Egyptian novelist 'sued' for criticising military officials

Alaa al-Aswany says he faces lawsuit for insulting Egypt's President Adel Fattah el-Sisi, armed forces and judiciary.

    Al-Aswany: 'My only crime is being an author, expressing my opinion, and criticising those who deserve it' [File: Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo]
    Al-Aswany: 'My only crime is being an author, expressing my opinion, and criticising those who deserve it' [File: Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo]

    A prominent Egyptian novelist has said he is being sued by military prosecutors in Cairo for "insulting the president, the armed forces and judicial institutions".

    Alaa al-Aswany, the author of The Yacoubian Building, said the lawsuit is related to columns he wrote for German media network Deutsche Welle and his latest book, The Republic, As If.

    The novel is set against the backdrop of Egypt's 2011 popular uprising and discusses the military's role in the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who toppled democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013.

    The book, which was published last year, is banned in Egypt

    In a column for Deutsche Welle on Tuesday, al-Aswany, who lives in the United States, called the case a "clear violation" of Egypt's constitution, which enshrines the right to "freedom of thought and opinion". 

    "My only crime is being an author, expressing my opinion, and criticising those who deserve it, even if it's el-Sisi," the award-winning author said. 

    Speaking to Les Nouveaux Dissidents, a French organisation dedicated to supporting dissident writers and artists, al-Aswany said he was being prosecuted because of his writings.

    "I am being pursued because I bear witness to what I saw and what I lived, and because of my writings," he said. "For having said what I think, for having expressed myself and for giving my opinion. I am a writer, and what I write displeases the regime."

    Egypt Today, an independent daily newspaper, reported last week that the lawsuit related to a March 13 Deutsche Welle Arabic article titled, Why don't we understand what the world understands?

    In the article, al-Aswany argues that Sisi ordered the construction of various ambitious economic projects without feasibility studies. He also criticises the appointments of military generals to civic positions. 

    An Egyptian military official, speaking to The Associated Press news agency on the condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that there were routine complaints against celebrities in Egypt and that prosecutors would make a statement regarding Aswany's case when they decided to raise charges. 

    A controversial voice

    One of Egypt's bestselling novelists, al-Aswany has sold more than one million books worldwide and has seen his work translated into 35 languages.

    However, his representations of a post-uprising Egypt have frequently chafed authorities.

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    In 2014, he was forced to stop writing his weekly column for an Egyptian daily newspaper and banned from appearing on state-run media. The following year, he was prevented from holding a public seminar in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. 

    Al-Aswany told Les Nouveaux Dissidents that he had not been allowed to publish "a line" in Egypt for five years.  

    The writer, who is also a practising dentist, took an active role in the 2011 uprising and was in Tahrir Square for the 18 days of protest that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

    He is also one of the founders of Kefaya, or the Egyptian Movement for Change, a political coalition formed in 2004 to protest against Mubarak's presidency. 

    Even before Sisi came to power, al-Aswany was banned from attending the premiere of the film adaptation of The Yacoubian Building.

    Human Rights Watch has suggested that at least 60,000 political prisoners have been arrested or charged since 2013 in a widespread crackdown on dissent in Egypt.

    Alaa al-Aswany: 'Egypt, strong but paralysed'

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    Alaa al-Aswany: 'Egypt, strong but paralysed'

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies