CAIRO, EGYPT:  Egyptian writers, directors, artists, singers, journalists and actors are calling for the resignation of the country’s new Culture Minister Alaa Abdel Aziz. And they are asking for the support of the international community to help them with their cause.

Since June 5, hundreds of people have staged a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture  headquarters in Zamalek district of Cairo. Prominent artists and intellectuals broke into the ministry premises and declared an open-ended sit-in until the minister is replaced.  They are protesting against the Islamization of Egyptian culture. The new Minister Alaa Abdel Aziz has also been accused of firing dozens of officials for no reason other than the fact they were not associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling party in Egypt.

The demonstration comes after the three-day strike organized by the employees of Cairo Opera against the policies of Abdel Aziz.

Artists and intellectuals continue their sit-in at the Ministry of Culture in Zamalek. (Photo: Ayman Hafez)
Artists and intellectuals continue their sit-in at the Ministry of Culture in Zamalek. (Photo: Ayman Hafez)

During the first stages of the break-in, Minister Abdel-Aziz was trapped inside the building until the evening. As part of their protests, which began on June 4, artists kicked Brotherhood-affiliated culture ministry staff.  They held onto control of the premises and, a day later, announced that they would host artistic events at 6:00 pm every day outside of the ministry building.

Protesters said they refuse to meet Minister Abdel-Aziz to negotiate and announced they will continue their sit-in until he is removed. The Freedom of Creativity Front also vowed in a statement to refuse to negotiate with the minister and clarified that it was not personal, but rather a rejection of government policies.

Among the protesters who have joined the sit-in were Egypt’s best known actress Laila Elwi; novelist Sanaallah Ibrahim, who refused a prestigious Egyptian State award in 2003 (because of his opposition to the Hosni Mubarak regime); the director Khaled Youssef, who has consistently opposed the Muslim Brotherhood; film producer Mohamed al-Adl; visual artist Mohamed Abla; actors Nabil al-Halfawy, Mahmoud Qabil and Sameh al-Seriety; the poet Sayed Hegab and Egypti’s important novelist Bahaa Taher.

They encouraged fellow artists and intellectuals in other governorates outside of Cairo to do the same in front of the culture ministry offices and cultural palaces.

In addition, the Egyptian branch of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) has distributed a letter to its international colleagues around the world, which formally asks the help of the international community to oust the controversial minister from his office. ITI is a UNESCO entity with more than 90 centres around the world. The letter reads in part:

The Islamists’ declared jihad against the arts is currently spearheaded by none other than the regime’s Ministry of Culture, thanks to the recent appointment at its helm of a certain Alaa Abdel-Aziz, an obscure film lecturer with a paltry academic record and practically no professional or public service credentials save his adoption of the cultural discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood ruling faction (or, more aptly, its anti-arts one). In a typical demonstration of this populist rhetoric, Abdel-Aziz had this to say at a recent press conference “I ask those leading the ferocious campaign against me: What have they ever contributed to Egypt’s culture? What have they ever given to the enlightened Egyptian people? Post-revolution Egypt should not be captive to a group that has not been able to effectively touch Egyptians with creativity over long decades.”

While the problem of a certain disconnect between the intelligentsia and their constituencies is by no means unique to Egypt, we believe it is either moronic or hypocritical (or, more likely, both) to question the contributions of generations of artists in the various fields of the performing and fine arts and their far-reaching role in establishing and popularising these arts not only in Egypt, but all over the Arab world, not to mention world-renowned literary and artistic figures of the stature of Bahaa Taher, Sonallah Ibrahim, Ramzi Yassa, Alaa Al-Aswany, Lenin El-Ramly, Nawal El-Saadawi, Fatheya El-Assal, and Salwa Bakr, all of whom are now calling for the removal of Abdel-Aziz and the parochial, theocratic regime for which he stands.

How did the current crisis in Egypt’s cultural scene begin?

On May 7, the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi appointed new members to his new government cabinet. He handed nine ministries to political personalities affiliated to his Freedom and Justice Party. Typically, the management of the national ministry for culture has gone to internationally recognized intellectuals and experts. Culture Minister Abdel Aziz was appointed by President Morsi, whose rise to power was fielded by the Brotherhood.

On May 28, the culture minister fired the heads of Cairo Opera House and Fine Arts Sector. Artists from Cairo Opera House and Fine Arts Sector held protests outside the Opera House, which led to an on-stage protest at a performance of Aida and a three-day halt of performances.

On 1 June, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to perform with world-renowned pianist Ramzi Yassa. However, the artists announced a continuation of their strike and intention to march to the culture ministry on June 2 to demand his resignation.

