It’s the International Day of Readings for Ahmed Naji, an Egyptian novelist in prison for two years because an excerpt of his novel Using Life (Istikhdam al-Hayah) was found guilty of “violating public morals.” The “day” will continue to echo, and will include a “day of blogging for Naji” on May 16, which is when Naji receives his free-speech award from PEN American in absentia; a reading in Oslo on the 20th; and a radio program in Slovenian on the 22nd:
The readings began yesterday, outside Amsterdam. Most are today, May 12 (the list is here). Texts being read include:
- Excerpts of Naji’s novel in the original Arabic, as well as French, Spanish, Italian (available in print), Dutch, Turkish, Russian, Slovenian (to be published after radio dramatization), German, and Finnish.
- A poem from slain Egyptian poet-activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, “A Letter in My Purse,” trans. Maged Zaher
- Poems by Omar Hazek, who spent nearly two years in prison for violating Egypt’s anti-protest law
- “Blind,” by Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot, trans. Kees Nijland. Naoot was sentenced to three years for “insulting Islam” in a Facebook post.
Numerous other journalists, photojournalists, satirists, and others are also in prison or facing jail time; novelist Ibrahim Faghali has asked that writer-scholar Islam el Behairy not be forgotten.
If you are not near an event, do take a photograph of yourself reading, or record audio or video, and share. Scottish PEN is also hosting their first-ever Twitter book club to discuss the excerpt. They write:
We will be releasing six questions about the book that we would like you to discuss. To take part, simply tweet your answer and tag @ScottishPEN in your response. We will retweet our favourite answers on our page.
Jenifer Evans at Mada Masr: “Global solidarity readings for Ahmed Naji to increase pressure on Egypt.”
Writer Tarek Ghanem has imagined his way into the scene where Naji is found pre-emptively guilty in “Hala and the Dinosaur.”
More at the Facebook group “Egypt Art on Trial.”