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Egypt cultural scene gets facelift after revolution

Intellectuals to restore contact with people

Egyptian culture in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution that ousted the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak is taking a new shape as intellectuals state their rejection of hypocrisy and youths call upon writers, academics, and scholars to leave ivory towers and be part of the people, Arab Press House reported.

“After the success of the popular revolution, an intellectual revolution has to be launched and culture should be the first brick in rebuilding Egypt,” said Eshrak Ahmed, a graduate of the Faculty of Mass Communications.

“Holding cultural seminars and paying more attention to libraries should be the first step,” she said. “We have to have beacons of knowledge.”

Ahmed cited the example of al-Sawy Culture Wheel, the Cairo-based privately-owned cultural center, as one of the most prominent of these “beacons” that contribute to the cultural nourishment of the Egyptian people.

Mahmoud Hamed argues that youths have to play an important role in shaping Egypt’s cultural scene like they did with the political scene and called for laws that protect young intellectuals.

“Publishing houses have to stop taking advantage of young writers and the laws of intellectual property have to be implemented,” he said.

Hamed pointed out the necessity of innovation through establishing a fund that supports original ideas and adopting new strategies that ensure that the cultural scene is in a constant state of change.

“Routine obstacles to original ideas should be removed so that youths do not become frustrated or do not find themselves forced to pay bribes in order to get their projects accepted.”

For Abdul Aziz al-Mahdi, an IT specialist, the new culture should be based on freedom so that the Egyptian people are allowed to choose what they want.

“It is no longer possible to hide information or impose certain intellectuals on the cultural scene,” he said. “Egypt will reject all hypocritical pseudo-intellectuals who only care about being in the limelight.”

Amina, a high school student, said she intends to expand her knowledge on legal, political, and constitutional matters.

“After the January 25 revolution, I realized that many youths were fully aware of the constitution and I plan to do the same,” she said. “At least when I take part in a demonstration, I would know exactly what I am fighting for.”

It is no longer possible to hide information or impose certain intellectuals on the cultural scene

IT specialist Abdul Aziz al-Mahdi

Cultural strategy

Dr. Gaber Asfour, former Culture Minister who recently submitted his resignation from the cabinet, said that Egypt is about to implement a new cultural strategy that depends on making culture directed by the people and not the regime like what happened before the revolution.

“There should not be any kind of censorship on books so that Egypt retrieves its position as a cultural beacon in the Arab and Muslim worlds,” he said. “This can be primarily done through restoring the historic role of the Cairo International Bookfair.

Asfour called for the establishment of a state-sponsored body that attracts youths to cultural institutes in the country instead of the intellectuals that have been occupying the cultural scene for decades because they were favored by the regime.

“Cultural institutes should become the medium through which the Ministry of Culture communicates with the people and they should be given proper funding in order to reach all echelons in the society.”

Being one of the most prominent translators in the Arab world, Asfour called for reviving translation activities in Egypt.

“I call for increasing translation courses especially for specialized translators as well as encouraging translation from and into Arabic and devising a strategy that aims at translating at least 100 books every year.”

Cultural institutes, he added, should also make serving the community their first priority.

“Cultural institutes should turn from government bodies to community service media. This can only be done through abolishing the bureaucracy that has prevailed in cultural institutes and that contributed to the deterioration of culture in the country.”

There should not be any kind of censorship on books so that Egypt retrieves its position as a cultural beacon in the Arab and Muslim worlds

Former Culture Minister Dr. Gaber Asfour

Breaking barriers

Mohamed al-Sawy, owner of al-Sawy Culture Wheel and potential minister of culture, said that his cultural center, established in 2003, has managed to break the barriers between people and culture and that it will continue to do so in the light of the revolution’s achievements.

“There are so many things we need to achieve in the light of the new democratic atmosphere that does not prefer one trend to another,” he said.

Sawy said that the Culture Wheel will contribute to the cultural awakening in Egypt through encouraging all talents and giving youths the chance to express their views and exercise their creativity without restrictions.”

For Medhat al-Gayar, critic and member of the Higher Council of Culture, there is no need for a minister of culture in the first place.

“All cultural institutes should be given the freedom to compete in order to offer their best without being restricted by instructions from the ministry,” he said.

Gayar added that the coming phase will witness a reshaping of Egyptian intellectuals so that they will be in direct contact with the people.

Professor of English literature Dr. Sherine Abul-Naga agreed with Gayar and argued that allowing intellectuals to pose as superstars living in ivory towers contributed to the deterioration of Egypt’s cultural scene.

“People have reached the point of feeling repelled by the word ‘intellectual.’ In the new Egypt, there is no place for intellectuals that are detached from the people. We have to restore the lost communication between intellectuals and the people,” she said.



(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)

People have reached the point of feeling repelled by the word ‘intellectual.’ In the new Egypt, there is no place for intellectuals that are detached from the people

English literature professor Dr. Sherine Abul-Naga