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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
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 US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
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 NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
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.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

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