Egypt's culture minister 'does not regret decisions'

Mohamed Saad, Saturday 8 Jun 2013

In a televised interview aired Friday, Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz says he regrets none of the decisions that unleashed a wave of protest against him

Egypt's controversial minister of culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, said in a televised interview Friday 7 June that he doesn't regret any of his decisions that outraged Egyptian intellectuals and artists as he calculates his steps well before he takes them.

"I take my decisions after accurate studies and calculations, so I do not regret any of it, regardless of those who protest in front of the ministry dancing and crying over its walls," Abdel-Aziz said.

Abdel-Aziz sparked controversy when he sacked senior ministry officials, replacing them with artists and employees who have a lower-profile. Intellectuals say those newly appointed do not have the skills to lead Egypt's cultural institutions. In response, artists and intellectuals occupied the culture ministry Wednesday and barred Abdel-Aziz from entering.

The minister said in the interview that he doesn't have anything against intellectuals. He asserted that he welcomes a dialogue with intellectuals in the presence of the press, but he refuses dialogue with those who are presently occupying the ministry.

"I won't speak to the people who broke into my office, but I let them stay there. I can only have dialogue with the real intellectuals and artists, but in presence of the press and TV cameras." he said. The minister said that he would pick the journalists who would attend this meeting.

Abdel-Aziz accused journalists who have attacked him of being paid by the institutions whose heads he sacked. He screened a list of journalists on air. "I know what those journalists are doing and I will turn these documents over to the investigation directories," he said.

The minister denied being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that statements to the contrary are but rumours, yet adding that there is nothing unacceptable about a culture minister being a member of the Islamist group.

The artists and intellectuals occupying the culture ministry building declared their refusal of any dialogue between them and the minister, who they demand to resign. The intellectuals accuse the minister of implementing a Muslim Brotherhood agenda that aims to destroy Egypian culture.

Abdel-Aziz asserted that the identity of the Egyptian culture is Islamic, quoting famous Christian thinker Anwar Abdel-Malek, the Egyptian-French pan-Arabist and Marxist political scientist.

The minister also denied that he banned ballet in the Cairo Opera House.

He echoed earlier statements on mass corruption in the culture ministry, saying he will restructure all sectors of the ministry and will issue new visual art and cinema magazines that will have a "heavy" content.

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