Egyptian Minister of Culture Helmi El-Namnam told MPs in a plenary session Monday that Egypt has been largely able to reduce the amount of religious extremism and radicalism in the country.
“Yes, it is true that Egypt still has some flashpoints of extremism and terrorism in different parts of the country, but we were largely able to stem the tide of extremist thoughts which prevailed in the last few years and we now have a long-term strategy to continue this fight, particularly in villages in upper Egypt and among university students,” El-Namnam said.
He said the Ministry of Culture’s strategy mainly aims to safeguard university students against extremist and radical ideologies.
“You know what happened when we ignored these universities for a long time, they became hotbeds of extremist ideas and breeding grounds for radical activists. We now have activities and cultural convoys in the universities of Cairo, Ain Shams, Assiut, Tanta, etc, in order to stand against any new infiltration of extremist ideas,” El-Namnam said.
“The Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Al-Azhar did a good job in recent years, largely ridding Egyptian universities of religious extremism.”
“The army and police forces can fight terrorists, but it is only the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with other institutions such as the Ministry of Education and Al-Azhar that can defeat extremism and radicalism,” he said.
The Ministry of Culture is currently implementing a number of cultural activities in universities, such as organising theatrical activities and music concerts, and periodical book exhibitions, the minister said.
“These activities help a lot in making universities immune to invasion of extremist thoughts,” El-Namnam argued.
He also deplored the fact that 25 million Egyptians are illiterate.
“It is very important for us to protect this big number of people from falling prey to extremist ideas, and so we focus in this respect on organising audio-visual cultural activities,” El-Namnam said.
“In this respect, we organise cultural activities in 36 villages in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya, which has been for a long time a breeding ground for extremist groups."
El-Namnam, however, complained that the annual budget of Egypt’s Ministry of Culture is still very low.
“In last year’s budget, we asked parliament to allocate EGP 274 million to renovate 17 cultural palaces [centres], but all we got was just EGP 66 million,” he said.
The Ministry of Culture is in a desperate need for as much as EGP 10 billion in budgetary allocations to build more than 200 cultural palaces in the next few years, the minister said.
“These palaces are necessary to cover all of Egypt, in addition to the old 594 palaces already in place now,” he said.
El-Namnam warned that as many as 17 million students in schools, three million students in universities, and 25 million illiterates need cultural activities all the time.
“We should cover all of these with cultural campaigns all the time in order not to let extremist ideas infiltrate Egypt’s future generations,” the minister said.