“We have been living in a conspiracy theory created by the previous oppressive regime in Egypt,” Mohamed El Sawy, the owner of El Sawy Culturewheel (El Sakia) declares.
“That evil and disgusting regime has had spies all over Egypt, monitoring and recording our every move to keep the public in the dark and gain more power. I am sure that my personal phone calls were being tracked,” he continues, “and certainly the halls of the Sakia Culturewheel were full of spies reporting on our programmes.”
However, as El Sawy himself stresses, “That evil ideology never managed to shut down El Sakia.”
The importance of freedom of speech
El Sakia has always tried to inform people of the importance of freedom of speech. Since the centre was integrated into the culture of Egypt, many evenings have called for the abolishment of certain trends and a lifestyle forcefully imposed by the regime.
“Bribery, begging and illiteracy were the tools of power used by the Mubarak regime. We have fought before and will continue to fight,” he vows.
"The Ministry of the Interior stated a long time ago that they would not secure the lives of Egyptians; but only protect a few, mainly authority figures and foreigners," El Sawy maintains.
Oppress and torture the people
“They managed to gain the loyalty of 1.8 million people, who work for the police and security forces, and I believe that their morning briefings were only instructions to oppress, torture and kidnap the people and most importantly, take whatever you can from them,” he continues, “through bribery.”
This dictum has spread from one institution to another until it became a way of life in Egypt.
El Sakia has called for an end to this type of thinking, through a number of campaigns aiming at educating the people. But it seems that not many have listened.
Change for a better future
“Now is the time to engage people and take the initiative to end these ideas,” he explained, “The people are ready to listen, and most importantly, change for a better future. The will of the people is as strong as a waterfall. who can stop it?” El Sawy asks.
As the owner of the Culturewheel, El Sawy took a stand against bribery when he was trying to get a license for the venue.
To conduct the analyses and reports on the centre, the committee investigating the project asked for a bribe and when opposed by the El Sawy family, their reports concluded that the site was harmful to the infrastructure, claiming it to be “dangerous for the public and the infrastructure, as it is built under one of the busiest bridges in Cairo, the 15th May bridge in Zamalek.”
Refused to bribe authorities
“I knew that all of this was because I had refused to bribe the authorities,” El Sawy alleges.
After he was ordered to close El Sawy refused and sent a formal letter to the Minister of the Interior at that time, Habeeb Al Adly.
“I asked him when El Sakia is receiving international and national recognition, why is the ministry trying to put an end to cultural enlightenment in Egypt? I then asked for another committee to conduct reports on the venue.”
Even writer Ahmed Al Sawy, who is not related to the owner, wrote an article at Al Masry Al Youm condemning the closure of El Sawy Culturewheel and said “Not the Culturewheel!”
According to the new report, El Sawy had to pay for the infrastructure of the place. “It was a lot of money but I didn’t object paying since it was a legal request, not bribery,” he says.
Egypt’s next Minister of Culture
Just days after the 25 January Revolution and the end of the Mubarak regime, a campaign on Facebook is nominating Mohamed El Sawy to become Egypt’s next Minister of Culture.
“People have commented on several occasions saying ‘we want you to become the minister’; but I would rather enjoy my freedom as a normal Egyptian,” he says.
However, El Sawy has another dream. If he is to serve the new government, he would rather be the Minister of Education.
Enlightening and educating the people
“We are moving forward and we should work on enlightening and educating the people. Illiteracy must be brought to an end,” he says.
During the 18-day-revolution in an ABC interview with Christianne Amanpour, former vice president Omar Suleiman said that the Egyptian people are not ready for democracy; a statement that turned the whole nation against him and called for his resignation as well as former president Mubarak.
Remarking on that El Sawy asks, “After 30 years of this regime he says we are not ready for democracy because half the population is illiterate… What good has this regime done for Egypt?”
“We are still stuck with illiteracy when Austria for example has recently announced that in ten years they have overcome musical illiteracy,” he wonders. Today, in Austria everyone can read music!
National Programme for Education
As minister of education, El Sawy’s first plan would include the ‘National Programme for Education’, calling for the best abilities and skills in society to educate children.
They would become teachers for one day a week to guarantee high levels of education and lower the numbers of students in classrooms.
“I can sacrifice one day a week to become a teacher and leave my business behind. I could transform the ample space I have here at El Sakia into classrooms,” he says. “Mosques and churches could also contribute to this instead of just being open a few minutes in a day for prayers.”
An end to educational certificates
Another plan he has as a minister would be to put an end to educational certificates. “We Egyptians have become over-fond of certificates, ignoring the fact that certificates do not mean skills,” he says.
"Applications for specialisations should be based upon examination results at the colleges or universities and not secondary school scores and certificates obtained,” he clarifies. “Also those applying for jobs should be examined to determine their knowledge and skills, even if they don't have a university degree.”
Aiming at ending illiteracy in Egypt, El Sawy Culturewheel has included a new programme in its monthly schedule, forming classes for literacy and education as a start to a brighter future.
The programme will include the vocabulary of the 25 January Revolution, expressions that all Egyptians now know by heart. though some may not know how to write them, such as freedom, change and regime, etc.
This is only one of the many cultural initiatives that have been added to this month’s programme at El Sawy Culturewheel.
This week, El Sawy Cultrewheel organised, at very short notice, a special evening bringing Egyptians together to share their ideas and contributions to the future of Egypt.
El Sakia continued its cultural programmes throughout the 18-day-revolution; “We only had to shift some shows because of the curfew and the lack of time needed for performers to rehearse,” he states, “otherwise we kept to our programme and will continue to do so.”
El Sakia is working on more seminars to include in its forthcoming schedules to engage and enlighten Egyptians.
“Tahrir was not an exception but the start of a new Egypt,” El Sawy concluded.
Photos by Sherif Sonbol