Egypt’s censorship office has apparently confiscated copies of three books that entered the country on Saturday, sent from Beirut by acclaimed publishing house Al-Tanweer:
Introduction to Semiotics, by Ibn Rushd Freedom of Thought-award-winning Egyptian academic Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd
The Mabrouma, by International Prize for Arabic Fiction-award-winning Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber
In Praise of Love, by internationally regarded French philosopher Alain Badiou
All the other books shipped from Beirut were allowed in. According to a statement from Tanweer, which has operations in Beirut, Cairo, and Tunis, their books are printed in Beirut for reasons related to quality and cost.
It was the shipping company that informed Al-Tanweer that their books had been confiscated, according to Daily News Egypt. The books will remain “confiscated” for a week before a final decision is made on whether or not they will be allowed into Egypt.
According to Daily News Egypt, Sherif Joseph Rizk, manager of Al-Tanweer’s Cairo branch, said that the publishing house “recieved the books after we signed an agreement not to distribute them.” Rizk suggestioned, “They might have been a bit sceptical about the titles so they decided to confiscate the books and check them.”
Although one has to wonder how far they’ll get in Introduction to Semiotics.
There’s no clear reason why they would hold back Jaber’s The Mabrouma, named for a building in Beirut. It’s already available in Cairo in a longer version, The Birds of Holiday Inn.
“The whole thing is absurd,” Rizk told Daily News Egypt. “I, personally, am against any form of censorship, except in limited cases that are related to national security.”
Rizk was not the only one who found the decision absurd; novelist Sonallah Ibrahim reportedly called it a foolish, stupid act and said that all artists and thinkers in Egypt would stand against it.
Although there has been some speculation on why these particular books were chosen, Lamia Mahmoud, director of research unit at ANHRI, told Daily News Egypt that there were no declared reasons for the confiscation decision and thus “there is no case that our legal unit can work on.”
Speculation focused on controversy around Abu Zayd’s writing on Islam. In 1993, the author was ruled “an apostate.” The Egyptian Islamic Jihad threatened his life, and the author left Egypt. Several of his books, including Discourse and Hermeneutics, have been widely banned. Abu Zayd, according to Samir Abuzaid, was in favor of “reinterpreting religious texts in view of modern and contemporary scientific metholdology and in light of its cultural, social, and political contexts.”
Abu Zayd was recognized with the Ibn Rushd’s Forum’s Award for Freedom of Thought in 2005. He returned several times to Egypt after his initial flight, and he died at a Cairo hospital on July 5, 2010.
Al Tanweer publishes a wide range of influential books, both written in Arabic and translated into the language. They recently have been showing interest in graphic novels, publishing both The Story of Zahra, by Amir and Khalil, and Footnotes in Gaza, by Joe Sacco, in translation.