he issue of world peace and the promotion of a culture of dialogue, not violence, has become in our contemporary world one of the most important issues of concern to all mankind.
This comes especially since the idea of dialogue between different cultures, and the acceptance of the other, has declined in recent decades due to the dominance of the economic tendency in dealing with peoples.
There has also been an increase in the number of immigrants, and the rise of the political discourse of the extreme right in all societies without exception, along with the spread of violence and the culture of weapons.
There is no doubt that the world today is mired in hatred and chaos as a result of the bloody events that the world is going through in succession. They reflect the extent of the urbanisation that the world has reached in its external manifestations, and at the same time confirms the extent of the decline in values in all societies on a global level.
Unfortunately, despite what has happened to the human mind and the material progress it has reached, it has not yet been able to overcome the ordeal of racism. It has not been able to make tolerance and peaceful coexistence in both the local and international community a way of life that is undisputed, because this is natural and rational.
Dr Marwa El-Shinawy
Therefore, it has become more important than ever to promote and disseminate values, attitudes, and behaviours conducive to dialogue between cultures and civilisations. This falls in line with new international principles that reject hate speech and encourage pluralism and cultural diversity.
At the same time, they also ensure a harmonious interaction between people and groups with multiple and diverse cultural identities. This leads to the integration and participation of all populations as a guarantee of social cohesion and the vitality of civil society, and the dissemination of a culture of peace at the local and global levels.
This huge task is the biggest challenge that was placed on the shoulders of Inas Abdel Dayem, Egypt’s Minister of Culture, when she assumed responsibility in the aftermath of the 30 June Revolution, with all the unprecedented cultural challenges involved in this period. These challenges were very far from our Egyptian society, which by its nature is biased towards tolerance and cultural diversity and acceptance of other cultures.
Without a competitor, the Ministry of Culture was the first institution in the Arab world that had to adopt the cause of supporting dialogue between different cultures at the internal and external levels. It sought to bridge the cultural gap, especially in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions that led to a massive wave of terrorism that swept the entire Arab world.
The period showed without a doubt the danger of politicising religious discourse, in order to spread a culture of discrimination and bias for purely political goals.
Indeed, the Ministry of Culture was, under Abdel Dayem’s leadership, able to consolidate the most important principles and conditions for intercultural dialogue through a clear vision and basic axes of work.
The most important of these axes is the emphasis on mutual respect between the parties to the cultural dialogue, as a prerequisite for the success of the intercultural dialogue. It includes emphasis on the respect for the intellectual constants between the parties to the dialogue, and the respect for the difference in opinions.
Also important is respecting cultural privacy between the parties to the dialogue, which depends on the understanding that each culture has its own values that cannot be overridden, or infringed in any way.
It also means avoiding making prejudices about a particular culture, by relying on the evaluation of one of its cultural manifestations, such as arts and literature. Additionally, there is a need for understanding the apparent cultural influence of cultures that relied on cultural dependence, especially those suffering from political, economic, or cultural colonialism.
The Ministry of Culture was able to make this cultural vision a tangible reality within Egyptian society through seminars and cultural conferences that went beyond the limits of the capital to reach far and remote places.
This also worked on integrating and empowering young people to make a difference in the present moment. The ministry was also able to build bridges of communication with Western societies through art festivals, cultural events, and electronic platforms with translated content into many languages.
These platforms convey a clear picture of Egypt’s civilisation and ancient art, as well as the openness of this society to other cultures since ancient times and confirms the impossibility of immersing this civilised society in the currents of intolerant radical discourse.
In fact, cultural pluralism cannot be separated from the global framework of human security, and Abdel Dayem was able to consolidate this principle. This has been by investing in the development of the human element, relying on enlightened leaders, and spreading strong educational values capable of spreading enlightening discourse in Egyptian society.
This is in addition to addressing rationally those who see diversity and acceptance among human beings as a threat and want national institutions to be a source of division and a tool for destroying commonalities between cultures.
It is worth emphasising here that Abdel Dayem is the first woman ever to assume the position of Minister of Culture in Egypt, despite its being a long-standing ministry that was established in 1956.
Therefore, the minister’s success in establishing the principles of civilised dialogue and mutual respect between different cultures and peoples in this critical moment is not only a success of the Ministry of Culture as an enlightening platform in the Arab world, but it is, in the first place, success for Egyptian women and Arab women in general in the field of leadership work.
Dr Marwa El-Shinawy, PhD in American Theatre and member of the Higher Committee for the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre