Why Novelist Youssef Ziedan Quits Egypt

Egyptian novelist Youssef Ziedan made a widely shared statement on Facebook yesterday: He will suspend “any cultural action or interaction in Egypt and the Arab world.”

220px-Youssef_ZiedanThis announcement came on the heels of a different announcement: Embattled Biblioteca Alexandrina director Ismail Serageldin was appointed as a special consultant to Egypt’s culture ministry.

As the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-winning novelist wrote in his statement, it is well-known that he and Serageldin have disagreed over the path of the Biblioteca, and that, as a result, Ziedan resigned from his position as director of the Manuscript Center and Museum two years before.

Ziedan further referred to the legal case pending against Serageldin, who has been on trial for three years on charges of squandering public monies. Despite these charges, Serageldin has continued to serve as the library’s director, a position he’s held since its opening in 2002.

Serageldin’s treatment stands in stark contrast to that of one of his former employees, the poet Omar Hazek. As the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information commented last month:

What seriously raises doubts about if the Egyptian government has a political will for the rule of law and fighting corruption, is that Omar Hazeq is still languishing in the Egyptian jails to serve two years besides a fine of EGP 50000 against the backdrop of expressing his opinion peacefully in a protest during the trial of Khaled Saeed’s killers. Meanwhile, Ismail Serag Al-Din, who is accused of financial and administrative irregularities, is still the head of Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Novelist Youssef Ziedan announced yesterday that he was taking a sort of action — removing himself from the Egyptian cultural sphere entirely.

“As of tonight,” Ziedan posted, “I will suspend any cultural action or interaction in Egypt and the Arab world, and I will stop writing my weekly column in Al-Ahram and Al-Watan (and any other newspaper). I will also retreat from any educational efforts, cultural salons, and seminars that take place in Cairo or Alexandria or other Egyptian cities.”

Ziedan further wrote: “I will not retract my decision as long as Ismail Serageldin remains in his position as director of the Biblioteca Alexandrina or he is acquitted by a court, and as long as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is in turn president of the Biblioteca, doesn’t interfere in this matter, which I see as evidence that any cultural effort in this country is futile.”

The post on Facebook had more than 900 shares and 800 comments, many of which urged Ziedan to reconsider his decision.

Ziedan most recently appeared at the Sharjah International Book Fair, where he spoke about the topic of culture and”globalization” alongside Justin Marozzi and Dr. Riyad N’asan Agha. Ziedan is the author of many academic works and four novels. His IPAF-winning Azazeel has been translated into English by Jonathan Wright.

Novelist Muhammad Aladdin’s Column Suspended

Meanwhile, Egyptian novelist Muhammad Aladdin announced on Facebook that he had been asked to “temporarily” stop writing his column for the private Al Shorouk newspaper after his editor was removed from his position.

Aladdin, who has been openly critical of Pres. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, only began writing the column this September.

The author did not think the suspension was related to his latest column, “Sword of Islam Abu Lahab,” which was to have aired yesterday.