Freedom of expression is once again under attack in Egypt. Last week, pressure from authorities forced the shutdown of best-selling Egyptian author Alaa al-Aswany’s monthly seminar “Conspiracy Theory between Reality and Illusion” at Jesuit’s Cultural Center in Alexandria. The move is intended to keep Aswany from discussing how the Egyptian government manipulates the public.
Since his career started, the author of the award-winning novel The Yacoubian Building and a contributing opinion writer for The International New York Times, has been actively using his work as a vehicle to talk about social and political changes in Egypt. Although Aswany’s books have received critical acclaim internationally, domestically the Egyptian government has been using its authoritative power to suppress the author from voicing his opinion on the state of Egypt.
The seminar, which was scheduled for December 10, was abruptly cancelled after the cultural center received orders from authorities to shut it down. Although no explicit reasons have been given, Aswany notes this as one of many attacks he has been subjected to by authorities in recent years. Whereas once Aswany would be the guest of TV shows or contributed weekly articles to the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, recent changes in the government have resulted in a more blatant censorship attempts against the author. “A friend of mine, a very famous anchor, told me they don’t want me to appear on TV,” recounts Aswany. And newspapers have explicitly indicated “that they’re under pressure and that they’re unable to have a contract with me.”
“The state has dozens of newspapers and satellite channels that speak on its behalf and defend its stances, so why it wastes the citizen’s right to hold a seminar that is attended by scores or hundreds,” said Aswany to The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information in response to the cancellation. “Do not we have the right to express our views and hold a seminar to discuss our country’s affairs?”
Aswany isn’t the only Egyptian author who has been receiving heat from the government. Writer Ahmed Naji is currently facing a 2 year jail sentence and approximately $1,245 fine for publishing an excerpt from his book The Use of Life which prosecutors deemed in violation of public morals. Although Naji’s lawyer is challenging the constitutionality of the laws that authorities are using to convict the author, Naji and Aswany are just two authors who have become targets of censors. “Freedom of expression is at its lowest point, worse than in the days of Hosni Mubarak,” said Aswany to the Associate Press.
Supporters of both authors, though, aren’t just sitting back. Instead, organizations like The Arabic Network for Human Right Information (ANHRI) are using these recent cases to present to the world the types of injustices being committed against free speech in Egypt.
“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, to cancel his seminar, and to stifle his right to express his opinions,” said Executive Director of the ANHRI Gamal Eid. “In addition to depriving his audience of meeting and talking with him. 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.”
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!