Egypt believe the state, which claims to fight terrorism, rather is creating it
through its obsession with security and its quest to preserve a regressive
structure in society. The government has tightened the noose on society, taking
a variety of measures against innovative minds such as isolating people,
silencing them, limiting their imaginations, confiscating their dreams and
basically draining the life out of them.
as in some other Arab countries, the state fears every free voice that calls
for fighting tyranny.
dictatorships fear imagination?” asked a number of prominent Tunisian
intellectuals in a statement issued March 9 in the wake of verdicts against
novelists and authors in Egypt. Signed by 58 intellectuals, the document
expressed support for Ahmed Naji, an Egyptian novelist handed a two-year prison
sentence in February on charges of offending public decency after he published
several pages from his explicit novel “The Use of Life” (also called "Using
Life) in Akhbar al-Adab weekly magazine.
political parties and rights organizations condemned Naji's incarceration.
Then, less than a month later, journalist Fatima Naoot was accused of contempt
of religion after she expressed on Facebook her objection to the slaughter of
sheep on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).
activist Negad el-Borai criticized Naoot’s three-year prison sentence and
tweeted March 31, “The [Muslim] Brotherhood and politicians are no longer the
only ones who have to flee from the ‘prison for all’ policy.”
Hafez Abu Saada, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, demanded on
Twitter the annulment of Article 98 of the Penal Code and said that it leads to
the imprisonment of intellectuals, authors and poets and fills Egypt’s human
rights’ record with more violations.
head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, tweeted April 1 that
talk about enlightenment or progressive culture under military or religious
rule is a waste of energy.
novelist Osama el-Shazly, author of "August," expressed his distress
over these verdicts and said he considers the accusations against novelists
Al-Monitor that the state is generally prone to legally pursuing authors in
Egypt, as it honours the notion of a paternalistic, Big Brother state. In a
call with Al-Monitor, Shazly added that the religious contempt law in Egypt
only punishes those who offend Muslims — as radical imams openly use language
offensive to Christians but aren't accused of religious contempt.
wondered how “public decency” is determined, let alone offended. He said what
is characterized as offensive often is actually just dark humor. He rejected
the notion of a Big Brother state dictating virtue, saying, “We will not write
our novels on prayer mats!”
February, Shazly posted on his Facebook page that he would quit publishing
literary works in Egypt, in coordination with Naji. When asked whether he had
any intention of taking back his decision, he said he is in the process of
completing a new novel, but has not made up his mind about publishing it in
Egypt. He added that he is observing the public situation and that might change
and journalist Ahmed al-Fakhrany told Al-Monitor that some laws are not fit for
the 21st century. Fakhrany noted that the laws regarding contempt of religion
are imprecise, making their interpretation subject to judges' moods. He
illustrated his point with Naji’s case, as one court had pronounced him
innocent, while another sentenced him to jail. Such verdicts are intimidating
and threaten public expression, Fakhrany said. He added that laws should be
structured so that decisions are reached objectively.
novelist Mohamad Rabie, who wrote the novel "Mercury," agreed. He
told Al-Monitor that these verdicts stem from generally conservative public
prosecutors and the judiciary, and this atmosphere enjoys a public support. He
said that if the objective behind these trials is to push Egyptian authors to
practice censorship, they will not succeed. In fact, Rabie said he considers
such decisions challenges, making him even more insistent on proving his point
that, unfortunately, Egypt's cultural minister is not dedicated to culture, but
rather the state. Rabie described Minister of Culture Helmy Namnam's stance on
free expression as inconsistent. Rabie downplayed the importance of Namnam
taking a stance of solidarity with intellectuals at a conference involving the
Syndicate of Journalists' Freedoms Committee in the wake of intellectual
freedom cases. He said such displays of solidarity do nothing tangible to solve
tried to contact Namnam several times for a comment, but he did not respond.
Abdel Maguid, author of "No One Sleeps in Alexandria," "The
Other Place" and "Birds of Amber," among other novels, told
Al-Monitor the contempt of religion law conflicts with the 2014 Egyptian
Constitution. He said he has seen such convictions against authors backfire.
For example, after Naji was sentenced to jail, his novel received wide
attention from more than 1 million readers. Before that, he had only sold 50
Maguid expressed his conviction that such an atmosphere will not affect
literary or creative production, because writing is based on artistic
Translator: Pascale Menassa