Magdy El Shafee on the English Edition of ‘Metro,’ Censorship

My piece on the English edition of Magdy El Shafee’s Metro ran in the print edition of the Egypt Independent last week and is now online. Thanks to Magdy El Shafee and Chip Rossetti (Chip’s Q&A here) for answering my questions.

“Metro,” Magdy El Shafee’s fast-paced first graphic novel, is now available in Italian and in English. The heist thriller will soon be published in Lebanon in its original Arabic, but thanks to the Egyptian Court of Appeals, it is illegal to reprint the novel in Egypt — and it is not likely that imports will be allowed either.

“It is a lovely feeling to put on a feast for a group of close friends and family,” said Shafee, after the publication of his book’s English-language translation this June. “But when the food is snatched away from your relatives while all the dear guests are eating, there is also a feeling of powerlessness.”

“Metro,” published in Egypt in early 2008, is the story of Shehab, a young software designer struggling to feel human in a corrupt environment. As the book opens, he decides to rob a bank to solve his company’s financial problems. After all, he tells his friend Mustafa, they need not fear a successful bank robbery: “In this country, jail is for the poor.”

Shehab and Mustafa do manage to relieve a bank of US$5 million. But even this does not solve Shehab’s problems, which are not limited to his finances. There is also the sexual harassment of his girlfriend, Dina, government thugs attacking his protester friends, unsafe food and water, and a useless and corrupt police force. All this puts Shehab in “a lousy cage.”

This short thriller has a single page of sexual content — one that illuminates the relationship between Shehab and Dina. This page and some of the book’s language were the reasons officials gave for seizing the book in April 2008 and arresting Shafee and his publisher. The book, they said, harmed “public morals.”

But as Shafee has pointed out, many far racier books remain on the local market. Yet few paint as vivid a picture of corruption at the opening of the 21st century. And perhaps none are as accessible as “Metro,” which is written in a colloquial language that is spicy at times, and illustrated in Shafee’s hyper-kinetic, multi-layered, sometimes chaotic style.

The English-language translation of “Metro” is also a fun read. Keep reading the piece on EI.

Also: Metro is one of my “3 summer reads” choices on Your Middle East.

Read the extended version of the email Q&A* with El Shafee:

ArabLit: Will METRO be available in Arabic soon?
هو ممكن “مترو” يكون بالعربى قريب؟

Magdy El Shafee: There is currently a Lebanese edition, and another is on the way, but the Court of Appeals in Egypt has outlawed the reprinting of Metro inside the country.

– هناك طبعة لبنانية الان و أخرى فى الطريق و لكن داخل حدود مصر يعتبر اعادة طباعتها -خرقا للقانون- حسب قرار محكمة الاستئناف.

AL: How do you feel to have METRO in English & Italian but not Arabic? Many people want to buy it!
ايه شعورك لو عندك مترو بالانجليزى و الايطالى بس مفيش بالعربى ؟ فى ناس كتير عاوزة العربى 

MES: It’s a lovely feeling to put on a feast for a group of close friends and family.. But when the food is snatched away from your relatives while all the dear guests are eating, there’s also a feeling of powerlessness.

شعور جميل ان تعدى وليمة لمجموعة من الاصدقاء الاعزاء و لأسرتك طبعا معهم ، فيسحبون الاكل من امام اسرتك و يأكل كل الضيوف الاعزاء.. شعور بالعجز

AL: Did you read it in English? Are you happy with the translation?
انت قريته بالانجليزى ؟ انت مبسوط من الترجمة /عجبتك الترجمة؟

MES: I didn’t yet read the translation.

لسة لم اقرا الترجمة

AL: What are you working on now?
انت بتشتغل فى ايه دلوقتى؟

MES: I am working on a new novel which I hope to finish  in December.

بشتغل فى رواية جديدة أامل أنى أخلصها فى ديسمبر القادم.

AL: Are you afraid of censorship when you write now? Is it on your mind? More now because of Morsi?
انت بتخاف من الرقابة لما بتكتب ؟ الموضوع فى دماغك؟أكتر عن الحساب الرئيس الجديد؟ 

MES: The censor to get rid of is the one in my head. That is the most dangerous kind of censorship and all of us must work on its demise. Neither Morsi nor anyone one else will stand in the way of the destruction of  that  monster.

لرقيب بتخلص منه الرقيب اللى فى دماغى هو الأخطر و علينا ان نعمل جميعا للقضاء عليه تماما و مرسى او غيره لن يقف فى طريقى للقضاء على ذلك الوحش الخرافى

AL: What do you think will be the future of censorship in Egypt? Will censorship be stronger for comics?
هتكون الرقابة اقوى على الكوميكس؟ انت تفتكر مستقبل الرقابة هايكون ازاى فى مصر؟

MES: All in all, I am continuing with my work, and I’m not  worried about censorship. Anyone who thinks that he can censor me because he knows what’s in my best interest or that of other people needs his head examined.  Enough already with treating people as though they were unthinking children or idiots who need to be watched over.

عموما انا مستمر ف شغلى و لا يشغلنى موضوع الرقيب ..اى واحد يفكر انه رقيب عليا لأنه فاهم مصلحتى و مصلحة الناس اكتر منهم يبقى محتاج لعلاج.. كفاية بقى التعامل مع الناس من فوق على انهم اطفال قاصرين التفكير أو بلهاء
يحتاجون الرعاية الفكرية.

Thanks to Maia Tabet for cleaning up some of my translationese. Although the questions — and the layout problems — are my own fault.

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