Let me begin by congratulating the new Minister of Culture Nevine Al-Kilani, expressing my gratitude to her predecessor, Inas Abdel-Dayem. I am looking forward to hearing about Al-Kilani’s cultural policy, the implementation of which she will oversee in her capacity as the official in charge of one of the most important areas of public work. It is also one of the most sensitive areas, since we still suffer from the blight of religious extremism which burgeoned in tandem with the decline of culture since the 1970s.
I have no doubt that the new minister is equipped for the task. As she has served in both the Academy of Arts and the Cultural Development Fund, her career expertise combines specialisation in the arts with experience in funding cultural activity. Nevertheless if I could offer a suggestion it would be that she should take the Egyptian constitution as the starting point for drawing up her cultural policy.
We can be proud of the fact that this is the first Egyptian constitution to feature a whole separate section on the Cultural Components of Society. Beneath this heading, it states: “Every citizen has the right to culture. This right is guaranteed by the state which is committed to supporting it and to making all forms of culture available.” This provision defines the philosophical orientation of the state’s cultural policy. Culture is a service that the state is constitutionally obliged to provide to citizens like water and electricity. The state is thus required to fund cultural production, from literature and the plastic arts to theatre, music and film, without regard for potential profit.
The constitution provides, secondly, that the state must offer cultural services “to all segments of the public without discrimination on the basis of financial ability, geographical location or the like.” The state must also “devote special attention to remote areas and the neediest sectors of the population.” In other words the ministry must ensure that cultural production is as accessible to persons of limited means as it is to the well to do. So, for example, books should not be priced to prevent students from buying them and ticket prices for a play should not cost too much for working-class to enjoy the theatre. Likewise, inhabitants of the Sinai or the Western Oases, for example, should have access to the same cultural services available to people in the capital.
Applying the constitutional provisions on culture and the citizens’ right to access it is the best way to fight extremism. We may have managed to curb terrorist activity but we have not yet eradicated its ideological roots.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.