Outraged artists accuse the minister of executing a Muslim Brotherhood agenda to Islamize Egyptian culture and reforming Egypt’s national identity. In a column for the Egyptian Daily News, Rana Allam writes, for instance:

What he stands for is clear in the party’s programme and is very much in line with all other Islamist parties in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (albeit not so publicly). The published party programme states the following: “The party strives to achieve a comprehensive renaissance for Egypt within its Arab and Islamic frame… where the deep belief in God is the cornerstone of every action taken by the party.” A few paragraphs down the page comes this: “Such renaissance can only be achieved if Egypt gains political and military independence and ridding the nation from the dominance of the foreign ‘arrogant’ powers, namely the United States of America and its Zionist allies.” Moving on to the foreign relations section we find an emphasis on Arab and Islamic unity “making it possible to overcome the creative chaos which the US administration seeks to serve the Zionist project which aims at increasing the nation’s division.” Then a few paragraphs on the importance of uniting with “our fellow Muslim countries, to achieve an Islamic nation.”

The minister, however, has denied being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that statements to the contrary are but rumors, yet adding that it there is nothing unacceptable about a culture minister being a member of the Islamist group.

The minister said in an El Ahram interview that he has nothing against intellectuals. He said he welcomes a dialogue with intellectuals in the presence of the press, but he refuses dialogue with those who are presently occupying the ministry.

“I won’t speak to the people who broke into my office, but I let them stay there,” he said. “I can only have dialogue with the real intellectuals and artists, but in presence of the press and TV cameras.” The minister said that he would pick the journalists who would attend this meeting.

Abdel-Aziz, the sixth minister since the 2011 revolution, was known for his opposition to former president Hosni Mubarak. In recent months he has been critical of the opposition movement against President Mohamed Morsi. In his writings, published in the Freedom and Justice Party’s newspaper, he has deemed the anti-Morsi opposition as “counter-revolutionary,” “fabricated” and “exaggerated by the media.” In a televised interview, he said he does not regret any of his decisions that outraged Egyptian intellectuals and artists. –Randy Gener, in the theater of One World

Egyptian artists seek resignation of the new culture minister |
Egyptian artists seek resignation of the new culture minister |

Call for Action from ITI Centre, EGYPT
<egyptcentreiti@gmail.com>

English Text by Nehad Selaiha & Hazem Azmy

Dear International Friends and Colleagues:

We, the founding members of the Egyptian Centre of the International Theatre Institute, have been witnessing with increasing alarm the vicious onslaught against the defining foundations of Egyptian culture, with theatre and the performing arts at the forefront.

However variously understood and appraised, these foundations are widely believed to have crystallised with the onset of the modern Egyptian State in the late nineteenth century, but in fact they had always been rooted in the very fabric of this land, an inherently cosmopolitan multi-religious and multi-ethnic culture if there ever was one. As Egyptians, but also as members of the global cultural community, we cannot allow such a glorious tradition to suffer erosion at the hands of those who could not adapt to it, whether at home or in the region.

The Islamists’ declared jihad against the arts is currently spearheaded by none other than the regime’s Ministry of Culture, thanks to the recent appointment at its helm of a certain Alaa Abdel-Aziz, an obscure film lecturer with a paltry academic record and practically no professional or public service credentials save his adoption of the cultural discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood ruling faction (or, more aptly, its anti-arts one). In a typical demonstration of this populist rhetoric, Abdel-Aziz had this to say at a recent press conference “I ask those leading the ferocious campaign against me: What have they ever contributed to Egypt’s culture? What have they ever given to the enlightened Egyptian people? Post-revolution Egypt should not be captive to a group that has not been able to effectively touch Egyptians with creativity over long decades.”

While the problem of a certain disconnect between the intelligentsia and their constituencies is by no means unique to Egypt, we believe it is either moronic or hypocritical (or, more likely, both) to question the contributions of generations of artists in the various fields of the performing and fine arts and their far-reaching role in establishing and popularising these arts not only in Egypt, but all over the Arab world, not to mention world-renowned literary and artistic figures of the stature of Bahaa Taher, Sonallah Ibrahim, Ramzi Yassa, Alaa Al-Aswany, Lenin El-Ramly, Nawal El-Saadawi, Fatheya El-Assal, and Salwa Bakr, all of whom are now calling for the removal of Abdel-Aziz and the parochial, theocratic regime for which he stands.

