Egypt's First Adult Graphic Novel on Trial

In April 2008, freedom of speech and creativity in Egypt was hit in its core with the confiscation of Magdy El Shafee's adult graphic novel – Metro.

Culture and Politics in the Arab World reported the incident saying:

The policemen targeted the remaining stock of Metro, a book published a year ago. According to the Egyptian law, an honest citizen had complained against an outrageous publication (using dirty colloquial words says more or less the accusation).

Metro is not an ordinary book. It is the first “graphic novel” in Arabic. Magdy El Shafee spent five years working on that detective story whose main character, Shihab, is a young Egyptian IT engineer who decides to rob a bank. The money being hidden in the subway, the real problem is to find the way out… A question that many Egyptian ask themselves nowadays.

Mohamed El Sharkawy – the publisher – and Magdy El Shafee were subpoenaed to go to court on March 28 and the trial was postponed to April 4.

On his blog, El Sharkawy wrote:

الشهر الجاى يذكرنى بقضايا كتير وبسجنى .. اتسجنت في 2006 في شهر ابريل وفى 2008 برضه فى شهر ابريل.. أحد المحامين اللى عاوز شوية شهره وفلوس ورفع علينا دعوى حسبه عشان أحنا –زى ما أتهمنا- بنحض على الرذيله ونقوم باغواء الشباب من خلال كتاب مترو
April reminds of my my imprisonment; I was detained in April 2006, in April 2008, and now one of the Hisbah lawyers, who is seeking his 15 minutes of fame, sued me and the author of seducing youth and promoting immorality through Metro.

The editors of Words without Borders urged the international community to Say No to Metro Confiscation and Trial:

Shortly after it was published Shafee’s novel was confiscated. He and his publisher are on trial for its distribution. According to the “The Daily News Egypt” “Shafee and El-Sharqawy [Shafee’s publisher] are being charged under article 178 of the Egyptian penal code which criminalizes the printing or distribution of publications which ‘infringe public decency’” which “‘forms part of a bundle of repressive laws that violate rights relating to freedom of expression.’”

They also quoted Madgy El Shafee's petition on Facebook:

Your NO for confiscation is YES for our freedom … is `YES for our solidarity … is NOOOOO for the government prelude of harder stringing of freedom of the art and word, in the press, the satellites, the internet and now the independent publishing houses. We invite you to say: NO for metro confiscation and trial, Support freedom of arts and expression. Metro is considered the first graphic novel in Egypt. written and illustrated by Magdy El Shafee who won the UNESCO gratitude for best African comics 2006 … Egyptian government officials said the book was “harmful to public manners” due to its alleged political and social commentary.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) – a pan-Arabic network that promotes freedom of speech has rejected “the confiscation of the novel and considers it a severe violation against the freedom of expression.

With the coming court session next saturday April 4th, HRinfo and 4 human rights organizations announced a new condemnation in March 30th entitled: [Egypt`s Farouk Hosny goes to UNESCO, and Magdy El Shafee goes to the court!! the Author of Egypt`s graphic novel “metro” threatened with 2 years jail sence.] ([in Arabic])

The Comics Reporter, Baroque in Hackney, The Middle East Times, Al Dostoor, Al Badeel, and Youm 7 showed their consolidation with the author and his publisher. The English Pen Worldwide Atlas stated that it is good news that Magdy El Shafee is receiving support from the global blogosphere

Bassem Sharaf wrote:

نعيش في قهر طالما نبدع … يخافوننا فيحكمون علينا … مجدي الشافعي امام المحكمة بسبب ابداعه … يطلبون مننا ان نكون في اول صف علي مستوي العالم ليكون اسم البلد في الامام .. ومن الباب الاخر يسجنون الفكرة قبل ان تختمر … حزنت جدا لما يحدث لمجدي الشافعي
We live in constant oppression that stifles our creative juices .. they prosecute us because they fear us … Magdy El Shafee is being tried because of his creativity … they ask us to be the leading country in the world, yet they refuse to let us see our ideas through … Madgy El Shafee's trial has saddened me.

