‘Major Victory Against Censorship in Lebanon’

It was not long ago that playwright Lucien Bourjeily (@lucienbourjeily), nominated for a 2014 Index Freedom of Expression Award for his censored play “Is It Permitted or Not,” announced that he’d been prevented from traveling to perform another play in London:


But shortly after, Lebanese security released Bourjeily’s passport, and now MARCH, a Lebanese anti-censorship organization, has reported a “major victory” against censorship:

After a long battle with the censorship authorities, we are excited to announce that the sequel of the censored play “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3”, “La 3younak Sidna” produced by MARCH and directed by Lucien Bourjeily was approved by General Security!

As MARCH member Gino Raidy notes over at his blog, the battle between playwrights and the General Security’s Censorship Bureau has been going on for more than a year. It began when a play about censorship in Lebanon “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3” (Is It Permitted or Not”) was censored.

Bourjeily and his company attempted to perform it on university campuses to invited audiences rather than in public theatres. But, according to the Index on Censorship, censors still pursued them. “Two officers from the bureau turned up at a university show and broke up the performance.”

As Raidy writes, “the former team at the Censorship Bureau” then launched “a vicious and juvenile media attack, citing anonymous critics’ opinions as reason enough to justify their ban (‘expert opinions’ included that the “language was too poor’ and that the writers ‘did not have the necessary mental capacity and maturity.’)”

So what next?

Bourjeily and MARCH were unwilling to give up, and wrote a follow-up play, called “La 3younak Sidna,” (“For Your Eyes Only”) about how “Is It Permitted or Not” was banned. “We also included basically the entire script of the original, plus what happened before and after we applied for approval,” Raidy wrote.

In an interview with the Daily StarBourjeily said that “one of [their] arguments … was, ‘It’s not real to life. It’s a fiction.’… We thought, ‘Okay, let’s follow your suggestion. Let’s do kind of a docu-play about what happened with us and this play.’ We’ll channel our frustration into the second play. If that gets banned, we’ll channel our frustration into a third play, and maybe one day the 10th sequel of ‘Will It Pass or Not?’ will be accepted and then we’ll throw a great party.”

But it’s only the second play that’s now been approved “fully as-is.” Raidy writes that the group was “flabbergasted,” although also noting that the censorship bureau staff has in the meantime changed.

Bourjeily posted a statement on Facebook:

This resounding Public Pressure success proves one thing: is that many times in Lebanon we’ve given up on our homeland just moments before we reach a better country… just moments before we succeed in breaking the chains of oppression and corruption… this time we won’t & we shouldn’t!! … THANK YOU… each & everyone of you for standing up against censorship & supporting freedom of speech! One small strategic battle WON: hopefully many others will follow!!

The new play is set to debut soon at the American University of Beirut.

Read an excerpt from the first play (in translation):

“Will It Pass or Not?” trans. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp