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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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