Has the government has radically cut Ministry of Culture allocations in the budgetary bill that is now under review in the House of Representatives?
An MP told me that the allocation for the Family Library project has been slashed entirely. Is this true? Is this acceptable? I fear for the future if the House of Representatives approves the budget as it stands, because this would be an implicit declaration that the government has given up fighting terrorism, despite the enormous price that Egypt has paid in fighting terrorist crimes, a toll that was paid in the form of innocent lives lost, the disruption of revenues from tourism and the sources of people’s livelihoods, and the lack of security and sense of safety.
I had thought that, with the success we have achieved in driving back terrorism through military and security means, the time has come to address the ideological sources of terrorism in order to eliminate it entirely.
Certainly, at this stage, we should not abandon the weapons we use in the ideological battle, which is no less important than the security battle.
Because to do so will only allow the phenomenon to regain its strength as it preys on misguided minds which, in the absence of alternative sources of thought, will be left, like dried sponges, to soak up the ideology of terrorism and fanaticism.
Note that I have drawn a distinction between crimes of terrorism and the terrorist phenomenon itself. Terrorist crimes are fought using the weapons of force and the law.
The combat facet has been performed honourably and heroically by the members of our armed forces, for which the war against terrorism was a holy war in defence of the homeland, and by the members of our police forces who courageously fought the cowardly crimes that targeted our citizens and their national institutions.
Meanwhile, the arms of justice performed their steadfast duty to apprehend and bring to account the perpetrators of the crimes against our nation.
However, as important as these efforts are, they focus on the terrorist crimes and criminals, not on terrorism itself. Terrorism is the product of deviant ideas and attitudes planted in the minds and hearts of deluded youths who are recruited to commit those crimes.
Ideas cannot be fought by arms or by the law. Ideas are fought by ideas, by culture, literature and the arts. The weapons in this battle are not the gun or the bomb, but the book, the film and the piece of music.
These latter are the weapons that the government has ignored for decades, leaving the field open to ideologies of extremism, fanaticism and sectarianism.
I am amazed that we have let all these years go by, fighting the crimes of terrorism without acting on the need to draw up a comprehensive national plan to fight the terrorist phenomenon.
Such a plan would bring on board the ministries of culture, education, youth and sports, and social solidarity, and the Supreme Council for the Press and Media.
Their joint purpose would be to fight terrorist thought by reaching out to people’s minds, using the weapons of the book, the film and other cultural products to save them from the predations of the preachers of extremism, Salafism and delinquency.
Article 48 of the Egyptian Constitution states: “Culture is a right of every citizen that is guaranteed by the state. The state is committed to support it and provide all types of cultural materials to the various sectors of the population.”
This is the right that is key to fighting deviant thought which leads to terrorism.
Unfortunately, activating that right has always run up against a barrier of making books available to the recipient. This is why the Family Library project is so important.
It helped overcome the chief obstacle to the dissemination of the book and its literary, cultural and educational substance: the price.
For many years we had relied on a single instrument— the Cairo International Book Fair — to make books available to the public at affordable prices.
But thanks to the Family Library project, huge amounts of readers — numbering in the millions now — have gained access to the ideas of leading Egyptian and international writers and experts in all fields of knowledge.
Today, we need to make this project more effective. We need to expand it in order to realise the constitutionally stipulated aim of disseminating culture and thought. We need to double its budget, rather than to slash it and leave the field open to the terrorism we are fighting.
The recent decline in terrorism thanks to our successes in fighting it with the instruments of force and justice does not mean we have eliminated the terrorism that is bred in the mind.
This can only be defeated by enlightened thought and culture. If we abolish or cut back the Family Library project we will have abandoned one of our chief weapons in this battle against terrorism itself, a battle that we still need to win.
I appeal to all our lawmakers in the House of Representatives to take heed of the danger and to insist that the government safeguard the Family Library project and increase, rather than cut, its allocation in the budget.
This is the type of action we need to take if we are truly serious about fighting terrorism.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: Culture against terrorism