Egypt’s new Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz sacked the head of the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO) Ahmed Megahed on Sunday without explanation, outraging intellectuals and writers.
GEBO members already resist the new minister – appointed in a presidential cabinet reshuffle on 7 May – since they consider him the Muslim Brotherhood’s Trojan horse inside the ministry.
Ahmed Megahed details to Ahram Online that he went to his office on Sunday morning as usual and found the decision on his desk, so he left.
"Neither the minister nor his office called me and I was not informed about the decision before that moment. My only comment on the decision is that this is his prerogative as a minister and working in this environment is no longer possible, in any case," says Megahed.
Abdel-Aziz and Megahed had quarrelled hours after the minister took office Tuesday. The minister decided to change the name of one of the GEBO's most important book series Maktabat El-Osra (The Family’s Library) to be "The Revolution’s Library." The minister neither consulted nor informed Megahed before taking the decision.
The series was issued in the '90s under the supervision of former first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Intellectuals assert the significance of the series because it offers Egyptian readers great novels at very cheap prices and argue it shouldn't be brought into the middle of any political disputes.
The change in name outraged Megahed, who told the culture minister to read the books in the series before he decides to change the name so "he may know that expressing the revolution and reflecting its values isn’t limited to changing titles."
Hours after the name change was decided on Sunday morning the Cultural Minister's Office Director Mohammed Abu-Seada relieved Abdel-Aziz from his post.
Hours after that, GEBO employees started a strike to protest the removal of Megahed from his post. Intellectuals issued a furious statement condemning the decision, deeming it part of the minister’s plan to destroy Egyptian cultural life and further called for the minister to resign.
Writer and journalist Osama Afifi resigned from his post as the Chief Editor of Al-Majalla cultural magazine, published by the GEBO in protest for sacking Megahed.
The minister was expected to participate in the opening of a new gallery at Hanager Arts Centre, but cancelled the event after he was informed that angry protesters are awaiting him. Instead, the minister spent his time that night in one of Cairo’s downtown restaurants. Protesters found him out, went to the restaurant and trapped the minister inside for a while before the workers managed to get him out through a back door. Protesters followed his car and egged it.
The intellectuals deem Megahed one of the most successful leaders in the ministry, since he was able to develop and enhance GEBO publications in a very short time and republish gems of Arabic arts and literature, like the complete works of Salah Jaheen, Tharwat Okasha and other important authors. Megahed also is credited for holding local book fairs in many different governorates, which for decades had not seen book fairs.