Egypt's new culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz El-Sayed Abdel-Fattah, known as Alaa Abdel-Aziz, graduated from the High Institute of Cinema in 1985. Abdel-Aziz, 52, obtained his Masters degree in postmodern philosophy in 2002 and his doctorate in cinema in 2008 from the same institution. He currently teaches at the High Institute of Cinema.
During his career, Abdel-Aziz worked in film editing and as assistant director in many short films produced by the High Institute of Cinema and the National Cinema Centre. As a film critic, he is also a member of the Egyptian Film Critics Association.
Abdel-Aziz was a member of the research team that worked on the eight-volume Encyclopaedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism, written by Egypt's late Abdel-Wahab El-Messiri, in which he provided input for the chapters related to cinema.
In March 2012, Abdel-Aziz was among those who opposed Academy of Arts President Sameh Mahran. Along with a number of professors from the academy, Abdel-Aziz took part in a sit-in outside the office of then culture minister Abdel-Hamid Shaker to voice opposition to Mahran's policies and accuse him of alleged financial and administrative corruption. Although the group had demanded the president's dismissal, Mahran remains in his office until now.
Although Abdel-Aziz's appointment might create conflict between the two professors, Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website has reported that the fate of Mahran will be regulated administratively, noting that any possible dismissal of Mahran must be decided by direct presidential decree.
Abdel-Aziz was also known for his opposition to former president Hosni Mubarak. In recent months he has been critical of the opposition movement against President Mohamed Morsi. In his writings, published in the Freedom and Justice Party's newspaper, he has deemed the anti-Morsi opposition as 'counter-revolutionary,' 'fabricated' and 'exaggerated by the media.'
In an article entitled 'The political landscape and the illusion of replicating the revolution,' published in January, he accused the media of diverting the public's attention from Egyptians' desire to purge the state apparatus of corrupt Mubarak-era elements while enflaming rivalries between different political currents.
According to Al-Ahram, Abdel-Aziz is a strong supporter of the new constitution and had called on people to take part in the constitutional referendum held late last year, underlining that the step was an important move against the conspiracies that were preoccupying the minds of the Egyptian people.
One of his recent works is a book in Arabic entitled 'Film between language and text: A systematic approach to creating cinematic meanings and significance,' an academic research paper that looks into the essence of the art of cinema and its application based on the famous Egyptian film 'The Mummy' (El-Moumya) – also known as 'The Night of the Counting of the Years' (1969) – by late director Shadi Abdel-Salam.
Sixth culture minister since 2011 revolution
The appointment of Abdel-Aziz as the new culture minister makes him the sixth minister to enter the office since Egypt's January 2011 revolution. During the 18-day uprising, on 31 January 2011, Farouk Hosni – who had served as minister of culture for 24 years – was replaced by Gaber Asfour, a literary critic and author, who resigned on 8 February citing health problems.
Mohamed El-Sawy, owner of popular Egyptian culture centre El Sawy Culturewheel, was the first appointed culture minister after Mubarak's ouster on 11 February, but was not welcomed by artists and intellectuals and was therefore removed 5 days after the appointment. Among the many complaints directed against El-Sawy was an accusation that he was beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood and had exercised censorship at his cultural centre.
The following assignments looked to candidates from the Supreme Council of Culture. Prior to his ministerial appointment, Gaber Asfour held the post of the institution's secretary-general. He was replaced by Emad Abu-Ghazi, who in turn was appointed minister of culture in March 2011, following El-Sawy's removal.
Abu-Ghazi proved to be far more popular that his predecessor. Being actively involved in Egypt's revolutionary movements, on 20 November 2011, he resigned from the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to protest attacks on protesters.
Shaker Abdel-Hamid, winner of the prestigious State Award in 2003, assumed the ministerial position in November 2011 and was removed in a May 2012 cabinet reshuffle. Prior to his appointment, Abdel-Hamid had briefly served as secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Culture.
He was followed by Mohamed Saber Arab, professor at Egypt's Al-Azhar University and former president of the National Book Organisation, who was appointed minister in May 2012. Arab, too, had briefly served as secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Culture, replacing predecessor Abdel-Hamid.
Arab remained in the office for one year before being replaced on Tuesday 6 May 2013, by Abdel-Aziz.
After the series of ministers hailing from the Supreme Council of Culture, Abdel-Aziz is not only the sixth culture minister since January 2011, but also – without counting El-Sawy – the first to come from a completely different cultural background.