Monuments to two of Egypt’s most important cultural icons – singer Umm Kulthum
and Taha Husayn, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century,
have been vandalized, apparently by Islamists.
In Mansoura, the Nile
Delta hometown of Umm Kulthum, vandals placed an Islamic veil on a statue of
her, according to a report in the the current issue of Al-Ahram Weekly, which
was released last week.
“What did those ignoramuses who attacked the
statues do to Islam? They insulted it, and Islam is innocent of their behavior,”
the paper quotes an article by Mohamed Salmawy published in the liberal daily
Umm Kulthum, who died in 1975 and was also
known as The Star of the East, was perhaps the Arab world’s most popular singer.
She grew up in a rural village and moved to Cairo with her family like many
others who sought a better life in the city. She sang in various genres, from
religious to nationalistic songs, and broadcast legendary concerts monthly from
Cairo from the 1930s to the 1970s.
The growing strength of conservative
Muslims in Egypt since the victory of Islamists in national elections has given
them confidence in challenging the parts of the country’s cultural heritage that
do not meet their religious standards.
In Minya, 245 km. south of Cairo,
vandals cut off the head of a 10-year-old marble memorial bust of Taha Husayn in
a square named after him, according to the Al-Ahram Weekly. Husayn (1889-1973),
known as The Dean of Arabic Literature, wrote novels and political opinion
pieces. He went blind at the age of two and in 1902 went to study Islam at
Al-Azhar, the most important Sunni center of learning. He clashed with the
conservative views there and later moved to study in secular institutions,
including the Sorbonne in Paris.
He was named the minister of education
in 1950 and some of his writings angered religious authorities and Islamists,
which helps explain why his monument was targeted.
Late last year,
reports emerged that Islamists want to destroy the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx.
Sheikh Murgan Salem al-Gohary, who is linked with jihadists, called for the
destruction of the landmarks in an Egyptian TV interview at the end of last year
and said, “All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to
remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha
statues,” according to Al-Arabiya.
Because these monuments come from the
pre- Islamic period (known as Jahiliyya), the “Era of Ignorance” before the
revelation of the Koran to Muhammad, these monuments are deemed to be a form of