December 17, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9094

Egyptian Author: To Combat Religious Extremism, We Must Make Culture Accessible To Young People In The Arab World

December 17, 2020
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 9094

In an October 29, 2020 article in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, Egyptian author and intellectual Dr. 'Ammar 'Ali Hassan discussed ways to combat religious extremism in the Arab and Muslim societies. Claiming that culture shapes people's values and personalities, and can revitalize society and dispel extremist ideas, he called to make culture accessible to young people in Arab societies by building culture centers, encouraging children to read from an early age, cultivating literature and theater for children and teens and allocating sufficient funds for culture activities. 

Dr. 'Ammar 'Ali Hassan (Source:

The following are translated excerpts from his article:[1]

"For ideas to take root and be implemented in practice, and for people to adopt them, institutions or organizations must promote them and transform them into tangible measures that can be applied to real life. Otherwise, they remain floating on the distant horizon; people do not notice them and are not much influenced by them. Many ideas have been suggested in the framework of criticism of ideological and religious extremism… yet they don't [manage] to get off the ground, because there is no one to translate them into practical measures that can become established and spread in an effective manner.

"Intellectuals have made a lot of noise in the world with their demands to build a civic culture that is inclusive and not exclusive… but only a few have presented ideas that can be implemented on the ground, and that embody what is required to realize this goal. Therefore, let me list several measures that can help [to promote] culture, in order to battle extremism and fanaticism, as follows:

"1. Building small cultural centers, or increasing the activity of those which already exist. These centers should be located in residential areas to make it easier for young people to reach them, to participate in [their activities] and visit them on a regular basis. Schools and universities should draw the pupils' and students' attention to them, and formulate plans to collaborate with them.

"2. This requires that reading and [in-depth] learning comprise a basic element of school courses from first grade to the last [year] of high school. Teachers must be trained to fulfill this role, and schools must be supplied with libraries rich in various types of carefully-selected information and literature.

"3. [Expanding] the Egyptian Gurn Theater [initiative],[2] in which I participated. An experimental program for combating extremist ideology, this initiative aims to encourage art, literature and folklore in elementary and junior high schools and was carried out by means of collaboration between the culture and education ministries. [Even] when it was implemented in schools in villages known to be strongholds of Islamist organizations, it was extremely successful, although it initially met  with opposition from the pupils, who claimed that all types of art are forbidden [according to Islam]. Over time, these students started to paint, play music and write poetry, stories and articles, perform plays and create folk art related to their [social] environment, and they do this with great success.

"4. It is also important to produce culture for children, because some of the extremist religious organizations use this method to attract children and groom them to join the organization, accept its ideas, and identify with them. [These organizations] have well-known publishing houses that help to fulfil this mission. In order to compete, the struggle against them must utilize similar methods. In this context it is not enough to [publish] cultural magazines; it is necessary to encourage children's authors and to establish publishing houses to publish their work at suitable prices.    

"5. Artists and authors must be promoted within society, for they are people worthy of respect and what they write is an important component,  not only of the struggle against religious extremism but also in the general consolidation of the state's 'soft power.' This requires allocating sufficient funds for the creation of genuine culture.

"6. Prize-bearing writing competitions should be organized for schoolchildren and young people, devoted to specific topics that [foster] enlightenment and promote religious moderation.

"In any case, we must not treat culture as an [unimportant] ornament. [Culture] is the way to build personality and shape awareness, values and attitudes, and it will thus revitalize society as a whole."


[1] Al-Ittihad (UAE), October 29, 2020.

[2] The Gurn Theater was a travelling cultural program created by Egyptian director Ahmad Ismail in collaboration with the Egyptian Education Ministry and the National Authority for Culture Venues, with the aim of fostering culture among schoolchildren and building open-air theaters in underprivileged villages (Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Egypt, July 54, 2018).

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