Novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji, author of The Use of Life, and Akhbar al-Adab editor Tarek al-Taher were both acquitted on Saturday of charges of “harming public morality”:
Naji and Akhbar al-Adab editor-in-chief Tarek al-Taher were referred to a criminal court because of “obscene sexual content” of an excerpted chapter of his novel, The Use of Life (استخدام الحياة), which was published in 2014 in the newspaper. The novel — a graphic-novel-and-prose hybrid — has been on sale at major bookshops for a year.
The novel itself was never on trial, but a single chapter that, according to a criminal complaint, gave a reader blood-pressure problems.
According to Mada Masr, “detailed reasoning of the verdict is yet to be released,” but lawyer Mahmoud Othman told the newspaper that the plaintiffs didn’t have the right to file the case in the first place. “They claimed that they represent society, which is not the case,” Othman said. “Only prosecution has this right.”
The defense team also presented evidence from “early Arabic and Islamic literature where the same terms that Naji used in his novel were used,” Mada Masr reported.
Indeed, Naji’s novel excerpt, although apparently disturbing to one reader’s blood pressure, is not particularly shocking in the wider context of Egyptian literature. Writers such as Youssef Rakha, Nael Eltoukhy, Mohamed Rabie, and Naji have been working to revitalize literary language through redeploying a wilder, raunchier, grittier classical Arabic that has been largely erased from literary use.
Othman also told Mada Masr that the testimonies of former culture minister Gaber Asfour, head of the writers union Mohamed Salmawy, and internationally acclaimed novelist Sonallah Ibrahim also strengthened his case.
The lawyers who raised the case had demanded the maximum penalty, which is two years in prison.
Reaction on Twitter was largely relief: