Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The broader view

The broader view
The broader view
Al-Ahram Weekly

“THE AISS this year reaches the third decade of his flourishing march,” said Minister of Culture Helmy Al-Namnam, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly in Aswan. He went on to say that the symposium has brought the cultural specificities of contemporary Egyptian sculpture to the international arena, reminding the world of the abilities of our ancestors when they turned dumb granite blocks into eloquent life forms replete with civilisation. 

“The strategy of the ministry of culture,” he went on, “did not change over the last five years even though 13 different figures have held Egypt’s cultural portfolio since 2011. All that has changed is the personality and the performance of each minister in implementing the same strategy. But the short tenure of each did not enable many achievements.” 

Emad Abu-Ghazi, for example, had an excellent plan to develop the ministry which would require at least four years of hard work; with only eight months in office he was unable to implement it. Saber Arab held the post for a long time, but it was divided up into short tenures, preventing him from maintaining a plan of action. 

“It is said that the collapse of Egypt during the Ottoman period was due to the short tenure of the wali, which lasted a maximum of four years. Still, the way to get past the current stage and implement an effective strategy is to apply the idea of cultural rights and justice through providing all kinds of culture in all Egyptian cities, towns and village...”

Al-Namnam said he was working hard to achieve this by, among other measures, building opera houses in the provinces and establishing book fairs – in Alexandria and Suez and soon also in Dessouk, Damanhour and Luxor. The ministry has already been given leave by the cabinet to build the Luxor Opera House, while following an inspection by Opera House Chairwoman Ines Abdel Dayem and a team of sound engineers, the Port Said Opera House is to open this year in a new edifice built by the Armed Forces and providing a 1,256-seat theatre, more than the Cairo Opera House Main Hall, which seats only 836 people. Another, 400-seat hall on the upper floor is suitable for conferences, while a third works as an exhibition space. Two 300-seat halls at the entrance will be converted into film theatres.  

On the other hand, Al-Namnam explained, “While there are 99 Cultural Palaces in Egypt only 52 of them are open, with the rest suffering from lack of security.” A protocol with the Ministry of the International Cooperation should facilitate the grants needed to fill these gaps. Another protocol to be signed with that ministry and the governorates of Luxor and Aswan will facilitate a year-long programme of cultural events there. 

Organisational efforts include the redistribution of library books, of which some ministry libraries have too many copies while others lack any copies at all: 200 copies of the complete works of the same poet in one library, with little else besides for example. Books need to be transported from the warehouses of the General Egyptian Book Organisation and the National Centre for Translation. 

Museums like the Gamal Abdel-Nasser Museum in Mansheyet Al-Bakri area in Cairo – to be reopened next month following renovations – are also being attended to, though in the case of the 1952 Revolution Museum, for example, effective refurbishment will cost LE115 million, which is not yet forthcoming.

Al-Namnam said he was in the process of reviewing the printing policies all across the ministry to unify them and make the process more efficient, printing for the private sector as well as the ministry itself: “This would also be a source of income. So will developing Egypt’s handicrafts. The holding company, which will be established in the next two months, is yet another solution: its aim is to manage the services provided at the cultural palaces, creative centres and handicrafts centres across Egypt, including shops, cafeterias and restaurants, promoting these handicrafts abroad and spreading them through international exhibition. It also aims to establish a new production unit to print books, screening movies and plays.” 

The main problem, Al-Namnam agrees, is the large number of the ministry employees, whose salaries take up most of the budget. With 35 thousand employees compared to 10 thousand in the Chinese Ministry of Culture (which also covers Antiquities), the ministry is bloated: “We are not planning to dismiss any of them but the unqualified have to go through training courses to develop their abilities.” These courses, he said, will be offered free of charge.

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