With everyone talking about Banned Books Week days even after it’s over, I’ve decided to educate Egyptians who don’t know what it is. Today’s banned books are tomorrow’s classics. They come in all shapes, and sizes, across all genres. All you need to do is skim the list of banned books and you are bound to recognize most of the titles. Still most countries today find reasons to ban, even laid-back countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Language, sexuality, violence, religion and politics are some of the reasons why countries ban books.
In Egypt, you never know what will hit a nerve with censors. You are officially told you are allowed to print anything without getting the censors’ approval, but if you do anything that is deemed to be offensive to the religious authorities of the country or to state security, then all copies will be withdrawn from bookshelves and pulped, and the publisher runs the risk of being fined a substantial sum, not to mention what will happen to the writer. I believe that “books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance”. So do your bit, participate and read, but first here are five Egyptian books that have been banned in 2016.
Use of Life by Ahmed Naji
If you haven’t heard of Ahmed Naji, then you have been hiding under a rock somewhere without Internet. Naji’s two-year prison sentence for the excerpt that was published in the literary magazine Akhbar-Al-Adab has been reported all over the world. The judicial sentence accused him of violating public modesty/morality through profane language. The latest campaign for Naji’s release was on September 15th to celebrate his 31st birthday #NajiBirthday. Although he’s still in prison you can easily download his book as a PDF. Also if you know how to read Italian, the Italian translation of the book has just been released and can be found on amazon.
The Book of Sands: A Novel of the Arab Uprising by Karim Alrawi
The fact that The Book of Sands is the first book by an Egyptian author to win The Harper Collins Publishers Prize for Best New Fiction should be reason enough for you to read it. Alrawi tweeted this year that “just heard copies of Book of Sands were seized by the state censor at Cairo airport, denying it entry to Egypt.” There is no clear reason for it being banned but all of Alrawi’s plays, and books were banned, so it seems that although we had a revolution once as a writer you are on a list of bans – it’s practically impossible to be removed.
Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution by Basma Hamdy and Don Karl
The street art and graffiti book is a result of a lot of hard work and a successful crowdfunding campaign. It brings together 100 photographers, 50 artists and 20 writers to tell the story of Egypt’s revolution. It’s my favorite Revolution book because it doesn’t just stop at those 18 days. It’s divided into 2011-2012-2013 and really shows how the revolution lives on. It was banned out of fear that it is “instigating revolt” and “inciting violence”.
Where is God? by Karam Saber
Saber was sentenced to a 5 years prison sentence for contempt and defamation of religion, and encouraging atheism. His book is a collection of short stories about poor farmers in Egypt.
The Egyptians: A Radical Story by Jack Shenker
Jack Shenker is an award winning Guardian journalist, he knows Egypt inside out and understands that “as a writer you are viewed as for the regime or against the regime.” That’s why he wasn’t surprised when his book was banned, and then in July 2016, to everyone’s surprise the ban was lifted. Shenker’s official statement on the issue can be read here. When you have award-winning writers like Ahdaf Soueif and Naom Chomsky saying they couldn’t put this book down, you know it’s a book you must read.
WE SAID THIS: Open amazon, order your books, enjoy our ability to be free of government censors and bans, and read a banned book.