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The Simple Truth | Egypt

by Reem Kassem, Founding Director, Agora Arts & Culture, Egypt

And suddenly everybody is speaking about sexual harassment in Egypt. As if it wasn’t there years and years ago. As if no other horrible incidents happened over the past years. And as if we surprisingly discovered the horrible manners in the society yesterday! People on the media are wondering why and why and why! Funny!

Sexual harassment has been there since years. And due to numerous reasons people weren’t able to discuss it openly. Society refused to admit that there is a manners’ problem not only reflected in the increased number of sexually harassed women, but mostly in the general behavior of the society. And now after issuing a law against sexual harassment, more and more people are admitting it and started the discussion. That is a positive sign, because starting the discussion might mean that the issue will be seriously addressed.

“Any negative trait that arises in a society is a result of its failure to meaningfully communicate, express and engage”

More than one year ago I wrote about the relation between sexual harassment and lack of arts education in schools on my Blog. And stated in my post, that 80% of sexual harassment incidents is due to the lack of meaningful channels for self-expression in the society. I observed the behavior of the little boys in the school next door everyday in the morning before going to work. And made a little research about the social and economic conditions of these kids in comparison to others same age but engaged in social and cultural activities.

Kids from disadvantaged communities find it cool to tease girls on the streets, they find it self-satisfying to harass a girl or even a woman and exercise power in public. This is due to complex reasons, be it a reflection of what they see at home, education, culture, but mainly their failure to meaningfully express themselves. So what they simply do is express it negatively through sexual harassment, violence, gangsters’ activities, escaping from schools etc. All they understand is that they are heroes among their society by doing that.

They grow up having learned that this is the only way accessible for them to express and engage in the society. They haven’t seen any music classes at school to discover the world of cultural institutions and start learning an instrument or go to a concert. They haven’t seen drama or poetry or even attended a painting class. This is the difference between these kids and their fellows who could afford going to private schools; thus meaningfully engage in the society. And this is the difference between men who are upset now that sexual harassment is becoming more and more a habit in the society, and their fellow men who exercise it and who always accuse women for being women.

The simple truth is that sexual harassment and any other negative behavior is not going to disappear or even decrease without teaching the society how to engage and express meaningfully. This means finding alternative ways to communicate rather than negatively behaving. And this is neither gonging to happen without having a sufficient number of cultural engaging activities, and a reasonable number of operating cultural institutions with venues where the society can meet, engage and exchange. Nor is it going to happen when education is lacking the food for mind and soul.

No creativity and innovation … No math and science
No culture and arts … No manners and positive behaviors
That’s the simple truth

Reem Kassem is a performing arts curator and festival manager working at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center. She founded Agora for Arts and Culture, an independent arts education institution. Reem is the Head of Performing Arts Programming at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center, where she coordinates the monthly program and the performing arts festivals of the Bibliotheca. She established AGORA for Arts and Culture in 2011, an independent organization undertaking the 2020 Development Matrix; a program connecting arts practice and non-formal education with social development. In 2012, she established AGORA International, a new branch based in Marseille.
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Role of Culture and Arts in the Future of Egypt|Egypt

By Reem Kassem and Hatem Hassan Salama, Dec ’13

Culture is not only the Opera House; Culture is in Tanta and Shubra. Campaign: Cultural Policy for All EgyptiansCulture is not only at the Opera House; Culture is in Tanta and Shubra.1

A happy society is not only a materially wealthy society but also a society in which citizens can trust one another, have a sense of freedom, and establish close social relationships. Besides education, economy, society and health, this comes through culture and art.

For the majority of Egyptians, participation in arts and culture are a luxury! The latest statistics show that around 40% of Egypt’s 85 million people live on or below $2USD per-day, the indicator for poverty set by the World Bank. This comes as no surprise. Movies, talk shows, and the work of civil society organizations have all depicted this image in one way or another during the former regime, but minimal change has occurred. Hence, arts and culture are at the bottom of the priority list after education, health and income. Despite efforts to develop Egypt’s disadvantaged communities, which have been underway for several years now, no tangible change has been felt.

A new approach needs to be taken into consideration in order to ensure that the efforts of improving the well-being of many Egyptians do not go to waste. This approach lies in the use of arts and culture in development. More attention has to be spent on finding alternative ways of achieving sustainability by investing in education, economy, society and health through culture and arts. Sustainable funding models have to be created for the cultural sector. Impact has to be assessed in different ways, and communicated to policy makers.

