At Global Post, Theodore May has a piece about the Egyptian Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni, who reportedly is a good chance to be elected the next director general of UNSECO. Hosni’s candidature has stirred considerable debate, not just because Egypt has many censorship laws, but because Hosni himself has censored and banned films and books. Hosni also got himself into trouble with Israel after reportedly making a comment about burning Israeli books.
In 2001, Hosni frustrated the liberal elite for banning three books that some complained were risque. The incident sparked outrage and debate in the country.
The ministry also routinely censors films, cutting out sex, profanity and controversial political commentary (yes, scenes from “I Love You, Man” referencing the pet dog, Anwar, were nowhere to be found on Egyptian screens).
Alaa Al Aswany, today a renowned author, wrote his first novella, “The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers,” more than a decade ago. When he first took the work to the General Egyptian Book Organization, under the Ministry of Culture, it was refused for publication because, they told him, his protagonist had criticized beloved Egyptian leader, Mustafa Kamil, in the first sentence of the book. Al Aswany finally published the work this year, using a private publisher.
But in an interview with the UAE newspaper The National, Hosni insisted that he had been taken out of context.
Hosni presented his remark as an unfortunate rhetorical exaggeration, made under pressure from a hostile Islamist MP. “It was really torn out of its context. I didn’t say exactly what was written in the newspapers. The MP said: ‘There are Israeli books that insult Islam in the libraries of the ministry.’ I insisted there weren’t. He insisted there were. I said: ‘OK, show me this book and I’ll burn it in front of you.’ Someone took half of what was said and put it in the newspapers: -Farouk Hosni is going to burn Israeli books. This is crazy.
For my part, the money quote is from Sudanese intellectual Abdel Wahab Al Effendi, who is quoted in a recent column in Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper as writing: “In a dictatorship, the role of the Minister of Culture isn’t to protect culture, but to stifle it to protect the regime.”