Cairo international book fair has excluded imprisoned publisher Khaled Lotfy’s firm from the event citing “security reasons”, the International Publishers Association (IPA) has said.
Lotfy was sentenced to five years in prison last April for “spreading rumours and revealing military secrets” by publishing a cheap Egyptian edition of Uri Bar-Joseph’s The Angel, a biography of Ashraf Marwan, the Egyptian senior official who spied for Israel. The book has been adapted into the Netflix film The Angel. Egypt denies that Marwan betrayed his country, with former president Hosni Mubarak saying: “I do not doubt his loyalty.”
Lotfy won the IPA’s Prix Voltaire award, which honours the freedom to publish, in June. But his final appeal against a jail sentence was rejected by the Egyptian military court of cassation in December. Now only a presidential pardon could free him.
Lotfy’s business, Tanmia, is being run in his absence by his brother Mahmoud. A prize-winning publisher as well as a bookshop in Cairo, Tanmia has often attended the Cairo fair, a major event for the Egyptian publishing industry . But organisers told the publisher it should stay away this year’s event, which opened on Wednesday.
Mahmoud commented: “It’s sad for me to be excluded without a credible reason from an event that I have participated in for 11 years. Is Tanmia any threat to security? Aren’t publishing houses with extremist publications or publishing houses who don’t respect copyright more of a threat?”
Tanmia had known of its exclusion since December, said the IPA, which said it had appealed to organisers to “show solidarity” and change their minds. The IPA has yet to hear back, and contact from the Guardian has yet to be answered.
“It is so disappointing to see that fair is unable to show its support for Khaled Lotfy by giving his publishing house a stand,” said chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee Kristenn Einarsson. “I repeat my call for President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to grant Lotfy a pardon and encourage publishers and booksellers worldwide to show their support.”
Einarsson said it was “incomprehensible” that Lotfy could be imprisoned for publishing a new version of a book that was already available. The Angel had previously been available in Arabic in Egypt as a more expensive, imported edition from the Lebanon-based Arab Scientific Publishers.
Accepting his brother’s Voltaire award in June, Lotfy’s brother Mahmoud said that he received “daily messages from readers asking about Khaled and wishing him a brighter future, where the right to knowledge is empowered and ideas are as valuable as life”. Lotfy himself, in a letter read out during the ceremony, said he is going through “an ordeal I never expected … in supporting culture and providing all that is new and valuable for readers, without any biased affiliations or political orientations”.
He ended by quoting Voltaire: “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”