The Defamation of Religion and Karam Saber, Again
Religious censorship in Egypt with no explanation.
Last October, I wrote about the case of Karam Saber, an Egyptian writer who was sentenced to five years in prison for “contempt- and defamation of religion” in his short story collection, Where is God. On March 11, the Beba Misdemeanour Court in Beni Sueif upheld this sentence.
Despite this, there are two important points in the case: Saber’s sentence can still be appealed in the last stage of litigation; and Article 67 of the country’s new constitution states: “No lawsuits may be initiated or filed to suspend or confiscate any artistic, literary, or intellectual work, or against their creators except through the public prosecution. No punishments of custodial sanction may be imposed for crimes committed because of the public nature of the artistic, literal, or intellectual product.”
- “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
- Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.
Karam Saber is also a lawyer, and described his sentence as “shocking.” He pointed out that the constitution prevents the imprisonment of people for their creative work. His prison sentence relied on reports from Al-Azhar and the Beni Suef diocese. Both condemned the short story collection, asked that it be withdrawn, and called for Saber to be punished.
Unfortunately, the court has ignored the constitution and the article that forbids imprisoning writers and creatives. The court has also ignored the literary reports that were issued by the committee of the the Egyptian club of story (Nady El Kasa). The Committee praised the collection and said that the next court session will be Sabar’s last chance, but if the appeal is rejected, he’ll be imprisoned.
Among the articles and comments that have been written and published regarding Saber’s sentence, there is one that has shocked Egypt’s creative people. In reviewing Where is God the Committee cited the poet Ahmad al-Shahawi, whose work, Al-Wasaya fi Eshq Al-Nisaa (Commandments on Loving Women), was withdrawn in 2003. About this ban, Al-Shahawi has said:
“In Egypt, there are names for Sheiks who get their fame and position…from their rejection of certain books, plays, and songs, or any creative works that do not favor them. But what’s surprising is that sentences, preventions, and unfair accusations are handed down without reading the book or watching the work. This is something that I call ‘the unwritten expiation.’
“We live in a climate of anti-creativity where every week the Islamic Research Institute of the Al-Azhar withdraws one or more books in a single session. And not every withdrawn book is disclosed to the media. I also know that the author of a banned book cannot even have a copy of the report issued against his book.
“This is what happened with my two part book, Al-Wasaya fi Eshq Al-Nisaa. The first part was published in 2003, and the second in 2006. The Committee issued their opinion about me and my book, which they didn’t read at all. In addition, I didn’t get an official copy of that report, but had to procure it from religious editors. Why does the creative person get punished without having his book read or being told why?
How can Arabs progress with prohibition, prevention, confiscation, cancellation, separation, and imprisonment?!”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!