Egypt: Playwright speaks about his trials with censorship

23 November 2015

The arts magazine Guernica recently published an interview with Karim Alrawi, an Egyptian playwright and novelist. Though his literary career started in London, he returned to Egypt to teach in the theatre department at the American University in Cairo.

During his time teaching at the American University, Alrawi also attempted to put on plays, most of which, he told the magazine didn’t get licenses from state censors:

“At one point, I had about half a dozen plays produced in Egypt… The only one to receive a license was the Chekhov adaptation. The others were refused licenses, but I produced them without a license—that is, illegally.”

Alrawi continues to say that he had been threatened with arrest for going ahead with those plays, but invited foreign journalists to his “illegal” productions to bring attention to the issue, which saved him from jail time; however, he did receive a letter from the Egyptian government informing him that all his works were “banned in perpetuity.”

“I was still unable to produce my plays, but I tried to get them published, and got so far as to get a publisher interested. The plays were typeset but then I was informed the publisher had changed its mind and was reluctant to proceed. This is how self-censorship works in Egypt. You are officially told you are allowed to print anything without getting the censors’ approval, but if you do and anything is deemed to be offensive to the religious authorities of the country or to state security, then all copies will be withdrawn from bookshelves and pulped, and the publisher runs the risk of being fined a substantial sum.”

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (ATFE) in Egypt and Freemuse published a report, Censors of Creativity, in 2014 on the censorship of artistic freedom in the country. The report studies the highly complex machinery of censorship in the country and makes recommendations  to restructure the mechanisms to allow for a more vibrant freedom of artistic expression.


» Guernica – 16 November 2015
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» – 10 May 2014
Egypt should abolish censorship of the arts

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