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Egypt's El-Sawy weighs in on row with musicians syndicate

Director of Cairo's El Sawy Culturewheel responds to accusations that it is to blame for perceived crackdown by musicians syndicate on Egypt's underground music scene

Ahram Online, Tuesday 6 Nov 2012
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Mohamed El-Sawy (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
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El Sawy Culturewheel released a statement of clarification about the recent problems the culture centre has faced since the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate decided to ban unregistered musicians from performing in some centres, including the Culturewheel.

There have been many attempts to stifle the underground music scene recently. In September, heavy metal concerts were accused of being 'Satanic,' and in Minya, during the Eid holidays, a concert was attacked by a group of Salafists.

However, in these cases, the syndicate did not intervene until now. On the week after Eid holidays, Hany Bedeir and his band were stopped from continuing their performance at El Sawy Culturewheel because not all performers had been members in the syndicate.

This was only one of many incidents that have led to calls for a protest by several underground musicians on Friday, 9 November outside the Culturewheel, which has been blamed for its silence regarding the issue.

"The Culturewheel added a clause to its contracts with musicians saying they must be syndicate members," protest organiser Islam Ismail, who works as a manager for underground bands, told Ahram Online.

Ismail explained that the protest sought to find a balance between artists, the Culturewheel and the syndicate.

"We don't mind having to join the syndicate, but it has to make sense for different situations," Ismail said. He went on to note that syndicate members must be over 21 years old, must have finished university and completed their army service – stipulations, he asserted, that would stifle underground musicians, who simply perform as a hobby or to deliver a message.

Centre head Mohamed El Sawy, for his part, said in his statement that he values the Culturewheel's administrative team.

"We value Abdel-Moneim El Sawy Culturewheel, with all it has given since it started operations in 2003, and we value the team behind it that carries its message to serve art, intellect and culture," the statement read.

"We also value the number of creators, thinkers and academics who took the Culturehweel as their centre point of expression, and the place to contribute their various literary, musical and artistic thoughts," the statement added. "The Culturewheel has served its duty through all of them, and was successful in spreading and disseminating the issues they put forward for honest cooperation to spread ideology and culture for a country that holds on to values, morals and ethics."

The statement continued: "Over the past years, the Culturewheel's performance has developed through taking in and analysing suggestions and complaints. We have passed through several obstacles, and, thank God, overcame them in spite of the difficulties. These challenges always stemmed from the corrupt work environment that we are put in, thanks to the authoritarian regime that hunts down art and artists who call for freedom and respect for human dignity."

The statement blamed the situation that it now finds itself in on the law governing syndicate activity, which threatens the rights of artists. However, the statement also clearly stated the Culturewheel's "shock" that people are blaming it for the current situation, asserting that it would not accept – under any circumstances – this blame.

Finally, the statement thanked the objective parties that had supported the Culturewheel in its negotiations with the syndicate, calling on those who insulted the Culturewheel to apologise to the centre's staff.

Sawy, for his part, said the invitation to apologise was not unlimited, and that he would not tolerate insults to his staff, who work hard to keep the centre up and running, often without artists even being aware of it.

"We all make mistakes and we take responsibility for our mistakes by quickly apologising," the statement read, asserting that they would not forgive those who had wronged the Cultrewheel without seeing the wisdom of creating such a space for the arts.

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