TIMELINE: One year of artists fighting for Egypt's cultural identity

Ahram Online, Thursday 27 Jun 2013

Since Mohamed Morsi's appointment as president of Egypt in June 2012, his policies have triggered discontent from arts and culture community; timeline points to main points of conflict

Egyptian artists protest culture minister at Cairo Opera House on 30 May. Still from video by Rowan El-Shimi

Since taking office, Mohamed Morsi's policies proved to be troublesome to many Egyptian artists and intellectuals. During the year of his rule, several protests have been staged by the cultural community, opposing the government's attacks on the Egyptian cultural identity, as perceived by the artists.

The appointment of Alaa Abdel-Aziz as the new Minister of Culture has only additionally fuelled the enraged cultural scene.

The timeline points to the main developments in Egypt's arts and culture scene in the past 12 months.

1 September -

Sheikh Abdallah Badr says on El-Hafez television channel that actress "Elham Shahin is cursed and she will never enter heaven." Shahin later files a case against the conservative sheikh who criticised her several times. Read more here.

2 September -

Hundreds of Egyptian writers and artists stage a protest in front of the Shura Council (parliament's upper house) building to protest the first leaked drafts of the constitution that was being written by the Constituent Assembly. Protesters demanded the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, which they described as "illegitimate." Protesters argued that the members of the current Assembly were not elected and do not represent the wide range of Egyptian society. They said that the Assembly is part of the 'Brotherhoodisation' of the country, as its members only reflect the views of the Muslim Brotherhood. Read more here.

6 September -

President Mohamed Morsi meets with a group of prominent artists and intellectuals in the presidential palace to discuss the future of art and creativity in Egypt. A number of the artists invited, however, refused to attend the event. According to the attendees, the president expressed that he appreciates ‘meaningful’ arts, yet did not discuss any clear plans for the culture field. He condemned the attack on actress Elham Shahin by a Salafi sheikh.

28 October -

A concert that was to be held in Minya to affirm the unity of Muslims and Copts during Eid Al-Adha (the Muslim feast of sacrifice) is cancelled. Entitled “From the Heart of Egypt, Hand in Hand,” the concert included performances by several alternative bands; it was reportedly stopped by a group of Salafists and other Islamists who stood at the entrance to the concert, preventing people from going in after the event had already begun. Read more here.

9 November -

Underground musicians stage a protest outside of El-Sawy Culturewheel centre in Cairo to press for a resolution of the pending issues between the syndicate and independent musicians. Read more here.

17 December -

A Cairo misdemeanour court sentenced Islamic preacher Abdullah Badr to a year in jail and set bail at LE20,000 for insulting known actress Elham Shahin on El-Hafez television channel.

27 November -

Anti-Morsi opposition march by several hundred artists moves from the grounds near the Cairo Opera House to Tahrir Square. The crowd included members of the music and film syndicates, among many others. Read more here.

13 December -

Several cultural coalitions, along with independent artists and intellectuals march to Tahrir Square in support of freedom of expression and against the referendum on Egypt's constitution. Read more here.

Artists march to Tahrir for freedom of expression on 13 December 2012 (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)


7 May -

President Morsi's cabinet reshuffle includes the appointment of Alaa Abdel-Aziz as Egypt's sixth minister of culture since January 2011 Tahrir Square uprising.

Following the appointment, Abdel-Aziz was rejected by the community of artists and intellectuals, on grounds of allegedly attempting to 'Brotherhoodise' the Egyptian arts scene. Days after his appointment, Abdel-Aziz placed five members of the Freedom and Justice Party inside the Ministry of Culture. One of them took charge of all external communication of the ministry, according to the employees at the Ministry of Culture.

12 May -

Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz sacks the head of the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO) Ahmed Megahed without explanation, outraging intellectuals and writers. 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. Read more here.

13 May -

An old dispute between Arts academy director Sameh Mahran and the Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz surfaces quicker than expected, taking a scandalous bend. The Egyptian Academy of Arts hosted a conference to protest President Morsi's appointment. Read more here.

14 May -

Members of artists and intellectuals community march from Cairo Opera House to newly-appointed minister's office to protest alleged 'Brotherhoodisation' of Egyptian culture. Read more here.

