A few days after being freed from prison last week, Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji posted a long message to Facebook thanking the supporters who stood by him during his trial and 10-month incarceration for “violating public modesty” with an excerpt from his novel Using Life that was published in a state-owned newspaper.
Naji’s reprieve may be only temporary, as the appeal of his case is still proceeding and his next court date is scheduled for January 1. If his conviction is upheld, he may be required to serve the rest of his two-year sentence. In the face of such uncertainty, he asked journalists to understand that he cannot grant any interviews for the time being as he deals with untreated health issues that developed in prison and spends time with his family. He did however want to take the chance to acknowledge his supporters worldwide, he said:
All the letters of love and solidarity were beyond my wildest expectations. I didn’t know anything about them the whole time I was in prison. I’m still trying to digest it all, the last ten months on the outside, and everything that you’ve done for me during those ten months. It’s simply amazing to me; someone who is not particularly social nor an enlightenment intellectual. Your outpouring of love is a source of constant wonder and I’ll need some time to absorb it. Your letters gave me the energy and the human warmth that have helped me to endure, to hang on and to move on.
Naji also thanked his legal team and the members of Parliament who have spoken out on his behalf. Finally, he stressed the point that justice in this case must not be for him alone, but for all Egyptian creatives:
A lot of this solidarity wasn’t just about my own sorry person or Using Life but about people’s determination to live in a healthier society with a minimum of freedom of opinion and expression. It was also coming from people who are passionate about literature and who truly believe that literature can transcend national and ethnic borders. I never imagined that these people were so many, so concerned, so enthusiastic about the possibility of self-expression and about our love for literature. So thanks to all of those people I don’t know personally, because you opened my eyes to a world I supposed to be as brittle as glass when in truth it is as resilient as water.
Using Life is an experimental work that incorporates visual elements, including comics drawn by Ayman al-Zorkany. A 65-year-old reader claimed that the excerpt published in Akhbar al-Adab newspaper caused him to have heart palpitations, a drop in blood pressure, and severe illness because of its references to sexual acts and drug use. In addition to Naji’s prison sentence, the newspaper’s editor Tarek el-Taher also received a fine equivalent to about $1,300.
Check out Naji’s full message of thanks in English translation at the blog Arablit.org, where you can also find a translation of the excerpt from Using Life for which he was charged and convicted. The full novel in translation will be published in 2017 by the University of Texas Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Here’s hoping for continued good news after his next hearing this Sunday!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.