MB’s attack on Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni is part of an ongoing strategy targeting culture

The Muslim Brotherhood’s attack on Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni is part of an ongoing strategy targeting culture and the education sectors, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

The storm triggered by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni’s comments in the People’s Assembly last week may be abating. After a week-long absence from his office following criticisms from members of both the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and Muslim Brotherhood MPs, Hosni was back at work on Sunday. No sooner, however, had Hosni been back at his office than he began to face another storm. The intellectual elite who rallied behind Hosni’s comments about the veil attacked him for forming a committee to oversee cultural and artistic production. Intellectuals charged that Hosni was caving in to Islamist pressure while the protest movement “Kefaya” said the proposed committee would be a watchdog restricting the freedom of expression and thought. Hosni responded by indicating that “the proposed committee is for conducting a dialogue between intellectuals and enlightened clerics.” “Through this committee, I hope that both intellectuals and enlightened clerics stand as a bulwark against radical Islamist groups,” said Hosni.

Hosni is due to meet members of the assembly’s Cultural and Religious Affairs Committee next Sunday morning. Assembly Speaker Fathi Sorour and Minister of State for Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Moufid Shehab have been instructed by President Hosni Mubarak to attend the meeting in order to act as a buffer between Hosni and hostile MPs. Shehab brought Hosni and MPs from the NDP and opposition in two separate meetings to contain their mutual anger before Sunday’s final parliamentary meeting.

The campaign against Hosni was led by Muslim Brotherhood MPs. It was not their first attack against the minister and is unlikely to be their last. Since at least 2000’s parliament, Brotherhood MPs have focussed much of their attention on culture, media and education, the three areas seen as essential to furthering their agenda, and the latest attack against Hosni is just one episode in their ongoing offensive.

Two weeks before the beginning of the new parliamentary session on 8 November Ali Laban, a Brotherhood MP, filed requests with the assembly speaker and the prosecutor-general that Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Minister of Waqf (religious endowments) Hamdi Zakqzouq and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawi for approving the demolition of a mosque in downtown Cairo’s Al-Ataba Square. The mosque was demolished to make way for Cairo’s third metro line. In his requests, Laban railed that “mosques are the exclusive possession of God and the officials who approve their demolition should be executed because in doing so they are committing an act against God”.

Laban also demanded that Education Minister Yusri El-Gamal face capital punishment for allowing Monica Chavez, an American education expert, to take charge of a scheme to upgrade the education curriculum.

“The appointment of an American expert to take responsibility for modernising education in Egypt is an act of treason for which the minister of education should be executed,” said Laban.

Since he won a seat in parliament for the Delta Governorate of Gharbiya in 2000, Laban has been an outspoken critic of USAID projects within the education sector. In The Role of USAID in Modernising Education: Between Reality and Delusion, Laban’s 128-page book on the subject, he alleges that USAID has acted to distort Islamic curricula and impose “sexually explicit” English novels on secondary school students. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights are cited among the latter. Laban now plans to direct an interpellation taking Sheikh Tantawi to task for allegedly bowing to American pressure, especially after 11 September, to revamp curricula.

The sheikh of Al-Azhar’s deputy, Mahmoud Ashour, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Laban’s statements about education and Tantawi “do not deserve a comment”.

“They are a kind of religious hallucination,” he said.

In a press comment on Laban’s statements Gamal El-Banna, the brother of the founder of Muslim Brotherhood Hassan El-Banna, said, “Laban is a good example of how the Brotherhood and Islamists make use of elections, a Western secular innovation, to win seats in parliament and then impose their extremist religious agenda on everybody.”

Immediately after the assembly plunged into business, Brotherhood MPs stepped up their offensive, with Mohamed El-Beltagui, another Brotherhood firebrand, accusing Higher Education Minister Hani Hilal of allowing hooligans and thugs to attack Brotherhood students at Ain Shams University. El-Beltagui surprised MPs when he began to distribute photos of students being beaten.

Hilal responded by asking him how he had been able to procure photos just 20 minutes after the clashes with students were alleged to have taken place.

“The information the Ikhwan students gave you by phone about the clash are untrue. It’s mere hearsay,” said Hilal. Ain Shams University’s deputy president said two days later that, “photos which were shown in the People’s Assembly by El-Beltagui were fabricated.”

El-Beltagui and Mohsen Radi, another Brotherhood MP, are currently preparing questions for the ministers of culture and information over their decision to allow “two infamous Lebanese female singers — Haifaa Wahbi and Nancy Agram — to freely visit Egypt and perform immoral songs and wear costumes.”

El-Beltagui and Radi cited the decision of the Islamist-oriented Kuwaiti parliament to prevent Wahbi and Agram from performing, “because their dress is in stark violation of the Islamic code”, in arguing that the singers should be banned from entering Egypt.

The two Brotherhood MPs warned that Wahbi and Agram have been engaged to sing at a number of parties in Egypt in December.

“These parties include ones organised by American and German universities, something which is bad for female students who take Wahbi and Agram as models for dress and behaviour,” said Radi.

Brotherhood MPs spearheaded the campaign against a Finance Ministry proposal that entertainment taxes be reduced from 40 to 10 per in a bid to attract more Arab and foreign singers to perform in Egypt, a ploy, the ministry argued, that would increase the number of tourists visiting the country. Laban responded that any such tax reduction would act only to increase the sexual depravity of Egypt’s young.

Hamdi Hassan, the Brotherhood MP who led the campaign against Hosni’s recent comments over the veil, told the Weekly that, “the questions raised about the veil were just the beginning.”

“We plan to stand against all the forms of nudity and licentiousness which are the hallmark of most Arab satellite channels,” said Hassan. Hassan and a number of Brotherhood MPs faced a verbal confrontation with their group’s supreme guide Mahdi Akef last week. Akef, in press interview, described Brotherhood MPs’ reaction to Hosni’s comment about the veil as “highly exaggerated.” “Hosni is a Western-oriented man and he is not the first to criticise the veil and will not be the last,” said Akef. Akef’s press comment was hailed by Culture Minister Hosni to the extent that he gave copies of it to NDP MPs. Brotherhood MPs, by contrast, criticised Akef, insisting that “he has nothing to do with their performance in parliament.” “In parliament, every Brotherhood MP has the right to freely express his own opinion but we refer to the Supreme Guide office only on strategic matters such as constitutional amendments,” said Brotherhood MP Hussein Ibrahim.

The Brothers in the 2000-2005 Parliament, which details the performance of Muslim Brotherhood MPs, cites former Brotherhood MP Gamal Heshmat as taking the credit for forcing Hosni to ban the publication of three novels that the Brotherhood said promoted blasphemy and unacceptable sexual practices. The book also reveals that Hamdi Hassan has consistently led the Brotherhood’s campaign against the Culture Ministry. Hassan has criticised Hosni for allowing beauty contests to be held in Egypt, and also holds him responsible for taking the lead in “the current US-led war against Islamic culture and identity”.

Hassan also joined several other Brotherhood MPs in criticising Information Minister Anas El-Fiqi, “for not allowing veiled TV presenters on Egyptian television screens”. He has also denounced Sheikh Tantawi for not taking a stand against the French decision to ban female students from wearing the veil in schools.

The book reveals that of the total number of questions asked by Brotherhood MPs in the session 2000-2005, 80 per cent of them were on cultural or media issues. It is a pattern likely to continue.

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