Egypt's first graphic novelist Magdi al-Shafei is set to face charges of publication and distribution of publications contrary to public morals over his Metro book.
If convicted, Shafei and his Malamah publisher could face up to two years in prison for violating articles 178 and 198 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which punish publications contrary to public decency. These are the same laws that are used
to prosecute pornography.
The controversy started last April, when police broke into the publishing house and confiscated all copies of the book. They then went to all bookstores and took the novel from the shelves.
The raiders were from the Vice Squad, or discipline police, who have been more active recently in their attempts to rid society of unnecessary material.
Their interest in Shafei has surprised many observers. The discipline police do not usually deal in such affairs as censorship. The discipline police are a sector of the ministry of interior who deal with prostitution mainly and a few other
The novel deals with politically sensitive issues, but what may have sparked government interest is the limited sexual content of the book. Many surmise that the government may be using the sex as a scapegoat to keep the politics from reaching a
Leading the legal attack against Shafei and Malamah is a ruling National Democratic Party lawyer who last year also filed a number of lawsuits against journalists, including against outspoken Al-Dustour editor Ibrahim Eissa.
Rawda Ahmed, the lawyer in the legal counsel unit for the freedom of expression at the human rights organisation, ANHRI, said: if we allowed police officers or clergy to prosecute literary works, that would completely kill creativity and
freedom of expression. The violation by police of freedom of expression in Egypt is not unusual, but the acceptance of the Public Prosecutor to initiate this lawsuit is completely absurd.
It's a hard fact that all authors, journalists and bloggers are having to deal with on a daily basis in Egypt: the government is cracking down on freedom of speech. The most recent case to run the press rounds is the country's first graphic
novel, Metro . Ruling National Democratic Party agents are attempting to throw the author in jail and ban the book from being purchased in Egypt. A hard truth for aspiring writers.
The case has been postponed until October, so the year and a half drama continues.
It highlights the ongoing difficulties of writing one's opinions, whether they are fiction or non-fiction, in the country.
And to think Egypt had a blossoming literary industry not too long ago. No more.
Three Egyptian Human Rights Organizations stated that the Court ruling of imposing a fine on Metro's author and publisher and confiscating the novel is a step backwards to the freedom of expression, and this decision will be appealed to
assert our rights.
The Misdemeanor Court of Qasr El Nile has ruled that the author, Magdi El Shafai , and the publisher , Mohamed El Sahrqawi , of the novel Metro , each should pay a fine of 5,000 pounds, in addition, to confiscating the novel.
The case started in April 2008 when the Vice Squad (a body of the Ministry of Interior) collected hundreds of copies of the novel Metro after storming El Malemeh printing house and some libraries that sell the novel. The squad issued
arrest warrants to the public prosecutor against El Shafai and El Sahrqawi to investigate with them. The ruling of the president of the Court of South Cairo was the collection and confiscation of the novel from the market and the prosecution of
El Shafai and El Sahrqawi for making and publishing something that was regarded immoral to the public; since the former wrote the novel that contains immoral statements and the latter for publishing and distributing it.
Human rights organizations, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Association of Freedom of thought and expression and Hisham Mubarek Law Center, have signed this statement to confirm their continuous support to artists and calls
people care about freedom of expression to show their solidarity to the author and publisher of Metro , especially since it's the first graphic novel in Egypt and have received many awards and appraisals from critics. The organizations
also state that criticizing literary work shouldn't be held in courts.
After years of waiting, arrests and a court case against Magdy el-Shafie, his Metro graphic novel will finally see widespread publishing in his country after the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak and the regime that cracked down on
Shafie's Metro was originally written in 2008, but was quickly banned by the regime and the author was convicted of offending public decency after a lengthy trial.
The controversy started in April 2008, when police broke into the publishing house and confiscated all copies of the book. They then went to all bookstores and took the novel from the shelves, without warrant.
The novel deals with politically sensitive issues and what may have sparked government interest is the limited sexual content of the book. For many, it came as no surprise that the government was using this as a scapegoat to keep politics from
reaching a wider audience.