Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Eye on the future

A month after his appointment, Minister of Culture Abdel-Wahed Al-Nabawi speaks to the press. Nevine El-Aref reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Abdel-Wahed Al-Nabawi, head of the National Library and Archives since 2010, replaced Gaber Asfour as minister of culture in last month’s cabinet reshuffle. Gaber had held the post for just nine months.

During Al-Nabawi’s tenure at the National Library a new headquarters for the national archive was established in Al-Fustat, and an ambitious project to digitise the state’s archival holdings launched. Al-Nabawi also served as secretary of the Arabic branch of the International Archives Council.

Under president Mohamed Morsi, Al-Nabawi was dismissed from the National Library and Archives. Rumours circulated that he was sacked for refusing to hand over documents relating to the Muslim Brotherhood, and its founder Hassan Al-Banna, to Morsi’s minister of culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz. Following Morsi’s ouster in June 2013 Al-Nabawi returned to his post.

Al-Nabawi’s promotion provoked speculation that Asfour was sacked because of a series of widely publicised disputes with Egypt’s religious establishment, headed by Al-Azhar. Al-Nabawi is a tenured professor of history at Al-Azhar University. Like other ministers involved in the limited reshuffle, Asfour did not receive advance notice of his sacking.

Several of Asfour’s supporters claim Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb recommended Al-Nabawi for the post.

On 5 April Al-Nabawi, who had refused interviews following his appointment, held his first press conference at the Ministry of Culture’s Zamalek headquarters.

In an earlier, informal chat with Al-Ahram Weekly, Al-Nabawi denied that Al-Tayeb had pushed for his appointment. He said that although he is a staff professor at Al-Azhar University he does not have any personal relationship with Al-Tayeb. “He knows my name, of course, but I have only met him on a single occasion,” said the newly appointed minister.

Nor, says Al-Nabawi, was there any rupture between the Ministry of Culture and Al-Azhar under Asfour. He points out that Al-Tayeb and Asfour worked closely together with intellectuals from various backgrounds and religious scholars to produce the Azhar “Document for Basic Freedoms”.

“There is no need for a mediator between Egypt’s cultural and religious institutions,” insists Al-Nabawi. “I think everyone agrees our cultural and religious discourses are in urgent need of renewal.”

Al-Nabawi told the Weekly he was keen to mobilise his ministry to support a wide range of development projects and create space for a new generation of creative artists to show their work.

Improving the performance of the ministry’s Culture Palace Section, the arm of the ministry that presents cultural events across Egypt’s provinces, is also among his priorities.

Culture, Al-Nabawi believes, is the “soft power of the state” and should be used to convert enemies into friends. “This requires time and effort,” he says. “Changing people’s thoughts and traditions is not an easy task and cannot be accomplished overnight.

Al-Nabawi says he hopes cultural practitioners will begin to build bridges with the ministry as it strives to promote a culture of peace.

“We need to focus far more on the younger generation,” he said. “They are the ones most capable of thinking out of the box.”

“I am not just an archivist, as some are trying to suggest,” he insists. “I am a cultured person who enjoys good relations with many intellectuals and with the ministry’s officials.”

Al-Nabawi told reporters he had arrived at the ministry with a clear mandate. His aim, he said, was to ensure the Culture Ministry operated efficiently, and with impartiality. The task ahead, he continued, was nothing less than the nurturing of a new, enlightened generation.

The ministry has 34,000 employees and an annual budget of LE1.5 billion, 66 per cent of which goes to paying salaries. Al-Nabawi said he had received reassurance from Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb that the ministry’s budget will be increased to LE2.25 billion in the next financial year and that the government is committed to increasing funding year on year.

“Ideally we need one per cent of the government’s budget, or LE10 billion,” noted Al-Nabawi.

In the meantime it is necessary, said Al-Nabawi, to reshuffle staff to ensure the best use is made of limited resources, plugging gaps in understaffed sections of the ministry by reallocating employees from sectors that are overstaffed. He also promised to initiate a comprehensive scheme to retrain employees.

“Heads of the ministry’s different sectors need to be far more flexible. We need to cut through the bureaucracy, shake up the routine.”

It is important, says Al-Nabawi, to review past decisions objectively, so as to avoid the repeating administrative mistakes. He urged senior employees to process their workloads more quickly. Too often the ministry’s work becomes bogged down in redundant paper trails.

Al-Nabawi is keen to explore alternative sources of funding for the film industry, and create a cinema fund. One possible source of money being examined is the issuing of a series of stamps commemorating Egypt’s film industry. In the 1960s a series of commemorative stamps helped fund the salvage of monuments threatened by the rising waters of Lake Nasser.

Al-Nabawi praised the work of the committee established by his predecessor to explore ways to support Egyptian filmmaking. Much work has already been done on restoring films from the golden age of Egyptian cinema. A memorandum has been signed with the Ministry of Investment to finance the work, and a directive will be issued within days forming a committee to oversee the distribution of classic films. 

He used the press conference to announce the reopening closed theatres in many provinces, and a new selection process for plays to be performed on the ministry’s stages.

By summer, he said, the ministry will announce an ambitious national project to be implemented in collaboration with ten ministries.

He is also keen to track down paintings that have gone missing from the Ministry’s Fine Arts Sector. An inventory of the ministry’s own departments is in the pipeline, as well as ministries that have borrowed paintings in the past.

add comment

  • follow us on