Mohammad Saber Arab has spent more time sitting in the culture-minister hot seat than anyone else since January 2011. What is the professor of modern Arab history’s vision for the Egyptian cultural scene? He was recently interviewed by Ahram Weekly:
The only time interviewer Nevine el-Aref’s tone seemed to get at all confrontational was when she stated: “Some say the Ministry of Culture did not play a role in improving the image of the interim government abroad after 30 June.”
Unfortunately, Arab did not roll his eyes and say that the current Ministry of Culture has more important tasks than PR.
Instead, Arab argues that the ministry has worked hard to to dialogue with foreign embassies “concerning Egypt’s political situation and that what happened was not a coup but the nation’s desire.” The new-old culture minister was one of many who marched on July 26.
In terms of making contemporary Egypt more workable for artists and authors — and making more art accessible to the public — Arab noted that, generally, things will go on as before: the state cultural prizes will be granted in August (it’s not clear where the 7 million is coming from, but the prizes will be granted), and other big-ticket events — such as the Cairo Film Festival, the Cairo International Book Fair, and the restoration of the National Theatre in Ataba — will go forward.
Saber Arab also said that he and artists involved in the summer sit-in ”agreed to hold in September a conference to discuss the future of culture in Egypt.” It doesn’t sound particularly promising, although who knows, perhaps energy from the sit-in and the takeover of Akhbar al-Adab will continue. Saber Arab said of the conference:
All intellectuals, artists, filmmakers, actors, poets, novelists and writers will gather in September at the Supreme Culture Council in a conference to discuss the future of culture during the next two decades and how to face the challenges of the new Egypt. ….
The conference will draw up a plan and a vision of Egypt’s culture future, which in turn would be introduced to the government for discussion after which all the ministries will work to implement the country’s cultural programme.
Arab further said of his vision: “The ministry is not an educational school. It is not a factory to produce creators but puts them on the right track to the future.“ (Bold mine.)
Of course, doubts have been raised in the past – novelist Sonallah Ibrahim cast some doubt on the worth of these prizes when he spectacularly rejected one in 2003, and, earlier this year, novelist Ezzedine Choukri Fishere tweeted to ArabLit, “It is a neopatrimonial system with little to do with literature. Can’t be reformed; too many vested interests. Better gone.”