Banning Books: A Die-hard Practice?

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An Egyptian employee puts copies of "One Thousand and One Nights," known in English as "Arabian Nights," on a shelf at a bookstore in Cairo on 5 May 2010. (Photo: AFP - Khaled Desouki)

By: Mohammed Shoair

Published Sunday, November 27, 2011

The heavy hand of Egyptian state censorship seems alive and well in the country’s interior ministry.

Sumiya Amer, owner of Kayan publishing house, was shocked when she found out that security forces had stormed her offices and demanded to see her publishing license.

She was surprised a second time when she received a call from the printing press informing her that police officers confiscated Tamer Abbas’s book Inta Meen? (Who Are You?).

Amer insists that the book contains nothing that can be construed as politically controversial, saying that if she is unable to release the book, she will suffer severe financial losses.

Amer believes she is the target of a censorship campaign. She has been active in such organizations as “No to Military Trials” and the Rasd Committee, which seeks to educate residents of poor neighborhoods in Cairo about the upcoming elections.

The Ministry of Interior referred Amer’s case to the courts, claiming that Kayan did not have permission to print the book.

The prosecution demanded to see the publishing house’s registration papers to prove that it can print the book. After Amer produced the necessary documentation, the prosecution moved to stall the court’s decision.

Amer maintains that persistent state censorship is undermining the changes brought about by the Egyptian revolution. The security forces seem to be mocking Egyptian revolutionary’s dreams of freedom of expression.

Other cases of censorship – some bordering on the ridiculous – continue to occur in Egypt.

For example, when Palestinian poet Ehab Bsiso tried to send a huge part of his own personal library from London to Gaza by way of Cairo, the Egyptian authorities confiscated forty books.

Novels by Abdul-Rahman Munif and books by Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, and Milan Kundera were deemed too dangerous to enter Egypt, even though the books are easily found on the streets of Cairo.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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