British author joins Egypt's blacklist

The Egyptian government this week denied banning British journalist John Bradley's newest book, which is highly critical of the Egyptian government. Bradley's publisher maintains the book was banned. MENASSAT's Amira Al-Tahhawi spoke with the author to get his take on the controversy.
john bradley

CAIRO, July 28, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Two months ago, British journalist and author on Middle East affairs John R. Bradley got word from his publisher that his newest book, "Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution" (2008), had been banned in Egypt.

The publisher, Palgrave-Macmillan, has plugged the book as "an [examination] of the junctions of Egyptian politics and society as they slowly disintegrate under the twin pressures of a ruthless military dictatorship at home and a flawed Middle East policy in Washington."

This week, the Egyptian government officially denied banning the book but Bradley's New York-based publisher Palgrave Macmillan maintains a bookshop canceled orders of "inside Egypt" on July 23 after being told by government censors that the book was banned.

It is not the first time that one of Bradley's books has been banned in the Arab world. The former managing editor of the Saudi-based Al-Arab news agency, Bradley's 2005 book, "Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis," was also banned. Critics say it was because Bradley criticized the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States.


Bradley's newest offering is highly critical of Egypt's government under President Hosni Mubarak, who has been ruling the country since 1981.

"I'm going to write a letter to the cultural minister [Farouq Husni] asking for the ban to be lifted," Bradley told MENASSAT via telephone, adding, "The blacklist is getting longer."

Bradley worked with relative freedom during his days as a reporter and then senior editor with Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo in 1999.

"I expressed my opinions freely before, and I stayed in Egypt for long periods of time during the last decade. Frankly, I'm surprised that the Egyptian authorities would target a foreign journalist."

Bradley, who says Egypt is his "second home," told MENASSAT he has been noticing a trend towards more self-censorship ever since he left the country to join Al-Arab News in 2001. He cited as an example how Al-Ahram Weekly, his former employer, got a new editor who was more aligned with the government, and who practically stopped collaborating with foreign freelancers.

"Perhaps that was because of financial reasons," he said. "But [Al-Ahram] also lost a great deal of its influence and power because of the editor-in-chief's fear of censorship. The governmental censorship reached the foreign-speaking newspapers."

Officially, Egypt bans books that are said to be an "affront to religious or moral values." Egyptian authorities said this week that "Bradley's book was not previously banned in Egypt and was distributed as soon as it was reviewed by the Information Minister."

Still, the fact is that "Inside Egypt" is nowhere to be found on the Cairo bookshelves.

First time ban

Bradley said his publisher, Palgrave-Macmillan, called several Cairo libraries about the ban.

"The ministry told the libraries the ban was for security reasons and they didn't ask further," he said.

Over the past 18 months, Bradley has been interviewed by several Egyptian newspapers such as al-Masri al-Yom (Egyptian Today) and al-Dustour (The Constitution).

"I mentioned many issues contained in the book, and the government didn't react to any of these interviews. Why was the book banned then?" he asked.

"I think it is the first time a foreign book has been banned for reasons other than upsetting religious codes," he added.

Palgrave-Macmillan also said that the American University of Cairo agreed to buy 15 copies for students and visitors, but the deal was called off the next day (July 22) after governmental orders declared the book "banned from publishing and distribution in Egypt."

Official Egyptian reactions have been confusing.

The official Middle East News Agency said Information Minister Anas Al-Fiqi had authorized distribution of the book after it was submitted to him for a decision.

But the official Al-Akhbar daily wrote that the head of Egypt's Press and Publication department confirmed that foreign publications can enter Egypt only after a review has been conducted by his office.

The Yacoubian Building

Bradley told MENASSAT that a great deal of his inspiration for the book came from Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany's first novel, "The Yacoubian Building" (2002). Al-Aswany's book treats Egyptian social changes in the 1990's through the eyes of the inhabitants of a building in Cairo which was a home to aristocratic families prior to the 1952 military coup which overthrew King Farouk I.

In a February 2008 Financial Times book review, Bradley wrote that The Yacoubian Building "offered a startling insight into the corruption, torture, poverty and sexual harassment that confront ordinary Egyptians in their daily lives."

According to Bradley, there are similarities between the current regime and the conditions which preceded the 1952 revolution.

Just like at the end of King Farouk's rule, Bradley said, "The Egyptian regime is acting recklessly. A perfect example are the latest restrictions imposed on the satellite channels," referring to an Arab League charter which seeks to impose censorship on Arab satellite TV channels.

Bradley said it is ironic that his books have been banned by two of the main sponsors of the charter.

"Despite the competition between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the regional level, they are similar as to the restrictions against the media and the inability to criticize the regime," he told MENASSAT.

But Bradley puts little stock in the idea that a change in leadership in favor of the Islamic Brotherhood would be much better.

"Regardless of their political rise, the Brotherhood are not accepted by a people who respect freedom, moderation and diversity."

Bradley's book is currently being translated into Arabic and the translated version might come out before the end of the year.