A new head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture (SCC) was appointed Tuesday to replace ex-Secretary General Said Tawfik, who resigned Monday morning, minutes ahead of the SCC meeting to vote on the flagship State Awards.
Mohammed Afifi, the new secretary general, is a renowned history professor at Cairo University and works currently as the head of the Department of History at the institution. He vowed to “restore the vital role of the Supreme Council and wipe away all the aging marks that have appeared on the structure of the prestigious institution."
Afifi told Ahram Online that he believes that the SCC is one of the most important institutions in the cultural system in Egypt and that he “will work on turning it into a parliament of Egyptian culture.”
The author of Arab and Ottomans asserted that he will be open to all ideas, as well as criticism, and that the SCC is open from now on to “all youth who are the power of the future and who will take the lead.”
He said that he is coming to achieve a certain goal, and if he does not succeed he will leave.
Afifi is the fifth secretary general of the SCC since the January 25 Revolution. He is known for his distinguished of lecturing and his good ties with students. He earned his PhD from France.
“It’s never about the post. I’m a history professor and no post will ever top being a professor at the university. I’m here to achieve a certain goal and help to develop the cultural structure in Egypt through this vital institution. If I fail I will just leave,” he said.
Said Tawfik, a renowned philosophy professor at Cairo University, and the ex-head of the SCC, resigned less than a week after the new minister of culture, Gaber Asfour, was appointed. Tawfik said that he was under pressure to go and some of this pressure was exerted by the minister, who wanted him to recind the new regulations of the State Awards, as applying the regulations eliminated the minister from nominating to the Nile Award — Egypt’s highest honour in the fields of literature, the arts and the human sciences.
Tawfik left a very vehement and angry resignation letter directed to the minister, where he said: “I’m sorry to tell you that I’m not honored to work under your tenure as a deputy, or any other title, and I inform you of my resignation from all of my posts at the ministry and the two series of magazines that I run. I’m sure that you — like your predecessor — are not willing to make any change, thus I resign.”
The SCC is a body that is run by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. It replaced the High Council of Arts and Culture that was founded in 1954. After the January 25 Revolution, the role of the SCC sparked controversy as some Egyptian intellectuals called for the council to replace the ministry, making it solely responsible for creating and monitoring cultural policy in Egypt.
Plans had been made to restructure the SCC during the term of Ezzeddine Choukri, who took office in May 2011 and resigned two months later. Choukri helped formulate the plan, along with more than 200 cultural activists, yet he resigned before it was implemented.
The plan outline was to reduce the number of official representatives of the state in the SCC in favour of boosting independent representatives and intellectuals, also turning the ministry from a producer of culture into a funding body that helps independent artists and writers and finances them.
Another aspect was to amend the terms and conditions of the prestigious State Awards, which are granted annually amid controversy around their transparency and whether those that recieve them deserve it.
The fate of the plan remains opaque. Tawfik, who succeeded Choukri, worked on drafting another plan to draw up a new internal charter for the SCC, yet it has never been clear what happened next, in discussions around it. All that emerged were slight changes in the conditions of granting the State Awards.