Egypt’s War on Books

Reed Matar
Egyptian Journalist
February 8, 2022
The Cairo International Book Fair attracted record crowds, despite the many banned books and silenced voices of writers and publishers. Some have been deported from the country altogether. Meanwhile, the Saudi pavilion had no fears of being accused of extremism.

The Cairo International Book Fair opened its doors on January 26 welcoming publishers from various Arab countries and a crowd of some 91,000 visitors.The cultural feast made some noise, but behind the noise were other muffled voices, as some publishing houses were banned from participating, while others were literally expelled.

Tanmia

The Egyptian General Book Organization refused to grant Egyptian publisher and bookshop Tanmia approval to exhibit at the fair for the third consecutive year.The ban comes as a double punishment following the arrest of founder Khaled Lotfy in 2018 for issuing the Egyptian edition of the book The Angel: the Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel about Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

A military court gave Lofty a five-year prison sentence for disclosing military secrets and spreading fake news, even though the book had already been available in Arabic in both paper and electronic format since 2016. In 2018, the book was made into a movie for Netflix.

The case dates back to September 2017, when a police force stormed Tanmia and arrested an employee on the pretext of violating publishing standards by publishing and distributing the aforementioned book. All 2,000 copies of the book were destroyed.

In December 2017, Tanmia officials were surprised to learn that the case had been referred to a military instead of an economic court, which normally settles disputes related to intellectual property and violating publishing standards.

Lotfy was sentenced to 5 years in October 2018. The verdict was upheld in February 2019. During the Cairo book fair this year, Tanmia ran a parallel exhibition at its headquarters, offering discounts higher than the discounts offered at the fair.

Arab Network for Research and Publishing

The second day of the fair witnessed tearing down the banners of the Arab Network for Research and Publishing (ANRP). Its employees were forced to leave in a humiliating manner. ANRP director Nawaf Al-Qadimi last December had announced the closure of the network’s branches in Egypt due to security restrictions.

“After ten years, in December 2021, we closed the network’s bookshop in Cairo,” Qadimi said in a statement.

“Two months prior to that, the bookshop in Alexandria was closed. Unfortunately, we could not continue for several reasons, including the continuous security restrictions, harassment, frequent searches, a legal case against the network, concern for the employees after two of them were detained for two days, and the tight control over the entry of books. One shipment of books, which was sent from Beirut and contained 90 cartons worth over $40,000, was held in customs for a year and a half under the pretext of searching them. With the tightening control, the disruption of shipments and the difficulty of accessing books in the bookshop, it became too difficult to continue.”

Qadimi had announced on his personal web page that he had approval to display at the Cairo International Book Fair this year. He was stunned to see his employees and books forced to leave.

ANRP has played a cultural role in Egypt for ten years. It opened its first bookshop in downtown Cairo in 2011, followed by a store in Alexandria in 2016. Which greatly affected the bookselling market. The company continued to display books even after its director Qadimi was banned from entering Egypt in 2017. The recent detention of two bookshop workers forced him to close, fearing for the safety of its employees.

Bisan Adwan

For the second consecutive year, publisher Bissan Adwan was absent from the Cairo International Book Fair. A co-founder of the Ibn Rushd Printing and Publishing House, Adwan was forcibly displaced from Egypt in March 2020

Charged with “atheism,” the accusation conceals a fierce political rivalry, as Adwan is one of Egypt’s opposition voices. Daraj contacted Adwan days after her deportation to Turkey.

“The security slander within the Egyptian cultural sector is enormous and dangerous, and settling scores may lead to the deportation of opponents,’ she then said.

“This ruling contradicts many of the international agreements that Egypt has signed, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the right to freedom of expression,” Bisan Adwan said in a statement at the time.

“Freedom of speech applies to ideas of any kind, including those that may be considered very offensive,” she said. “This ruling exposes me to many risks, including being killed on charges of blasphemy. My deportation is in fact about my political views on the Palestinian issue and my defense of human rights.” Adwan’s lawyer filed an appeal against the ruling, yet in vain. The court upheld the decision that she was an “atheist element.”

Book Juice

For the first time, Egyptian publishing house Book Juice was banned from participating in the Cairo International Book Fair. Saeed Abdo, head of the Egyptian Publishers Association, announced it was banned following accusations it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The house was attacked by Egyptian writer Sameh Fayez for publishing books by Ahmed Khairy Al-Omari. The owner of the publishing house denied this accusation and was astonished that an entire publishing house could be reduced to one writer saying, “It is strange that “Book Juice” is being reduced to one writer, who is Ahmed Khairy Al-Omari.”

In the midst of all these bans and confiscations, the Saudi Arabian pavilion at the Cairo book fair stood firm and proud, immune from any accusations of extremism. Naturally, the fair’s management was not able to review its publications or even confiscate a single page.

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