Prepared by: Mahmoud Othman, AFTE lawyer
Editor: Mohamed Abdel Salam, director, AFTE research unit
On July 11, 2018, the Official Gazette published a decision by the Prime Minister concerning the organization of festivals or celebrations. The decision referred to new restrictions on the freedom of creators to hold festivals and celebrations. Over the days following the publication of the resolution, questions have been raised among artists and people interested in the freedom of creativity about the process of organizing festivals and how to face the new restrictions created by the resolution.
Through this legal commentary on the Prime Minister’s decision, AFTE tries to explain how the decision violates the freedom of creativity and to explain the new procedures that result from it. This decision cannot be understood in isolation from the ongoing onslaught on creativity, monitored AFTE’s second quarterly report on freedom of expression and the decision to establish new branches of art control authorities in seven provinces. It seems that the current authority is working hard to constrain creativity, and put heavy administrative obstacles to creators.
The Prime Minister’s decision prohibits the organization or establishment of any festivals or celebrations, except after their organizers receive a license from a committee headed by the Minister of Culture and member representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Finance, Tourism, Archeology, Civil Aviation, Youth and Sports and Local Development. The decision sets forth conditions relating to the content presented at the celebration or festival, as well as the requirements of the legal procedures governing the application for the license.
A High Commission for festivals includes “ministry of interior”
The Prime Minister’s decision establishes a permanent high committee to organize festivals or celebrations. The mandate of the committee reveals its role in the control of creativity. It is not an administrative committee that coordinates procedures only. Article 4 of the Prime Minister’s Decision clarifies its competencies, including the study of requests for organizing concerts and festivals, follow up of their implementation and evaluation, and preparation of periodic reports on each festival or festival.
If the High Committee of Festivals decides that there is a violation of the standards set for the organization of festivals or celebrations, it is entitled to refuse the application for permission. The committee follows up these procedures in coordination with the governors. In accordance with article VIII, paragraph 5, of the resolution, the committee has the right to enter the venues of festivals or celebrations, and to review its records and accounts during the ceremony.
The Committee is composed of at least 15 members, headed by the Minister of Culture, and includes representatives of various ministries and parties: Foreign Affairs, Interior, Finance, Tourism, Antiquities, Civil Aviation, Youth, Sports and Local Development, a representative of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the Syndicate of Cinematic Professions, the syndicate of theatrical professions and the heads of the literary unions. The decision did not specify their number. According to the decision, there will be among the members “an appropriate number” of experts in the field of art, not working in the management of festivals, chosen by the Minister of Culture.
The Committee establishes an annual agenda setting out the dates for the organization of festivals or celebrations throughout the year. Article 2 of Article 4 stipulates the: “Organization of an annual agenda setting out the dates and places of festivals and celebrations throughout the year according to a timetable that ensures that they do not conflict with one another while taking into consideration the cultural justice in distributing festivals and celebrations in the governorates of the Republic, and the non-repetition of more than one festival or celebration in a certain cultural or artistic field in the same governorate. “
This means that the commission will only license one festival or celebration of the same artistic genre for each governorate. Thus, a jazz festival in Cairo governorate can only be organized once a year, and likewise in the field of Sufi singing. The text of the article enables concerned authorities to use it as such
New regulations for the organization of a festival or a celebration
The procedures for organizing celebrations, before the issuing of the said decree, were characterized by extreme bureaucracy, where the procedures required the approval of three parties: the Specialized Technical Union (the Syndicate of Music Professions) and the Central Administration for the Control of Audiovisual Works (Artistic Works) – responsible for the monitor of the wording of the songs- and the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for securing the celebration. It is noteworthy that these procedures, despite their complexity, remain smoother compared to the requirement of obtaining a license from the Supreme Committee for Festivals. The membership of the Committee includes representatives of several ministries and parties, whose work is governed by complex conditions, as follows:
- Special conditions for applying for a permit to organize a festival or celebration
The decision sets out a set of regulations related to the applicants for the license. The decision contains a general regulation, namely, that the applicant for the license is an entity established according to Egyptian laws and has the necessary licenses to carry out its activity. This means that individuals who are not represented by legal entities are not entitled to apply for a license to hold festivals or celebrations. It is understood from the decision that it involves all legal entities, such as clubs, cultural centers and other numerous entities.
In addition to this general requirement, the decision referred to two other conditions, the first of which concerns NGOs, where it stipulated that the civil society should have a tangible activity to serve the community related to the substance of the festival for which a license is requested. This provision allows the Committee to refuse to grant licenses to members who do not engage in continuous organization of festivals.
The decision did not clarify the status of celebrations organized by NGOs to raise funds to finance their activities. The decision also disregards the status of newly established associations, which are active for the first time, since the requirement of a tangible activity for community service cannot be applied. The decision also gives the management authority broad discretion in determining the applicability of the condition of community service.
Also, foreign associations and institutions registered in Egypt face additional restrictions, according to Civil Associations Law No. 70 of 2017, which obligates foreign associations to obtain a special permit for each activity carried out by the National Organization for Organizing the Work of Foreign Organizations.
