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Farouk Hosni’s ‘Cultural Personality of the Year’ award raises eyebrows

This week, organizers of the Sharjah International Book Fair announced that their 2012 “Cultural Personality of the Year” award would go to Egypt’s former Culture Minister Farouk Hosni.

Hosni is set to receive the award at this year’s book fair, which is scheduled from 7 to 17 November. The prize brings with it 50,000 dirhams.

Egypt is also the guest of honor at this year’s Sharjah book fair, which is one of the largest in the region and generally important to local publishers. Sharjah and Egypt have other cultural ties: Sharjah’s ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed al-Qasimi, has expressed particular interest in Egyptian culture, offering to rebuild the Institut d’Egypte, which burned down late last year.

Yet the announcement of Hosni’s award was a surprise to many in Egyptian cultural circles, as it came just days after Hosni, who was Egypt’s culture minister from 1987 through January of 2012, was charged with corruption and referred to a criminal court.

Book fair officials did not comment on their judges’ choice, which, in the words of novelist Mansoura Ezz Eldin, is “surrounded by question marks.”

Egyptian novelist and columnist Khaled al-Berry said he generally does not comment on prizes or acclamations, because he believes that they are “a panel decision. I look at it like a private property and you can do whatever you want with it.”

However, this was a bit different, he said, and “quite shocking, least of all because Dr. Farouk Hosni has not had the slightest chance to contribute to culture [in the last year], well or otherwise. So it seems to me like a politically motivated choice — a message to the regime in Egypt rather than a cultural celebration of the person himself. That’s unfortunate to say the least.”

Ezz Eldin also noted that the award comes at a strange time, just as Hosni is facing graft charges for allegedly using his government position to illegally acquire LE9 million, or around US$1.4 million.

“Farouk Hosni’s name has now placed on a travel ban list,” Ezz Eldin said. “I hope that the case takes its normal and fair course without any interference or pressure, and that this leads to an opening of all files, not only graft. There are many issues where we should open the files: the Beni Suef theater fire, and others.”

According to the book fair website, the “Cultural Personality” prize is “given to a distinguished person, organization or company whose cultural, literary or social contribution to society is found to be invaluable and of high caliber, deserving rightful appreciation and recognition.”

Egyptian novelist and commentator Ibrahim Farghali said he hoped that the honor was “not for him [Hosni] as a former minister, because that would humiliate the Egyptian intellectuals indeed.”

He added, about the timing of the award, that it “makes one think really that this might be a one-way trip to the Emirates!”

Farghali said that, if the award was to honor Hosni’s tenure as culture minister, that time was hardly sterling, and that “most of the intellectuals have seen a lot of catastrophes during the twenty-something years he spent as culture minister, from the stolen work of Van Gogh to the burning of the Beni Suef culture center, where a number of our best theater artists, writers, and critics died.”

Last year’s “Cultural Personality of the Year” at the Sharjah fair was Mohammad Bin Issa, who was Morocco’s culture minister from 1985 to1992, and also a former member of the Moroccan parliament.

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