Monday, February 12, 2007

Banning a Book in Egypt

The latest book written by an Egyptian feminist author has been recalled by the publisher. The Gulf Times explains:

"We decided to remove the book, titled God Resigns in the Summit Meeting by writer Nawal Al Saadawi, from the shelves once we learnt it offends religion," said Mahmoud Madbouli, who runs a publishing house in Cairo.

He denied the withdrawal had been carried out upon orders from authorities. "We would not allow such literature onto our shelves," he told Gulf News.

Madbouli, who has already published a dozen books penned by Saadawi, said apologetically: "We do not normally read all the books we publish. But on learning that Saadawi's book, which takes the form of a play, offended readers' religious sensitivities, we decided to withdraw it."

As one would expect, Ms. Saadawi is outraged by this decision:

"My book contains nothing offensive to religion. This confiscation is a violation of the reader's right to choose and judge the worth of a book for themselves. These people want to stifle our imagination. If my ideas are questioned and suspected, they should be debated, not suppressed. A work of art should be judged by the critics, not religious clerics or government bureaucrats."

God Resigns in the Summit Meeting looks into current socio-economic and religious issues in Egypt, according to Saadawi.

The article points out that Ms. Saadawi has had many of her books banned in the Arab world, and that she has been the subject of death threats from radical Islamists. In light of her personal history, Ms. Saadawi understands better than anyone how the limitations on intellectual freedom in the Muslim Middle East have enabled the spread of Islamism:

"I feel worried about the future of Egypt whose young people are denied a real chance to be educated and exercise their minds. Confiscation provides a breeding ground for extremism," she said.

(Emphasis added-DD)

This is just one instance of how free speech and expression are being stifled in Egypt. The best known current example, of course, is that of blogger Kareem Amer. The Mubarak regime justifies such policies by arguing that it is the only bulwark against radical Islamists taking power in Egypt. This is nonsense. By suppressing liberal voices such as Saadawi and Kareem Amer, it ensures that there is no credible alternative to its rule other than
the Islamists. Yet again, government censorship in the Middle East simply aids the Islamists by silencing their critics for them.

(Link courtesy of Dhimmi Watch)


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