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  • Egyptian Art Institutions and Art Education from 1908 to 1951
  • Patrick Kane (bio)

The State, envisioning a social function reserved for the fine arts, is engaged in driving the artistic destinies of the country. These politics were imposed as the example of a religion of the state. . . . But the slow instruction of the masses that has endured since 1908 deviated from the interest of our artists that was formed in the course of these twenty-three years.

—Muhammad Nagi, "Une Politique des Beaux-Arts en Egypte," (circa 1931)1

The cooperative movement began in Egypt in 1908, but up to now it has not taken the necessary steps. Among the reasons are the sluggish ignorance of the masses, and its neglect by the elite and its weakness of character. The chief cause is that the cooperative movement is mostly official, for which civil servants work, and the civil servants do not act responsibly as they should.

—Muhammad 'Abd Al-Bari, "On the Just Treatment of the Peasant," Al-Thaqafa (January 1940)2

Rather, it is in the totality where the goals of different classes are divided and collide within society. These contradictions were opened up in the origins of the social crises by the explosive upheavals. Members from literature and poetry and philosophy struggled over the origins of this opposition and their works were distinguished with a mark of concern when it showed the different parties between the construction of a single class.

—Ramsis Yunan, "The Dream and the Reality" (March 1940)3 [End Page 43]

During the 1930s, conflicts in the arts reflected broader struggles over Egyptian political power.4 Elites, who sought to maintain their power and their interests as large landowners, dominated the parliament, key ministries, and local political offices and were confronted with multiple forms of counterstruggle from a diverse range of opposition. This opposition included intellectuals in the arts, the resistance of peasant agricultural workers, the conservative fascist movement of Misr Fattah (Young Egypt), and the Muslim Brothers, which appealed to large groups of supporters in towns and cities. This debate in the arts was waged between proponents of the nahda paradigm, who favored an elite program of a national renaissance in the arts, and its opponents based as journalists and employees of the Ministry of Education and secondary schools, who opposed the conservative agenda and advocated an art pedagogy of inclusion and participation of popular culture. The nahda paradigm, a core of a conservative nationalist cultural policy following World War I, complemented the rural cooperative movement, which as early as 1909 promoted the increased capitalization of agriculture in the Egyptian countryside in order to shift the burden of costs onto small producers and tenants.5 By the end of the 1930s, the nahda paradigm had lost efficacy and was effectively challenged by the rise of mass political organizations, including the Muslim Brothers, which had made inroads into the teaching professions and appealed increasingly to both the urban and rural poor. The nahda paradigm was also challenged by the rise of parafascist organizations, as a militant option, to counter the more populist Muslim Brothers and leftist coalitions of socialists, communists, and anarchists. Within the arts, these parafascist organizations found sympathy among elite administrators like Mahmud Khalil. A resistance to the nahda paradigm arose from the teaching professions, particularly from those art teachers whose experiences in the rural countryside radicalized their experiences. Surrealists like Ramsis Yunan noted that the open nature of the political struggle in the arts underscored the divisions within the ruling class.6

These relations are representated in two short texts by representatives of the large landowners, Muhammad 'Abd al-Bari and Muhammad Nagi, who mourn the loss of their class hegemony over the bulk of the working population, particularly their agrarian workforce. As a consequence of this loss of power, Nagi and 'Abd al-Bari offered a rationale for defending the restitution of the large landholders' power. Both defended the stake of their own class in resorting to corporatism and the organization of economic production that became a strategy of conservatives in both Italy and Egypt from the 1920s. 'Abd al-Bari revived the ideal of the cooperative to rationalize the landowners...


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