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'The Future of Culture' seeks solution to 'identity confusion'

Participants in "The Future of Culture in Egypt conference" at El Sawy Culturewheel attack Egypt's ministry of culture 'inexcusable, weak' record and applaud El-Husseiny's reform proposals

Farah Montasser, Friday 24 Feb 2012
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The head of parliament's cultural committee, MP Mohamed El-Sawy opened a three-hour discussion on the cultural development in Egypt on El Sawy Culturewheel's nine-year anniversary.

The founder of the Culturewheel invited a number of key cultural players to join its conference on The Future of Culture in Egypt on Thursday 23 February.

Guest speakers included Minister of Culture Shaker Abdel Hamid; former minister of culture Emad Abu Ghazi; sociologist and writer Galal Amin; Yasser Gerab from Townhouse cultural centre; Basma El-Husseiny, cultural activist and managing director of Al Mawred Al Thaqafi; Moataz Nasr Eddin from Darb 1718; and Heba Sherif, director of Pro Helvetia Cairo.

The discussion on the table delved into issues such as cultural identity, how culture is produced, and cultural institutions.

Galal Amin, on behalf of all guest speakers, spoke about the confusion of cultural identity in Egypt today: “The cultural confusion we find today is the result of the Open Door Policy of the 1970s and the adoption of the Gulf culture.”

After discussing the identity crisis Egypt faces today, guest speakers focused on the ministry of culture as the main and dominant source of cultural activities in the county.

All guest speakers attacked the ministry’s passive and insufficient performance as simply a 'censor of' instead of as an 'enabler of' cultural development.

“It should only facilitate logistics and financing, but not get involved in production and administration,” Moataz Nasr pointed out. 

Mohamed El-Sawy and Emad Abu Ghazi both agreed. Further, they demanded anyone who belongs to the army or police forces and is working in any of the culture ministry's units be sacked.

 “El Askar (military officers) should be out of the [culture] ministry… we must put an end to Mubarak's police state,” demanded El Sawy.

Abu Ghazi along with Nasr Eddin, invited Basma El Husseiny to share with the audience her proposals to restructure the ministry.

Basma El Husseiny’s proposal is to restructure the Ministry of Culture on the basis of granting independence to all cultural organisations and activities in Egypt. “The ministry from now on should only supervise and assist any cultural activity; and not restrict or limit and most importantly not to produce,” she publicly faced the minister.

“The ministry should be at arm’s length from the government in order to help finance and educate the public,” El Husseiny addressed all attendees.

In her proposal, “The ministry should only function through a public sector, a private sector, and a national sector,” she suggested.  

The public sector should include only five publicly owned associations like the “National Council of Culture” instead of the “Supreme Council of Culture”.

A Council of National Culture ishould only be  “for funding and not production,” El Husseiny insisted.

“It should be a link between all those sectors, and between the ministry and public in general; it should also discuss and investigate the culture problems of Egypt,” she said.

The second council that should be set up, according to El Husseiny, is a “National Council for Antiquities”.

“I fail to understand why the current regime has decided to make antiquities into a ministry on its own when it is part of the Egyptian culture,” she commented, highlighting the importance of making it only a council under the umbrella of the cultural ministry.

“This council should supervise all of Egypt’s ancient sites and set standards for its proper use whether by government or private sectors.”

The “National Council of Heritage” comes as the ministry’s third establishment, El Husseiny added.

 “The National Council of Heritage should include the national book and documents sector and all modern Egyptian museums such as the music library and that of modern arts, for example,” she explained.

The most important and the most difficult of them all is the fourth council, which was recently called the “Republic Culture Organisation”.

“I consider it the spine of the entire cultural scene of Egypt and the most corrupt,” El Husseiny believes.

“This entity should branch out to all of Egypt’s governorates, creating small councils of culture in each and every governorate.

“Each council should set a number of rules and regulations for its running members. Some can be appointed while others elected,” she suggested. “It should supervise and set the budget of cultural activities within each governorate depending on the importance of each governorate and the size of its population,” El Husseiny explained.

“All councils should only help fund the cultural organisations in each governorate and not produce any cultural work,” El Husseiny again stressed on the roles of governmental cultural entities. “Those councils also should set their own budget, employees' policies and all logistics and not refer back to the ministry,” she said.

“They can even represent themselves in front of parliament,” she suggested.

Last but not least in her plan, El Husseiny discussed the Arts Academy of Egypt.

“It should be an independent university like any of Egypt’s private universities… in fact all Egyptian Universities should be independent,” she demanded.

Ending her proposal, Basma El Husseiny submited yet another solution to the employment problem which the Ministry of Culture suffers from.

According to the current minister Shaker Abdel Hamid and the former minister Emad Abu Ghazi, the number of officially hired employees and those on temporary basis has reached over 50,000 employees.

Commenting on this fact Abdel Hamid and Abu Ghazi said, “We cannot even determine the exact number,” sarcastically criticising the "mess the former regime have led the ministry into."

El Husseiny, on the other hand, said she believes that a new employment system should be immediately established.

She said: “This massive number of employees should be distributed among all these new sectors and councils.”

“There should also be the option of early retirement for employees,” she suggested. “Again, it should be optional, no one should be forced out of work,” she pointed out.

According to her plan, the ministry should make available early retirement plans with high payments and benefits to decrease the over-sized workforce.

The Minister of Culture Shaker Abdel Hamid, too, approved of El Husseiny’s proposals, highlighting that his main aim is to reach out to the public.

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