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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid