Remembering Novelist Idris Ali, Critic of Ghaddafi

It is unfortunate that Egyptian novelist Idris Ali, who died last November, could not have lived to see uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

Although the pioneering Nubian author did shake hands with former president Hosni Mubarak upon his acceptance of a “Best Egyptian Novel” award in 1999, Ali was strongly rebuked by the state in 2010 when his final book was banned. His last book, a short work titled The Leader is Getting a Haircut, was seized because Egyptian State Security Investigations [SSI] considered it insulting to the fuzzy-headed Moammar Ghaddafi.

The 130-page book was based on Ali’s four years as a foreign worker in Libya, and describes Egyptians toiling there under inhumane conditions. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the book “included testimonies of Libyans about social life there and how it was affected by repression under the rule of Colonel Gaddafi.”

The book was released in late 2009 and seized in January 2010 at the Cairo International Book Fair. The publisher was also arrested. The Leader Was Getting a Haircut has not been translated into English, although two of Ali”s novels, Dongola (trans. Peter Theroux) and Poor (trans. Elliott Colla), were published in English by AUC Press.

An ANHRI news release said that this seizure and harassment echoed “what happened in Alexandria back in 2006, when SSI [State Security Investigations] forced a young female blogger to delete a critical post of Gaddafi. She was threatened to be arrested if she contacted any human rights organization or the press. As a result, the young lady stopped blogging for good.”

In other banning news:

This Foreign Policy snippet is from last November, but is still relevant: Jordan’s Most Popular Banned Books