Artists break into Egypt's culture ministry building, declare sit-in

Mohammed Saad and Sara Elkamel, Wednesday 5 Jun 2013

Dozens of protesting artists stage open-ended sit-in at Egypt's culture ministry building in Cairo until Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz is removed

The Ministry of Culture in Zamalek. (Photo: Mohammed Saad)
The Ministry of Culture in Zamalek. (Photo: Mohammed Saad)

Dozens of prominent artists and intellectuals have broken into Egypt's Ministry of Culture in Cairo's Zamalek district, declaring an open-ended sit-in inside the building until Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz is replaced.

The protesters include novelists Bahaa Taher and Son'allah Ibrahim, film director Khaled Yousef, and figures from the cinema industry, Galal El-Sharkawy, Fardos Abdel-Hamid, and Sameh El-Seriety.

The artists also released a handwritten statement strongly condemning the newly-appointed Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel-Aziz.

Scriptwriter Mohamed El-Adl, actors Mahmoud Kabil and Nabil El-Helfawy, and visual artist Mohamed Abla were among approximately 30 artists who broke into the ministry.

El-Helfawy told the press that artists cannot stay silent and ignore the current attack on Egyptian culture.

"The intellectuals, writers and artists inside the ministry announce their rejection of the minister, appointed by the religious fascist regime, who has embarked on his plan to destroy national culture," read the statement.

"They [protesting artists] declare that they will not accept the presence of a minister that does not fulfil the aspirations of intellectuals to cultivate a culture that lives up to the hopes of the great revolution since it started on 25 January 2011 and achieves its goals."

Protesting artists have declared an open-ended sit-in until the position is filled by someone who supports and works towards "enshrining values of diversity, citizenship and cultural richness, which were hallmarks of Egyptian culture across the ages."

Other artists participating in the sit-in inside the ministry include Galal El-Sharkawy, Khaled Yousef, Soheir El-Morshedy, and poet Sayed Hegab.

Meanwhile, supporters of the minister gathered outside and constructed a stage from which they chanted in his favour. Outside the ministry building, artists chanted against the minister, saying they would wait for Minister Alaa Abel-Aziz to arrive.

On 2 June, protesting artists surrounded the front and back exits of the ministry, keeping Abdel-Aziz trapped inside the building until 7:30pm.

The current crisis in Egypt's cultural scene started on 28 May when the culture minister fired the heads of Cairo Opera House and Fine Arts Sector.

Artists from Cairo Opera House and Fine Arts Sector held protests outside the Opera House, which led to an on-stage protest at a performance of Aida and a three-day halt of performances.

On 1 June, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to perform with world-renowned pianist Ramzi Yassa. However, the artists announced a continuation of their strike and intention to march to the culture ministry on 2 June to demand his resignation.

Outraged artists accuse the minister of executing a Muslim Brotherhood agenda to Islamise Egyptian culture and reforming Egypt's national identity.

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