The International Theatre Institute, an active UNESCO entity with centres and affiliate bodies in the four corners of the world, has an urgent mission to protect the free circulation of culture in one of this world’s most ancient civilizations. We therefore call upon all concerned to mobilise in whatever way they think fit, but we also hope that this call for action will set in motion an ongoing dialogue with our worldwide friends and colleagues so that we may work with one another against the not-so-secret agenda to remake Egypt and its cultural field after the worldview of its ruling cabal.

We await your ideas and initiatives at egyptcentreiti@gmail.com

Sincerely,
ITI Centre, EGYPT
Interim Founding Board

Artists and intellectuals continue their sit-in at the Ministry of Culture in Zamalek. (Photo: Ahram)
Artists and intellectuals continue their sit-in at the Ministry of Culture in Zamalek. (Photo: Ahram)

ARAB LANGUAGE TEXT

بيان المركز المصري للمعهد الدولي للمسرح
التابع لليونسكو
باللغة الانجليزية

بيان المركز المصري للمعهد الدولي للمسرح
التابع لليونسكو
بواسطة: د. نها صليحة ود. حازم عزمي .. والترجمة العربية لل د. حازم عزمي
نحن الأعضاء المؤسسون للمركز المصري للمعهد الدولي للمسرح التابع لليونسكو نرصد بمزيد من القلق الهجمة الشرسة التي تستهدف الركائز الرئيسية للثقافة المصرية، وفى مقدمتها المسرح والفنون الأدائية.

ورغم الاعتقاد الشائع أن هذه الركائز قد تبلورت مع بزوغ الدولة المصرية الحديثة في أواخر القرن التاسع عشر، إلا أنها تمثل عناصر أصيلة في نسيج هذا الوطن، وتشكل ثقافة تتميز بصورة خاصة بالتعددية الدينية والعرقية والانفتاح على العالم.
إن المجتمع الثقافي فى مصر والعالم، ونحن معه، لا يمكن أن نسمح باقتلاع مثل هذا التراث الحضاري الثرى بأيدي من فشلوا تاريخيا فى العيش وفق متطلباته، سواء كانوا داخل الوطن أو خارجه.

إن جهاد المتأسلمين ضد الفنون يقوده الآن الجهاز الثقافي للدولة بعد أن وضعت الحكومة الحالية على رأس هذا الجهاز شخص يدعى علاء عبد العزيز، عين حديثا وزيرا للثقافة رغم كونه أستاذا مغمورا للمونتاج بمعهد السينما، ليس له تاريخ أكاديمي يذكر، أو أية إنجازات في المجال المهني أو في مجال الخدمة العامة تؤهله لهذا الموقع، اللهم إلا تبنيه للخطاب الثقافي (أو بمعنى أصح، الخطاب المعادى للفنون) الذي تروج له جماعة الإخوان المسلمين.

وتعد تصريحات هذا الوزير الجديد في أحد المؤتمرات الصحفية نموذجا دالا على هذا النوع من البلاغة الذي يستهدف دغدغة الحس الشعبي، إذ قال: “إنني أسأل هؤلاء الذين يقودون هذه الحملة الشرسة ضدي ما الذي أضافوه للثقافة المصرية؟ ما الذي قدموه للشعب المصري المستنير؟ ان مصر ما بعد الثورة لا يجب أن تظل أسيرة لتلك المجموعة التي فشلت في تلمس الطاقة الإبداعية لدى المصريين على مدى حقب طويلة.”

ورغم اعترافنا بوجود مشكلة بدرجة ما في التواصل بين المثقفين وعامة الشعب، وهى مشكلة لا تقتصر على مصر بأي حال من الأحوال، إلا أنه من النفاق أو العته بمكان (أو كليهما معا أغلب الظن) أن يشكك أحد في إسهامات الأجيال المتعاقبة من الفنانين المصريين في مختلف مجالات الفنون الأدائية وغيرها من مجالات الإبداع، أو ينكر الدور الكبير الذي لعبته هذه الأجيال في إرساء دعائم هذه الفنون ونشرها، ليس فقط في مصر، بل في كل أرجاء العالم العربي، أو يتجاهل تلك الكوكبة من الرموز الأدبية والفكرية المصرية، التي حققت fشهرة عالمية، من أمثال بهاء طاهر، وصنع الله إبراهيم، ورمزي يسى، وعلاء الأسواني، ولينين الرملي، وفتحيه العسال، ونوال السعداوى، وسلوى بكر و جميعهم يطالبون برحيل علاء عبد العزيز والنظام الثيوقراطي المنغلق الذي يمثله.

