The “Egypt Art on Trial” goup announced today that they have finally obtained a copy of the court’s reasoning for the two-year prison sentence of novelist Ahmed Naji, author of the graphic novel-prose hybrid Using Life, in Case No. 120 of 2016, as issued by the Boulaq Abou El Ela Misdemeanors Court of Appeals:
Naji was sentenced last month, along with his editor, who received a 10,000LE fine.
Commenting on the argument that Article 178 of the Penal Code [the basis of Ahmed Naji’s conviction] is unconstitutional, the court stated that it is the only competent authority to assess the validity of a plea of unconstitutionality, and it decides, at its absolute discretion, whether to suspend the claim in order to raise an unconstitutionality claim or not.
The court further leaned not just on the protection of the public’s morals and modesty, in its ruling, stating that this was to “protect society and the moral dignity of those whose foundation is religion, ethics and patriotism.”
The court gave itself a tremendously wide berth stating that The Constitution itself stipulates in Article 10 that “The family is the nucleus of society, and is founded on religion, morality and patriotism. The State shall ensure its cohesion, and stability and the establishment of its values.”
It further suggested Naji’s “creativity” had been “promoting vice and vulgarity”:
“Where is the creativity in the expressions used by the defendant in his book?”, proclaimed the court, “expressions which violate modesty while promoting vice and vulgarity.”
The court also gave itself a wide right to determine who gets to be a writer, saying Article 67 was not designed to protect those “corrupting morals with their poisoned pens under the guise of freedom of thought.”
As to the defense that language like Naji’s had been used throughout classical Arabic literature, the court decided that in “those instances, the usage of those expressions was warranted by necessity, which is not the case in the defendant’s writing which contradicts the values of Egyptian society.”
The court found that Naji’s “essentially obscene expressions and phrases” were in breach of the “rules” for freedom of thought. The decision stands that “such freedom must remain within the limits of the basic foundations of society, namely religion and tradition, and moral values embedded in Egyptian society.”
You can read the whole, depressing summary on Facebook.
Better, though, read an excerpt of Naji’s novel, trans. Ben Koerber.