The appeal to stay Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji’s two-year sentence on November 26 was denied. But, after a long wait, the appeal of Naji’s sentence was set for December 4. This comes at a difficult time:
The Egyptian parliament, on Tuesday, approved a hasty and restrictive new NGO law that sharply restricts the space for civil society. Parliament also re-iterated the need to violate the constitution by restricting “indecent” speech, with one MP saying that if Naguib Mahfouz were still around, he should be imprisoned for indecency.
In a recent look at Naji’s case by Egyptian novelist Nael Eltoukhy, translated by Assmaa Naguib, “1st lesson learned from Ahmed Naji’s jailing: Individuality.” Eltoukhy makes a depressing case for Naji’s continued jailing:
Revisit the published chapter and ask yourself: Is it possible for a middle class Egyptian, who is not educated about the arts and doesn’t believe in freedom of expression, to not be angered by such obscene words? Then: What would a person like this do upon reading that chapter, knowing that he or she has the authority to imprison the writer? Of course they will exercise that authority. All the (constitutional) talk about “freedom of expression,” “freedom of opinion” and “how can words be taken to court?” would be no more than empty speeches to be destroyed in the face of that kid who needs to be taught a lesson.
Zadie Smith has also written a lovely piece about Naji and Using Life, “Egypt: Laughter in the Dark.”
You can follow @EgyptArtOnTrial for updates about Naji’s case and actions organized on his behalf.
One of Naji’s new stories, “The Plant,” previously appeared on the English PEN website. With a tip of the hat to Ahmed, we also publish the other two.
Three Short Stories by Ahmed Naje
Translated by: Mona Kareem
I will not come through the door or the window,
but as a plant you cannot notice with your naked eye.
I will grow day after day, to the sound of your singing and the rhythm of your breath at night. A small plant you will not notice at first, growing beneath your bed.
From door to bed, to bathroom to closet, standing or sitting against the mirror. Through all these acts, and to the sound of your humming, I will grow. A small green plant. With grand slim leaves sneaking out from beneath your bed.
I once read about plants that survive on light and prey on other creatures. With their glowing green leaves, they surround them and lure them in with a pleasing, lustful smell, then devour them. For hours and days and years, sucking on them. Sucking your toes one by one, making my way up.
What should I do with the bee? What should I tell the flower?
You become one with the flower. You grow up. You become a tree. While I remain a plant, in need of your humming, awaiting a song. A part of me is falling every morning, and I cannot catch it. A part of me flies off every time I lie in bed. But when I wake up I cannot remember what.
Sometimes I am reminded to look under the bed. But I don’t find the green plant. Nor do I find you.
She was sucking my dick when suddenly she stopped to ask if I had given grandmother her medicine. I looked at her then laying my head back, my waist forward, extending my dick into her mouth, I said: “Yeah, five drops in half a cup of water.” She smiled, sucking once again, then suddenly lifting her head up: “Shit! Five drops! I said three drops!”
She ran out, snatching the robe off the ground, I followed her, putting my boxers on. The granny went into a comma. I called the doctor, he said take her to the hospital immediately, giving me the hospital’s number. I called them and requested an ambulance, I lost my erection. I kept checking granny’s pulse, as it fades away. We ran around the small apartment, bumping into each other as we dressed.
She got in the ambulance with granny’s body, as I followed them in my car. I was preoccupied with the radiant lines of red that gleamed over the corpse of the white ambulance. When we got to the hospital, I went to the reception desk to deal with the papers. She stood next to me tying up her hair. Her tears dried. She got closer to me and whispered in my ear: “I’m still horny.” We did it in the hospital’s bathroom, as granny kept dying.
One time as I was heading back to Sixth of October city, a prostitute showed up on the way dressed in the official uniform, a black cloak without a headscarf, and instead she had bangs and black hair falling over her shoulders. She was carrying a huge neon bag.
Just to be sure, I drove past her slowly and watched her in the mirror as she looked my way. I stopped and went back. I turned off the music and rolled down my window. With the innocence and politeness of a child, I said: “Are you going somewhere madam? Would you like a ride?”
She got in, she was heading to Neighborhood 12, which is far out of my way, it is where I lived for years during college. I felt a longing to visit the good old scenes of my youth. I asked her: “Where in neighborhood 12?” She responded while reaching for something in her bag: “by the green kiosk.”
My glance fell on her big breasts, showing through the cleavage. I redirected my eyes back on the road to avoid the sudden appearance of any speed bumps, either down there or up there. I felt something when the hoe pulled a knife on me and poked me in the stomach as she shouted: “Stop the car you son of a bitch!”
I looked at the knife, then to her and just like in the movies, I smiled, all confidence and kept on driving calmly: “What’s this for sugar?” and with her big knife she kept poking me in the waist, making her way through my thighs, stopping exactly between them, her sharp tip prodding my shrunken trembling dick.
Marcia Lynx Qualey is a Cairo-based writer and freelance cultural journalist for Al Masry Al Youm English edition, World Literature Today, the Guardian, the Believer, as well as other publications. She also writes a blog,Arabic Literature in English
This article was published on her blog. It has been republished with permission from the author.
Writer Ahmed Naji Photograph: Yasmin Hossam El Din