Legal Complaints, ‘Traitors’, and the Future of ‘National Culture’ in Egypt

Journalist Rasha Azab, who was at the Ministry of Culture sit-in, has been summoned for questioning; also, Egypt’s general prosecutor has taken up a complaint filed against 31 artists and writers participating in the Ministry of Culture sit-in, including Salwa Baker, Bahaa Taher, and Sonallah Ibrahim:

@sharifkouddous: Moving street ballet performance of Zorba in front of occupied Culture Ministry #Egypt
@sharifkouddous: Moving street ballet performance of Zorba in front of occupied Culture Ministry #Egypt

Azab has been summoned over her much-publicized slapping of Ahmed El-Mogheer, while Bakr, Taher, and Ibrahim — as well as publisher Mohamed Hashem and more than two dozen others — stand accused of libel, slander and offending the symbols and institutions of the state, threatening the security of the nation, and inconveniencing the public by occupying the minister’s office.

Alaa al-Aswany writes in support of the sit-in; his “Do We Need Movies?” and points to the root of Egypt’s power and influence as cultural.

But certainly not all authors have supported the sit-in. At Al Ahram Weekly, Youssef Rakha writes as a “traitor” to the cause in “The Parable of the Riots and the Intellectual: On the Ministry of Culture Protest,” which in some ways echoes Khaled Fahmy’s “Ministry of Culture or Ministry of Intellectuals?” but ultimately has the artist raise his hands and step away from politics entirely. Also at Al Ahram Weekly, Gamal Abdel-Gawad pokes interestingly out toward the future, “Moment of Truth for Intellectuals,” about the history of artistic co-optation and about how artists will face a new future:

In the fierce ideological struggle currently taking place in Egypt, religion and arts are competing for the soul and spiritual needs of the Egyptian public. While religion is well entrenched in societal culture and psyche, arts need the support of institutions currently controlled by the same religious forces who control mosques and religious institutions as well.

Secular intellectuals have to face Egypt’s new political reality. The ideological service intellectuals used to offer previous regimes is no longer needed. Consequently, the support previous governments used to offer for intellectuals should not longer be expected. The challenge currently facing Egyptian intellectuals is to generate sufficient independent resources and societal demands to sustain cultural production. This challenge is part and parcel of the greater challenge facing Egypt’s secular opposition seeking to generate support at the grassroots level.

Intellectuals in Egypt effectively contributed to the anti-Mubarak revolt. Ironically, the post-Mubarak regime is posing an existential threat to Egypt’s intellectuals and their professions. The answer to the challenge raised by Islamic rule is only partly political. While all kinds of political activism should be mobilised in such a struggle, political activism need to be guided by a new vision, addressing the philosophical and sociological questions of modernity, identity and democracy in a society where the state is no longer interested in the modernisation of national culture.

It is a struggle in which the contribution of intellectuals is more than needed, but this time within arrangements different from those prevailed not only in the last 60 years, but also in the past 200 years. And this is a struggle that is much more serious than facing the minister of culture.

Also read:

Ahram Online: From opposing culture minister to fighting for Egypt’s identity