Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Bad news

Soha Hesham bemoans two losses

Bad news
Bad news
Al-Ahram Weekly

The prominent Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Deeb died last Thursday at the age 77 at the Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo. Al-Deeb was born in 1939 in Cairo to a literate family. His elder brother Badr (1926-2005) was a novelist and a critic who shaped Alaa’s cultural formation. Alaa graduated from the Faculty of Law, Cairo University, in 1960. He started his career in journalism with a weekly column Assir Al-Kutub (Book Juice) in Sabah Al-Kheir magazine, which was then a major general-interest outlet. 

Al-Deeb wrote his first collection of short stories Al-Qahira (Cairo) in 1964. A year later he wrote the screenplay of Shady Abdel-Salam’s 1965 landmark The Night of Counting the Years. He has been described as Egypt’s Noble writer. Al-Deeb is best known for his autobiography Waqfa Qabl Al-Monhadar: Min Awrak Mothakaf Masri (A Stop Before the Decline: Papers of an Egyptian Intellectual), which opens with the lines, “These are real papers, fresh blood flowing from a new wound. Writing it was an alternative to committing suicide.”

Al-Deeb published six novels: Zahr Al-Laymoun (Lemon Flowers, 1978), Attfal Bila Demou (Children Without Tears, 1989), Qammar Ala Al-Mostankaa (Moon Over the Swamp, 1993), Oyoun Al-Banafseg (Violet Eyes, 1999) and Ayam Wardiya (Rosy Days, 2000). He also wrote five collections of short stories; Al-Qahira (Cairo, 1964), Sabah Al-Gomaa (Friday Morning, 1970), Al-Musafir Al-Abadi (The Immortal Traveller, 1999), Al-Sheikha and Al-Hosan Al-Agwaf (The Hollow Horse). He also continued to write his book review column Assir Al-Kutub (Book’s Juice) in various publications. He was awarded the State’s Appreciation Award for Literature in 2001.  

Al-Deeb translated numerous literary and political works including Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, the Tao te ching and selections of Henry Miller’s novels. 

***

Last Saturday, the young Egyptian writer and journalist Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for publishing a sexually explicit chapter of his novel Istikhdam Al-Haya (or Using Life) in the literary weekly  Akhbar Al-Adab (the book itself was published by Dar Al-Tanweer). The editor in chief of Akhbar Al-Adab Tarek Al-Taher was fined LE10,000 in the same case. 

The trial started after a legal complaint was filed against Naji by one of the newspaper’s readers, Hani Saleh Tawfik, who claimed that the text had caused him palpitations and a drop in blood pressure, prompting anger in the literary community and calls to defend freedom of expression. On 14 November 2015, Naje was charged with offending public morality, of which the court acquitted him on 2 January, 2016. The prosectors appealed the case, however, and Naji was moved to the Torah Prison on the evening of Tuesday.

The Press Syndicate has since called on the prosecutor-general to suspend the sentence on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to send anyone to prison on a publication charge. A number of petitions to free Naje have been circulating on the internet and are being signed. The weekly cultural newspaper Al-Qahera published its weekly issue on 23 February with a blank white cover holding only a title at the foot of the page, under the slogan that has come to be associated with the case: “No to the trial of the imagination.” Naji was held at the Boulaq Abul-Ela’s Police Station, where he was allowed visits and reportedly well treated.

Intellectuals, notably during a meeting at the offices of Merit Publishing House, expressed their rejection of the sentence, calling it a threat to multiplicity and creativity and accusing Minister of Culture Helmi Al-Namnam of failing to protect freedom of expression. The Merit meeting called for forming a body to defend the rights of writers, decrying what many have described as a larger campaign against writers, journalists and intellectuals. One petition to free Naji was signed by Ahdaf Soueif, Alaa Al-Aswani, Adel Al-Siwi, Shakir Abdel-Hamid and Hala Al-Koussi, among many others

On Wednesday Naji’s publishing house Dar Al-Tanweer held a solidarity conference at its downtown headquarters, while the Egyptian publishers association expressed its concern and demanded the suspension of the sentence. 

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