CAIRO: On Thursday, March 2, the Movement of Writers and Artists for Change (MWAC) held a street performance in Talaat Harb Square that included the recital of lyrics by famous poet Ahmed Foad Negm and Sayyed Higab, as well as songs by young artists in the movement. This was the movement’s first appearance since the Beni Sueif fire and, incidentally, was also due to a theater-related issue.
Only a few hours before a concert, scheduled to be held in the Geneina Theater in Al-Azhar Park on Friday in which the Egyptian band, Nagham Masry, was supposed to perform. The Cairo governor’s office called the park’s management and ordered it to cancel the concert, claiming that it would include songs by Foad Negm that incite hatred against the government.
This move infuriated many Egyptian intellectuals, who saw it as an act of interference, stifling their creative freedom.
“Why should a concert be cancelled for political reasons, or any other reason? This is not only an unacceptable control over what artists are to do but also over what people are to watch. This decision is an insult to the people just as it is an insult to the artists, Khaled Al-Sawy, a prominent figure in the MWAC and the manager of the Al Sawy Culture Center tells TheDaily Star Egypt.
“This is a very strange decision, I’m surprised to know that these people still think like they used to back in the sixties, Adel El Siwi, spokesman for the MWAC, says.
In response to the governorate’s action, the MWAC chose to move the concert to the street, although Nagham Masry, along with its leading vocalist, declined to join, instead publishing a statement on their Web site stating their position.
“We appreciate the initiative of the movement, and we endorse the message of the street singing performance, the statement read. “But our activism is not in the streets. We Sing.
This in turn provoked many of the movement’s members, some of whom could be heard during the Thursday performance accusing Nagham Masry of cowardice. Prominent figures in both the Kefaya and the MWAC, however, chose a more tolerant view of the band’s decision.
“I totally understand and sympathize with them. After all, Sherbini Ahmed works for the Egyptian Opera House [which is state owned], Mohammad Taema, the media coordinator of the Kefaya movement, says. “When a political activist heads for the street he knows that he’ll be harassed; he can put up with it. However, not everyone is a political activist and so we don’t expect everyone to do the same.
Others, like El Siwi, say that the band has the right to make its own decisions, especially since the movement did not coordinate with them before taking the decision to hold the street performance.
At 7 pm on Thursday, mostly journalists and MWAC and Kefaya members, gathered in Talaat Harb Square waiting for the performance to begin. Surprisingly, only a very few security officers were in the area, while every now and then a large, green state security vehicle would pass drive by.
Soon, on the balcony of what was originally Ayman Nour’s El-Ghad headquarters, a young man started to announce the names of the participants in the performance. “Ahmed Foad Negm is not someone whose poetry the deputy governor of Cairo can stop, he said with a note of defiance in his voice.
Several poems by Sheikh Imam and Negm were sung while Negm himself read out many of his own famous poems. He also recited the slightly crude, yet highly political poem he wrote to congratulate Gamal Mubarak on his engagement, a poem that has been circulating on SMS and blogs all around Egypt since it was written.
Behind the balcony, in the room where Ayman Nour held his press conferences during the presidential elections, the 77-year-old poet, Foad Negm would withdraw to rest while singers sung his poetry. Commenting on the deputy governor’s decision to cancel his show, he answered with his usual humor. “Isn’t it called the ‘governorate’ (in Arabic the word also means ‘the protector’)? So naturally it has to govern (protect) the state’s flaws and faults.
Seeing the tired look on the face of the man who has been opposing the state for more than 40 years, one can’t help but ask if his life’s struggle has made any difference.
“Yes it has. At least now we have the Movement of Writers and Artists for Change that has put the intellectuals on the social and political scene after so many years of non-existence, he answers with optimism, adding, with a laugh, “And I have made a decision not to die until I see it accomplish what it has been established for.