Art Moves Africa – Retracing Roots and Tracing New Routes: Mobility and Touring in North Africa

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

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—<br />

Spann<strong>in</strong>g the northeast corner of <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>and</strong><br />

the southwest corner of Asia, Egypt is located<br />

at the nexus of two cont<strong>in</strong>ents. It is the most<br />

populous country <strong>in</strong> <strong>North</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>and</strong> the Arab<br />

world. Egypt’s economy is one of the largest <strong>in</strong><br />

the Middle East <strong>and</strong> is third only to Nigeria <strong>and</strong><br />

South <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>in</strong> terms of GDP (IMF, 2018).<br />

The country is a found<strong>in</strong>g member of the Arab<br />

League, the <strong>Africa</strong>n Union, the United Nations<br />

<strong>and</strong> the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.<br />

Egypt’s position at the crossroads of<br />

cont<strong>in</strong>ents, bodies of water <strong>and</strong> civilizations<br />

has shaped its cultural history. Greek, Roman,<br />

Ottoman, Persian <strong>in</strong>fluences have layered its<br />

cultural heritage; Jewish, Christian <strong>and</strong> Baha’í<br />

religions have all left their impr<strong>in</strong>t as well, <strong>in</strong> addition<br />

to the dom<strong>in</strong>ant Islamic faith established<br />

after the Arab <strong>in</strong>vasions. Nubians <strong>and</strong> Coptic<br />

Christians rema<strong>in</strong> important m<strong>in</strong>orities today.<br />

Egypt was a British colony from 1882 to 1922, the<br />

only British possession <strong>in</strong> <strong>North</strong> <strong>Africa</strong>.<br />

Full <strong>in</strong>dependence came with the revolution<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1952 <strong>and</strong> the declaration of the<br />

republic <strong>in</strong> 1953. Its 20th-century political<br />

history has been marked by <strong>in</strong>stability <strong>and</strong><br />

conflict, with successive armed conflicts<br />

with Israel between 1948 <strong>and</strong> 1973 <strong>and</strong><br />

the spread of terrorism <strong>in</strong> the 1980s, 90s<br />

<strong>and</strong> 2000s.<br />

Egypt has always been at the<br />

heart of debates on <strong>Africa</strong>n identity <strong>and</strong><br />

history. In 1955, Senegalese historian <strong>and</strong><br />

anthropologist Cheikh Ana Diop published<br />

the sem<strong>in</strong>al <strong>and</strong> highly polemical Nations<br />

nègres et culture, <strong>in</strong> which he argued that<br />

Egyptian <strong>and</strong> <strong>Africa</strong>n civilizations <strong>and</strong><br />

cultures should be traced back to a common<br />

“cradle.” Gamal Abdiel Nasser was a<br />

committed supporter of <strong>Africa</strong>n liberation<br />

movements <strong>and</strong> is widely recognized as<br />

a major figure of pan-<strong>Africa</strong>nism. S<strong>in</strong>ce<br />

the 1970s, Egyptian foreign <strong>and</strong> cultural<br />

policy have been geared towards the Middle<br />

East <strong>and</strong> Europe, although overtures<br />

—<br />

E<br />

G<br />

Y<br />

P<br />

T<br />

—<br />

—<br />

QUOTE :<br />

« I’m from Egypt<br />

but I want to speak<br />

to the <strong>Africa</strong>n soul.<br />

I’m so proud to be an<br />

<strong>Africa</strong>n. I th<strong>in</strong>k I will<br />

never end this project.<br />

I’m archiv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>Africa</strong><br />

through sound <strong>and</strong><br />

music. Every time I<br />

start a country, I feel<br />

it’s endless. »<br />

Yara Mekawei<br />

Sound <strong>and</strong> video artist,<br />

founder of Radio<br />

Submar<strong>in</strong>e,<br />

Cairo<br />

—<br />

56<br />

Country-Specific Information<br />

have been made <strong>in</strong> recent years, center<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong><br />

particular on negotiations over shares of the<br />

Nile river.<br />

Egypt is one of the Arab countries <strong>in</strong><br />

which the 2011 upris<strong>in</strong>gs gave way to full-scale<br />

revolution. Eighteen days after protests erupted<br />

on January 25, 2011, then-president Hosni<br />

Mubarak <strong>–</strong> who had held power s<strong>in</strong>ce 1981 <strong>–</strong> resigned.<br />

However, the years s<strong>in</strong>ce the revolution<br />

have been marked by heavy <strong>in</strong>stability <strong>and</strong> a<br />

return to authoritarianism s<strong>in</strong>ce Abdel Fattah<br />

Sisi’s coup <strong>in</strong> July 2013. Freedom House rates<br />

Egypt as “not free,” signall<strong>in</strong>g persecution of activists,<br />

parties <strong>and</strong> political movements, pervasive<br />

corruption, unfair elections, military <strong>in</strong>cursion <strong>in</strong>to<br />

political affairs <strong>and</strong> discrim<strong>in</strong>ation aga<strong>in</strong>st women,<br />

Christians, Shiite Muslims, Nubians <strong>and</strong> darksk<strong>in</strong>ned<br />

Egyptians, <strong>and</strong> LGBTQ communities.<br />

—<br />


—<br />

Egypt has historically had a rich <strong>and</strong><br />

well-connected arts sector, bolstered by<br />

a strong, well-structured civil society,<br />

a strong media sector <strong>and</strong> a huge film<br />

<strong>and</strong> music <strong>in</strong>dustry. The cultural sector<br />

is strongly concentrated <strong>in</strong> Cairo <strong>and</strong> to<br />

a lesser extent <strong>in</strong> Alex<strong>and</strong>ria (Fazeulaa,<br />

2018).<br />

There is no clear state monopoly on<br />

culture today, although censorship <strong>and</strong><br />

surveillance of cultural actors are major<br />

problems. State budgets have not <strong>in</strong>vested<br />

significant budgets <strong>in</strong>to culture nor has<br />

the government demonstrated the will<br />

to implement an efficient cultural policy.<br />

This dispensation has left space for the<br />

private sector <strong>and</strong> civil society to flourish.<br />

In 2018, it was estimated that there were<br />

143 cultural organizations <strong>in</strong> the country<br />

(Fazeulaa, 2018). These are work<strong>in</strong>g to fill<br />

the gap left by <strong>in</strong>sufficient cultural policy<br />

<strong>and</strong> work<strong>in</strong>g creatively to survive despite<br />

adverse legal frameworks.

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