The choice of Emad Abou-Ghazi as head of the Ministry of Culture in the caretaker cabinet of Essam Sharaf was received with a warm welcome from many Egyptian intellectuals, especially that his name was mentioned by intellectuals who rejected Mohamed El-Sawy, the previous minister in Ahmed Shafik’s cabinet that resigned Thursday.
A statement of prominent intellectuals confirmed that Abou-Ghazi is “a true intellectual who is involved with the current affairs of his country, in addition to being highly respected among all intellectuals inside and outside Egypt, and who is capable of regaining Egypt’s cultural role in the region.”
Supporters of Abou-Ghazi spoke of his patriotic stances, referring to “his articles that reflected a strong stance towards freedom and democracy", and considering him "a son of the Egyptian patriotic movement who never hesitated to pay with his own freedom, where he was subject to prison because of his political ideals". In addition, Abou-Ghazi’s experience as an authority in the Ministry of Culture means he can manage its affairs and is trusted with its money. Supporters testify to his fairness, honesty and complete disconnect with the old regime.
Abou-Ghazi wasn’t a surprise choice. He has been assistant to former Secretary General for the Supreme Council for Culture Gaber Asfour for 10 years, with responsibility of overseeing the cultural committees of the council. Then Abou-Ghazi himself was secretary general for nearly two years. He is the son of art critic and thinker Bader El-Den Abou-Ghazi (1920-1982) who was minister of culture in Egypt between 1970 and 1971. He is also the decendant of a family of intellectuals and artists, including the famous Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar, who was his father’s uncle.
Apart from family heritage, Abou-Ghazi carries scientific credentials that equip him for this esteemed position. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University as a history major, receiving his Masters and PhD in the field of archives in 1995. He is an associate professor at Cairo University. In addition to academia, he publishes articles on the history of Egypt, gaining attention in Al-Dostor newspaper where he calls for fresh readings of controversial topics of Egyptian history. He is author of a number of books, including Toman-Bay and the Story of the 1919 Revolution.
Abou-Ghazi's passion for history is likely to colour much of his work for the Ministry of Culture in the coming period. In addition to the responsibilities outlined by Essam Sharaf in his appointment letter, to give importance to building the minds of Egyptian citizens and provide all the cultural activities required to this end, Abou-Ghazi will also be responsible for protecting archeological sites recent under threat of looting.
Abou-Ghazi succeeded during his meeting with the prime minister to get back the Ministry of Archeology, after it having been split in the previous cabinet. In Abou-Ghazi’s vision, there is no separation between archeology and culture in its broader sense.
Despite some opposition to Abou-Ghazi’s appointment, being “a continuation for the policies drawn out by the previous government and a partner in them, having held posts of responsibility over the last 10 years", there is general agreement on Abou-Ghazi’s integrity and refusal of corruption. Supporters point to his success over the period of his leadership of the Supreme Council in connecting new generations to Egyptian and Arab cultural life.
In addition to underlining the Arab regional dimension in Egyptian cultural life, Abou-Ghazi aspires to bring back Egypt’s "African depth" and to regain its focus on the “neglected south”, as he calls it.
The new minister of culture refuses the view that “the ministry is the farm of the intellectuals of Egypt”, confirming that “the relationship between the intellectual and the state is not a crime; the ministry doesn’t require that any intellectual abandon his thoughts to become a member in its committees, for he joins with his titles and thoughts, and not for his political affiliation.”
Abou-Ghazi welcomed those intellectuals who demonstrated during the 25 January Revolution against the ministry’s policies, stating that the Supreme Council is a “house for intellectuals, if they wish to do cultural activities, or if they wish to demonstrate”.