Still hope for Egyptian culture prizes, insists under-fire minister

Mohammed Saad , Tuesday 18 Jun 2013

Despite fears the highest Egyptian honours will be forfeited and protests to oust Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz, he tells Ahram Online he will hold voting for $1 million in national awards

Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz
Egyptian Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz (Photo: Ahram)

Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz told Ahram Online that state culture prizes will not be cancelled or withheld, amid Egyptian intellectuals' worries that the LE7 million ($1 million) in awards will not be distributed this year.

The meeting to vote on the prizes was simply postponed, the minister says, confirming it will be held in July. But the culture minister's will may not be enough in the face of an avalanche of complications.

According to regulations, Egypt's Supreme Council for Culture (SCC) meeting to vote on and announce the winners of Egypt’s highest state prizes in the fields of culture, arts and science, was supposed to be held before 20 June.

The minister, however, did not convene the SCC meeting or even set a date, claiming that he was waiting for a unified stance on the prizes, since some of the nominees willingly offered to give away the financial value of the prizes, while others refused.

SCC Interim Secretary-General Tariq Noman asserts to Ahram Online that the minister did not inform him about the meeting in July.

Noman claims the minister has not answered his calls and that he warned the minister about the complicated financial consequences of holding the meeting after 20 June.

Since the Egyptian fiscal year ends on 20 June, accordingly, the SCC is supposed to return all their financial surpluses to the finance ministry - including the LE7 million in award money.

Minister Abdel-Aziz tells Ahram Online, however, that the finance ministry will make an exception based on his request.

Major demonstrations to oust Morsi-appointed Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz further complicate the state prize awards, however.

By law, Egypt's culture minister is also the SCC president, therefore in order for the prize-awarding meeting to be legal Abdel-Aziz or his representative must be present.

Intellectuals and SCC members just released a statement declaring they do not recognise Abdel-Aziz as culture minister, that they reject any of his decisions and will ban him from chairing any SCC meetings, however.

The minister could authorise an SCC member to chair the meeting in his stead, but the minister rejected this suggestion – which is within his right according to the law.

Intellectuals and artists occupied the minister’s office in Zamalek on 5 June and demanded the minister be removed from his post, accusing him of implementing a Brotherhood agenda that aims to destroy Egyptian culture and homogenise what intellectuals call a dynamic and versatile Egyptian cultural scene.

Minister Abdel-Aziz, who was appointed to the post in May, went on a sacking camping that drove most of the culture ministry senior officials out of their posts. Abdel-Aziz  removed Ines Abdel-Dayem, head of the Cairo Opera House; Ahmed Megahed, head of the Egyptian Book Organisation; Salah El-Meligy, head of the fine arts sector; and the head of the Egyptian National Archives, Abdel-Wahed El-Nabawe, along with all the senior officials of the pivotal National Archives.

The Shura Council (the Islamist-dominated parliament upper house) wanted to decrease the financial award, deeming it a waste of public funds. The move outraged Egyptian intellectuals, who took it as part of 'a Brotherhood scheme' to destroy Egyptian culture.

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