Egyptian artists rally against 'Islamisation' of culture

Artists gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture. Photo posted on the blog Egyptian Chronicles.
 
 
For days now, dozens of Egyptian artists and intellectuals have been occupying the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture in Cairo to demand the resignation of the new culture minister, whom the protesters accuse of “Islamising” the sector.
 
Alaa Abdel Aziz taught film editing at the Cairo Higher Institute of Cinema. President Morsi nominated him to become the culture minister in early May in order to “fight against corruption” .
 
Protest in front of the Ministry of Culture.
 
Since he began his new job, the minister fired the director of the Cairo Opera, as well as both the Director of Fine Arts and the Director of Literature. These actions have infuriated many intellectuals, who in early June began a sit-in in front of and in the Ministry of Culture in Cairo to call for the minister’s resignation.
 
As a sign of protest, various cultural officials have resigned, including the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Culture Saeed Tawfik, who accused the authorities to be “brother-ifying” [in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood] artistic expression.
 
Tensions rose on Tuesday when dozens of supporters of P²resident Morsi arrived at the ministry, located in the upscale Zamalek neighbourhood, to clear out the protesters. The two factions faced off and threw rocks at each other, causing several mild injuries. The police, who had been deployed around the entire building, intervened before the situation could degenerate any further.
 
On Tuesday, Muslim Brotherhood supporters organised a counter-protest, which turned into a clash with the artists.
 
The personnel of the prestigious Cairo Opera, who were the first affected by the Ministry of Culture’s new measures, went on an indefinite strike after the minister fired the Opera’s director, Ines Abdel Dayem, a renowned flutist. Last Sunday, dancers from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company put on “Zorba” in the street as a challenge to the minister and to taunt a member of the Shura Council (the upper house of the Egyptian Parliament) who called for the ballet to be shut down because he said it incited debauchery.
 
Members of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company dancing “Zorba” in the middle of the street last Sunday in a challenge to the culture minister.
Contributors

“This regime views culture as pagan, so we want the minister to step down”

Abdeljalil Chernoubi is a young Egyptian author and coordinator of the “Creative Front”, an artists’ and intellectuals’ collective opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s power.
  
The authorities say they are fighting corruption, but the directors of the cultural institutions that we support have been fired without any explanation. If they are under suspicion of corruption, why haven’t the authorities launched any investigations?
 
There are about 200 of us camping out here every day, but on Tuesday dozens of artists and other civilians joined our ranks in support of our cause because Salafist officials, as well as Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers like Ahmad Al-Mogheer, threatened to come here and chase us out. They followed through on their threat, but the police intervened. We had sent out a message the previous night that we would hold President Morsi responsible for any attacks on us, because he had not denounced the many threats by fundamentalists to violently chase us out.
 
President Morsi sent a representative, Imed Abdelghafour, to negotiate with us on Monday, but we refused to see him because the minister’s resignation is a non-negotiable condition for us. The new minister is completely unknown in the Egyptian intellectual and artistic world; he has never accomplished anything notable in the cultural domain. His nomination reveals not only a lack of vision for the sector but also the government’s desire to rein in artistic expression, which, deny it as they may, the Muslim Brothers consider to be pagan.
 
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