The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part ten in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.
In the 1960s, Egypt initiated the first international UNESCO campaign for the protection of cultural heritage. At the time, the Nubia monuments were threatened by the construction of the Aswan dam.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities is responsible for the conservation and protection of all antiquities and archaeological finds in Egypt. The council's history dates from 1859, when it was known as the Department of Antiquities. Since 2002, archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass has been in charge as secretary, but ultimate responsibility lies with the Minister of Culture.
A Supreme Council for culture was established in 1980 that has a triple mandate: developing Egypt's cultural policy, advising the government with reference to cultural affairs, and stimulating creativity in culture and the arts. The Council keeps a watch on all types of art and is also the primary government financier.
But it also receives a lot of criticism. Author Gamal El-Ghitani, for example, believes that the cultural policy is based on illusions. Each year the government spends millions on the Cairo Festival of Experimental Theater, despite the fact that there is no theatre movement. There are also numerous film festivals, while domestic film production has plummeted in the past twenty years from 150 to 15 films a year.
Artists and writers have even joined forces in the Writers and Artists for Change Movement to strengthen their demands. They organised a demonstration in Cairo in August 2005 where poems were read that were written decades ago protesting British domination. But now the dissatisfaction was aimed at President Mubarak's regime, which has held power since 1981.
Egypt's First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, is more admired. She initiated the Family Library project, which publishes affordable books under the motto 'Reading is for everyone'. The project became so popular that the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO) decided to expand the Family Library to the entire region. The Arab Family Library publishes one hundred titles each year.