dances of the Gulf, and more.  The fashion show honored tradition while looking at some exciting new trends in design.

Wedding celebration and debke

On the Flag Pavilion main stage, the audience ululated as a mock wedding procession with azaffeh and zaghaleet wound its way onto the stage, led by dancer Zaphara with a lit candelabra atop her head.  Just as at any wedding, some in the audience commented that “they knew the bride when she was just a little girl” and she was lucky to have a handsome groom.

The crowd swelled for Siraj, a new debke troupe that formed in the last six months led by Omar Batiste.  A new generation of young people danced for the appreciative crowd on Old and new songs, which included many experienced debke dancers themselves:

  • Amer Elmughrabi
  • Chantal Lahoud
  • Fadi Obeid
  • Geny Elmurr
  • George Saliba
  • Laila Taji Saliba
  • Nadine Elmurr
  • Shadi Elhaj Sleiman
  • Yousor Lukata

An outpouring of community support

About 100 volunteers from as far as New York City, Washington DC, and Dubai, traveled to Seattle to volunteer at the festival. Within the state, families came from Olympia to Ritzville in Eastern Washington.

Arab businesses showed support as sponsors, advertisers, and vendors, and by providing generous in-kind donations over the past year.

As the festival began, ACW was close to reaching our fundraising goal of $40,000 to pay for festival expenses. We are still tallying our totals and will let you know our results soon. Much of the support came from grants and businesses, but a significant portion also came from individual donors, ACW members, and grassroots events such as barbeques, cooking demonstrations, and a winter fashion show.  Despite the tough economy, your support was generous and we thank you!

ACW also thanks Seattle Center, SAFECO Festàl, Seattle Mayors Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture, Dish Network. Caravan-Serai, Wells Fargo, Abdul Hawasli Graphic Design, KUOW, Seattle Center Foundation, Humanities Washington, Washington State Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Soon ACW will be surveying you to get feedback on the festival. In the meantime, we invite you to e-mail your top five favorite photos that you took at the festival to We’ll publish some of them on our website.

Thank you to all who expressed yourselves at the Arab Festival. You brought your families, presented at booths and programs, shared your art and your crafts, and volunteered and donated. Thanks for joining our caravan!