CAIRO: The Egyptian Center for United Journalists called on Egypt’s Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni to take all necessary action against one of his bodyguards for attacking a photo journalist.
Amr Mustafa, a photographer at the independent daily Al-Dostor newspaper, was trying to snap a picture of Hosni as he entered the North Giza prosecution office late Sunday to give his testimony in the Van Gogh theft case when he was attacked by Hosni’s bodyguard.
“I was outside in the street about to take a picture of Farouk Hosni when his bodyguard punched me in the face, knocking down my glasses. I even started to bleed, but thank God I didn’t need any stitches,” Mustafa told Daily News Egypt.
“I filed a police report at the Imbaba police station, and I’m waiting for updates,” he added.
The center described the attack as “barbaric” and said in a statement that it was a crime and a violation of a journalist in the line of duty.
Mustafa said that he was never contacted by the center and he didn’t even know they were backing him.
Head of the center Saeid Shoeb told Daily News Egypt that they attempted to contact Mustafa several times, but failed to reach him.
He added that they were willing to offer him any legal assistance in the case.
Shoeb condemned the fact that Hosni didn’t comment or take any action against his bodyguard’s “inhumane” behavior until now.
“We called on the minister to apologize to Mustafa for the incident and we want the bodyguard to face prosecution,” Shoeb told Daily News Egypt.
“The right to have access to information is a right guaranteed by the constitution and the law. Attacking this photojournalist while he was doing his job is a violation of the people’s right to information about an issue of public interest; in this case Farouk Hosni’s testimony,” he added.
Shoeb also called on the head of the Journalists’ Syndicate Makram Mohamed Ahmed to support Mustafa’s cause.
He added that these attacks are increasing by the day and need to be stopped by the syndicate.
Hosni volunteered to be questioned by the prosecution over the theft of Van Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers” painting on Sunday evening to respond to any accusations of negligence against him or the ministry.
"I volunteered my statement so I can defend my ministry against the accusations it faces and against all the accusations Mohsen Shaalan [Deputy Culture Minister] has been filling the newspapers with," Hosni told reporters after he was questioned by the prosecutor.
Poor security measures were blamed for the theft of the $50 million painting, which was stolen on Aug. 21 from Mahmoud Khalil Museum.
Only seven of 43 surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning and none of the alarms went off during the theft, shedding light on the poor state of Egyptian museums and sparking criticism of the Ministry of Culture.
Hosni wasn’t officially charged with any crime but Shaalan and four other museum employees are currently detained pending investigation on charges of “negligence”.
Shaalan denied the accusations and pointed the finger at the Minister of Culture, who he said was using him as a “scapegoat”.
Hosni told the prosecution that he had delegated full financial and administrative responsibility of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum to Shaalan, according to a 2006 decree.
He also said that each sector or department has an independent budget under the authority of the Central Auditing Agency, not the Ministry of Culture.
Shaalan said in a Sunday interview with El-Shororuk newspaper mediated by his lawyer Samir Sabri that “the authorization that was given to me, is given to all ministry officials to facilitate financial issues but that it’s limited to LE 300,000 and is usually used in very limited cases.”
“LE 300,000 isn’t enough to develop and change a whole network of surveillance cameras and alarms that requires LE 16 million,” he added.
According to the Associated Press, a statement by the director of Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Reem Bahir, proves that Hosni knew about the dysfunctional cameras and alarm system but said there was no budget to upgrade them.
Hosni said that the ministry was taking all the necessary steps to improve the security system in the rest of Egypt’s museums such as Mahmoud Mokhtar and Mahmoud Saeid.
He added that a budget of LE 16 million had been approved by the Cultural Development Fund for the restoration and development of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum.
In a recent development, one of the detained museum guards said he recalled two Egyptians he found suspicious, according to Al-Ahram newspaper Monday.
The guard said that the two went in and out of the museum three times on the day of the theft.
The guard was able to describe one of suspects to the police and Shaalan, a fine artist, drew a sketch of the suspect on Sunday based on the guard’s description.