Culture and arts affect primary, secondary and higher education, as well as continuing and lifelong learning. They also affect the economy through cultural exports, creative industries and employment, regional regeneration and tourism. Last but not least, the cultural sector can impact on society and health through ensuring the wellbeing of society and providing entertainment, engaging citizens and including disadvantaged and senior groups.

This potential of culture and arts and its strong ties with other sectors (economy, education, society and health) are not well perceived or understood by policy makers in Egypt. At the same time, civil society organizations are not well prepared to advocate the social and economic benefits of culture and arts or to communicate these benefits to policy makers to ensure future sufficient investment in culture and arts. However, there are no alternative resources or mechanisms to fulfill this task, which leaves civil society organizations with a significant role in shaping the future cultural demographics of Egypt.

At the moment, there are two layers in the Egyptian cultural sector: the Ministry of Culture and the independent scene. The Ministry of Culture is represented in cultural palaces, opera houses, national cultural centers and by the official dance and music groups of the Ministry. These cultural activities were centralized by the Ministry during the past years in the capital and other major cities. The independent scene, which grew rapidly from 2009 to 2011, is represented by independent cultural organisations as well as young, emerging, independent artists of all art disciplines. This scene is rarely financed by the Ministry of Culture. They perform mainly in private or foreign cultural centers and are launched by NGOs and non-governmental initiatives in Egypt. During the past three years the independent cultural sector has tried hard to narrow the gap created by the government in centralizing all cultural activities, where the Delta, Upper Egypt, Canal, and Sinai were not considered on the cultural agenda. The sector has made many approaches to providing free access to culture and arts, exploring and engaging new audiences, and mobilizing disadvantaged communities around the message “The Right to Culture”1.

The social and economic impact of cultural activities is highlighted in several projects of civil society organizations and independent artists. The two following projects demonstrate the link between cultural activities and education, economy, society and health:

While some private schools in Egypt do have arts and culture activities, most Egyptian schools have no arts and culture programs, and largely they are not methodologically integrated into the educational process. To have creative minds, we need to give the Egyptian students creative tools, to advance and develop analytical and critical thinking. OzOz, Ossama Helmy, is the founder of “Arab Origami Center (AOC)”. One of the focuses of the AOC is education. OzOz has conducted origami workshops in Sohag in Upper Egypt with students at a public school, using origami as an approach to explain geometry. After the workshop, one teacher told him, “In one hour they understood what I have been trying to explain in the last month, they could touch geometry now.”

Reem Kassem, the founder of “AGORA for Arts and Culture”, has written an interesting paper on the correlation between access to arts and culture and the fact that Egypt has the second highest rate of sexual harassment of women in the world. One of the past projects implemented by “AGORA” was the Green Crafts Project. By creating home accessories and jewelry out of waste, women and children from rural areas were encouraged to express themselves and share their needs and fears, to engage in dialogue with their environment, and to develop skills for generating income through arts and crafts. These kinds of projects empower participants and encourage them to act sustainably.

These examples demonstrate the potential of arts for learning and social change. The sector can only fully develop this potential if “The Right to Culture” is promoted and put into practice, if closed and neglected theatres and cultural centers are revitalized, and when artistic and cultural education become an essential part of education. Drawing on this resource is an essential precondition for developing a strong and sustainable cultural industry, which can play a key role in enhancing the socio-economic development in Egypt.

Culture in the form of artistic activity can help people develop skills and knowledge for coping with economic and social problems. Culture and arts are essential components of a comprehensive education ensuring the holistic development of an individual. With arts programmes being eliminated from schools due to budget cuts, and overworked and under-financed teachers and parents unable to provide their children with private art lessons, Egypt risks a future of adults with little sense of creativity and innovation.

If we look back in history, we can see that art has always been a means of expression – of personalities and of communities. Art transforms constantly and reflects the values and attitudes of a culture, communicated through its language, poetry, music, visual or performing arts. In present day Egypt, it is crucial that people are provided with the knowledge and skills and, perhaps even more importantly, the values and attitudes, ethical principles and moral direction needed to become responsible citizens and guarantors of a sustainable future, for a country on the path to recovery.

Art nourisches freedom; at nourisches humanity. Campaign: Cultural Policy for All EgyptiansArt nourishes Freedom, Art nourishes Humanity.1

1Photo and design by Hamdy Reda, Calligraphy by Sameh Ismail, Designs commissioned by Culture Resource, Cultural Policy Program, Campaign: Cultural Policy for All Egyptians

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Role of Culture and Arts in the Future of Egypt von Reem Kassem, Hatem Hassen (MitOst e.V.) ist lizenziert unter einer Creative Commons Namensnennung – Nicht kommerziell – Keine Bearbeitungen 4.0 International Lizenz.