September 15, 2016

Land of the unfair-ohs: Happy birthday, Ahmed Naji


ArabLit’s card for Naji. Courtesy of M. Lynx Qualey, who called it “insane.” We’d say “spirited.”

In recent months, we’ve been following the story of Ahmed Naji, a young novelist currently serving a two-year jail sentence in Egypt. His bloodcurdling crime? Publishing an excerpt from his novel The Use of Life in Egypt’s weekly journal Akhbar al-Adab. (To get a sense of exactly how dangerous the prose in question really was, you can read Ben Koerber’s translation of the excerpt here. It bears an admirably good-humored trigger warning: “The excerpt below… might also make you feel things.” So, y’know, lasciate ogni speranza.)

Naji’s has become an international cause célèbre, one of the most public incidents yet of state suppression under Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who recently completed his second year in office. Naji has received PEN’s Freedom to Write Award, along with the support of hundreds of artists from all over the world.

And today, Ahmed Naji needs a different kind of support. It’s his birthday! He’s thirty-one. And since we can’t bring him cake, we’ll join the choir of concerned readers who are flooding Twitter with good wishes under the hashtag #NajiBirthday. Let’s all send some positive thoughts to this brave writer and exemplary human on what must be a very lonely Big Three-One. (Greetings can also be emailed to Lianna Merner, Africa Programme Coordinator for PEN International, at [email protected])

The mighty M. Lynx Qualey, proprietor of the blog Arablit, has set a positive example:

Others have gotten in on the act as well:

On a less festive—but still very urgent—note, PEN International has published an updated call for support of Naji’s cause, with fuller information on the birthday celebration, his legal case, repression in Egypt, and what can be done internationally to address it.

Happy birthday, Ahmed Naji! And happy #NajiBirthday to a world made richer by people who fight for their right to publish.