7 November 2010
“For thousands of years the Egyptian people have remained united. Despite its unique historical and cultural characteristics, divisions have gashed the Egyptian community during the last decades as sectarian categorisation escalated.
“In belief that categorisation and sectarianism seriously jeopardise the unity of the nation, that inherent tolerance runs under the skin of Egyptians, and that art and creativity are the basic antithesis of religious fanaticism and sectarian violence, Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (MARED) decided to organise a day-long artistic and cultural event under the title ‘Egypt for all Egyptians’.” In the words of a published declaration, this is how MARED viewed the sectarian problem in Egypt and decided how to begin tackling it.
MARED contacted al-Mawrid al-Thaqafi cultural association and arranged to partner with it in organising a day-long festival of cultural and artistic activities on 29 October to be held at al-Azhar park. The activities focused on groups of young people who volunteered to present exhibitions and workshops of plastic arts, music and poetry recitals, as well as cultural activities for children. There was a surprising rush for participation once the event was announced—renowned groups such as Hala and Iskandarella were eager to participate—to the point where MARED had to decline offers of participation on the part of several groups.
On Monday 25 October, officials from al-Azhar Park’s al-Geneina Theatre, which was to host the festival, called MARED to cancel their approval to host the event. They said the security apparatus had objected to holding the festival. No amount of persuasion on the part of MARED could make the security authorities recant on their position.
In a press conference held two days later MARED strongly condemned the move by the security apparatus. The group’s coordinator-general Mohamed Mounir Megahed expressed his amazement at what he termed the “contradictory” stances adopted by the State. The Culture Ministry, he said, had offered to participate in the festival, and the State-owned papers had applauded MARED’s initiative, but the security apparatus called the whole thing off. He criticised the fact that the sectarian file is being handled as a security file. It is not clear, he said, how the security authorities treat the issue of sectarianism; for all appearances they act as though they support the perpetrators of sectarian strife instead of defending against their actions.
“What State institution or authority is afraid of a cultural, artistic initiative by the young people of this nation against categorisation and sectarian tension?” the MARED declaration asked. “Can it be true that any authority would join hands with the powers of darkness and sectarianism to gash the unity of the nation or to restrain the efforts of the supporters of its unity and the defenders of equality and citizenship rights?”
The declaration concluded by calling upon all Egyptians to join MARED to confront sectarianism and religious discrimination.