Book pulled from shelves due to alleged criticism of Egypt army

Mohammed Saad , Wednesday 5 Aug 2015

Translator says sentence deemed as 'offensive to the army' was taken out of context

L'Egypte de Tahrir by Claude Guibal, Tangi Salaün

Egypt’s National Centre for Translation (NCT) has pulled its own book Egypte de Tahrir: L'anatomie d'une révolution' from shelves and stopped its sale after last week’s backlash by a TV presenter, who accused the NCT of publishing books that 'attack the army.’

The book, authored by French journalists Claude Guibal and Tangi Salaün, was written in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution and published in 2011 by SEUIL publishing house in France.

In 2012 translator Assem Abd-Rabbu Hussein signed a contract with the NCT to translate the book. 

The book was published in 2014 and released with a few lines on the back cover by the renowned Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany, according to a press release by the NCT.

The translator's preface, which was written in 2012, included a line referring to the clashes between the army and some activists in February 2011, which the army itself apologized for in an official statement.

Last week, Al-Bawaba News website wrote a scathing piece on the book, saying that the ministry of culture and the NCT are publishing books that insult the army. TV presenter Ahmed Moussa carried the story from there, attacking the NCT on his TV programme, accusing it of publishing books that attack the army, pointing to the line from the translator's preface which prompted wide reactions from the ministry.

Minister of Culture, Abdel-Wahed El-Nabawy, opened an investigation into the matter, while the NCT had to pull the book from its outlets and cease selling any copies of the book.

Head of the NCT, Professor Shoukry Megahed, issued a press release describing the crisis as 'made up,' saying that the book written by the two French authors does not attack any state institutions. Megahed pointed to the contentious statement by the translator, saying that, "the translator expressed his opinion poorly in that one sentence, which led to the crisis."

Megahed, who took office last June, appeared to be defending the book in his statement, but in the next passage he distanced himself from the book saying it was not contracted by him nor by the minister of culture, Abdel-Wahed El-Nabawy. He added that the contract with the translator was signed in 2012 and the publication took place in 2014.

"This book was not published during my tenure as head of the NCT, nor during the tenure of Minister El-Nabawy and as soon as we learned of the incident we decided to investigate those who are responsible for publishing the book. We pulled it from our stores and the attack on us took place after we decided to open an investigation. Those who attacked us were just spreading misinformation," Megahed said in his statement.

"The book is translated by two French authors, and is one of many books published in the western world in the aftermath of the January revolution. It deals with and analyses the different parties of the revolution and their stances," Megahed explained.

Assem Abdraboh, the translator of the book, told Ahram Online that the crisis is made up, wondering about the reason behind this campaign against the book at this particular time.

"Neither the book nor the jacket, the latter written by Al-Aswany, attacked the state institutions. The book tackles the revolution and the first 18 days after Mubarak stepped down. It acknowledges the role of the army in protecting the people from police brutality. It did not attack the army. Al-Aswany also did not write a foreword, just a few lines on the jacket of the book, where he praised the work of the two French authors and the efforts of the translator," Abdraboh explained.

The translator believes that part of the vehement criticism against the book is due to those few lines by Al-Aswany, who is an important voice against the current government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdraboh added that "there's a very strong sensitivity towards anything that has the name of Aswany and I don't understand why. In this instance his words did not mention the army at all."

On the sentence that stirred the criticism, Abdraboh believes that it was taken out of context as it was written in 2012 and tackled an incident that the army itself has apologized for.

"I do believe that my words have been taken out of context, and I don't know why this attack on the book is taking place now. The book deals with the 25 January revolution and analyses its different factions and the parties who played key roles: the people, the army, and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was written in 2011 and my preface was written in 2012. It was a different historical moment than the one we are living in right now and I believe that behind all of this is the hostility towards the 25 January revolution, which our current constitution acknowledges and President El-Sisi recognizes, but apparently there are some people who monopolize patriotism," he stated.

The NCT and the ministry never contacted Abdraboh and he only knew about the confiscation of the book through media reports.

"I don't think confiscating books is the ideal way to spread ideas and have a debate. Now I'm just waiting on the investigation that the ministry is undertaking," Abdraboh concluded.

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