Artists march on new parliament for freedom of expression

Rowan El Shimi, Tuesday 24 Jan 2012

Egyptian artists, actors, filmmakers and musicians march from the Cairo Opera House to the Parliament demanding full creative freedom

Photo by Rowan El Shimi

On Monday 23 January, the newly formed Egyptian Creativity Front organised a march from the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek to the parliament building calling on all members of the People’s Assembly to respect and ensure freedom of creative expression free of restrictions, monitoring and censorship.

Prominent visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, and actors among other members of the artistic community and its supporters participated in the march, which at its peak reached a few thousand people, on the day of the People’ Assembly first session.

“We are here to protect creativity,” actor Amr Abdelazim told Ahram Online. Artists have concerns regarding the Salafist members of parliament that constitute about a fifth of the newly formed parliament. Prominent Salafist figures have made statements over the past months demonising art, especially sculpture, along with statements condemning the works of Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, the late Naguib Mahfouz.

“We are here to show our stance and to stress the importance of creative expression for society,” Tamer El-Koumy, Director of the Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum and Cultural Centre said. He believes there should be no limits or laws that govern creative expression as artists are able to analyse and present what is accepted by society themselves. “If they do put laws it should be regarding commercialisation of art that offer no cultural value to society,” he said, giving the example of El-Sobky Film Productions, which in his opinion merely presents non-artistic commercialised films aimed only at making money.

Members of the Egyptian Creativity Front took an oath at a press conference at the Journalists' Syndicate last week vowing to defend freedom of expression in thought, literature, arts and sciences. The oath included the willingness to give their life for fighting for this cause. They also issued a list of recommendations regarding articles in the constitution dealing with freedom of expression and culture, along with laws that deal with freedom of the media, sciences and arts.

One of the protestors, Rania, who said she was not an artist, told Ahram Online that “out of all the protests taking place today, I felt this is the one I identified with the most.”She added, “I feel worried about the state of freedom of expression in Egypt’s future and wanted to show my solidarity.”

The Front chose as their spokespeople prominent film director Khaled Youssef and four other representatives to submit the recommendations for artistic expression to parliament.

“Freedom, whether for expression, social or political purposes cannot be divided,” Iman El-Serafi, theatre director and member of the Front’s organisational committee said. “We are against any form of monitoring, censorship or laws that limit creativity except for the conscience of the artist,” added, concluding that the people of Egypt who have come so far in the revolution have the ability to choose what kind of art and culture they want to be subjected to and no religious or governmental entity has the right to hold the public custody in this regard.

“We accept and respect the public’s vote for religious parties forming the majority of parliament,” El-Serafi said. “However, we do not accept a few people setting the cultural future of Egypt according to their own private opinion.”

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