After excerpts from Ahmed Naji’s novel Istikhdam al-Hayat, or Using Life, were published in a literary newspaper, a reader brought charges against the author and said that reading sexually explicit passages caused him distress and heart palpitations. An Egyptian court has now sentenced the author to two years in jail for public indecency. Notably, Naji was first acquitted by a court in Egypt on the basis of free speech, however the prosecution appealed. He was retried and convicted.
It is still not clear why the second court overturned the first court’s ruling that the book was protected by free speech. It is also not clear why the solution to heart palpitations for this reader wasn’t to stop reading.
The newspaper’s editor was ordered to pay a 10,000 Egyptian pound ($1,277.14) fine.
Egypt has seen a dramatic rollback on civil liberties under el-Sisi. In Egypt, a teenager was jailed for cartoons of Muhammad and a leading businessman was attacked for a cartoon of Micky Mouse with a beard. Then there was the three-year sentence given Amr Nohan, a 22-year-old law graduate for posting a Facebook image of el-Sisi with Mickey Mouse-style cartoon ears. A leading cartoonist Islam Gawish, 26, was arrested in Egypt by the hyper sensitive el-Sisi government. It is part of an assault on free speech that has been particularly pronounced in Islamic nations, which advance religious-based values of decency and criminalize acts deemed blasphemy.