Cold welcome to Sawy’s appointment as culture minister

Sayed Mahmoud, Wednesday 23 Feb 2011

El Sawy, a well-known figure in the Cairo culture scene, gets opposition from prominent artists and intellectuals to his new post as Culture Minister because he is a businessman and censors his own cultural NPO

The choice of Mohamed El Sawy for Ministry of Culture in the new cabinet has gained a clear refusal from many sectors in the Egyptian cultural arena. El Sawy’s opponents find him lacking the right experience to effectively manage cultural ministry institutions in the coming period, they are suspicious of him because they see him as a businessman and they simply don’t appreciate his strict enforcement of censorship.

Mohamed El Sawy is the son of the late novelist, Abdel-Monem El Sawy, who held the post of Minister of Culture in 1977. He studied in the faculty of fine arts at Helwan University and before his nomination as the head of the El Sawy Culture Wheel (one of the largest and most active cultural centres in Cairo) he owned one of the biggest advertising companies in Egypt. His critics claim that, in essence, that he’s a businessman in a governmental position.

Strong and frank words by prominent novelist, Gamal El-Ghitani, reveal his opinion that the appointment of El Sawy is “a disaster that defaces Egyptian culture” because Egypt needs a prominent intellectual figure in the coming period, with a known cultural presence in the entire Arab world.

Other intellectuals signed their name to a declaration adopted by Dar Merit publishing house.

Among the reasons mentioned in the declaration for their opposition are “he has not blended with Egyptian cultural community and never adopted its views and ideas. Aside from the fact that his sole relationship with culture was limited to the management of El Sawy Culture Wheel, whose cultural value is questionable in light of the fact that marketing is what attracted the youth and not the appreciation for culture itself, he also never had a clear statement on issues related to culture.”

Egyptian intellectuals feel he is completely at odds with them as they promote freedom for art and creativity; the freedom that is necessary to build the new society we all seek. Against all these views, El Sawy adopted his own censorship, stating that “Culture is a message to promote the soul forward, and not a way to picture the society as it is, with all its negatives.”

However, the rejection of El Sawy didn’t come just from the traditional intellectual elite: a young theatre director, Mohamed Abdel-Fattah Kalabala, warned that he will go on hunger strike if the government insists on El Sawy for this important post. He also mentioned that some of the leaders in the ministry also reject this choice and plan to submit group resignations.

And let’s not forget Facebook. A number of independent culture institutions and individuals are spearheading an internet campaign to persuade decision-makers.

People recall Sawy not permitting certain musical performances and short creative movies at the Wheel. This highlights Sawy’s refusal to accept opposing cultural or political views, in addition to his stance against freedom of expression and creation, leading to self-inflicted censorship in the Wheel that surpassed that of the already stringent state control.

Amid these negatives, a number of websites voice the views of those who see El Sawy as a good choice. Writers, such as Ibrahim Aslan, Said El-Kafrawy, Mohamed Slamawy and others applaud him for successfully setting up the diverse program that represents all wakes of creativity and culture, which, in turn, attracted many people through “cultural democracy.” To his supporters, El Sawy proved his ability to connect with a generation of youth who are usually missing from formal events, and all at reasonable prices (an average ticket at the Culture Wheel is $3 and workshops are inexpensive).

It can also be noted that El Sawy doesn’t hesitate in his press conferences or media appearances to share his belief in privatising culture and the importance of lifting the state’s hand off of cultural activities. He states that the government’s role is merely to offer the right environment for cultural institutions to grow and flourish among the different societies.

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