Philosophy professor appointed new director of Egypt's National Translation Centre

Mohammed Saad , Saturday 7 Jun 2014

After Rasha Ismail was sacked amid tumult at one of Egypt's most renowned culture institutions, philosophy professor at Helwan University Anwar Moghith has taken the helm

Anwar Moghith
Anwar Moghith (Photo: other)

Philosophy professor Anwar Moghith has been appointed the new director of Egypt’s National Centre for Translation (NCT) in a move that is expected to relieve tensions and reduce problems in the troubled centre that once was considered one of Egypt’s most prestigious and productive state-run cultural institutions.

Moghith is a well known philosophy scholar and a respected translator that translated some of the most sophisticated contemporary philosophical texts such as Jacques Derrida’s seminal De la Grammatologie (Of Grammatology) and Alain Touraine’s Critique de la Modernite (Critique of Modernity).

The appointment of Moghith to the director's post comes after months of trouble in centre that saw clashes between its employees and the ex-director, Rasha Ismail, a professor of Spanish literature, who quit a few days ago leaving a lengthy resignation letter on her Facebook page in which she listed her achievements at the centre and said she has been under tremendous pressure and was treated unfairly by the minister of culture who “ignored" her achievements "and listened to the fake claims, lies and intrigues" about her.

Officially, Minister of Culture Saber Arab sacked her. Ismail said in her resignation note that many of the workers in the centre do not speak English or any foreign language, yet they consume a third of the NCT's budget. She also pointed out that large amounts of money were spent to purchase the copyright of many books between 2008-2013 that were not translated and some of these copyrights expired, which led to huge losses.

With the appointment of Moghith, two of Egypt’s most respected state-run cultural institutions, the NCT and Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture (SCC), are now led by philosophy professors. The SCC is led by Professor Said Tawfik, professor of modern philosophy at Cairo University. Yet his tenure in leading this institution has not been so successful as he failed to restructure the SCC and draft its new law, stalled since July 2011, and did not draw up a new policy with the Ministry of Culture, as the SCC is entitled to do.

The timing of the decision to replace Ismail is notable. Minister of Culture Saber Arab for long ignored clashes between the ex-director and NCT workers and took the decision to sack her just a few days before he leaves his own post, as the government will officially resign after the newly elected president, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, is sworn in Sunday. Some observers say the minister is hoping to remain in his post as he praised El-Sisi in a recent speech. Arab also made some changes and appointments at lower levels in some of the ministry’s sectors.

The cultural field in Egypt received well the news of the appointment of Moghith, who is a leftist. “Good things can still happen in this country,” said Mohammed Afifi, head of the History Department at Cairo University.

The NCT is a governmental body that translates books into Arabic and publishes them. The NCT is the only official institution that pays high rates to translators. It has released around 2,000 titles, ranging from literature to science.

Before the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the NCT was led by famous critic Gaber Asfour, who helped to establish the centre and secure huge funding for it.

Anwar Moghith is a well known and successful academic but the centre faces many administrative problems that has impeded its work, ranging from financial problems to workers issues. Moghith already has experience with the NCT, as he was a member of the social science committee inside the centre and released many of his books through the centre. This background may help him to revive what was one of the most productive offshoots of the Ministry of Culture.

The NCT service to the public and to readers was always noted as the centre offered many good and rare books at low prices. Yet its internal financial model has always been a problem, in that it pays large sums of money to purchase copyrights and pay translators, but must sell its books at low prices.

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