Q&A: Egyptian intellectuals mobilise to fight Brotherhood 'attacks' on culture

Rasha Hanafy (Al-Ahram Hebdo), Tuesday 4 Jun 2013

Following recent high profile firings by Egypt's culture minister, intellectuals and artists are up in arms

Mohamed Hashem (Photo: Al Ahram Hebdo)

Ahram Online spoke to producer Mohamed El-Adl and publisher Mohamed Hashem about recent protests by artists and other members of Egypt's cultural scene against new culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz.

Ahram Online (AO): Do you think the Minister of Culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, wants to "Brotherhoodise" the ministry, as some have argued was the case in the education ministry?

Mohamed El-Adl (MA): I do not agree with the statement "Brotherhoodise the ministry." This would suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood has in their ranks creative intellectuals, while this is not the case. Anyone who belongs to or stands aligned with the Brotherhood cannot be a creator. Creative people, whether artist or intellectual, must be a rebel. If there is a creative individual among them, he has definitely left the Brotherhood because he refuses to be guided. The current minister came to impoverish and ruin culture in Egypt. We will not allow him to achieve his goal.

AO: The creation of one front is one of the resolutions of the first conference of intellectuals that you recently held, aiming at avoiding bankruptcy in the cultural sector. Will the front will be united and effective?

Mohamed Hashem (MH): The front in defence of arts and culture will be made up of intellectuals of all cultural fields. The idea was suggested by translator Darwish Al-Halwagui, living in France. According to him, there needs to be one apparatus that would unify our efforts. Our aim is to respond to attacks against Egyptian identity.

AO: So you think there is a palpable danger that threatens culture in Egypt?

MH: The current minister of culture focuses on the payment of salaries of the ministry's employees; he does not look at cultural activities in a broad sense. Today everything is canceled: the minister wants to remove all activities and sell locations that belong to the culture ministry. Intellectuals have sensed the danger and fight back. We must combine our efforts against the regime and against the attacks on intellectuals.

AO: What is the action plan of the front?

MH:  Under the leadership of this front, intellectuals will continue organising peaceful protests to sack the minister and to prevent the destruction of Egyptian culture and the ministry. We will create a single entity to represent us. A leading committee will be formed so it can speak for all the intellectuals.

We will organise cultural activities in the governorates for the public to join us in our efforts to save Egyptian culture. We also plan to use our right of access to institutions of the ministry and its budget, as this money belongs to the people who pay it through taxes. We are also planning individual initiatives.

AO: Do you think that culture has always been a victim of violations by the government? Why do intellectuals meet to work together now?

MH: The conference brought together groups of authors and artists calling for change since 2005, the Front of Artistic Creativity founded in 2012, and others... All of those groups aim to defend our identity.

It is important to add that hundreds of palaces of culture located across Egypt's governorates are closed now. The government wants to cancel festivals and lower the value of the State Award of Merit. The Muslim Brothers do not want culture because they are against writers and against creativity as a whole.

MA: This is not our first meeting. A year ago, intellectuals gathered under the name of the Front of the Egyptian Creativity aiming to discuss the challenges facing culture in our country. Although at that time the minister was not Alaa Abdel-Aziz, we were equally pessimistic.  All intellectuals must unite and forget their differences. This is our solution to address all these threats against Egyptian culture.

AO: Are you planning to establish an alternative to the ministry of culture?

MA: No. The front does not wish to be an alternative to the ministry of culture. We wish to use the facilities of the ministry of culture, without dealing with the ministry per se. For example, we aim to use the palaces of culture that belong to the ministry as locations, but we do not want the ministry's interference. By 30 June, all the intellectuals will meet to agree on activities to be undertaken.

Our goal is to save Egyptian culture. I'm sure our culture and education is sufficient to overcome these obstacles. The Brotherhood will fail to occupy our country.


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