Alexandria theatre 'occupation' enters fourth day

Rowan El Shimi, Tuesday 18 Jun 2013

Ahram Online visits sit-in at Beram El-Tonsy theatre in Alexandria as it enters fourth day; artists insist movement bigger than culture minister discontent

Alexandria's culture sit-in host Kazeboon screening (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Alexandria artists and intellectuals are continuing their sit-in at the state-run Beram El-Tonsy theatre, sleeping inside the theatre's lobby and holding daily culture events in the evenings.

"This is an occupation," Hakeem Abdelnaeem, an artist active in the sit-in, told Ahram Online inside the theatre.

"We want this experience to help slowly transform this state-run theatre into an independent space for arts ... to show that we can run this space in an effective way."

In Cairo, artist protests at the Opera House and the ongoing sit-in at the culture ministry were initially directed against culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz's sacking of leading ministry officials and the fear that Brotherhood members would be put in their place. 

Since then, the Ministry of Culture has become a meeting point for a number of political currents expressing their support for what they consider a "fight for the Egyptian cultural identity."

In contrast, protestors in Alexandria have insisted that their movement goes beyond discontent with the culture minister.  Rather, their focus is on the ineffective policies governing culture and Cairo's attempt to centralise Egyptian culture in the capital.

Artists involved in Alexandria's independent theatre scene held a meeting last week to decide their response to the Islamist attack on the culture ministry protests in Cairo.

Following the meeting, the artists announced they would occupy the Beram El-Tonsy theatre.  In interviews with Ahram Online, the artists said they chose this space because it is known for corrupt management and is rarely used for public arts and culture projects

The sit-in started on Saturday, 15 June to demand the culture minister's removal but also to provide a space for the community to discuss the role of the culture ministry.  As it stands now, the Ministry of Culture runs most art spaces in the governorates, and decisions are made from Cairo, meaning local needs and realities are ignored.

The artists wish to use the sit-in as a social experiment, hosting culture events on the streets while also participating in the wider conversation on the culture ministry's role in Egyptian arts.

Masar Egbari, one of Alexandria's most popular bands, performed outside the theatre to a large audience on the sit-in's second night Sunday. On the third night, the sit-in hosted a screening of Kazeboon ('Liars') and an open-mic session.

At 7pm on Tuesday, 18 June, the artists will host a musical comedy trio, a story-telling theatre troupe from the Faculty of Engineering, the Alexandria Opera Band, and the poet Rania Khalil.

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