Egypt/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.3 Cultural/creative industries: policies and programmes

Culture and economy has been associated in a number of reports issued by MOC, such as a paper entitled the strategy of culture in Egypt which reads: "The most prominent examples of the cultural industries in the country are films, TV drama, book publishing, cultural TV programs and music and song recordings intended for broad marketing. The emergence and development of cultural industries not only changed the cultural content but also changed the message of culture given the notable growing impact of cultural product on society. Hence the great importance dedicated by the government to culture and cultural apparatuses and its wide-range support not only because they are essential services provided to the people but also as being investments with assured financial returns in the development and production increase processes"[1].

Accordingly, MOC places cultural projects which aim to at the top of its priority list:

 

  • Preserve, collect, protect and promote the country's heritage via books, brochures or electronically.
  • Expand restoration projects for the endangered archeological sites.
  • Expand cultural infrastructure projects.
  • Dedicate more attention to handicrafts and promote their products to preserve the Egyptian identity.

 


The Cinema Industry

The cinema industry started in Egypt right after it came to life abroad. The first film was a silent film made by the Lemaire brothers in Paris, in December 1895. Days after that, the first film was shown in Egypt. It was shown at the Zawany café, in Alexandria, in January 1986. It was followed by the first viewing in Cairo, on 28 January 1896, at Santi cinema.

Over more than a hundred years, the Egyptian cinema produced more than three thousand films, which represent in whole, an everlasting stock of the Arab cinema. They are what nearly all Arab satellite channels rely on now.

The year 1927 represents the real historic beginning of the Egyptian cinema. The first two famous films were produced and shown that year. They were “A Kiss in the Desert”, and “Layla”. One of the most famous silent moves of that time was “Zeinab”, directed by Mohammad Karim, a pioneer of Egyptian film making.

The construction of Misr Studio in 1935 was a new shift in the history of Egyptian cinema. It remained the center of the film making movement until World War Two broke out.

The 1939 film, "Determination", was an important milestone at the time. Appearing that year also was “Misr Cinematic Newsreel”, or the “Talking Newsreel”, still being produced to that day.

After World War Two, the number of Egyptian films multiplied from 16 in 1944, to 67 in 1946. A number of directors glittered during this period, such as Salah Abu Seif, Kamel El Telmisany, Ez Eldin  Zulfikar, and Anwar Wagdi. The latter stared a series of successful musicals.

The Egyptian cinema was at its peak when the Free Officers came to power. Egyptian film making saw increasing activity and demand over post-WWII period. All aspects of the cinema business were in the hands of private companies. Cairo was considered to be the Hollywood of the East. Egyptian films were being shown in all Arab countries that came to know the cinema. Movie theaters in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, East Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and even Abyssinia, relied on them. Egyptian films even reached India, Pakistan, Greece, and the United States.

The fifties saw the industry peak. The average number of films per year rose up to 60. The total number of films produced in 1962 reached 588, that is to say, double the number in 1927. The number of cinemas reached 354 in 1954. That was the period in which Egyptian classical films were made.

In the sixties, the cinema industry was nationalized. Misr Bank and its companies were also nationalized, including Misr Acting and Cinema Company. Large distribution companies, e.g., El Shorouk, and Dollar Film, were also nationalized. Some large filming studios were also nationalized, e.g., Misr, Nahas, Ahram, and Galal studios. Small production and distribution companies and small studios remained the property of their owners.

In 1962, The Public Cinema Association was created for the production of long feature films. This meant the interference of the public sector in film production. At that stage, the ownership of the Cinema Association of cinema facilities took various forms. Administrative structures and production forms also varied. This led to a reduction in the average number of films from 60 to 40 films a year. The number of film theaters also fell from 354 in 1954, to 255 in 1966. Although the public sector stopped producing films since 1971, the average number of produced films remained 40 films till the year 1974. It then rose to 50 films. Cinemas continued to decline in number, reaching 190 in 1977.

In the middle of 1971, the Cinema Association was dissolved, and a public corporation was formed to oversee the cinema, the theater and music. The corporation stopped producing films, leaving that to private sector funding.