On March 25, Shaymaa El Gammal celebrated Magdy's Comic Experience in Goethe Institue saying:

إن السبب الأساسي لقيام هذه الورشة هو السعي لضخ دماء جديدة في فن الكوميكس في مصر وذلك باجتذاب محبي الكوميكس والراغبين في التعبير عن أفكارهم من خلال هذا الفن؛ حيث إن هناك مؤلفين شباب على قدر من الأهمية مثل أحمد فتحي وأحمد وائل يكتبون كتابة بصرية، وهناك على الجانب الآخر رسامون يمتلكون الموهبة لكنهم لا يستطيعون امتلاك المفاتيح القادرة على التعبير عن الشخصيات التي يرسمونها، فلو استطاع 15 شاباً أن يقوموا بتأليف ورسم 15
Graphic Novel أخرى لاتسعت قاعدة هذا الفن أكثر وصار انتشاره أمراً مقبولاً.
This workshop is an attempt at pumping new blood into the Egyptian Art of Comics by attracting those who have the interest and talent and help them learn the keys to illustrating the characters they sketch. If 15 young artists managed to write 15 graphic novel then this would be a solid base to launch this art into the adult Egyptian market.

On March 28, Shaymaa reported on the trial and commented:

أنا مش عارفة الناس ليه بتوصل نفسها لكده !! مجدي الشافعي ومحمد شرقاوي ناس كويسين جداً
I do not know why people do such things [referring to the Hisbah lawyer]? Magdy El Shafee and Mohamed El Sharkawy are very good people.

Daniel named Metro a Damned Book:

Personally, I think that any book has the right to be published even if it was offensive to some people, any writer who has the creativity in him/her should be able to say whatever he/she feels like saying, and the debates between any two groups should take place in more neutral atmosphere than a court.

The freedom of speech in Egypt is not a political concept at all, it's a human right that should be giving to anyone who's asking for it, a right to talk about any subject that any Egyptian can talk about without the fear of being pushed to court, or damned by any group of people, or even the leaders of any religion.

The book might be right in some places and wrong in others, I didn't read it so I wouldn't know, but no person should be banned or attacked because of his/her thoughts or the way it was expressed, and any creative act just be treated gently and with care.

Fantasia's World blogged about Metro in the Dark Ages:

أنا مش عارفة إلى متى سيستمر هذا المسلسل المخزي المسمى بالحسبة؟؟؟ بقى فيه دولة مدنية محترمة في القرن الحادي والعشرين يسمح قانونها بهذا الانتهاك السافر لحرية المفكرين والمبدعين؟ لماذا نتفنن في الاساءة إلى سمعة مصر عالميا؟ …. يعني إيه الدولة تسمح إن أديب يتجرجر على القسم زي المجرمين لمجرد إنه كتب رواية؟؟؟ …. يعني إيه ندعي إن مصر دولة مدنية لها دستور مدني وبعدين نسمح بوجود محتسب؟؟ محتسب!! هو إحنا عايشين في أي زمن؟ ولو إحنا راضيين إننا نعيش في العصور الوسطى، بنضحك على نفسنا ولا بنضحك على العالم لما بنلبس بدل وكرافتات وتايورات ونركب عربيات آخر موديل ونتعامل مع اجهزة كمبيوتر ونطالب العالم المتقدم بمعاملتنا معاملة الأنداد؟ … للأسف.. إحنا عايشين في واقع كابوسي ..الحرية لمحمد الشرقاوي ومجدي الشافعي
I do not know how much longer will we have to endure this farce-of-a-law called Hisbah? Which civil country with civil rights and a constitution in the 21st century would allow such violation of the rights of its intellectuals and artists? What country would drag its writers to court like outlaws and criminals? Why do we insist on giving Egypt a bad reputation on the global arena? Why do we insist on becoming a joke? Who are we fooling with our suits, skirts, and top gear cars when we still live in the dark ages? How can we demand equal shoulder-to-shoulder treatment with developed countries? Alas! We live in a nightmarish reality.
Freedom for Sharkawy .. Freedom for El Shafee!.

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