The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Morsi won't meet with the intellectuals

Morsi won't meet writers at Cairo book fair opening - Books - Ahram Online

According to culture minister Saber Arab, Morsi will not meet with intellectual figures at this year's inauguration, but will hold a meeting with publishers, and Arab told Ahram Online that this year's fair will be open to the public from 3pm.

Egyptian writers and intellectuals expressed their dismay at the cancellation of the "old tradition" of a presidential meeting, saying that the decision would deepen the rupture between culture and politics.

"It's plain that he chose to meet the industry men, not the ones who give life to this industry. He chose to meet the businessmen instead of the writers and intellectuals," said writer and former presidential consultant Ayman El-Sayyad.

Writer Mohammed Salmawy sees the move as proof of the hostility towards culture by the Muslim Brotherhood. Salmawy believes that most Egyptian writers and intellectuals would not attend the meeting if they were invited, but he asserts that political authorities have a duty to do in caring for Egypt's culture.

"Ignoring intellectuals and writers is a prejudice against them. The state is giving up on its responsibilities."

Writer Ibrahim Abdel Meguid told Ahram Online that Morsi was seeking to spare himself embarrassing questions, which the writers would have sought to ask him, especially as he has not considered any of the things he agreed to with the intellectuals at their meeting at the presidential palace last September.

"The only question I would have for him if I attended such a meeting would be: Why you are being an elusive president?" Ibrahim said.

This year's fair is guaranteed with an insurance policy worth LE100 million (approx. $16 million) and the fair's theme is "Dialogue not Clash."

Pretty clearly he does not want to face a hostile crowd. Several years ago the much-lauded Egyptian leftist intellectual and political scientist Mohammed Sayyed Said embarrassed Mubarak at one of these "meetings with the intellectuals" — that was a very courageous move back then. In the current atmosphere, Morsi has everything to lose and little to gain. 

That being said, I've never liked this "meeting with the intellectuals" — it always reeked of presidential pageantry and comes from the paternalistic tradition of the president / father-of-the-nation style of politics. I doubt any of Egypt's presidents ever had anything substantial to share intellectually (certainly that was the case with Mubarak), and while Morsi is certainly more academically accomplished than his predecessor, I'm not sure he has much to say either.