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 Al-Masry Al-Youm as stating.

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 idolatry.

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