Censorship Encroaching, But Egypt’s World of Books Still Relatively Free

A number of readers were interested in the “On the Second Anniversary: Censorship Concerns” that ran on Jan. 25. The blog “Egypt Source” was interested in a follow-up. 

From this year's Cairo International Book Fair. Credit Elisabeth Jaquette.
From this year’s Cairo International Book Fair. Credit Elisabeth Jaquette.

Excerpted from Egypt Source:

In an interview earlier this year, veteran journalist and novelist Ibrahim Eissa said that, “Before it used to be a fight against political oppression. Now it will be political and religious oppression. The literary text will have to face this.”

Yet, as of this moment, the book publishing industry has not had to face any new restrictions.

Books have long been printed in Egypt without direct oversight from the Censor’s office. Some printing shops, and print-shop employees, have created their own strict rules about sexual and religious content, but these can usually be overturned with a small bribe. Occasionally, once a book hits shelves, legal cases are brought against its author and publisher, and both can be fined or jailed.

But it is only imported books that must go through the Egyptian Censor’s office. These must be individually checked, and are sometimes modified or rejected. As the new AUC Press Director Dr. Nigel Fletcher-Jones noted, “That’s another reason for going digital of course, because once the traffic is not physical anymore, things become somewhat easier.”

But the Censor’s office, for the time being, does not seem to have gotten any tougher. Several publishers have said that they have noticed no increase in book censorship, apart from self-censorship.

Sherif Bakr, of Al Arabi Publishing and Distribution, even noted positive signs. Copies of Ibrahim Farghali’s 2009 novel, Sons of Gebelawi, were confiscated by censors in the spring of 2011 while coming back from a book fair abroad. Yet this year, it has won the prestigious Sawiris Award. Magdy al-Shafee’s graphic novel Metro, which was banned in 2008, has now been republished and is on sale in Cairo.

“Personally what I noticed walking through the [Cairo International Book] Fair,” Bakr said, “is that some publishers are publishing books with more sex and political views to challenge the system and to prove [that they can], or provoke the Islamic movement, challenging them to take any action against them.” Read the full blog on Egypt Source>>

Also of interest:

Amid increasing censorship, Georges Bahgory reflects on bygone artistic era