December 14, 2015

Egypt continues crackdown on novelist Alaa Al Aswany



(Image via The New York Times)

Earlier this year, MobyLives wrote about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s efforts to purge mosque libraries of “any book, irrespective of its author or publishing house, that contradicts the teachings of Islam.” Now, it seems Sisi has escalated his censorship efforts.

In what appears to be an expanding crackdown on dissenting voices, the government has forced bestselling novelist Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building, to cancel a public seminar titled “Conspiracy Theory: Between Reality and Illusion.”

The Guardian‘s Marcia Lynx Qualey reports that the cancellation comes a year after Al Aswany was formally banned from appearing on all state-run media, as well as forbidden from publishing his weekly column in the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm. According to Nouran Fahmy at Daily News Egypt, censorship of Al Aswany began in June 2014 after the author was accused of treason for criticizing Sisi’s presidential campaign (not-so-coincidentally, Sisi succeeded became president in June 2014). Banned from official media outlets, The Guardian reports that Al Aswany has continued his work as a public intellectual by “stirring debate and propounding his views on post-2011 Egypt” during monthly seminars in Cairo and Alexandria.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a statement last week condemning the cancellation of the seminar, calling it a decision that “completes the crackdown on the great writer.” Gamal Eid, the Executive Director of ANHRI, said:

“At the time that the global newspapers compete for getting Alaa Al Aswany’s works and articles, the Egyptian government spares no effort to inhibit him of writing…This is a disaster and resounding scandal that the officials in this country should give attention to; particularly the president who stated that the media during his term is witnessing unprecedented freedom.”

Since assuming power, President Sisi, a former defense minister, has been increasingly hostile to both the press and the arts. The Guardian asserts that the cancellation of Al Aswany’s seminar “comes as the space for speech that doesn’t fit Sisi’s narrative has narrowed. This year, dozens of journalists and activists have been jailed, from prominent investigative journalists like Hossam Bahgat to young stringers.”

The Yacoubian Building, Aswany’s second novel, became a bestseller in Egypt in 2002 and propelled the author into the spotlight both within Egypt, and throughout the West when the English translation of his novel was published to wide acclaim. Lorraine Adams of The New York Times Book Review described the novel as “a bewitching political novel of contemporary Cairo that is also an engagé novel about sex, a romantic novel about power and a comic yet sympathetic novel about the vagaries of the human heart.”



Ena Brdjanovic is Director of Digital Media at Melville House.