Tunisia: Culture minister defends artistic freedom



Culture minister defends artistic freedom

“There will be no restrictions on creative freedom. It is not possible as long as I am a minister of culture,” said Mehdi Mabrouk, Tunisia’s culture minister, after he had been under fire for saying he would exclude sexy Lebanese pop stars from an annual music festival.

Mehdi Mabrouk, a sociology professor before he became culture minister, faced criticism from secularists after saying he would not invite Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, known for her risque music videos, or Nancy Ajram, another Lebanese sex symbol, to sing at the Carthage Festival.

Tunisia, long considered one of the Arab region’s most secular countries, has been ruled by an Islamist-led government since elections in October 2011. The rise of the Islamists has raised fears among secular Tunisians that their country may succumb to increased pressure from religious conservatives to ban certain films, plays or musical performances and even to censor art or photo exhibitions.

Promised to defend artistic freedom
Culture minister Mehdi Mabrouk told Reuters he would defend artistic freedom against any attempts to undermine it, including by religious zealots:

“There will be no restrictions on creative freedom. It is not possible as long as I am a minister of culture. I will condemn any attack on creativity. We will not impose any administrative controls or censorship over film or theater, but civil society should support the efforts of the ministry through a peaceful demonstration and play its role,” he was quoted as saying.

Mehdi Mabrouk said his decision concerning the Carthage Festival had nothing to do with religion. It had more to do with the government’s efforts to portray the Carthage Festival as a serious musical event with acts that appeal to a wider spectrum of the population than a pop concert. Among the famous names that may perform instead are Celine Dion and Elton John, as well as Lebanese diva Fairouz.

“The reasons for this decision were purely technical and aesthetic and not moral or religious, not because this is an Islamic government … that is totally wrong,” he said.


The Daily Star – 21 March 2012:
Tunisia culture minister vows to defend artistic freedom

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