We are gravely concerned by the prison sentence handed down to author Ahmed Naji by a North Cairo court for a chapter from his novel deemed to “violate public morality.”
Artists and writers have been under the false impression that they are insulated from the fear-mongering regime that governs us, mistakenly believing that freedom of expression is protected by the articles of the Egyptian Constitution that guarantee it. But cases violating this basic right have been on the rise, with the one-year prison sentence against scholar Islam al-Beheiry, the three-year verdict handed down to poet Fatima Naoot, and now Ahmed Naji’s two-year jail term.
Egypt’s cultural community is no longer sheltered from the barrage of censorship, closures and imprisonment that has swept through the political sphere. Naji’s verdict has once again struck fear in the hearts of literary and cultural figures, serving as a clear example that what has been inflicted onto others can extend to them as well.
More importantly, this verdict proves that the state is willing to harness all its power to stifle Egyptian youth; its enemies are no longer just political activists and protest leaders, but anyone with the capacity to think differently.
In a country that has lost its political and economic power as a result of its own policies, and where little remains except its culture, a verdict against an author for a work of fiction should not be taken lightly and must be seen in the context of the police state’s continued attempts to intimidate. We are now dealing with a state that has lost much of its capital, including its cultural capital, which had long been valued both regionally and internationally. But even the purported stability that the state is so desperate to protect is at risk of collapsing, if it has not done so already. So what exactly is the conservative state defending?
The active minority that Naji belongs to is the group most able to effect change and find solutions far beyond the capacity of the country’s ageing rulers. It is a minority united in his defense as much as its defense of its own space for imagination. This minority will not be silent until Naji is released, and until imagination is declared innocent of “violating public morality.”