Banned Books Coming Back In Egypt and Tunisia


A number of highly political titles censored by the regime of ousted Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali are now returning to the country’s bookshop shelves. 

La Regente de Carthage by Nicolas Beau and Catherine Graciet, a critical book about the former president’s family, focusing in particular on the role of his wife, Leila, is among those now openly on sale in the country, according to the International Publishers Association. 

Alongside it is a previously banned study of the long-serving Tunisian president from whom Ben Ali took over following a 1987 coup: Habib Bourguiba: La Trace et l’Heritage by Michel Camau and Vincent Geisser. 

Also now appearing in the country’s bookshops are The Assassination of Salah Ben Youssef by Omar Khlifi, a book about the shooting of a former Tunisian minister of justice in Frankfurt in 1961, and works by journalist Toaufik Ben Brik, a prominent critic of Ben Ali’s presidency. 

Alexis Krikorian, director of the Freedom to Publish programme at the IPA, said the emergence of these and other formerly banned books within Tunisia was “very good news”. Whether censorship still existed with regard to new titles was a separate issue, he added, but it was likely that the legal submission procedure, which under the old regime had been misused to block books at their printers, “no longer applies”. 

Anecdotal reports are also emerging of once suppressed titles appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks across Egypt. Salwa Gaspard of joint English/Arabic language publisher Saqi Books said accounts in the Arabic press told of books that had been hidden for years in private basements now once more seeing the light of day. 

Cairo is also to hold a book fair in Tahrir Square – the focus for protests against former president Hosni Mubarak – at the end of March, according to Trevor Naylor of the American University of Cairo Press bookshop, which is based in the square. Naylor told the Bookseller that the event had been planned in the wake of the cancelled Cairo Book Fair, which was abandoned in January in the face of growing political unrest.

Watching History Being Made

I recall as a teenager the day Egyptian President Sadat, one of the true giants on the world stage when it came to leadership, traveled to Israel and stretched out his hand for peace.

That image…..that day…has never failed to renew within me the fact one person can make a  difference when determined to do so.  With a nod to history, and the peace process, Anwar El Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel officially.

However, it was a terrible day in 1981 when I awoke to the news, while enrolled in broadcasting school, that President Sadat had been assassinated.  I was shocked, and like millions around the world who believed in the peace process, angry that blind hatred could so alter the political landscape in Egypt and the Middle East.

Over the years since those events, and the dramatic ones that have played out in Egypt these past weeks, I have been captivated by the culture, history, religion, and foods of Egypt.    I have often spoken with friends about my desire to see the Nile, pyramids, and talk with those who call that place their home.  I am reminded at times how volatile this region can be, and yet I never lose the desire to touch my feet in the land of the pharaohs.

After the terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11 The New York Times ran a many-week series of snippets about each person that died in the Twin Towers.    One of them was about Wayne Alan Russo who had traveled all over the world, but had never made it to  Egypt.    In a last conversation with a traveling friend he said “Egypt next year.”

After reading the article I clipped it.  Over these years I have kept it in a special binder with all sorts of other news articles at my desk.   It was a reminder that we should always make plans for the future, but also a reminder that life is uncertain and we should strive to make dreams come true when we can.

Today I pulled that news clipping as the events unfolded with the announcement that President Mubarak was going to make a speech.  Many had hoped that it was to be an announcement that he would finally leave the nation that he has controlled for 30 years.  We were to learn that power is not easy to give up.

I suspect that Russo would have enjoyed the events playing out these past weeks.  I suspect he enjoyed history too, as that is one reason folks like to travel. To see the sites where history was made, and walk the places where the great leaders once ruled.    Russo probably had read of ancient Egypt as a kid the way I did, and wondered what the air of the Nile smelled like.

Watching history continue to unfold these past weeks in Egypt seems so close and yet so far.  With television and the internet we can be in Freedom Square with the protesters.  With the piles of books one can read about ancient Egypt, where the past can be illuminated and analyzed.   With modern transportation we can land in Cairo in about ( I think) 12 hours. 

Yet for most of us we will never get to the Nile.  Instead we will watch the events unfold, read books, and watch documentaries.  We will yearn along with those in Egypt who want freedom that they will feel it soon.

Perhaps someday along the Nile one or two of those who fight for freedom this year will tell me the story of how it happened in their country.  Like Russo did I am sticking with planning to see Egypt someday.

Until then on this side of the globe I will continue watching history unfold.

Social Networking New Tool For Protesters, Hosni Mubarak Has Lots To Fear

If you want to have a great protest movement forget the rocks and tires for burning.  Instead make sure you have Twitter, Facebook, and the internet.

The face of modern protests have changed due to technology.

One of the side-stories that I have found most interesting is the way thousands have found common ground across Egypt this past week with social connections on-line.  It all was such a fear for President Hosni Mubarak tried to tamp it down.

Yeah, well good luck with that.

Fear is the dictator’s traditional tool for keeping the people in check. But by cutting off Egypt’s Internet and wireless service late last week in the face of huge street protests, President Hosni Mubarak betrayed his own fear — that Facebook, Twitter, laptops and smartphones could empower his opponents, expose his weakness to the world and topple his regime.

There was reason for Mr. Mubarak to be shaken. By many accounts, the new arsenal of social networking helped accelerate Tunisia’s revolution, driving the country’s ruler of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, into ignominious exile and igniting a conflagration that has spread across the Arab world at breathtaking speed. It was an apt symbol that a dissident blogger with thousands of followers on Twitter, Slim Amamou, was catapulted in a matter of days from the interrogation chambers of Mr. Ben Ali’s regime to a new government post as minister for youth and sports. It was a marker of the uncertainty in Tunis that he had stepped down from the government by Thursday.

Tunisia’s uprising offers the latest encouragement for a comforting notion: that the same Web tools that so many Americans use to keep up with college pals and post passing thoughts have a more noble role as well, as a scourge of despotism. It was just 18 months ago, after all, that the same technologies were hailed as a factor in Iran’s Green Revolution, the stirring street protests that followed the disputed presidential election.