Attempt to Disperse Artists in Egypt Fails

by Erin B Mee

in Activism,Global Citizenship

Post image for Attempt to Disperse Artists in Egypt Fails

(Photo of Nesma Abdel Aziz from video by Hazem Azmy. For more information about the situation in Egypt, and to learn how you can help, go here.)

On 11 June Islamist supporters of Egyptian Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel-Aziz made a failed attempt to forcibly disperse a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture, which began on 4 June in response to Abdel-Aziz’s firing of the head of the Cairo Opera House, the head of the Egyptian General Book Authority, and the head of the Fine Arts Sector.

The attack on 11 June happened in the afternoon when not many people were around (most gather at sundown for the performances) and police intervened to create a barrier between artists and Islamists. Noted scholar Hazem Azmy reported that:

“The slogans chanted by Islamists spoke about defending ‘legitimacy’ against self-serving ‘secularists.’ This is a reference to Abdel-Aziz as well as to President Mursi, both under tremendous public pressure to step down. The attackers chanted slogans that accused the Sit-In protesters of being the remnants of the ‘Fold,’ a term that Mubarak’s long serving Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni once used to describe intellectuals enjoying the patronage of the state. In a reference to Abdel-Aziz’s recent controversial decisions to replace the top officials at the Ministry with pro-Islamist ones, the ‘supporters’ adopted a ‘revolutionary’ discourse and called upon the embattled Minister to proceed with his proclaimed crusade against ‘corrupt’ elements.”[1]

Every evening since the occupation of the Ministry began, performances have taken place in front of the Ministry on a make-shift stage: screenings of ‘Uyoon Al-Horreya (Eyes of Freedom) and 18 Days  - two films about the Egyptian revolution, a concert by the Iskenderella pop group, street performances by artists from Ismailia city, and Nesma Abdel Aziz on Marimba playing one of the signature 25 January revolution songs (Izzay by Mohamed Mounir).

There was also a special performance of the ballet Zorba the Greek by stars of the Cairo Opera Ballet, now on strike. Islamists have declared ballet haraam (sinful and forbidden by God), calling it “a vile Western art that encourages licentiousness through its display of the ‘naked’ female body.”[2]

Popular chants at these public performances include: “Is ballet haraam?” “No!” “Is poetry haraam?” “No!” “Is photography haraam?” “No!”[3]

[1] Email to author. 12 June.

[2] Azmy, Hazem. Email to author. 10 June 2013.

[3] Quoted from Shawn Lent’s blog:

Erin B. Mee has directed productions at New York Theatre Workshop, the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, HERE, and The Ontological at St. Mark’s. In addition, she has directed two productions in India with Sopanam, one of India’s leading theatre companies.  She is the author of Theatre of Roots: Redirecting the Modern Indian Stage (2009), co-editor of Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage (2011), and editor of DramaContemporary: India (2001). She teaches Dramatic Literature at NYU.