Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Yes, Minister

Nevine El-Aref investigates the sudden resignation of Culture Minister Saber Arab
 

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday night, while Egyptians were busy dealing with the shock of renewed violence on the streets of Cairo, they were expecting the resignation of the minister of interior; what they had was the resignation of the Minister of Culture Saber Arab in protest against police abuses — after police were filmed beating and dragging a naked man in clashes outside the presidential palace. Arab submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who has not yet decided whether or not to accept it.
Until going to print, Arab has refused to respond to any media. “I am really surprised with Arab’s decision to resign,” Said Tawfik, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Culture (SCC), told Al-Ahram Weekly. He expects that “something angered him for sure,” recounting that on Sunday night, he had dinner with Arab and book publishers, writers and intellectuals during which they discussed plans to raise cultural awareness and upgrade the ministry — all was under control. “We were planning to resign but not now,” Tawfik pointed out, explaining that the plan was first to “put the ministry on the right track. We are working in very difficult conditions but we had accepted our posts in order to serve the country and propel it forward at a time when Egypt is in dire need of loyal citizens to manage its institutions until things settle into a proper and efficient democratic order. Holding Egypt’s cultural portfolio at present, we had agreed, was like a commando operation.”
Another top official at the ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Arab’s resignation was inevitable — and overdue. Arab, he said, has lived under great psychological pressure, ashamed of being part of a government that allows such violence to take place. Yet he was torn due to the effect he suspected his resignation would have on the 44th Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) and had decided to resume his post until the event was over. It was the ill-treatment of the ministry by the government, the source went on to explain, that finally made Arab snap. Shortly before the opening of CIBF Kandil had refused Arab the request of financial support for the event, having allocated LE0.5 to the Ministry of Youth, headed by Osama Yassin, which Arab found discouraging, having seen it as a sign that the cabinet supports only those ministers — like Yassin — associated with the Muslim Brotherhood; this, in addition to meddling in the affairs of the ministry and prohibiting major cultural figures from attending the opening for political reasons.
Arab is the third minister of culture to resign after the well-known critic Gaber Asfour and the former SCC secretary-general Emad Abu Ghazi. Asfour congratulated Arab on the move, saying it was “the right decision at the right time”. But Arab had already tendered his resignation once before since taking office in May 2012: in July 2012, under the caretaker cabinet of Kamal Al-Ganzouri, he felt there were not enough funding sources to upgrade the ministry’s activities; and the minister of state for antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim took the post on a temporary basis. Soon after Arab was awarded the State Merit Award and a month later he accepted the offer of becoming Kandil’s minister of culture.
In May 2012, Arab had been the fifth culture minister in 16 months since the outbreak of the January 2011 revolution following Asfour, Mohamed Al-Sawi, Abu Ghazi and author Shaker Abdel-Hamid. He was the first figure to assume the post without prompting an outcry among intellectuals; whether because the event was upstaged by the presidential elections, because he is a familiar face in the ministry or because he is suitably qualified, the professor of modern Arab history at Al-Azhar University had headed the National Archives (Dar Al-Wathaaiq Al-Qawmiya) from 1999 to 2005, and was chairman of the National Authority for Books and the National Archives from 2005 to 2009. Before reaching retirement age in 2011, for two years after Nasser Al-Ansari passed away, he headed the General Egyptian Book Organisation. After retirement he became the cultural committee reporter at the National Council of Women.
Arab is best known for his book Intellectuals and Politicians in Modern Egypt: A Study of Mahmoud Abbas Al-Aqqad’s Political Views and other research studies. Many intellectuals saw him as an appropriate choice of minister but felt that the short lifespan of Al-Ganzouri’s cabinet, which would only last for 45 days until the newly elected president took office, was an obstacle in the way of Arab making any achievement. A huge pile of files was waiting for Arab to handle; and many involved sensitive issues that had peaked under Abdel-Hamid: an atmosphere of rebellion within the ministry and the necessity of rethinking ways to raise cultural awareness in the wake of revolution.

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