Egypt intellectuals retaliate against culture minister after urgent meeting

Mohammed Saad , Monday 17 Jun 2013

Egypt's Supreme Culture Council members declare they do not recognise the Morsi-appointed Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz and will sue him for libel

SCC meeting

Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture (SCC) board members and heads of the artistic, science and culture committees held an urgent meeting on Sunday to discuss the developments in the Egyptian cultural scene and express their support for intellectuals and artists who have been occupying the culture ministry headquarters since 5 June.

The "parliament" of Egyptian intellectuals stated they do not recognise Alaa Abdel-Aziz as culture minister, deeming all of his decision "invalid."

Members of the SCC said that they will prosecute the minister for libel and defamation for accusing intellectuals and major culture figures of corruption during his campaign to sack officers in high-profile positions.

The meeting, which was held at the SCC headquarters on the Cairo Opera grounds, also suggested that the SCC should be an independent body run by independent intellectuals without intervention from the state. By law, the culture minister is also the president of the SCC, which ties the SCC to Egypt's presidential office. Abdel-Aziz was appointed culture minister a month ago by Brotherhood-fielded President Mohamed Morsi.

As one of the most important parts of Egypt's culture ministry, the SCC is responsible for setting ministerial policies and organising ministry activities.

The SCC is also responsible for granting state cultural prizes, which are traditionally announced in June. Many initiatives have been launched to reform the SCC and liberate it from the culture ministry, but none have been implemented.

SCC members fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will now attempt to tip the committee's membership so Islamists dominate and they can then control Egypt's cultural policies. 

Renowned writer and economist Galal Amin; poet Sayyied Hegab; writers Ahmed Bahaa Eddin Shaaban, Youssef El-Qaeed; artist Mohammed Abla; Interim SCC Secretary-General Tareq Noman as well as the SCC former secretary-general Said Tawfik were present at the meeting.

Said Tawfik resigned on Wednesday, 29 May in protest over the new minister's policies, which he described as "destructive to Egyptian culture."

Tawfik said in the meeting that he resigned when he realised that the matter is about to demolish the structure of the Egyptian culture, freeze the SCC and cancel the state prizes for intellectuals.

The seven million LE ($1 million) prizes were supposed to be granted this month, but will likely to be cancelled this year, as the minister did not call for the meeting where the SCC members name the winners. According to SCC rules, if the meeting is not held before 20 June it is likely to be cancelled.

Tariq Noman charges that the Brotherhood is trying to dismantle the culture ministry in order to spread its own version of extreme Islamic ideas through the culture ministry facilities across the country.

"I’m afraid there’s a huge amount of political money that is waiting to enter Egypt to spread Brotherhood ideas using the facilities of the ministry of culture. To do so, however, the Brotherhood needs to deconstruct the ministry's central administration," Noman explains his theory.

"The real tampering with Egyptian culture is yet to come," he foresees.

In sum, the meeting expressed the deep concerns of intellectuals and SCC members over the new appointments Abdel-Aziz made to the Egyptian National Library and Archives (NLA), which brought Islamists promoting Brotherhood ideology to the leadership of this pivotal institution.

The intellectuals called on the Armed Forces to temporarily put the National Library and Archives under its custody, relieving the Brotherhood from the institution until a specialised committee of historians is formed to run the NLA.

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