As Egyptians await the new constitution, Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy (Cultural Resources) is launching 'A Culture For All Egyptians' to campaign for changes to cultural laws and policies, and make culture more accessible to all sectors of society.
"Our main battle is with the legislation, not the constitution," Wesam Ragab, press and communications officer at Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy, tells Ahram Online. "The constitution will provide positive general statements regarding culture, but the law is our game. We must make sure the new parliament changes the rules and regulations to help develop arts and culture.”
Under the slogan 'Culture is not only for intellectuals but for all Egyptians', Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy has initiated the campaign to mobilise the public along with 25 intellectuals, including Hamdy Reda, Basma El-Husseiny, Yasser Allam, and Fairuz Karawya.
'A Culture For All Egyptians' aims to produce a concrete policy that not only the Ministry of Culture but also the entire country can follow. According to the campaign, the role of culture is to characterise a particular community or social group spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally. Culture is about art and ways of life and includes fundamental human rights and values, traditions and beliefs.
The campaign adopts the policy model developed by Arterial Network in Africa, "the largest African cultural non-governmental organisation, which aims to facilitate the task of cultural policy makers in African countries," explains Ragab.
The 25-member policy committee tailored the model to fit the nature and circumstances of Egypt. They call for the following: implementation of a law that says culture will account for 5.1 per cent of the state budget, and the release of the budget’s details. Centralised control of culture must be reduced and culture must be spread outside the capital and major cities. The initiative, for the most part, asks for an immediate cultural integration within the political and social framework of the country, including the educational system.
It also calls for the restructuring of the Ministry of Culture and all its frameworks to enable civil society to play an active role in cultural life, and to increase transparency and prevent corruption. Furthermore, a policy should be applied to respect cultural freedom of action and to reduce restrictive laws on the use of public space, laws on the construction of cultural spaces, laws regulating non-profit businesses, and laws guaranteeing freedom of expression.
It also calls for increased community awareness of the importance of respecting and protecting freedom of expression and creativity.
In order to achieve the overall objectives of this cultural policy, the initiative committee in March submitted their proposal to parliament's committee on culture, tourism and media at the invitation of committee head Mohamed El-Sawy.
"However, since the parliament was dissolved and we are on the verge of electing new members of parliament, and obviously we are not aware of the results, we initiated this campaign for public support to pressure the incoming parliament to take immediate action to amend and develop arts and culture laws," Ragab says.
"We want to start by raising public awareness of the initiative so it becomes a general public demand and the new parliament and government is forced to adopt it," Ragab adds.
In the framework of public awareness, the committee, along with Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy, has begun a media campaign across Cairo with large billboards designed by artist and photographer Hamdy Reda that carry the slogans "It's My Right to Dance" or "It's My Right to Sing" among others. "We are currently also working on several infomercials along with a short documentary film to be screened on state and private TV channels," Ragab states.
Ragab also confirms that Al-Mawred will host a three-day seminar, inviting in Arab intellectuals to discuss cultural policies in a democratic system under the title 'Cultural Policies for Democracy', in December. "This conference will be open to the public to engage in public debate and to create awareness," she tells Ahram Online.
It might be a long road to take but 'A Culture For All Egyptians’ is determined to stay the course.