Conductors face legal action over protests against Brotherhood influence

Over 300 musicians stand on the stage of the Cairo Opera House's main hall protesting against the dismissal of Ines Abdel-Dayem by former minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz. (Photo: Ayman Hafez)
Over 300 musicians stand on the stage of the Cairo Opera House’s main hall protesting against the dismissal of Ines Abdel-Dayem by former minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz. (Photo: Ayman Hafez)

Nayer Nagui and Hisham Gabr are being investigated for causing the Cairo Opera House financial losses, after leading strikes in May and June against the Morsi-appointed culture minister.

Published in Ahram Online

Prosecutors have opened a case against two Egyptian conductors, Nayer Nagui and Hisham Gabr – along with Yasser El Serafi, Cairo Symphony Orchestra’s administrative supervisor –  for causing the Cairo Opera House financial losses.

The investigation comes after the conductors went on strike on 28 May and 1 June respectively at the Cairo Opera House, in a political protest that was joined by the staff and the musicians of the institution.

The strikes were part of a wave of protests organised by a number of musicians and artists opposed to the dismissal of the Cairo Opera House head Ines Abdel-Dayem on 28 May by the then-culture minister.

On 28 May evening, Nayer Nagui, principal conductor and artistic director of the Cairo Opera Orchestra, suspended the last day of a performance of the opera Aida. When the curtain opened for the performance, the audience was instead faced with an on-stage protest.

Protests continued, and on 1 June a concert by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hisham Gabr, also opened with a protest that announced suspension of the performance. On that day many other figures from the cultural field joined the musicians on the Cairo Opera House’s main hall stage.

The firing of Abdel-Dayem came as part of a series of actions taken by then-culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz, who took office on 7 May during former president Mohamed Morsi’s cabinet reshuffle. Abdel-Aziz remained in office until 3 July, when Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood administration was removed from power by the army following mass protests.

During his short stay at the ministry, Abdel-Aziz, who according to artists aimed at “Brotherhoodization” of culture, dismissed many key figures from Egypt’s cultural institutions. Others, angered by the situation, responded with resignations. The artistic community launched a series of protests leading to the eventual occupation of the Ministry of Culture, which lasted until Morsi was removed from power on 3 July.

During Abdel-Dayem’s absence from office, Abdel-Aziz appointed stage manager Badr El-Zakaziky in her place. On 16 July, the new minister of culture, Mohamed Saber Arab, reinstated all those dismissed by Abdel-Aziz, including Abdel-Dayem.

“The transfer to the Administrative Prosecution Office is a result of a complaint filed by someone, probably during the term of Abdel-Aziz as culture minister, and Badr El-Zakaziky as head of the opera replacing Abdel-Dayem,” Hisham Gabr told Ahram Online.

According to numbers provided by Nayer Nagui, he is charged with LE18,000 (USD 2,500) and Gabr LE5,000 (over USD 700), as a result of the losses from the returned tickets.

Nagui, however, points to the irony behind those numbers. “When 300 artists stand together on stage and cancel a performance as a sign of protest, this is a unanimous decision. None of those artists were paid for that night. Three hundred artists sacrificed their salaries to make a statement against Abdel-Aziz and against the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The financial situation of the Cairo Opera House contributes to the lack of clarity behind the investigation and the details of how and why the complaint was made. The musicians’ salaries are paid by the culture ministry, while revenue from tickets goes to the finance ministry.

Nayer believes the investigations are unwarranted. “People like us, who objected to policies that were destructive to Egyptian culture, are now faced with some kind of prosecution. This is how the country works against itself.”

“What about all those millions who took to the streets in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday 30 June? Sunday was a regular work day. Those directors, managers, employees, clerks and so on did not sign their presence in their workplaces. They all protested on the streets of Egypt,” Nayer added.

Gabr calls the whole situation “outrageous,” expressing his surprise at “how people who contributed to the whole protest against Abdel-Aziz and his policies are being treated now.”

According to Gabr, the Administrative Prosecution Office where he was questioned on Thursday told him that if he pays the amount of incurred losses, the case will be closed.

“I would rather have a case open for years than admit that what I did together with the rest of the artists was wrong,” Gabr said, adding that he does not yet know how the case will develop.

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