At a recent news conference, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights noted that, two years after January 25, many abuses of state power continue.
Censorship is among these abuses: Attacks on journalists have been growing (see: Index on Censorship, AFP, others). Lawsuits against journalists, creatives, and commentators for “insulting the president” have reached, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, a “112-year high.” Even the English-language press, traditionally freer, is being squeezed: Apparently Hani Shukrallah, the editor of Ahram Online, is being pushed into early “retirement.”
(Presumably this was the reason for the “lack of solidarity” yesterday when there were threats directed at the Muslim Brotherhood’s paper.)
Certainly, all the problems in Egypt’s cultural sector cannot be laid at the doorstep of censorship, nor of the Muslim Brotherhood. Theater director Galal El-Sharkawy told Al-Ahram last December that Egyptian theater simply continues its downward spiral. “But this is due to the Mubarak regime; what we witness today is a continuity of ending the arts in Egypt.”
Still — despite the beauties of a number of visual-art projects that have sprung up in the last two years, and the surge in revolution-themed narratives — censorship, instability, and fear of censorship create a difficult environment for longer-form artistic developments.
Those who support censorship in Egypt also might be able to count on help from John Brennan, who has been nominated by the US President Barack Obama to run the CIA. Apparently, Brennan’s 1980 graduate thesis at the University of Texas argued for increased state censorship in his case study, Egypt.
Not everyone is pessimistic. Publisher Sherif Bakr, of Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing, looks forward to more books on more new subjects in 2013, more translations, new independent bookstores, and “more professionalism” in book production. And in a recent interview with Mai Elwakil and Andeel at the Egypt Independent, pioneering political cartoonist Amro Selim remained steadfast:
We need to constantly push the boundaries whether they are set by society, the political regime or even a newspaper’s editors. If people equate your critique of a bearded political Islamist figure with atheism, then you must do it more, all the time, on purpose.
This is ground that we are gaining. It is a battle with possible lawsuits and threats. But we must continue.
We went through a lot to be able to draw the president every day. We won ground under Mubarak’s rule. At the beginning of Al-Dostour, I told them that we must shatter the god-like image of the ruler who we cannot draw.
We started drawing him from the back, and bit-by-bit we turned him around, until making a cartoon of him became the norm. Then we drew his sons, Gamal and Alaa.
We were very happy when these cartoons were published. Before that, if Mubarak were ever represented, it would be with Egypt holding him like her beloved son.
We have come a long way in a society that asked us to “respect” the ruler. Now, they want us to go back.
When you see people dying or losing their eyes and limbs, you find yourself addressing topics fiercely. When you hear about the virginity tests and find the authorities and public defending them, I feel we have to strike back with the same intensity, even if some will be offended. Society will not change unless you challenge it.
As for editorial policies, they can be navigated through a mixture of negotiations and subtlety. I believe there is a communication channel between cartoonists and readers that even editors might miss. It is amusing to experiment with overcoming censorship.
And poetry for the Second Anniversary, from Mostafa Ibrahim:
Ibrahim’s collection of colloquial poetry, inspired by the first Jan 25 uprising, was recently published by BQFP.