The role of the State in the cinema started receding. It vanished altogether from film production. The State held on to two companies; one for studios, and the other for distribution and movie theaters.

It is worth saying that of the activities that saw the most deterioration in the 80s and 90s were those related to cinematic art. That was because officials in the ministry of culture adopted the policy of halting film production by the Cinema Association or the Film Production Sector, and privatizing the sector, whether in relation to studios, laboratories, or theaters. This extended to aspects of production, and internal and external distribution, which lead to the deterioration of Egyptian film production (publicly and privately), declining from a yearly average of 60 films, to reached 7 films in 1999. The number increased again to 12 films over the period of 2000 - 2003.

In 1991, the cinema's public sector production saw a 59.6% decline in comparison with that in 1990. Private sector production also declined by 18% relative to the year before. The final outcome was a total decline of film production by 34%.

 

Table 1:  

The number of films utilised by the Internatl Distribution Sector during the period of 1990-2000 (in thousands of Egyptian pounds)

Year

Public sector

Private Sector

Total

Revenue

Public Sector

Private Sector

Total

1990

330

527

857

511

391

901

1991

133

432

565

265

398

654

 

Source: Annual Book of Statistics, 1991, p. 48.

The cinema’s strong position came with the Cairo Club showing 50 films in 1990, up to 51 films in 1991. Movie goers reached 159.7 thousand in the year 1990, up to 163 thousand in 1991.

Seminars discussing the cinema business over the period that followed declined from 52 sessions held in 1990, to 46 in 1991. The decline continued one year after the other till they reached 30 sessions in 1996, and about 31 in 1997.85

On the other hand, festivals and celebrations dominated the ministry of culture’s activities, and official cultural activities in general (Cairo[2] Cinema Festival, Alexandria Cinema Festival, Experimental Theater Festivals, the biennale and others).

 Table 2: Cinema Festival in 1997

Item

No.

Long feature film

Documentary

Animation

Short feature film

Documentary

Festivals

31

73

17

-

10

1

Film weeks abroad

8

62

21

2

-

-

Film showing abroad

9

13

21

-

-

-

Cultural events at home

36

30

57

17

5

8 video tapes

Total in 1997

84

178

116

19

15

11

 

Source: The Book of Statistics, 1997, the Ministry of Culture, p. 93.

The Public Department for Agreements and Programs activities became prominent, as shown by the following account1:

Table 3: The activities of the Public Department for Agreements and Programs

 

ItemYear

Festivals

Cultural weeks

Cultural agreements

Plastic art exhibitions

Hosting personalities and groups

Foreign and local groups

Foreign and local films weeks

Artistic groups and personalitiesl going abroad

conferences

Home

Abroad

Sending

Hosting

1991

3

4

10

7

5

3

14

4

2

2

7

1

1996

59

4

6

5

9

4

39

4

5

26

15

1

1997

41

3

-

4

7

8

31

4

2

35

11

4

(*) Source: The Book of Statistics, 1991, p. 243 – The Book of Statistics, 1997, p. 29.


The number of movie theaters in the 90s was less than a 100.2

During the last few years, the film industry saw some increase in demand as a result of lifting indirect taxes on tickets, which increased producer-, distributer- and film theater profits. Truth is, it was the beginning of a wide investment in movie theaters. The number of cinemas increased tremendously with the emergence of Nahdet Misr, Othman Group, United Brothers, El Adl Group, Bahgat Group, Shoaa, Arab Company, Good News, and others, in addition to those at the Media Production City. This is in addition to movie theaters operating in summer, e.g., screens at summer camps, and military theaters.

