Dismissal of Fine Arts head outrages Egypt artists against culture minister

Mohamed Saad, Tuesday 28 May 2013

Artistic community is up in arms again against newly-appointed culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz, this time after he sacks Salah El-Meligy, head of Egypt's museum/exhibition administration

Salah El-Meligy (centre) in the exhibition opening. (Photo source: Salah El-Meligy facebook page)

Egyptian Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz on Sunday sacked Salah El-Meligy, head of Egypt's Central Administration of Museums and Exhibitions and head of Egypt's Fine Arts Sector.

The minister provided no reasons for the decision, while the minister's media office remained silent on the issue.

The move came only hours after El-Meligy inaugurated the 35th annual General Art Exhibition on Sunday night – in the minister's absence – at Cairo's Arts Palace.

Abdel-Aziz had been forced to reverse an earlier decision to postpone the inauguration ceremony, owing to pressure exerted by visual artists – especially after the ministry's security administration had told him that it would be difficult to prevent artists from holding the event.

The minister had hoped to eliminate around 30 pieces of artwork, which, he asserted, had been submitted after the deadline set by the exhibition's organising committee.

The exhibition's curatorial committee, headed by Mohamed El-Tarawy, was outraged by the move, arguing that such decisions fall under the jurisdiction of the exhibition's curator. It is the curator, they argue, who – together with the curatorial committee – sets the exhibition's criteria based on a specific artistic vision.

El-Meligy told Ahram Online that the minister's decision to sack him had "been expected." El-Meligy said he was "satisfied" with the current state of affairs, however, since it was "impossible" for him to work with a culture minister "who doesn't appreciate art."

Visual artists, meanwhile, have condemned El-Meligy's dismissal. They plan to hold a press conference on Tuesday at 10am to voice their rejection of the recently-appointed minister and his decisions.

Visual artist Mohamed Talaat has said that Egyptian artists plan to escalate their opposition to the minister and his policies by "any means necessary," including protest marches and sit-ins.

An 'unwanted' minister

Abdel-Aziz's appointment earlier this month was met by protests from Egypt's cultural community, who accuse him of collaborating with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and aiming to 'Brotherhoodise' the state institutions, including the culture ministry. Abdel-Aziz was appointed earlier in May by former Brotherhood top leader and current president, Mohamed Morsi.

On Tuesday 14 May, actors, filmmakers, theatre directors, musicians and singers, along with several university professors, organised a protest march from the Hanager Arts Centre – located on the grounds of the Cairo Opera House – to the nearby culture minister's office in Zamalek.

The day eartlier, artists at the Cairo Opera House were angered by the new minister's alleged plans to remove Ines Abdel-Dayem from the post of opera chair. Although the ministry denied the allegations, artists remain worried that talk regarding Abdel-Dayem's removal remains underway inside the ministry.

The sense of insecurity and anger was topped by the artists' opposition to Muslim Brotherhood rule and the new minister's qualifications, which, they say, are not academically strong enough for him to hold Egypt's culture portfolio. They stress that Abdel-Aziz's contributions to Egyptian culture are largely unknown.

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