By: Daniel McElroy
Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji, who in May won an appeal overthrowing his previous conviction for “violating public modesty,” has been officially barred from leaving Egypt. Naji was informed that he could not travel abroad as he tried to board an international flight at Cairo International Airport on July 6.
Sentenced to two years in prison in 2016 after an excerpt from his novel The Use of Life was found to be too explicit in its references to sexual activity and drug use, Naji served 300 days of the two-year sentence before an appeals court suspended his imprisonment in December 2016, opting instead to impose travel restrictions and surveillance.
Following the incident last Thursday, Naji wrote on Facebook that “This [travel ban] decision comes despite the verdict by the court which accepted the appeal against my two-year sentence, and me being declared innocent of the charge of violating public morality.” He also suggested that the continued travel restrictions were the decision of the Attorney General.
Naji traveled immediately from the airport to the office of the Attorney General, where he learned that the ban was indeed issued concerning the publication of his novel, despite the appeal he won in May. He made a formal request to have the ban lifted, and was told to follow up with the Attorney General’s office in two weeks to see if his name had been removed from the list, but was given no other information.
The court that acquitted Naji also ordered a retrial in a separate court, so it seems the travel ban may have been extended in order to force Naji’s presence for that proceeding, which has yet to be scheduled. Regardless, Naji admitted his dismay at the news, citing “pressing personal and familial circumstances that necessitate my travel as soon as possible.”
Shortly after winning his appeal in May, Naji made clear that he and his wife were planning to leave Egypt as soon as possible to travel for a year or two: “I have no other professional plans, simply because I have no option to work in this country anymore.” With this continued travel ban the Egyptian government has shown that even in officially granting Naji his innocence, it appears to have no intent to let the writer live freely in his own country or abroad.