Weekly spotlight on state culture: ‘Beautiful Egypt’ initiative launched

At a press conference in late March, Culture Minister Saber Arab told journalists about his vision to make cultural programming more inclusive. He said he wished to go back to the approach of “popular culture” (al-thaqafah al-jamahiriyyah), which the Nasserist state adopted back in the 1960s.

At that time, theater troupes, musicians and artists toured the country, performing and exhibiting in almost every city and village. Although the state’s hegemony over creative production has since led to longstanding problems, and a culture of nepotism and conservatism has emerged, in the 1960s local arts were booming.

More than five decades later, the ministry is attempting to recreate the experience of democratizing culture through its “Beautiful Egypt” initiative.

Arab announced the beginning of the program on Sunday, and said it will continue until June 15. The announcement took place during his second press conference in three weeks, held at the Cairo Opera House grounds. “Beautiful Egypt” is organized by Egypt’s Culture Development Fund in cooperation with the General Authority for Cultural Palaces and the Cultural Production Sector (the Theater Art House and the Folk and Performing Arts House).

Over the next three months, he said, over 4000 artists will hold 275 concerts, exhibitions, performances and screenings, in addition to 275 seminars, talks and literary readings, as well as 100 workshops. The workshops will cover a range of disciplines and techniques, and are designed for both children and adults.

The initiative is meant to re-activate the state’s culture palaces, which are sprinkled across the country, and engage local communities in working-class neighborhoods in Cairo and across the Egyptian countryside with artistic production. Particular focus will be given to communities with little access to the arts, as even in Cairo, the art community remains limited outside the downtown area and practicing artists and art students. Several of the events will take place in remote areas such as Halayeb and Shalateen, Toshka, Siwa, Arish and South Sinai.

The objective of “Beautiful Egypt” is to create a “cultural awakening” according to a ministerial press release. This, however, would require careful programming, in addition to simply organizing touring events. The program released seems to have an initial focus on traditional and folk arts so as not to alienate audiences. But perhaps the gradual introduction of more experimental works in arts, music, performance and film, while presenting a much greater challenge to the ministry, could also have better impact in the long run.

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