Egypt/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

The Egyptian minister of culture, Farouk Hosni, announced during 2006 in a paper titled “The Strategy of Culture” that "The Egyptian government fully understands the importance of culture for achieving comprehensive development and the role of cultural action in formation of identity. Therefore, the state shoulders its cultural action responsibility by developing a cultural policy based on organising and directing cultural activities, in accordance with social values and choices, invariably following national consensus and expectations to achieve stability, peace, and development, through establishing and funding the infrastructure of cultural monuments, providing the necessary tools and instruments for action, and introducing appropriate regulations for enhancing literary, artistic and cultural creativity, ensuring freedom of creation, and stressing democracy in cultural life at all levels".

The Minister has promised to implement (after finishing the UNESCO battle) the comprehensive programme that he used during his campaign, through the Egyptian Ministry of Culture (MOC).[1]

The programme consists of four principles:

  • Identifying new action visions to achieve peace, tolerance and reconciliation.
  • Introducing a general vision for a comprehensive educational process that provides for dissemination of innovation.
  • Formulating deliberate policies that concentrate on development needs and combating poverty. These policies should include capacity building and methods of cooperation in the context of producing new knowledge, mastering technological innovations, the ethics of science and technology, and support for scientific research.
  • Gradual redirection of Ministry programmes, according to four principles: 
  1. Supporting intercultural dialogue, which is essential for peace. To achieve this goal, dialogue should be integrated organically into all sectors in order to connect with its supporters, namely creators and innovators, teachers, scientists, journalists, etc…. In this way, they contribute their varied essence to all dialogues.
  2. Support for young people and women.
  3. Working and cooperating to help Africa and smaller landlocked countries. This support is a key and urgent priority at a time when Africa is profoundly stricken by the international financial crisis,
  4. Internal reform, which aims at adding the new dimension of promoting excellence of implementation. This dimension concerns programme specialists at institutions. They should be appointed more quickly and in a more targeted manner (bureaucratic procedures should be eased). Continuous training should be provided to them to enable them to discharge their duties. As for decentralisation, institutions should have a more coherent and consistent framework to work within. Additionally, they should adopt the principles of accountability, transparency, and future vision internally.

The Egyptian cultural policies model is primarily an administrative state controlled centralist model, which has its origins in the socialist economic system of the 1960s. Its cultural policies are based on development and advocacy. By the mid-seventies, the economic system had changed towards market liberalization. Cultural institutions were affected by this change: the level of public subsidy given to popular culture, the theatre, and cinema was reduced. The bulk of subsidies went to antiquities, due to their importance for the lucrative tourism sector, in accordance with neo–liberal principles that prioritize investment and profit, that was prior to the separation between budgets later on in 2012.

 

Restoration and development of museums and archaeological sites has been accompanied by using them for profit, by filming tourism documentaries and sometimes leasing them out by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, for concerts.

 

The changes in the economic system and the political orientation were not accompanied by corresponding changes to the centralised hierarchical administrative structure of state cultural institutions. This deepened their crisis and hampered their performance, because their structure suffered from bureaucratic flabbiness, anathema to the Neo-liberal system (see chapters 1 and 2).

 

The allocations to the Cultural Palaces Organization, which shoulders the lion share of the governmental cultural activities in the governorates and villages (home to more than 56% of Egypt’s population), did not exceed 12.9% of the total allocations of the culture sector in 1991-1992, and 13.3% in 2001-2002. Thus, the per capita share of state cultural service in rural Egypt was an astoundingly low 1-2 EGP per year, as reflected in the drop in the number of culture palaces and houses from 527 in 1995 to 293 in 1999.[2]

 

The withdrawal of the government from providing cultural services has led to the involvement of civil society institutions in presenting and adopting some cultural industries, such as folk arts and handcraft products. Some institutions were also interested in creating a cultural atmosphere within the Egyptian society through concert performances by famous international and Egyptian bands, organizing seminars and supporting or holding contests for innovation in most cultural fields. These activities and projects are sponsored by many international institutions, such as the Swiss Fund and the Ford Foundation among others.

 Monitoring and Evaluating Policy

Egypt does not have a clear mechanism or institution responsible for monitoring and evaluating cultural policy, especially since there are no professional standards for the selection of the directors and heads of most important institutions or projects. Those appointed are “trusted”, but not necessarily qualified.

The only bodies responsible for monitoring and evaluation are the censorship authorities on publication and works of art, in addition to religious institutions (represented by Al-Azhar and the Orthodox Church) whose work is limited to censoring cultural products, but not evaluating cultural policy.

The research paper "The Three Faces of Contemporary Arabic Culture" by Mr. Sayyed Yassin, the political sociologist and adviser in the Political and Strategic Studies Centre in Al-Ahram newspaper, provides a good answer regarding the standards and methods of evaluating cultural policy. His views about the current situation in the Arab World are very much applicable to Egypt.

They can be summarised as:

  • The Past Aspect: reinventing traditions
  • The Present Aspect: Arabs in the face of the storm
  • The Future Aspect: the absence of an Arab strategic vision
  • The Past Aspect

In Egypt, there is currently "a sweeping wave of return to religion (as manifested in the spread of public religious practices among all social classes) and spread of superstitious thought which is falsely attributed to religion.... thus expressing a closed view of the world based on prohibitions and extremism”.

Yassin does not speak of mere appearances (like the headscarf) but focuses on the backward intellectual structure that considers the past its reference point. He considers the fatwas of university graduates who are ignorant of religion (since religion has become culture) to be a cultural disaster, along with the calls for the Islamization of knowledge and the increasing number of books on the scientific miracles of the holy Quran.

The Present Aspect

Yassin believes that the current challenges which Egypt (and other Arab countries) faces are political, economic, cultural (related to identity) and communicational (in the face of globalisation). How will it react to them?

"The real battle is not in facing globalisation as a historical process, but in fighting the prevailing set of values, which is in fact a reproduction of the old hegemonic system. The nature of the battle should be identified to remove double standards when implementing human rights. Also, the Western model should not be imposed as the one and only model of democracy”.

The Future

Yassin believes that the future vision of culture (strategy of culture) is a mental image based on scientific study of the past, manifestations in the present, and the signs that reveal the future”.

The most important thing Yassin indicates about the future is offering a new image that requires some reforms and changes which "include, inter alia, social acceptance of change”.

Yassin concludes his research by saying: "we need people with balanced vision, in order not to lose the truth amidst fantasies of great achievements, or suffocating vapours of despair”.

Yassin believes the absence of general standards for evaluating culture is caused by:

  • Cultural dissociation in Egypt. The twin poles of extreme extremism and extreme liberalism dominate the scene.
  • Cultural struggle between the isolationist religious discourse and the dispersed secular liberalist discourse.
  • The political cultural context which remains totalitarian and does not allow real pluralism.
  • Unbalanced social context which sees businessmen on the rise and marginalizes the poor. Consequently, a current of nihilism has appeared the "Youth Books" published by Merit.
  • An economic context where unemployment prevails, which reflected negatively on cultural life.

[1] ibid
[2] Al-Ahram Newspaper, 29 September 2009, 1st page.


Chapter published: 01-04-2016


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