Mursi supporters, opponents clash outside culture ministry

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Supporters and opponents of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi clashed on Tuesday outside the culture ministry, where artists have been protesting against what they see as efforts to impose a religious agenda.

Dozens of Islamist protesters and anti-government demonstrators fought outside the ministry headquarters in the Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek leaving several lightly injured, AFP reporters said.

Tensions began earlier this month after new minister Alaa Abdel Aziz sacked several arts chiefs, including the heads of the Opera House, the Fine Arts department, the General Egyptian Book Organization and the National Archives.

Abdel Aziz, appointed in a recent cabinet reshuffle, is considered close to the Brotherhood, although he is not a member.

The sackings caused a furor within cultural circles, prompting artists to take to strikes, demonstrations and cancel shows to counter what they say are Islamist designs on key cultural institutions.

Since Friday, novelists, filmmakers, painters and dancers have been holding a sit-in at the ministry to demand Abdel Aziz’s sacking.

Dancers from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company performed a short version of “Zorba” and singers held concerts outside the ministry drawing nightly crowds.

“We are against Muslim Brotherhood control of state institutions,” said producer and protester Dina Abu Zeid.

“Egypt is not a religious state,” she told AFP.

Hani Hassan, the lead dancer at the Cairo Opera Ballet Company slammed the minister for pandering to ultra-conservative Islamists.

Last week, a member of parliament from the Salafist Noor Party called for banning ballet on the grounds that it is “obscene” and “spreads immorality.”

“Why didn’t (the minister) respond to the Noor MP? Because he’s scared but we are not,” Hassan told AFP.

The Muslim Brotherhood has denied it wants to control cultural institutions.

At the demonstration, Islamist protesters argued that the ministry has been a den of corruption since the time of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, and that Abdel Aziz is simply getting the house back in order.

“We suffer from corruption in all our institutions. The minister came and began cleansing... We say to him: carry on cleansing,” said Khaled al-Bouhi.

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