Egyptian films became profitable within Arab countries. External distributors disappeared. Satellite channels took over the role of external distributors. Films were sold to satellite channels, particularly encrypted films, for millions of pounds before their release. This meant guaranteed profit for producers who received 50% only of theater revenue.3

With the delving of Arab funds into the film business, many companies were formed. Investment in that area increased, and so did profits. For example, revenue increased from 115 million Egyptian pounds in 2004, to 210 million Egyptian pounds in 2005.4 However, they plummeted again to 100 million Egyptian pounds in 2006.5

The Egyptian film infrastructure prospered over the past years. For example, up until 2009 there was 18 filming cameras, with the addition of three new ones; two by Kamel Abu Ali, and one by New Century. This is considered an important addition to the film industry, at a cost of 15 million Egyptian pounds, there hasn’t been significant additions in this industry till 2014.

Regarding studios, there are 44 studios, over 60% of which are in the Media Production City, in addition to Galal, Ahram, Nahas, Misr and Cinema City studios.

However, the increase in revenue was accompanied by an increase in expenses. While revenue saw a 28% increase, the cost of producing a film multiplied five times over the past years. Average production cost reached eight million Egyptian pounds. Advertisement and promotion also rose to 700 thousand pounds, with taxes amounting to 36%.6

The current status of the Egyptian film industry reveals a monopoly, with the rise in expenses. It allows a vertical monopoly (production, internal and external distribution, advertizing), and a monopoly on film theaters. The alliances of El Nasr/Mohammad Hasan Ramzy/Internal Distribution and Oscar/Wael Abdallah/Advertising and Diamond/Hisham Abdel Khaleq/External Distribution is one of the most important monopolizing coalitions in the field of the industry in Egypt. This coalition achieved 46% of the Egyptian market revenue in 2005. There is also the Arab Company, under the chairmanship of Esaad Younes, which achieved 33% of that year’s revenue, bringing the combined income of both companies to 139 million Egyptian pounds in 2005, an 80% share of the revenue realized that year.

The Egyptian filming industry is subject to censorship by a number of authorities, especially after the issuance of Law 38, of the year 1992, amending Law 430, of the year 1955, concerning the supervision of audio and visual materials. In 1994, a fatwa came out providing that “Al Azhar holds final saying in Islamic issues presented in audio or audiovisual material”. It also included “Islamic issues that include the protection of general order, decency, and higher interests of the State. The authority to evaluate these issues shall belong to Al Azhar, its bodies, and departments in accordance with its laws and its opinion shall be compulsory to those authorities charged with issuing such decisions.”

In 2002, the minister of justice also decided to empower some officials of the Islamic Research Academy with legal seizure rights.7

This is in addition to the Censorship Board on Artistic Material, headed by Dr. Ali Abu Shady, which authorizes screenplays for films and series.

There was no changes made to the censorship laws, but during his service as the Minister of Culture, Dr. Imad Abu Ghazi recruited top graduates from Arts and Media schools into the censorship office hoping that with this step, the new talents will drive this office into new and more educated direction. There was a slight change noticed, these young graduates created an new direction based on Standards and resources,  in an attempt to challenge what can be described previously as cultural regulatory of the previous generation, though most of the elements of the previous generation in question is less stringent than the new generation.

During the era of Muslim Brotherhood in leadership, movies and shows were bought from Arab companies in UAE or Qatar, which meant that it was already censored and the role of censorship in Egypt was minimized.  

 According to the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s official website, a committee to restructure the censorship board for the arts was formed by Dr. Gaber Asfour in 2014. The committee met that year to discuss the development of the censorship board in line with the social and political changes, as well as progress of broadcasting technologies. Also discussed were performance, development of censors, and technical and intellectual development. Attendees agreed to form a higher committee to protect creativity and determine controversial works before they are issued with a final license, as well as to form a board to put forward suggestions for suitable age classifications for works of art. In addition, they proposed an inclusive strategy for qualification and development of censors. Some have described these measures as a violation of creative freedoms and a restriction of creativity. During the same month as the meeting, the Minister backed away from creating the committee under pressure from a huge number of Egyptian intellectuals.



[1] Strategy of Culture in Egypt – Farouk Hosni

[2] It’s important to mention that the Ministry of Culture regained the right to manage Cairo International Film Festival after it has failed over the years at the hands of an independent institution.

 


Chapter published: 01-04-2016


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