Artists and Intellectuals in Egypt are joining anti-government protests that call for the toppling of the Islamist regime of President Mohammad Mursi for its crackdown on individual liberties.
Artists and intellectuals entered an increasingly volatile fray in May following the appointment of Islamist Culture Minister Alaa Abdulaziz and while protests against Abdulaziz have continued, their demands mirror those of the planned June 30 mass demonstrations, organized by opposition forces, that urge President Mursi to leave power.
Writers and artists view Abdulaziz's appointment, who is from the Islamist Arab Tawhid Party, as part of a new campaign to curb individual freedoms. They accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of “Islamizing” the country, particularly its cultural institutions.
Protests in front of the Ministry of Culture have been mobilized by leading Egyptian intellectuals, including novelists Baha Tahir and Yousef al-Qikaid, director Khaled Yousef, producer Mohammed al-Adel and famous actor Nabil al-Haflawi.
Qikaid, an award-winning novelist who was protesting in front of the ministry on Monday June 24, told Al Arabiya that while their initial demand was to end Abdulaziz’s tenure, they are now calling for the embattled president’s ouster.
“We changed our demands and want to see both Abdulaziz and Mursi go,” the novelist said while adding that the violence they witnessed from Islamists against their peaceful protests changed their stance.
Qikaid said violations against freedom of expression are ample and cited the Muslim Brotherhood’s banning of leftist Islamist thinker Hassan Hanafi’s latest book “Contemporary Islamic Studies” as an example. Hanafi was accused of propagating heresy in his publications. His books have previously been banned in Egypt and other Arab countries.
Egypt's biggest library
The protesters have also urged for an independent body to oversee the Egyptian National Library after Abdulaziz appointed yet another Islamist, Khaled Fahmy, to be the library's new head.
The library is Egypt’s biggest and houses archives including sensitive information about the Muslim Brotherhood since their inception as a movement.
"The Islamists want to control the library to seize important information about the Muslim Brotherhood," Qikaid said.
Meanwhile, Islamists said the upcoming anti-government protests are greatly exaggerated and an excuse by secular forces to vilify Islamists.
“The Islamists don’t have the stick to beat whoever violates morality,” said Magdy Hussein, head of the Egyptian Labor Party, whose slogan is “Islam is the solution.”
“The protests lack rationality and reveal the polarization of Egyptian society. They were against Mursi since the first day of his inauguration as president,” he added.
According to Hussein, intellectuals’ anger increased when Culture Minister Alaa Abdulaziz launched an anti-corruption campaign, which cost the ministry a lot of money.
“The opera house head receives a lot of money, despite attendees to the opera being extremely small in number. Writers and poets receive large amounts of money with no calculation. To publish a couple of hundred copies of their books, some writers receive enough money for tens of thousands of books,” Hussein said while accusing protesters of fearing the loss of their influence.
Hussein went on to suggest the minister should have started his tenure with a cultural project and saved his anti-corruption campaign after he earned the people’s trust. He called for peaceful coexistence and a relaxed dialogue between Islamists and secularists.
“Alcohol is still being served. Bars are still open. [Secularist] fears are exaggerated,” he said.
According to Ahmed Saliah, the head of the art section in al-Akhbar newspaper, secularists are protesting because they are against the Islamists but secularists insist that their protests have valid reasons.
Abduljalil al-Sharboni, writer and coordinator of "Jabhat al-Ibda'" or "The Creativity Front," told France 24 News Agency that he was mobilizing artists and intellectuals against the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule.
“If Abdulaziz alleged that he removed heads of the Opera House and the library because of corruption, how come the authorities didn't start with an investigation?" he asked
"This current regime considers art as a vice, and we are here to topple it."
Challenge from actors
Egyptian media, which President Mursi has accused of spreading lies, continue to show that the country's actors are resentful of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule and are ardently working to challenge them by showing daring TV projects that are against Islamist values.
Layla Alawi, a well-known actress both in Egypt and the Arab world, recently told Al Roeya Kuwaiti newspaper that "President Mursi's regime must go."
Alawi, who filed a case against a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, for defaming her, said "June 30 will be the Brotherhood's end."
The actress said that she is working hard to finish her new series "Farah Laila" before June 30 as she expects bloody clashes between opposition and President Mursi's supporters to take place.
According to Qikaid, more and more actors and actresses are joining the protests - such as Alawi, Ilham Shahin and Jihan Fadhel - and those who cannot due to their filming schedules are in constant contact with him.
“Adel Imam, who was pronounced innocent in Sept. 2012 after being charged with “insulting Islam” in a number of films and plays, has been in touch with me to know more about the protests and their progress,” Qikaid added.
Meanwhile, Hussein claimed 90 percent of Egypt’s actors and actresses are against the Muslim Brotherhood and accused some, like Imam, of being big supporters of the former regime.
The decision to appoint an Islamist culture minister may not necessarily have a direct impact on actors, as there are a large number of private TV channels that can air their shows and movies. But critics argue it is the right of actors to have their work reach viewers who can only afford to watch government-owned TV channels.
Secularists are also against Salah Abdulmaqsood, Egypt's information minister, who is also a Brotherhood member.
Egyptian singer Amal Maher, said that she has received confirmation from officials working in the information ministry that Abdulmaqsood prohibited the nationalist "Ya Masryeen" or "Oh, Egyptians" song from airing ahead of the June 30th rallies, CNN Arabic reported.
According to Maher, the song was seen as enticing Egyptians to wage another revolution.
The composer of the song, Amro Mustafa, said he received a phone call from the Muslim Brotherhood asking him if he is willing to sell the song to them.
A key indicator of how Egyptians view their lives under the first year of Islamist rule, will be the type of shows that are aired this Ramadan.
“Let’s see if the soap-makers compromise this year,” said Ali Abu Shadi, a Cairo-based movie critic. “If a scene requires a belly dancer, so be it.