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Culture and lifestyle during Morsi’s reign

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A round-up of the events that affected Egyptian culture and lifestyle during the past year.

At the Cultural Ministry sit-in, street artists documented one of the fights that erupted where pro-Muslim Brotherhood activist Ahmed El-Mogheir was hit by journalist Rasha Azab, dubbing it the “Battle of the Mule”. (Photo by Thoraia Abou Bakr)

At the Cultural Ministry sit-in, street artists documented one of the fights that erupted where pro-Muslim Brotherhood activist Ahmed El-Mogheir was hit by journalist Rasha Azab, dubbing it the “Battle of the Mule”.
(Photo by Thoraia Abou Bakr)

On the first anniversary of Mohamed Morsi’s rise to power, we review the decisions and changes that shaped the lifestyle and culture of Egyptians. Over the past year, there has been a steady trend of hostile or distrustful treatment of artists and media figures by the public and government, starting from the first months of Morsi’s tenure.

In June 2012, although no governmental decisions were made regarding culture, a change in the general mood and reaction to art was tangible, with some reports of hostile feedback from the public regarding cultural events. One incident took place when a passerby was irritated by a dance show, saying it was inappropriate.

One of the first acts of the censorship authority under Morsi’s administration was to ban the import of the history book, A History of the Modern Middle East, by Martin Bunton and William Cleveland, in August. The authority failed to cite the reason for its decision, although the book was reportedly used at the American University in Cairo.

In October, the censorship authority rejected a film script by Amr Salama about positive discrimination of Copts in Egypt, on the grounds that it would incite religious discrimination. In November, the authority proposed changes to director Mohamed El Sharkawy’s play Ashekeen Torabek, due to scenes that criticised the regime, but after much media attention the play was staged without any changes. In March 2013, director Amir Ramses’s documentary, Jews of Egypt, was banned from being screened by Egyptian National Security, which later relented, and the film was shown in cinemas.

The past year also witnessed attacks on media figures, including television personalities Khaled Saleh and Youssef Al-Hosseini. Saleh filed a lawsuit in which he accused Freedom and Justice Party members of inciting violence against media personalities.

In October 2012, Tawfiq Okasha was accused of insulting the president, but was later found not guilty. In November 2012, the satellite TV Dream channels were forced to stop broadcasting by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), and TV anchor Lamees El-Hadedy was investigated for contempt of religion. In March and April, comedian Bassem Youssef was accused of insulting the president and Islam, and the government threatened to shut down the channel on which the show is broadcasted.

The music scene received its share of difficulties, in one instance a concert in Minya was cancelled because part of the performance included Christian hymns. A Freedom and Justice Party lawyer issued a complaint against Sawy Culture Wheel for hosting “devil worshippers,” when they staged a heavy metal concert last September. In October, the musicians syndicate cancelled some concerts  at the venue of musicians who were not affiliated with the organisation, damaging the underground music scene.

Visual art was not immune to criticism either; in December 2012 cartoonist Doaa El-Adl and Al-Masry Al-Youm were sued by Salafi lawyer and “secretary-general of the National Centre for Defence of Freedoms” Khaled Al-Masry, citing that El-Adl’s cartoon of Adam and Eve was insulting. In January 2013, Sawy Culture Wheel refused to exhibit the cartoons of Samah Farouk because they criticised the Muslim Brotherhood.

In May 2013, Morsi appointed Alaa Abdel Aziz as minister of culture, who proceeded to remove some prominent intellectuals from their positions, which caused uproar within the artistic community. Notably, the latest removal was of Dr. Ines Abdel Dayem, the head of the Cairo Opera House, which triggered a strike at the house, and lead to a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture and another sit-in in Alexandria, demanding Abdel Aziz’s dismissal. The sit-in in Cairo is on–going, and each night dance and musical performances are staged in front of the ministry.


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