Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Is nothing sacred now?

Vandalising the memorial statues of the dean of Arabic literature Taha Hussein and the Star of the Orient Umm Kolthoum is a violation of the memory of two of Egypt’s foremost cultural icons, Nevine El-Aref reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt witnessed yet another new and ugly form of street violence this week with the attacks on two of Egypt’s renowned icons of art and culture.

Early this week Egyptians woke up to find that there had been barbaric assaults on statues of two of their famous countrymen. The first was in the Delta town of Mansoura, hometown of the singer Umm Kolthoum, known as the Star of the Orient. The second was in the Upper Egyptian town of Minya, home of the renowned novelist and dean of Arabic literature Taha Hussein.

Unidentified vandals had placed an Islamic veil on the bronze statue of Umm Kolthoum, which stands in her memory in a square in Mansoura. In Minya, vandals cut off the head of the marble memorial bust of Taha Hussein which was erected 10 years ago in Taha Hussein Square.

Police are carrying out comprehensive investigations, but until Al-Ahram Weekly went to print the head of Taha Hussein’s bust was still missing and the culprits had not been identified.

Hassan Abu Ali Hussein, a member of the Minya Intellectual Club, placed the blame on poor security in the town. He urged police to tighten security in Minya, especially at tourist sites like Taha Hussein Square.

In his column published in Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and entitled Gahl Al-Lehya wal-Galalib (Ignorance of Beards and Garb), novelist and columnist Mohamed Salmawy described the incidents as an attack by ignorance on Egypt’s identity represented in two of the country’s cultural figures.

“What did those ignoramuses who attacked the statues do to Islam? They insulted it, and Islam is innocent of their behaviour,” Salmawy wrote.

Taha Hussein and Umm Kolthoum are two of the most important symbols of Egypt’s cultural and national identity. When the statues were defaced, Salmawy wrote, what then remained other than the ignorance of “beards and garb”?

Egypt intellectuals also condemned the attacks. In a statement released through the Egyptian Writers’ Union they described both incidents as attacks on the nation’s thought and heritage.

“These criminals should know that statues of Egypt’s iconic figures in squares and streets symbolise all the noble values, supreme ideas and sublime meanings which will not be adopted by those who are trying to eliminate everything and everybody,” the release said. “They might succeed in destroying a stone or a block, but they will never ever destroy an icon.”

The Egyptian Writers’ Union condemned the attacks, describing them as clumsy. They also call on all writers to stand against such vicious attacks targeting Egypt’s intellectual, artistic and cultural symbols.

The Ministry of Culture also published a statement condemning the attacks. It is also exerting all possible efforts in collaboration with the civil communities and local governmental bureaux in every governorate to prevent such crimes, which insult the nation. “We have to preserve Egypt’s history and memories because if we lose any of them we will find ourselves missing the country’s great cultural and artistic values,” the statement said.

Minister of Culture Saber Arab announced that a bronze statue of Taha Hussein would be cast to replace the one that had been destroyed.

Taha Hussein was born in the village of Ezbet Al-Kilo near Minya in 1898, and was appointed minister of knowledge and education in 1950. Hussein was known for his modern philosophical and religious approach, which caused much controversy during his lifetime. He still comes under criticism from a number of Islamist fundamentalists. He died in 1973. His statue was erected to commemorate his contribution to Egyptian culture and to mark his significance as one of the governorate’s most prominent figures.

Umm Kolthoum was born in village of Tamay Al-Zahayra at Al-Senbelawein, Daqahlia, and was one of the most famous and popular Arab singers of all time. Her songs gained international fame and helped raise the morale of the Egyptian army in war time. She died in February 1975 at the age of 76. Both Umm Kolthoum and Taha Hussein suffered severe visual problems. Taha Hussein was blinded at the age of three, while Umm Kolthoum’s sight failed her later in life owing to a thyroid condition.

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