News / Middle East

Egyptian Publisher: Rally an Answer to Divisive Islamist Rule

An Egyptian protester waves a national flag over Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising as opponents of President Mohamed Morsi are gathered in Cairo, June 28, 2013.
An Egyptian protester waves a national flag over Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising as opponents of President Mohamed Morsi are gathered in Cairo, June 28, 2013.
Reuters
Egypt's revolution has been a double-edged sword for Mohamed Hashem.

As manager of Dar Merit, one of Cairo's most respected publishing houses, he's been happy to see the spread of a fresh political and cultural awareness since the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

But the revolt also ushered in an Islamist-led government that he and other literati view as an autocratic group bent on imposing conservative social views on Egypt's 84 million people - including the liberals who allied with them against Mubarak.

President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood may have come to power through the ballot box, but for Hashem and liberals like him, their promulgation of religious values is totalitarian and divisive, and reason enough to take to the streets on Sunday, the anniversary of Morsi's inauguration.

"This is not a democratic force that believes in elections and the transfer of power," Hashem, 55, said in an interview in his dusty, book-lined office around the corner from Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising.

He said Egyptian Islamism "believes in its own religious authority and that there is no authority above it."

Of course, things were never easy for artists under Mubarak.

Hashem opened Dar Merit in 1998 to give life to an arts scene that stagnated under corruption, censorship and mismanagement during the autocrat's three decades in power, and its struggles have won it Western press freedom prizes in 2006 and since the revolution.

Violence in the Air

When Mubarak fell, Hashem was accused of inciting violence by the council of army generals who took over, although the case was eventually dropped.

The main twist under the Islamists, Hashem said, was a new tolerance among officials of threats of violence against those they do not agree with.

He pointed to the mob killing of five Shi'ite Muslims this month, which happened just days after Morsi sat silently at a conference while Sunni clerics derided Shi'ites, including one who called them "filth."

"Their violent rhetoric is what's left people unable to bear even a year before saying they have to go," said Hashem, who keeps a gas mask and blue helmet on his desk.

Many of Egypt's artists are still haunted by a radical Islamist's knife attack on Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz in 1994.

Officials deny trying to pack cultural institutions with Brotherhood loyalists to carry out an Islamic morality campaign.

But puritanical Salafist Muslims, enjoying newfound freedom after decades of repression under Mubarak, have grown bold enough to call for an end to public ballet performances and  belly-dancing, and to demand censorship of screen romance.

RAlaa Abdel Aziz, Egypt's new culture minister in Cairo, June 17, 2013.RAlaa Abdel Aziz, Egypt's new culture minister in Cairo, June 17, 2013.
x
RAlaa Abdel Aziz, Egypt's new culture minister in Cairo, June 17, 2013.
RAlaa Abdel Aziz, Egypt's new culture minister in Cairo, June 17, 2013.
The appointment this month of a new culture minister, Alaa Abdel Aziz, a 52-year-old academic from a small Islamic party, unnerved artists who feared a religious-tinged clampdown.

Filmmakers, writers and performers infuriated by Abdel Aziz's dismissal of the head of the Cairo Opera have staged a sit-in to preventing him entering his ministry, and scuffled with his Islamist supporters this month.

Reflecting the Revolution

Abdel Aziz's taste for both Hollywood and international arthouse movies sets him apart from many Islamists, and he denies having any moral agenda, but he does say he wants cultural spending to reflect the changes Egyptian society brought about by its revolution.

"My concern is providing cultural services throughout Egypt, not financial benefits for a few intellectuals," he told Reuters last week.

Hashem, fearing for a cosmopolitan cultural scene long envied across the Arab world, disagrees with the approach.

"The assault is on the national identity of Egypt - not just on culture," he said.

Dar Merit has steadily grown in prominence since it was founded, with titles including "The Yacoubian Building," Alaa al-Aswany's novel of corruption and social deterioration under Mubarak. Its headquarters are a battered, high-ceilinged building in downtown Cairo, a relic of the decaying grandeur the novel portrayed.

Business has got worse since the uprising - Dar Merit used to publish 50 to 70 books a year, and it is now under 30. But Hashem tries to look to a time when, as he sees it, Egypt's democratic revolution finally becomes inclusive.

"People are going to learn more and read more," he said.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More