Egyptian novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji will be honoured by PEN America as he is conferred the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award at its annual Literary Gala. The gala to will be hosted on May 16 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Naji, 30, is the author of three books and a journalist at the state-funded Akhbar al-Adab literary magazine. He is a frequent contributor to other newspapers and websites, including Al Modon and Al Masry Al Youm, and has been a vocal critic of official corruption under the rule of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
In 2015, he was charged with “violating public modesty” after a private citizen complained that an excerpt from Naji’s novel The Use of Life published in the state-run literary journal Akhbar al-Adab had given the reader heart palpitations due to its sexual content.
Think about this for a bit. Some random person reads a book you have written and they are affected by it so much that they have to report you to authorities because they were moved. Sounds like a writers ultimate dream no? Well in Egypt today they frown upon that. In fact,
State prosecutors went on to bring a case against Naji in court. Guess what, the trial court threw out that case partly because the Egyptian censorship board had previously approved of the literary text. Also because well, it was stupid.
When the court found him not guilty, prosecutors appealed to a higher court that in February 2016 delivered a guilty verdict and imposed the maximum sentence of two years in prison. So because a reader was so moved by your writing he is sitting in a jail right now. Sounds about right.
His conviction wasn’t made without a pushback. More than 500 Egyptian writers and artists signed a statement protesting the conviction and criticizing the government’s “multi-armed attack on a number of writers and journalists because of their opinions.”
We here at JamesMurua.com also urge the Egyptian government to reconsider jailing a man because his writing warmed the loins of one random person. If we don’t have people like Ahmed Naji we shall continue being accused of being unable to write sexy work. And conversely because we need loin warming our nationals will be forced to keep buying that awful 50 Shades of Bollocks. No one wants that.