Happy Police Day!

No, it’s not irony. Nor is it a straightforward celebration of “police” and “security.” Not that security is necessarily a bad thing: I do applaud the Egyptian police for doing this.

The holiday’s origins are decidedly anti-colonial: My son came home from school with a story about how three (?) policemen stopped the British from taking over Egypt. But the holiday has become something more, inspiring protests against police violence and presidential crackdown speeches. So, to commemorate, why not look at some literature about Egyptian prisons?

Sabry Hafez has a quick overview of the Arabic prison-lit genre, although there is a good deal more, including Fadhil Al-Azzawi’s Cell Block 5 and Sinaan Antoon’s recent I’jaam.

Egyptian prison-lit available in English:

Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, by Nawal el Saadawi. I remember her plastic, urine-smelling mattress quite vividly. El Saadawi is a writer not to be missed.

From a different perspective—and in a less literary vein—Zainab al-Ghazali, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes about her time in prison in Return of the Pharaoh: Memoir in Nasir’s Prison.

*How do you celebrate Police Day? *I woke up at dawn, searched my flat and wrecked it…then I gave myself a slap…and slept.

Salwa Bakr’s The Golden Chariot Won’t Ascend to Heaven is also particularly interested in female prisoners. An excerpt, In the Golden Chariot Things Will Be Better, is available in English.

Gamal al-Ghitani’s The Zafarani Files does many things; one of them is to focus on a man just out of prison and the state security apparatus that’s watching him.

Sonallah Ibrahim’s The Committee does not feature literal police and prisons so much as an overwhelming sense of socio-political imprisonment. But his 1966 novella, The Smell of It, is the story of a man’s release from prison and the alienation he faces. The book was translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, but is out of print and very hard to find in English.

Writer Ursula Lindsay notes that Ibrahim’s first writings were on cigarette papers while in prison between 1959 and 1964.

And, most of all, I sincerely hope this Police Day finds former government clerk Mounir Said Hanna Marzuq well. He received a three-year sentence in 2009 for a satirical poem he penned about Hosni Mubarak.

Part of his poem:

Shine, shine whom you shine on all of us
Shine, shine whom you shine wherever you go
No one can shine like you shine
You made people feel confused and lost
You made people feel happy and lost

Police Day around the Internet (including a proper history of the holiday):