Should Egyptian State Literary Prizes Be Saved?

Professor Tareq Noman has accepted a position as interim secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture. This, he says, is because he aims to save LE 7 million in state cultural prizes:

supremeDr. Noman told Ahram Online he was worried that, without him at the helm, the swashbuckling new Egyptian culture minister, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, would cancel the state prizes altogether. The position became vacant after SCC secretary general Said Tawfiq quit in protest of dismissals from the state culture apparatus, the newly “poisonous atmsophere,” and Abdel-Aziz’s vision.

Noman told AO:

I asked Professor Said Tawfiq not to resign from his post or at least delay this decision until after the annual meeting where we award the state cultural prizes to guarantee that the minister will not cancel the meeting and withhold all state prizes – which will deprive intellectuals of LE7 million [$1 million] in prizes.

These prizes are traditionally announced in June.

Certainly, artists deserve public support. However, any mention of SCC prizes also makes one remember October 22, 2003, when the Supreme Council of Culture attempted to honor Sonallah Ibrahim during the Arab Novel conference with an LE100,000 award.

Ibrahim took the stage and said, in part (trans. George Ziyad):

I have no doubt that every Egyptian here is aware of the extent of the catastrophe facing our country. …. We no longer have theater, cinema, or scientific research; we just have festivals, conferences, and false funds. We don’t have industry, agriculture, health, or justice. Corruption and pillage spreads. And anyone who objects faces getting beaten up or tortured. The exploitative few have wrested our spirit from us.

All that’s left for me is to thank those who chose me for this prize but to say that I won’t be accepting it because it is from a government that, in my opinion, does not possess the credibility to grant it.

Al Masry Al Youm asked Ibrahim in August 2011 whether he would accept a state award post-Jan 25:

Al-Masry: You previously rejected state awards. If you are offered such awards now, would you accept them?

Ibrahim: The desired reforms have not been implemented yet for me to accept a state award.

I can’t imagine that the Morsi government has made Ibrahim change his mind.

So should the 7 million in awards be “saved”? If they weren’t, would it move Egyptian letters a little further away from the state cultural apparatus?

On Twitter:

Author Ezzedine Choukri Fishere got right to the point with a single-word answer: no.

And, he adds: @arablit It is a neopatrimonial system with little to do with literature. Can’t be reformed; too many vested interests. Better gone.