September 2, 2016
An update on Egyptian censorship: novelist languishes in prison, while president threatens online satirists
by Kait Howard
Since February, MobyLives has been following the alarming story of Ahmed Naji, the Egyptian author sentenced to two years in prison for sexually explicit content in his novel, The Use of Life, a decision that is currently under appeal. As we chronicled, Naji’s conviction prompted an international outcry, with PEN America bestowing their Freedom to Write Award on the author in what they basically acknowledged was a calculated effort to pressure the Egyptian authorities to accept the appeal. Over 600 Egyptian writers also signed a separate statement supporting Naji.
Sadly, but not really surprisingly, the efforts continue to be in vain. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reports that on August 27, the appeals court “ruled against Ahmed Naji’s motion for a stay of execution of the two-year prison sentence,” a motion that would have allowed for his release pending his appeal. “As a result, Naji will continue to serve his two-year sentence until the completion of his term in February 2018 or until a successful appeal.”
The news comes just after Al-Monitor reports that officials have shut down a satirical Facebook page mocking Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. According to Al-Monitor’s Sayed Elhadidi, the president was uncharacteristically transparent in admitting that this instance of censorship came from his office, reportedly saying: “With the assistance of two web brigades, I can shut down the [opposing] pages, take them over and make them my own.” While we can’t verify the translation from the Arabic, the militarized vocabulary being used to describe technological work seems telling here.
Al-Monitor also quotes el-Sisi’s remarks at a meeting with “community representatives” held to discuss the president’s widely criticized decision to give two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. “Sisi warned against what he called fourth- and fifth-generation warfare involving the internet, saying that ‘plots are being made [against Egypt].’”
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.