Sunday, October 21,  2018


The fight for Egypt’s national identity

By Midan Masr

Protests and Demonstrations against the newly appointed Minister of Culture have become a fight for Egypt’s national identity and for the integrity and independence of the arts.

For over two weeks, intellectuals, writers, artists, actors and actresses, film-makers, musicians and all who love the performing arts have been protesting and demonstrating against the arbitrary decisions taken by the minister of culture within weeks of his appointment to the cabinet. Without explanations or rationalizations, newly appointed Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel Aziz fired the heads of several key sectors within the Ministry of Culture including the heads of the Cairo Opera House, the General Egyptian Book Organization, the Fine Arts Sector, and the National Library and Archives. The removal of Opera House Director Ines Abdel Dayem, in particular, galvanized the artistic community into action. Performers and staff at the Cairo Opera House suspended the performance of Aida and announced a three-day halt to all performances.

Numerous intellectuals submitted their resignations from the state culture bodies in solidarity with their colleagues.

Among them was Bahaa Taher, renowned author and winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008, who resigned from the Supreme Council of Culture in protest at the minister's "dismissal of many valuable, highly educated and accomplished artists and intellectuals from leading positions in Egypt's cultural scene." Taher added that Abdel Aziz was following a clear strategy to destroy Egyptian arts and culture.

As the protests escalated and the minister remained unresponsive to protests, artists stormed the Ministry of Culture on 5 June and prevented Abdel Aziz from entering the building. Every evening since then artistic events have taken place on the street outside the ministry.

The protests at the Ministry of Culture have become a microcosm for society’s widespread anger at the Brotherhood’s agenda to systematically erase Egypt’s identity. As famous harpist Manal Mohie El-Din put it "one is either with Egypt or the Brotherhood.” 

Shura Council and Salafist Nour Party member Gamal Hamed sparked anger and concern when he described ballet as “the art of nudity” and called for banning ballet because he believes Islam forbids it.

On 13 June, Tahani El-Gebali, former vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, joined intellectuals inside the Ministry of Culture building and made a speech on the need to protect Egyptian culture.

"Our culture is being destroyed by Islamist bulldozers," El-Gebali argued. "We are not just any country. We have a history and culture of 7000 years. With this accumulated identity, we now need to live in modernity, in a modern constitutional system; we need to continue developing and create a modern republic. We must not go backwards."

Violent clashes occurred at the Ministry of Culture on Tuesday 13th June as Islamists attacked the protesters. Many wonder if this is a sign of what is to happen on June 30.

The demonstrators have clearly announced that they will continue their sit-in at the Ministry until Abdel Aziz is removed and until June 30 if needs be.

With all this turmoil and discontent, and given the caliber of the demonstrators, one would have expected that Prime Minister Hisham Qandil (who is responsible for appointing Abdel-Aziz) would have made some effort to meet with and listen to the complaints. But his and the government’s total disregard for the protests is indicative of the Brotherhood’s style of governance—ignore what is around you, no need to listen to others, or take different opinions into account, proceed single-mindedly to achieve your objectives of total and absolute control. Egypt’s welfare is not your concern—your people in all key positions is what matters.