3 - 9 June 1999
Issue No. 432
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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MPs blast millennium partyBy Gamal Essam El-Din
The People's Assembly's Culture Committee was the scene of stormy debates this week over the Culture Ministry's plans to organise a celebration marking the advent of the next millennium. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni used a meeting on Tuesday, held at the request of Wafdist deputies Yassin Seraggeddin and Ayman Nour, to reaffirm that the celebration will be a golden opportunity to promote Egypt's touristic and cultural image worldwide. However, many deputies, including several from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), said they had doubts about the cultural or touristic value the celebration would have. Some argued that it would incur exorbitant cost at a time when the state needs to rationalise public expenditures and allocate more funds to social services.
In response, Hosni surprised deputies by disclosing that the millennium celebration was the idea of Tourism Minister Mamdouh El-Beltagui. He made the proposal two years ago and gained the cabinet's approval. A ministerial committee, headed by Transport Minister Suleiman Metwalli, was then established to work out the details, Hosni said.
Compared to those attending a meeting held one week ago by the Shura Council's Culture Committee, the MPs were very critical of the millennium celebration. Ibrahim El-Nimiki, deputy chairman of the Assembly's Legislative Committee, said that Egypt was not in a good enough financial position to undertake the celebration. "I want to ask how many countries, in the same harsh economic conditions as Egypt, plan to organise a similar celebration? We are not against promoting Egypt's cultural image, but I'm afraid to say that Egypt cannot afford to foot the exorbitant bill for this celebration. We are in dire need of every piastre to spend on low-cost housing and sanitary sewage projects," El-Nimiki said.
El-Nimiki also raised another sensitive issue. "The celebration will be organised during the holy month of Ramadan. Are we going to serve alcohol to the audience or shall we tell them that this is not allowed because of the holy month?" he asked.
Radwan El-Sha'er, another NDP deputy, said: "If the celebration is successful, we should make a golden statue for the culture minister. The problem, however, is that all the celebrations which were previously organised by the culture minister proved to be failures, especially Opera Aida which incurred a loss of LE7 million."
Hosni El-Sayed, a third NDP deputy, said that $9.5 million, which Hosni had said was allocated for the celebration, was only an estimate. "We want to know how much this celebration will cost exactly," said El-Sayed.
A small number of NDP deputies, however, sided with the culture minister, emphasising that the amount allocated to the celebration is insignificant, and that Egypt desperately needs such an international event to further promote its cultural and touristic image. "The amount allocated to organising the millennium celebration is very modest, compared to LE30 million which is the cost of organising the international handball championship," said NDP deputy Fahmi Omar.
For his part, Hosni said that the precise cost of the celebration would be $9,572,100. This figure, he added, includes $6 million for production of the show.
Hosni also said that he is fully aware that the millennium celebration will coincide with Ramadan. "Organising the celebration during the holy month will be a good opportunity because Sufi music will be played and the call to prayers will be accompanied by music. The large crowd that will gather at the Pyramids will have no time to drink wine and alcohol because they will be intoxicated by music and Umm Kulthoum's singing from sunset to sunrise," said Hosni.
Mustafa Nagui, board chairman of the Opera House, said the celebration's French director will be paid $400,000. "This celebration will be aired by 40 international television channels. It is a competition in which Egypt must run," said Nagui.