Protesters demand end to corruption at Cairo Opera House

Hundreds of the Cairo Opera House administration, technicians and artists joined what they call “Opera corruption cleansing campaign” with protests staged on two consecutive days 13 and 14 February. Some vow to continue

Published in Ahram Online

On 13 February, over 300 people demonstrated in front of the main entrance of the Cairo Opera House. Protesters consisting of the opera administration and technicians, joined by a smaller number of artists representing a variety of artistic companies at the Cairo Opera House, held banners demanding the “termination of corruption at the Cairo Opera House.”

Artists contributing to 13 February protests were mainly musicians from the National Arab Music Ensemble, joined by a small number of dancers from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, and a few singers from the Cairo Opera Company. A few people from the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and the Cairo Opera Orchestra took a standpoint as bystanders.

Protesters demanded that the chairman of the Cairo Opera House (National Culture Centre of Cairo) since 2004, Abdel Moneim Kamel along with all top-level management step down and blamed them for all the corruption at the opera premises. Protesters claimed that “the opera management takes personal gains from many productions and events taking place at the opera, either financial or in assets and deprive employees and artists from deserved bonuses.”

“They are distributing funds and gains among themselves,” protesters shouted. “My monthly salary is hardly LE1,200 ($200) while the opera management take bonuses counted in tens of thousands of pounds,” one protester told Ahram Online. Protesters kept enumerating contrasting numbers.

An unclear bonus system and low wages were among many claims expressed by the protesters, mainly administration and technicians. “There is no control on how funds are distributed inside the Opera House,” one protester continued.

A few artists who participated in the demonstration on 13 February added their own grievances, telling Ahram Online that they demand “formal employment (most of them work on yearly, renewable contracts), a pension plan, and health insurance.”

In their conversation with Ahram Online, the young generation of artists from the Cairo Opera Company underlined that they do not get equal chances and the management’s choice of the opera repertoire is based purely on a repetitive scheme of roles reserved for specific singers, among whom some are within the opera management itself.

“We get very small roles, we cannot develop and when we ask for better chances, we’re told that our cv’s do not have significant roles on the Cairo Opera stage to support our demand. This is a vicious circle,” singers told Ahram Online. “Performing the same operas over and over again is not only damaging for the Opera Company, but it also deprives Egyptian audiences of the opportunity of attending new productions.”

Early on 14 February,  Kamel met hundreds of administration employees and technicians at the Cairo Opera House Small Hall. During the prolonged gathering, filled with extremely intense reactions from the attendees, Kamel promised to revise all the claims with each sector of management.

At the same time, artists started staging more protests outside the Cairo Opera House. Over a span of a few hours, groups of artists from different opera companies, regrouped at the main and side entrances to the Cairo Opera House. Many onlookers stood aside, a few of them expressing their disappointment between each other, others remained impartial.

A number of musicians from the Cairo Opera Orchestra gathered at the side door demanding the removal of management, while some of their colleagues commented that discussions with the existing management should solve their problems. A number of bystanders, also artists, were making phone calls repeatedly, during which they were stating the names of the protesters and reading the statements from the protesters’ banners.

Musicians from the National Arab Music Ensemble. who gathered at the main entrance, were higher in number and their unity was apparent. They created a list of over 20 people from the opera top-level management asking for their immediate resignation. One of the artists suggested that a delegation should be created to discuss the complaints with the management, while others responded that no talks were possible until all corruption and the people behind it were removed.

On some occasions artists from different companies could not agree on their claims and priorities, yet the general and unanimous accusation addressed the corruption and an immediate need for “cleansing”. The artists from the National Arab Music Ensemble called for regrouping this Wednesday, 16 February and a continuation of the demonstrations.

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