Egyptian Publisher Khaled Lufti Shortlisted for 2019 Prix Voltaire

Yesterday, the International Publishers Association (IPA) announced the five-person shortlist for the 2019 IPA Prix Voltaire, which includes jailed Egyptian publisher and bookseller Khaled Lutfi:

The Prix Voltaire, according to organizers, “rewards exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and in enabling others to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

It was in April 2018 that Khaled Lutfi — founder of Cairo’s Tanmia Bookshop and Publishing — was originally arrested and brought up on military charges. Yet his arrest, charges, and ensuing military trial were largely kept quiet through 2018.

In February 2019, Lutfi was sentenced to five years following a closed military trial. Only after his sentence did media reports begin to trickle out.

Lutfi was charged, according to reports, with the seemingly contradictory offenses of divulging military secrets and spreading rumors. At issue was his distribution of an Arabic translation of the book The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Uri Bar-Joseph. The book had already been translated to Arabic and published by Arab Scientific Publishers in Lebanon; Lutfi signed a deal to publish an Egyptian edition of the book.

The controversial book about is Ashraf Marwan (1944-2007), an Egyptian billionaire and son-in-law of Gamal Abdel Nasser who is alleged to have spied on Egypt for Israel. Egyptian officials deny that Marwan was a spy. There is also a film based on the book, The Angelwhich is available on Netflix MENA.

Lutfi opened the Tanmia Bookshop in 2011, one of many literary, library, and publishing projects that came in the wake of Egypt’s “January 25” uprising. The bookshop later spawned an acclaimed publishing house that brought out celebrated authors in translation — in 2016, Lutfi told Ursula Lindsey that two of his most popular titles were by George Orwell and Stephen Hawking — and original works in Arabic. They were publishers of a children’s book version of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Think of Others,” which won an Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2018.

The other four shortlisted for the Prix Voltaire are:

  • NB Publishers (South Africa)
  • Azadeh Parsapour (Iran/UK)
  • Tekin Publishing House (Turkey)
  • Moe Way / The Eras (Myanmar)

In a prepared statement, the IPA Freedom to Publish Committee chair Kristenn Einarsson said, “The work of these publishers is remarkable, working in extremely difficult circumstances to bring authors’ words and thoughts to readers. They have all demonstrated phenomenal courage and we are proud to recognise them in the 2019 IPA Prix Voltaire shortlist.”

The Freedom to Publish Committee will select the 2019 IPA Prix Voltaire winner and the award presentation will take place at the Seoul International Book Fair on Friday June 21. The prize comes with a CHF 10,000 (approximately $9,950 USD) award.

Last year’s Prix Voltaire went to publisher and bookseller Gui Minhai, currently being held in prison in China.