Gaber Asfour (Photo: Ahram Online Archive)
Newly sworn-in Culture Minister Gaber Asfour has turned down his nomination for the Nile Award, Egypt’s highest honour in the fields of literature, arts and human sciences, citing a conflict of interests.
The award will be announced on 23 June at a meeting of the Supreme Council for Culture (SCC), presided over by Asfour in his role as culture minister.
The 64-member council is the official body entitled to grant State Awards in literature, science, human sciences, economy and other fields.
Hours after he took office, Asfour said: “It is not appropriate to be nominated for the award now that I am culture minister.”
Last year, then higher education minister Hossam Eissa also turned down his nomination for the Nile Award, citing a conflict of interest.
Eissa said: “I concede my nomination and hope this starts a tradition, whereby no government official will receive a State Award while in office.”
Former culture minister Saber Arab resigned in June 2012, a few days before the council meeting he was supposed to preside over, in order to qualify for the Appreciation Award, for which he won LE200,000. He took office again in August 2012 in the first cabinet formed by president Mohamed Morsi.
There is an unwritten rule but no law against granting State Awards to serving government officials.
In the 1990s a number of well-known figures in the government of Hosni Mubarak used their influence inside the council to have themselves granted awards, which sparked anger among intellectuals.
The Nile Award is granted every year in the fields of the arts, social sciences and literature. Winners receive LE400,000 and a gold medal. Nile Prizes were granted for the first time in 1999.
Poet Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi, writers Bahaa Taher and Waheed Hamed, and cinema director Youssef Chahine are the most prominent recipients of the award.