The second requirement concerns companies, where the decree stipulated that the capital of the company organizing the festival or the celebration should be no less than 500 thousand pounds. The decision omitted the great variation in the quality and costs of organizing festivals, where it equally regulates different forms of arts and cultural activities, without regard to the actual cost of festivals aimed at a small audience or based on low-cost activities
- Required detailed information when applying for a permit for a festival or celebration:
1- Name of the organizing body.
- Name, objectives and location of event.
- Names of the Board of Directors of the event.
- Sources of funding for the celebration.
- A detailed budget for the celebration.
- Internal instructions to organize the celebration.
7 – Data of guests to attend the ceremony, whether Egyptians or foreigners
In addition to this data, the organizer of the festival or the celebration must provide evidence that the venue, where the celebration is planned, had obtained license from the cultural production sector of the Ministry of Culture. This license is granted on an annual basis to places that intend to host celebrations.
Wide authorities to the minister of culture
The decision of the Prime Minister confers broader powers to the Minister of Culture, after the role of the Ministry had been is limited to the supervision of the artistic works by the Control Authority.
The resolution stipulates that the Minister of Culture is empowered to reject the application for permission to hold the celebration if he believes that it does not achieve the objectives of development of creativity, preserving the Egyptian identity, promoting cultural, economic and social development, and activating the cultural exchange between Egypt and countries of the world. The Minister of Culture is entitled to suspend the festival or cancel its license after granting it, without any restrictions.
The decision also allows the Minister of Culture to transfer to the Ministry of Culture the management and organization of the festival or celebration, if the Minister considers the violation to amount to being an “insult to the reputation of Egypt”, provided that the objectives of the festival are consistent with the vision of the Ministry of Culture. Article 9 of the decree states that: the minister of culture may issue a decision that the ministry of culture organizes the festival or celebration in its next seasons.” This means that organizers of festivals or celebrations will be subject to constant threat by the Ministry of Culture. The decision did not specify what is meant by “insulting Egypt’s reputation”, leaving its interpretation to the Minister of Culture.
The decision did not clarify the legal basis for the powers granted to the Minister of Culture, and the possibility of delegating others to them, because the decision did not clarify the nature of the capacity by which the Minister of Culture issues decisions on festivals, whether it is related to his capacity as Chairman of the Supreme Committee of Festivals or as Minister of Culture. The decision also prevents organizers of festivals or celebrations from changing their dates, except after obtaining the approval of the Minister of Culture
Constitutional and legal breaches in the decree
The provisions of the Constitution, including Article 67, stipulate that “the freedom of artistic and literary creation is guaranteed and the State commits itself to the promotion of arts and literature, to the care of creators and to the protection of their creations, and the provision of the necessary means of encouragement.” Article 65 of the Constitution states: “Every person has the right to express his opinion by saying, writing, filming, or by other means of expression and publication. “
On the other hand, the decision carries several legal irregularities, as follows:
– Violation of the law of artistic works and its executive regulations:
The Technical Works Act No. 430 of 1955 states that the Ministry of Culture is the only body authorized to supervise artistic productions. The executive regulations of the said law indicate that the General Directorate of Control of Art Works at the Ministry of Culture is entitled to control the work related to audiovisual works. The Department is authorized to grant licenses to register, as well as public performance, display or broadcast of artistic works.
– Submission of data of invitees, both Egyptians and Foreigners:
This is a clear violation of Article 15 of the Council of Ministers’ Resolution No. 162 of 1993 concerning the executive regulations for the regulation of censorship of audiovisual works. The article defines public presentations as those that can be attended without discrimination between its audience. While Article VI of the resolution referred to the obligation of the applicant to provide the full details of the invitees.
– Applications must be submitted in June:
It is only logical that applications for licenses can be submitted at any time during the year, which is consistent with the requirements of citizens in the presence of different celebrations, and any restriction on this freedom is contrary to the censorship law itself.
– No time limit for granting permission
The decision did not specify a period for deciding on the application for the license, and the fate of the application was not determined if time passed without a reply. Will this be considered acceptance or rejection of the license application? The decision also did not specify how to appeal against the rejection of the license application, the body of appeal against the decision of refusal, nor did the decision oblige the Committee to provide detailed reasons for the rejection of the license application, in order to guarantee the non-arbitrariness of rejections by the Committee.
The comment touched on several axes related to the Prime Minister’s decision concerning the organization of festivals or celebrations, in which no discussion was held with the groups that undertake such activities, such as musicians. The decision was unregulated in its terms and provisions, allowing the High Committee of Festivals to restrict cultural and artistic activities by including them within the domain of festivals or celebrations. The decision also granted the Minister of Culture unprecedented powers, most notably the allocation of organization of festivals or celebrations to the Ministry of Culture, if it considers this best for the reputation of Egypt. The decision, which is an administrative decision issued by the Prime Minister, dealt with the regulation of matters not provided for in the law. Consequently, the Prime Minister has encroached on the role of the legislative authority.
AFTE condemns the Prime Minister’s decision regarding the organization of festivals or celebrations. AFTE warns against the danger of this decision on the process of cultural production in general and music in particular. It also calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally withdraw the decision. It also calls upon those interested in creative works to legally challenge the decision.
 Article 2 of the law of artistic works no. 430/1955.