والمعهد الدولي للمسرح، باعتباره جزءا أصيلا من منظمة اليونسكو وله مراكز وفروع في شتى أنحاء العالم، يمكنه أن يلعب دورا استراتيجيا في حماية التداول الحر للثقافة في واحدة من أقدم حضارات الكون لذا نناشد كل من يهمه الأمر لحشد الجهود فيما يرونه من مسارات مؤثرة، كما نأمل أن تكون هذه الدعوة للتحرك لإنقاذ الثقافة المصرية فاتحة لحوار متصل ومستمر مع زملائنا وأصدقائنا في كل مكان بهدف تدبر أكثر الوسائل فعالية في مقاومة المخطط الذي وضعه النظام الحالي لتقليص الحقل الثقافي في مصر عن طريق إعادة صياغته وفقا لرؤيته للعالم، وهو مخطط بات واضحا كل الوضوح.
في انتظار مبادراتكم وأفكاركم آملين في دعمكم المعنوي والإعلامي

المركز المصري للمعهد الدولي للمسرح

FRENCH TEXT

Déclaration du centre égyptien de l’institut international du théâtre

Texte français rédigé par Menha el Batraoui

Nous, membres fondateurs du centre égyptien affilié à l’institut international du théâtre, avons été témoins d’une attaque effrénée contre les institutions égyptiennes de la culture, celles du théâtre et des arts de la scène notamment. Ces fondations, dès la fin du XIXème siècle, ont largement contribué à l’essor de la modernité de l’état égyptien. Aujourd’hui, elles sont bel et bien ancrées dans le tissu social de ce pays fondamentalement cosmopolite, que ce soit au niveau des religions ou des diverses ethnies. Comme les membres de la communauté intellectuelle en Egypte et dans le monde, nous ne pouvons permettre l’éradication d’une tradition aussi riche par ceux-ci mêmes qui ont historiquement échoué à vivre selon ses valeurs et à la hauteur de ses aspirations.

L’islamisme du jihad sacré contre les arts est aujourd’hui le fer de lance porté par nul autre que l’appareil culturel même de l’état. Merci à la désignation au poste de ministre de la culture un certain inconnu nommé Alaa Abdel Aziz, obscur universitaire à l’institut du cinéma, n’ayant aucun crédit académique ou professionnel et n’ayant jamais pratiqué dans le domaine du service public. Il remet ses lettres de créance aux Frères Musulmans en adoptant leur discours dominant contre les arts. En voici un exemple typique de cette rhétorique populiste au cours d’une conférence de presse donné par Abdel Aziz : « Je demande à ceux qui sont à la tête de cette féroce campagne soulevée contre moi : Qu’avez-vous offert à la culture égyptienne ? Avez-vous contribué à l’enrichissement intellectuel du peuple égyptien ? La post-révolution de l’Egypte ne devrait pas être captive d’un groupe qui n’a pas été capable de toucher efficacement le peuple égyptien par sa créativité durant de longues décennies.

Bien qu’un certain hiatus sépare l’intelligentsia de sa « clientèle », situation qui n’est pas propre seulement à l’Egypte, nous pensons qu’il serait idiot ou/et hypocrite de négliger la contribution de générations d’artistes dans divers domaines des arts vivants et des arts plastiques et de nier leur rôle dans l’établissement et la démocratisation de ces arts, non seulement en Egypte mais dans toute la région arabe ; voire des noms d’icônes tels que Bahaa Taher, Sonallah Ibrahim, Ramzi Yassa, Alaa el Aswani, Lénine el Ramly, Nawal el Saadawy et Fatheya el Assal qui ont lancé un appel en vue de déplacer Abdel Aziz et le régime qu’il soutient.
L’institut international du théâtre, véritable entité de l’UNESCO avec ses centres établis dans les quatre coins du monde, a un rôle stratégique à jouer, à savoir la protection de la libre circulation de la culture dans une des plus anciennes civilisations. Nous lançons un appel à tous les concernés pour se mobiliser de la manière qui leur semble la plus adéquate, mais nous espérons également que cet appel à l’action va initier un dialogue continu avec nos amis et collègues partout dans le monde afin de délibérer ensemble des moyens les plus efficaces pour combattre l’agenda révélé du régime qui a pour but de réduire le domaine culturel égyptien en le soumettant à son idéologie autoritaire et conservatrice.

Nous espérons recevoir vos idées et votre soutien à l’adresse E-mail suivante :  egyptcentreiti@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “CALL FOR ACTION | Artists, intellectuals break into ministry of culture to protest against the Islamization of Egyptian culture

  1. They rejected the recent decisions by the Culture Minister to sack some of the ministry leaders “without any obvious reasons, and in a random manner.” They accused the minister of imposing a Muslim Brotherhood agenda on Egyptian culture.

  2. Pingback: Diversity Press

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