Egypt/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

Egypt's unique geographic location between the continents of the Old World and the stability characterized by agricultural communities caused the country to become the destination of waves of migrations from neighboring regions (see chapter 1).

This cosmopolitan situation led to the diversity of arts and cultures thanks to the mingling of migrants and original inhabitants to become eventually Egyptians. Egypt has Armenian and Greek communities and many of their members have Egyptian nationality. These communities have their own clubs, assemblies, churches and schools which date back to the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. However, no ethnic council to adopt and promote the arts of these communities, basically concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria exists.

As for religious minorities, Egypt has around 2000 Egyptian Bahais, around 8-10 million Copts (Egyptian Christians), in addition to around 21000 Amazigh people living in Siwa Oasis. Government interest in Nubian and Bedouin art is only restricted to folk art groups.


The word "Copt" came from the old Egyptian word "comt" which means black of fertile land and this indicates that copt actually means Egyptian and in old times all Egyptian were once called Copts. After the entry of Islam and the spread of the Arabic language, the word Copts became a reference to Egyptian Christians in general without distinction between Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.

The past 30 years was packed with many sectarian incidents (see chapter 1), which prompted many movements from the Coptic elites, human rights activist and civil society home and overseas, including a number of clergymen, to call for change and safeguard their citizenship rights, at least on constitutional level.

Those elites demand the nullification or modification of article 2 of the constitution (see chapter 5) in order to become "The major religions are the principal source of legislation" stressing that putting Islam as the only source of legislation is bigotry and a violation of Copts rights who endured and suffered a lot.

As a result of the said climate, the vast majority of Copts lived in isolation and their social life and even art activities became associated only with the church.

And despite that the Former minister of culture Farouk Hosni declared in a paper entitled Strategies of Cultural Work – an Egypt Experiment that one of the key strategies of MOC cultural work is based on:

Stressing on ethical standards that are based on philosophical principles such as honesty, knowledge, work, freedom, etc., which means resorting to positive laws that lead to very important results:

Cancellation of all types of religion-based discrimination.

Restore the civil nature of culture based on the right of difference and protect this right.

Support cultural flexibility and adaptation, promote creativity and underline the role of individual[1]

In addition, life under the Emergency Law and the spread of extremist Wahabi Islam against the rigid Orthodox Church is a stumbling block preventing Copts from actively participating in all aspects of Egypt's life, including cultural life.


According to the latest figures the number of Egyptian Nubians is 2-4 million. Nubians have been inhabited the banks of the Nile in Southern Egypt for thousands of years and they established one of the most important civilizations in history. Nubian culture has unique features that may not be found in other cultures and Nubians are known for their cleanliness, honesty, simplicity, gentleness and total nonviolence.

Egyptian Nubians paid a heavy price for the progress, modernization and prosperity of Egypt and they were forcefully displaced four consecutive times in 1902, 1912, 1933 and 1963. The first three displacements were for building and elevating Aswan Reservoir, while the fourth and harshest was for building the High Dam.

Nubians only demand to be relocated on the Nile banks at the same area of old Nubia that was submerged by water.

This demand is consistent with all international treaties related to displacement signed by the Egyptian government. The Housing and Utilities Committee formed by the People's Council in 1998 recommended the following: "The Committee underlines the need for Nubians to be relocated in their homeland, the land of their fathers and grandfathers, around the High Dam Lake".

An official document is possessed by Nubians representing a map that contains a comprehensive project to rebuild Nubian villages in their original places signed by Aswan former governor and National Party officer in Aswan. Nubians stress that the Egyptian government received the amount of $ 1.2 billion from UNECCO to resettle the Nubians but top state officials discovered that the lands in question located on the Nile banks are very rich thus coveted by Egyptian businessmen and international companies. So the government began to sell Nubian lands to local Egyptian investors and international companies and demarcated five areas that resemble small miserable pockets far away from original Nubia in order to cram Nubians and their children in them.

When Nubians objected to this grave injustice, Aswan Governor Major Gen. Mustafa Al-Sayed appeared live on TV in a program watched by millions of viewers and accused Nubians of being agents hired and paid by foreign powers[2].

Nubians established a number of civil associations, traditional Nubian music bands and handicrafts workshops that make pottery, straw mats and braided palm leaves. Several human rights organizations sympathize with Nubian and support their right of return to their homeland.

Official acknowledgment of Nubian cultural rights is reduced to just allowing Nubians conduct their cultural activities and practice their trademark handicrafts. A number of creative Nubian became well-known, such as Idris Ali and Haggag Addoul, and expressed the suffering of Nubians in their works.

Cultural communities

During the past two decades, Egypt hosted refugees from Sudan and Iraq as a result of the raging wars in the area.

UNHCR is supposed to provide aid to those refugees who are covered by the international agreements on refugees and by the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, particularly asylum seekers. UNHCR contributed in killing more than 50 Sudanese refugees in collusion with the Egyptian government in what became known as the massacre of Mustafa Mahmoud Sq.

A number of civil society associations in Egypt communicate with refugees, help them integrate in Egyptian society and try to eliminate the differences in color and religion between Egyptians and Sudanese refugees in impoverished areas and slums where Sudanese refugees coming from Darfur concentrate. These refuges suffer from huge problems since neither the Egyptian government no UNHCR provide them with housing, medical treatment, education or any basic human services. In addition, Egypt has no ethnic cultural council which may support and sponsor refugees, their arts and ideas.

[1] Strategies of Cultural Work – an Egypt Experiment – Farouk Hosni

[2] Shorouk Newspaper –11 May 2009 – What the Nubians want – an article by Dr. Alaa Aswani

Chapter published: 01-04-2016