27 May -

The minister dismisses Salah El-Meligy, head of the Fine Arts Sector. Read interview with El-Meligy here.

28 May -

Minister of Culture fires Ines Abdel Dayem, chairperson of the Cairo Opera House. Read more here.

In response, artists hold a large protest at the Cairo Opera House grounds and freeze performance of the opera Aida with an on-stage strike. Read more here. Check our photo gallery and video from the on-stage protest here.

29 May -

Said Tawfiq, secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Culture, resigns from his post in protest against the series of dismissals by Alaa Abdel-Aziz and opposing the minister's alleged 'Brotherhoodisation' of the Egyptian culture.

30 May -

Bahaa Taher, renowned Egyptian novelist and winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008, resigns from the Supreme Council for Culture where he was a honourary member. Taher's resignation came as a protest against the culture minister's decision to fire a number of key culture officials in recent days, including the head of the opera house, Read more here.

Egyptian artists and intellectuals protest recent culture ministry decisions and demand dismissal of Morsi-appointed minister. Check the photo gallery and video here.

1 June -

Cairo Symphony Orchestra carries out on-stage strike. Artists from the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, supported by the Opera's musicians and staff, announced their continuation of their strike in place of concert by world-class pianist Ramzi Yassa. Several crucial figures from Egypt’s arts and culture scene joined on stage. Read more here and check our video here.

2 June -

Angry Egyptian artists trap culture minister in ministerial building in Cairo for hours. Read more here.

Professor Tareq Noman accepts the position of interim secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Culture (SCC) despite his vocal opposition to the figure who offered him the post, Morsi-appointed Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz. Read more here.

3 June -

Head of the ministry's foreign relations sector, Professor Camillia Sobhy resigns. She resigned to add her voice to the protesters that accuse the culture minister of implementing an agenda to destroy and Islamise Egyptian culture, thus changing the national identity to serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood.

5 June -

Artists storm the Ministry of Culture building in Cairo. Read more here and check the photo gallery.

The employees of the Ministry of Culture use the general commotion to expel the members of the Freedom and Justice Party from the ministerial building. Check the video here.

6 June -

Artists launch artistic activities on the street in front of the ministry in Cairo as the sit-in inside the ministry continues. Read more here.

9 June -

National Archives head Abdel-Wahed El-Nabawe is sacked by Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz. Read more here.

Dancers perform Zorba ballet as part of the protest outside the occupied Ministry of Culture in Cairo. Check video here.

10 June -

The new head of the Egyptian National Library and Archives, Khaled Fahmy, states openly that he has Islamist leanings. Read more here.

11 June -

Muslim Brotherhood supporters try to break up sit-in by artists outside Ministry of Culture in Cairo, several police injured. Read more here.

14 June -

Shababeek Culture Centre in Cairo hosts events to raise awareness on artists' and intellectuals' ongoing protests. Read more here.

15 June -

Ongoing protests against newly-appointed culture minister and alleged 'Brotherhoodisation' of culture spread to Egypt's second city, Alexandria. Read more here.

17 June -

Following a meeting, Egypt's Supreme Culture Council members declare they do not recognise the Morsi-appointed Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz and will sue him for libel. Read more here.

18 June -

Ahram Online visits sit-in at Beram El-Tonsy theatre in Alexandria as it enters fourth day; artists insist movement bigger than culture minister discontent. Read more here.

21 June -

Joining world celebrations of music, many artists from the Cairo Opera House perform on the street in front of the culture ministry in Cairo where ongoing protests against the minister's policies enters a third week. Read more here and check photo gallery.

24 June -

Unidentified assailants on Monday attack a nine-day-old sit-in at Alexandria's Beram El-Tonsy Theatre, injuring several activists. Read more here.

26 June -

Rehearsals for the ballet Zorba, scheduled to run at the Cairo Opera House from 4 to 8 July, continue - despite statements by Shura Council MP calling ballet "art of nudity." Check video from the rehearsals here.

Large banner in front of the Ministry of Culture reads: Sit-in. Inside the building, a group of artists continue occupation of the ministry's halls. (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

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