Egypt's highest cultural awards overshadowed by uncertain political future

Mohammed Saad and Mary Mourad, Sunday 1 Jul 2012

Egypt's highest state awards were announced in the fields of literature, arts and social sciences as some artists feel the future for creativity is uncertain under Islamist rule

While a group of Egypt’s most prominent literary and artistic elite were voting on the prizes of the highest honour at the Supreme Council for Culture (SCC) on Saturday, the newly-elected president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was taking the presidential oath as Egypt’s first non-military ruler. 

Renowned writer Gamal Al-Ghitany said this year's awards come at a momentous time when the rise of Islamists to power brings with it real threats to freedom of expression and creativity.

Al-Ghitany warned that the Islamists may seek to change the structure of Egypt’s cultural institutions, replacing the current members of the SCC itself with Islamists, saying that this maybe the last meeting to vote on state prizes. Many of the audience agreed to what Al-Ghitany said, and vowed to fight any "attempt to change to the cultural identity of Egypt." This seemed to have guided some of the votes.

Wahed Hamed

Nile Awards
The Nile Award winners reflect the extensive effect of the political atmosphere on the selection committee. Waheed Hamed (1944), winner in the arts field, is a scenarist renowned for his famous movies that tackle politics and social problems. He is also known for his films on religious fundamentalism, especially those starring the famous actor, Adel Emam. Emam was sentenced to prison for his roles, many of which were written by Waheed Hamed.Hamed received the State Appreciation Award in 2003.

Ibrahem Aslan

Ibrahim Aslan (1935-2012) is the second winner for the Nile award, which he had been nominated for before he passed away. Considered one of the most remarkable writers of the 60s generation, Aslan was best known for his novels Bohayrat Al-Massa (The Night’s Lake) and Malek El-Hazaeen (The Heron), which was made into the famous movie KitKat, a jewel of Egyptian cinema of the 1990s.

The third winner in the social sciences field is Mohamed El-Gohary, professor of sociology at Cairo University. El-Gohary was the first Egyptian to receive his PhD in folklore from the University of Bonn in Germany and has since then headed the sociology departments at Cairo and Helwan Universities throughout various intervals. His efforts to establish scientific background to the study and understanding of folklore resulted in a 2000-page encyclopaedic publication.

State Appreciation Awards
Mohamed El-Bosaty (1937) won the State Appreciation award for 2012. Born in the governorate of Dakahliya, El-Bosaty's work uniquely portrays life on the margins of the Egyptian rural life. Lately, however, he also dived into the marginalised squatter communities of Egypt's cities. He won the Owais award in 2001 and his novel Noise of the Lake won best novel at the Cairo International Book Fair in 1994.

MOhamed Salmawy

Mohamed Salmawy (1945) received the same award. Salmawy is a writer and journalist, currently heads the Union of Egyptian Writers and was editor-in-chief for Al-Ahram's French-language newspaper, Hebdo. His most famous works include theatre play, Salome's Last Dance, for which he received the Carthage Theatre Festival award in 1999. He received the honourary distinction of Commandeur of the Ordre of the Crown by King Albert II of Belgium in 2008. 

Poet Mohamed Abu-Sinna received the third State Appreciation Award in literature. Abu-Sinna is a member of the Union of Egyptian writers and the Supreme Council for Culture. He received a number of awards for his poetry, including the State Encouragement Award in 1989 as well as an award from the German University of Stern for his book Arabs, Literature and Migration.

Not so surprising was the State Appreciation award going to former minister of culture, Mohamed Saber Arab for social sciences. Arab resigned from his post on Friday in order to retain his right to stay on the nomination list and, indeed, was one of three winners, together with Amaal Sadeq and Nadia Haleem.

The State Appreciation Award is given for unique productions in the fields of literature, arts and social sciences. Three awards are given each year for each of the first two categories and four in the field of social sciences. The prize value is LE 200,000 (nearly $34,000) as well as a gold medal. The first such award was given in 1998.

Winners of last year's Appreciation Award were Abdel-Wahab El-Aswany, Fouad Kandil and Ahmed Shams Eddin El-Haggagy, professor of literature at Cairo University. Most notable among the winners of the award in the past are Gamal El-Ghitany, Gaber Asfour, Khairy Shalaby, Ibrahim Aslan and Edward El-Kharrat in the field of literature, and Hassan Hanafi, Sayed Al-Kemny, Mohamed Nour Farahat and Raouf Abbas in the field of social sciences.

Amar Ali Hassan

In the social sciences field of the State Excellence Award, Ammar Ali Hassan, political analyst and researcher won the award. He was a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic studies and the Emirates Centre for Research and Strategic Studies. His main contribution is the multidisciplinary research involving social and religious foundations of politics, and his major research on Sufism and politics is a reference on the topic.


Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar (1959) is a graduate of economics and heads the Strategic Economic Directions report of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He received the State Encouragement Award in 1999 for his book on the financial assistance to Israel. He published a large number of books on Israel, internal economic conditions, corruption in Egypt during Mubarak time and other economic issues.

Hala Elbadry

Excellence Awards
The Excellence Awards in literature were given to Hala El-Badry, journalist and writer, and to poet Hassan Teleb. The Excellence Award is given annually to individuals who excelled in the fields of literature, arts and social sciences. Seven are handed out each year: two for the first two categories and three for social sciences. The value of each prize is LE100,000 (roughly $17,000) in addition to a silver medal. 

Among the winners of the literature award in the past are: Maher Shafiq and Fathia El-Assal among others, while in social sciences winners included Said Tawfiq, current secretary general of SCC, and the late minister of culture, Shaker Abdel-Hamid.

Encouragement Awards
As for the Encouragement Award, the winners in the literature field were poet Mohamed Tawfiq, poet Mohamed Mansour, translator Mounir Hussein, short-story writer Hidra Girgis Zakhari, and finally children stories writer Sahar Abdel-Azim.

In the field of social sciences, the winners were psychologist Ahmed Mohamed Hamed, historian Gamal Ali Mashaal, philosopher Nagah Mohsen Madbuly and media specialist Hisham Attia Abdel-Maksud.

In the field of economic and legal studies, the winners were Abdel-Salam Nweir for work on political systems, Mohamed Abdel-Meguid for work on general law, Ahmed Abdel-Zaher for work on criminal law and finally Mohamed Abdel-Salam Kamel on sharia (Islamic law).

The state Encouragement Award is given to the best works of literature, arts, social sciences and economic and legal sciences. In all they are 32 awards: eight in each category, worth LE50,000 each (roughly $9,000). Last year it was awarded to writers Adel Esmat, Azza Rashad, poet Mohamed Khattab Zahran and poet Ahmed Ibrahim. 

The four Egyptian State Awards are administered by the Supreme Council of Culture headed by the culture minister. This year the culture minister was replaced by Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim and Secretary General Said Tawfiq because the minister of culture resigned on Thursday in order to qualify for one of the social sciences prize.

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