♠ Posted by Emmanuel in Middle East at 5/31/2013 02:46:00 PM
It is no big secret that Egypt's currently ascendant Muslim Brotherhood has shown a knack for shooting itself in the foot with its fundamentalist proclivities. Without any real, organized opposition to it--least of all the ineffectual Twitter cyber-mobs--the Brothers have not exactly been reluctant about imposing control on the rest of society:
How do you reconcile Islamic fundamentalism with (a) secularist voices in Egyptian society and (b) the economic necessity of tourism and foreign direct investment from foreigners? Unsurprisingly, the Brothers have failed to do either. After decades of being politically marginalized, it is no surprise that they are reacting to their ascendancy with gusto. That said, as an energy-poor Arab nation, they do not have inbuilt sources of foreign exchange to rely on which enable them to tell Westerners to shove it. Previously I wrote about an up-and-coming generation of leaders who recognize the need to cotton up to tourists by welcoming beer and bikinis. Unfortunately, it seems these progressive folks are few and far in between in the leadership ranks. Witness today's example of Alaa Abdel-Aziz, a censor [!] recently named Egypt's minister of culture who is currently rankling the obviously Westernized denizens of the Cairo Opera House:The row [over the Cairo Opera House] has opened a new front in the politically divided country, with performing artists joining a chorus of others who say they are fighting attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi to impose their control. Other battles have raged in the judiciary, the education ministry, the agriculture ministry, and the media. Protests have erupted over fears that the Brotherhood has also tried to control the police and the Sunni world's pre-eminent seat of learning, Al-Azhar in Cairo.
In the case of the Opera House, those fears were fueled by comments by an ultraconservative lawmaker in parliament this week. Nour Party member Gamal Hamid called for the abolition of ballet performances in Egypt — which are usually held at the opera house — describing it as "immoral" and "nude art". So far, the culture minister, a professor in film editing who was appointed in a cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago, has not made any attempts to impose any overtly Islamist restrictions on the arts. But his opponents in the ministry fear his shakeup of staff aims to eventually do so.
Meanwhile, the show is not going on as the new culture minister's, well, ministrations have not met with favour among the opera house staff:
The Cairo Opera House has become a new battleground between supporters and opponents of Egypt's Islamist president, this time fighting over the direction of the Middle East's oldest music institution. The new culture minister fired the head of the opera house, part of a shakeup he said is aimed at injecting "new blood" across art and culture programs he says were stagnant and corrupt.But staffers are refusing any other boss to replace Enas Abdel-Dayem. Tuesday night, they protested outside her office, accusing the minister of bending to pressure from Islamists, and some held a sit in overnight to prevent any replacement from entering. Staffers have also closed the curtain on all performances. For the first time in the opera house's history, the opera Aida — composed by Giuseppe Verdi and debuted to the world in 1871 in Cairo— was cancelled in protest. Singers instead held up posters on stage that said, "No to Brotherhoodization."
It's not clear whether the culture minister finds subject matter of the opera "corrupt"--as you would expect fundamentalists of any stripe to be--or just the management. Either way, don't hold your breath waiting for performances of Tasso's La Gerusalemme Liberata lauding the exploits of the first crusade to "liberate" Jerusalem from, well, you can figure the rest out.
Meanwhile, add this as another example to discourage foreign-exchange bringing tourists as the culture police make their presence felt. Avast with ye foreign affectations! Opera...such Western decadence!