Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

In support of Egypt’s arts and culture

On 6 June, the Egyptian Centre of International Theatre Institute (a UNESCO programme, with branches in nearly 100 countries, was established in 1948 to promote intercultural exchange) issued a Call for Action to defend Egypt’s cultural and artistic heritage against recent onslaughts. The response of the world theatre community has been overwhelming. Messages of solidarity with Egyptia

Al-Ahram Weekly

In an internationally circulated message from the International Theatre Institute (ITI), Ann Mari Engel, the ITI vice president and president of its Action Committee for Artists Rights wrote:
“We want to recognise and celebrate the great achievements all over the world by Egyptian artists in various fields of the performing and fine arts. We want to express our fear that there will be restrictions on the freedom of the arts and that the artists will not be treated in the way that they deserve and have the right to. We urge the authorities to start a constructive dialogue with the artists, who are an important part of the big international community for performing arts.”
On 9 June, Julia Varley, the world renowned actress and director, wrote in her capacity as director of the International Transit Festival and founding member of the Magdalena Project:
“We, the women of The Magdalena Project, an international network of women in contemporary theatre (presently gathered at the Transit Festival in Holstebro, Denmark) write to express our support for our friends and colleagues of the ITI Centre and the wider community of artists of all disciplines in Egypt. We recognise and respect the enormous contribution that generations of Egyptian artists, writers and performers have made not only to Egyptian cultural life and the Arab world but also to world culture. We believe that the work of these artists has enriched cultural exchange and facilitated understanding of Egyptian life and culture internationally. In this context we are bewildered by the apparent attack on art and artists being made by the current government through its representative, the minister of culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, who asked what have artists “ever contributed to Egypt’s culture? What have they ever given to the enlightened Egyptian people?” Surely these questions are rhetorical since Egyptian artists are conspicuously involved in the development and illumination of their glorious cultural inheritance for the benefit of contemporary society? Through this letter we send our solidarity to Egyptian artists, intellectuals, performers and writers who have contributed to making Egypt known in the world.”
In another letter of solidarity, Oystein Ulsberg Brager, artistic director of Imploding Fictions Theatre and artistic consultant at the Norwegian Actors Centre, Oslo, Norway, said:
“Egyptian culture and arts are both proud and impressive, and should be embraced in both their traditional and modern forms. I remember my two trips to Egypt fondly, both for my experiences of Egyptian history and custom, and for my inspiring meetings with contemporary Egyptian artists. My hope is for an inclusive Egypt which recognises the scope of its own potential in the arts, and cherishes the hard working and dedicated artists in its community.”
On June 7, Catherine Coray, a Lebanese-American theatre director and academic and director and curator of hotINK at the LARK, a festival of new plays from around the world, addressed the following open letter to Egypt’s president:
“Dear President Morsi,
I write to urge you to protect the integrity and the excellence of Egyptian theater by reconsidering your appointment of Alaa Abdel-Aziz to the Ministry of Culture. Mr Abdel-Aziz has lately been engaging in attacks upon the theater community, and some of Egypt’s most prominent theater artists and scholars have called for his removal, and no wonder: already, a leading figure in the Freedom and Justice Party has branded members of the International Theatre Institute as “pro-Western atheists and secularists who have betrayed the religious creed of the Egyptian people”, and these accusations were repeated from pulpits during Friday prayers.
While many of us, all over the world, have looked to Egypt and its people as beacons of peaceful resistance, as brave and civilised examples of free citizens in charge of their own destiny, I must question recent governmental interference in the Egyptian arts — in particular, its theater, which has tirelessly upheld the spirit and integrity of the Revolution on the page, in theaters, and in the streets. The hard-won Freedom and Justice of your country belongs to all your citizens, not least your brave artists and writers.”
On the same day, the Egyptian ITI received a message of protest and support from Jonathan Meth, head of the Playwrights and Cultural Operators Association, FENCE. It said:
“We note with concern the continuing deterioration of the circumstances in which Egyptian theatre artists and the wider Egyptian cultural community are operating. Please be sure that as part of a diverse international community of 175 playwrights and cultural operators spanning 40 countries, we at The Fence are watching events in your country closely and with alarm. We send you strong spiritual support across the denominations and our fervent hopes that a different kind of dialogue can swiftly emerge around the future focus of such an important historic and contemporary culture.”
A letter of protest against the intimidation of Egyptian artists, sent by Douglas Howe and Beatriz Cabur, co-founders and executive directors of New International Theatre Experience (NITE), read as follows:
“On behalf of New International Theatre Experience (NITE), we are writing to express our support and solidarity regarding the current treatment of artists and cultural operators in Egypt. This kind of intimidation and fear mongering does not befit any society, and those in positions of power and influence should be ashamed of their inhumane and abusive actions. Though we may be hundreds of kilometres away, know that we are standing by you and your fellow countrymen in this difficult time.”
Under the title Trouble for Artists in Egypt, Erin B Mee Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow, New York University, posted at the website of Theatre Communications Group/International Theatre Institute USA a letter of mass protest and support, which drew over 67 signatures by world renowned artists and prestigious academics and cultural workers, and was subsequently published at The Guardian and New York Times: see ( Messages of solidarity were also sent by Dominick Luquer, the general secretary of the Belgium-based International Federation of Actors, an international, non-governmental organisation representing over 85 performers’ trade unions, guilds and associations all over the world, Richard Schechner, the great director and editor of the prestigious Theatre and Drama Review, distinguished theatre scholars Marvin Carlson and John Elsom and Roberta Levitow, senior programme associate, International and East Africa Sundance Theatre Programme, co-founder and director of Theatre Without Borders and Fulbright Ambassador Emerita.
The above samples of the massive moral support received by the Egyptian ITI in response to its Call for Action testify to the great esteem in which Egypt’s culture and its arts and artists are held by the civilised world and the international arts community. They are the only reply one can make to Abdel-Aziz’s shameful rhetorical questions: “What have they [Egypt’s artists and intellectuals] ever contributed to Egypt’s culture? What have they ever given to the enlightened Egyptian people?”

