Egypt author says authorities pressed venue to ban gathering


Egypt's best-selling author Alaa Al Aswany said Sunday that authorities have pressurised a cultural centre into cancelling an event where he was scheduled to talk about how the government manipulates the public with theories that the world is conspiring against Egypt.

Al Aswany said the cancellation of his gathering last Thursday in Alexandria follows other measures in the past year, which have prevented him from appearing on TV channels or getting published in Egyptian newspapers.

He told The Associated Press that "freedom of expression is at its lowest point, worse than in the days of Hosni Mubarak," Egypt's long-time autocrat, who was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2011.

Calls and a text message sent to the Interior Ministry spokesman weren't answered and the cultural centre could not immediately be reached for comment.

Al Aswany rose to international fame after the publication of his 2002 novel "The Yacoubian Building," which describes social and political change in Egyptian society since the 1952 military coup by the Free Officers, who included former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. In 2006 it was made into one of Egypt's biggest movie productions, featuring some of the country's top movie stars.

He broke social taboos by including an openly gay character and described the radicalisation of a young man after being rejected from the police academy because his father is a doorman.

Al Aswany supported the ousters of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, but has grown critical of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who as military chief ousted Morsi. Al Aswany says near-daily invitations for TV appearances and requests for newspaper columns have mostly ceased since al-Sisi's inauguration in June last year.

Some of the newspaper managers "told me directly that they're under pressure and that they're unable to have a contract with me," he said. As for TV appearances, "a friend of mine, a very famous anchor, told me they don't want me to appear on TV."

The cancellation of the event follows the referral to trial by public prosecutors of author Ahmed Naji, for publishing in a literary magazine an excerpt from his novel, "The Use of Life," that prosecutors said violated public morals.

Naji's lawyers on Saturday insisted on their client's innocence, noting that a number of famous Egyptian writers have written sexually explicit material. They asked the court to refer the law - which prescribes up to two years in prison for publishing material seen as violating public morals - to the constitutional court for review.

"It's very inappropriate that we're still at this stage... We cannot put someone on trial for their imagination," said Al Aswany.


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