Intellectuals are revolting again, “electronically”

“I don’t like smoking” – says the minister of Culture to the woman labeled “Culture”. Her look is that of militante, a word to describe middle-aged and well-off women who have become Abd al-Fatah Sisi’s most fervent adherents.

I don’t like fatties” – says the minister of Culture to the woman labeled “Culture”. The cartoon refers to the famous comment by the minister on physical appearance of one of his female subordinates in the ministry


“The minister of Culture : I don’t like fatties”. The elephant : “i don’t like ministers of Culture neither”

It’s been two months that some Egyptian intellectuals are involved in an initiative calling to remove the current minister of Culture, Abd al-Wahed al-Nabawi, from his office. The official Facebook page of the campaign yesterday published the following two posts revealing rather unsurprising accusations leveled against him : lack of enthusiasm for  the Egypt’s new Suez Canal, ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and his lukewarm support for the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram :

“While Opera House was producing a show for the New Suez Canal following direct orders from the political leaders, the minister of Culture was having a protocol meeting with the ministry of Religious Endowments”.

“While Nancy Ajram was rehearsing her new song about the Suez Canal, the minister of Culture was busy increasing Muslim Brotherhood’s presence in the ministry”.

The event page calling for a demonstration has already mobilized nearly 400 souls, a crowd which would be sufficient to occupy the ministerial building and to force al-Nabawi out as it happened against Morsi’s unfortunate candidate for Culture, Ala Abd al-Aziz, in 2013. In Sisi’s Egypt however filling the streets with protests would mean chaos and destruction of the State, and the organizers of the campaign specified that they demonstrate only “electronically” on Facebook.

A lack of visible enthusiasm for the New Suez Canal is a serious accusation. With the approach of inauguration of the Canal, intellectuals as well as other public figures were rivaling each other to find the most original and creative ways to express their emotions.

A piece to celebrate the New Suez Canal by an opponent to the minister

A piece of al-fann al-ta’areesi to support the New Suez Canal

Hilmi Namnam, the current head of GEBO and a historian specializing in Sayyid Qutb’s conspiracies and crimes, went as far as to burst into tears in Mona Shazli’s talk-show in the same studio in which Wael Ghoneim cried for the martyrs back in 2011. Reacting to this unexpected outburst of emotions by such a solid man as Namnam, Shazli explained to the audience that it was the first time in her life she saw him crying, and that it was an undeniable sign of patriotism and integrity.

Hilmi Namnam, the new head of GEBO, crying for the New Suez Canal

Hilmi Namnam, the new head of GEBO, expressing his emotions over the New Suez Canal

The accusation of ties with the Muslim Brotherhood is nevertheless a more serious one. In these accusations, the organizers of the campaign rely on a mysterious report allegedly issued by the Bureau of National Security which stated that al-Nabawi is “a sleeping cell of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Those who find it surprising that these cells might be sleeping on the top political shelf should remember that Egypt has previously even elected such a cell to the presidency. As for al-Nabawi, the proofs of his forming such a cell are countless : it’s his stay in Qatar where he, under the cover of the university job, mediated between Qatari intelligence and the Muslim Brotherhood; it’s his links to his hometown in Daqhliya, where numerous pro-Brotherhood demonstrations were organized after Sisi came to power; and finally, it’s his dismissal from his post in Egyptian archives during Muhammad Morsi’s rule. While it might seem as a result of Morsi’s insatisfaction with al-Nabawi, he was in fact made available for bigger missions with Qatar, and his dismissal was meant not to attract suspicions.

No matter how incongruous these charges might seem, it must be noted that the accusation of ties with the Brotherhood is also directed by the opposite side against the organizers of the campaign. Back in July 2015, when al-Nabawi announced the sacking of Ahmad al-Mugahed, the president of GEBO, he attempted to shore up support for his decision by reminding that in 2011 GEBO published Sayyid Qutb’s novel, Ashwak. The attempt proved a failure, and a number of powerful intellectuals, as Ibrahim Abd al-Maged, Baha Taher or the painter Muhammad Abla, mobilized in support of al-Mugahed causing the current crisis in the ministry of Culture. Despite the spiral of mutual accusations of ties with the Brotherhood, what seems to matter the most in the dusty corridors of the ministry of Culture is the high degree of solidarity. “He is not like us” – huwa mish zayyina – this is how Muhammad Alba summed up the reasons of the ongoing opposition against the minister.


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