The text of the Call for Action from ITI Centre, Egypt:

Dear International Friends and Colleagues:
We, the founding members of the Egyptian Centre of the International Theatre Institute, have been witnessing with increasing alarm the vicious onslaught against the defining foundations of Egyptian culture, with theatre and the performing arts at the forefront. However variously understood and appraised, these foundations are widely believed to have crystallised with the onset of the modern Egyptian state in the late nineteenth century, but in fact they had always been rooted in the very fabric of this land, an inherently cosmopolitan multi-religious and multi-ethnic culture if there ever was one. As Egyptians, but also as members of the global cultural community, we cannot allow such a glorious tradition to suffer erosion at the hands of those who could not adapt to it, whether at home or in the region.
The Islamists’ declared jihad against the arts is currently spearheaded by none other than the regime’s Ministry of Culture, thanks to the recent appointment at its helm of a certain Alaa Abdel-Aziz, an obscure film lecturer with a paltry academic record and practically no professional or public service credentials save his adoption of the cultural discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood ruling faction (or, more aptly, its anti-arts one). In a typical demonstration of this populist rhetoric, Abdel-Aziz had this to say at a recent press conference “I ask those leading the ferocious campaign against me: What have they ever contributed to Egypt’s culture? What have they ever given to the enlightened Egyptian people? Post-revolution Egypt should not be captive to a group that has not been able to effectively touch Egyptians with creativity over long decades.”
While the problem of a certain disconnect between the intelligentsia and their constituencies is by no means unique to Egypt, we believe it is either moronic or hypocritical (or, more likely, both) to question the contributions of generations of artists in the various fields of the performing and fine arts and their far reaching role in establishing and popularising these arts not only in Egypt, but all over the Arab world, not to mention world-renowned literary and artistic figures of the stature of Bahaa Taher, Sonallah Ibrahim, Ramzi Yassa, Alaa Al-Aswani, Lenin Al-Ramli, Nawal Al-Saadawi, Fatheya Al-Assal and Salwa Bakr, all of whom are now calling for the removal of Abdel-Aziz and the parochial, theocratic regime for which he stands.
The International Theatre Institute, an active UNESCO entity with centres and affiliate bodies in the four corners of the world, has an urgent mission to protect the free circulation of culture in one of this world’s most ancient civilizations. We therefore call upon all concerned to mobilise in whatever way they think fit, but we also hope that this call for action will set in motion an ongoing dialogue with our worldwide friends and colleagues so that we may work with one another against the not-so-secret agenda to remake Egypt and its cultural field after the worldview of its ruling cabal.
We await your ideas and initiatives at
Interim Founding Board


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