I was aware of the fact that I was forbidden from taking any course of action but never that I was forbidden from traveling. When it comes to being forbidden from taking any course of action, well, I have about fifty-five years worth of experience in that domain; however, discovering my latest restriction was quite new for me, one which I wasn’t aware of until the morning of 23 May.
I have seen my articles banned and having my name on the list of forbidden writers in some cases and forbidden journalists in others. I have been slandered and libelled. I have experienced exclusion and warnings, and direct and indirect threats. And despite all this, I was never the hero, martyr or political activist. I was merely a writer who expressed certain opinions and viewpoints that did not please certain people. Yet, I viewed this as the price of being a person who defends the right of the people to have their own independent opinions in our country. I am merely someone who works to please God, my conscience and my readers as opposed to pleasing the authorities. I accepted this reality knowing full well that others paid a much heavier price than I did. I have accepted these realities during the five decades that I have worked and I have been patient. I have accepted that the authorities would always view me as a censored or forbidden writer and that I would also somehow be accepted by a number of people. Everything I have done has been done to ease my conscience and for the sake of remaining genuine; I was willing to publish a fraction of my true opinions as long as I remained true to myself. I remained patient and dealt with all these hardships and refused to give in to publishing a single word that I knew could potentially deceive my readers or embarrass me. During my time at Al-Ahram, I wrote things that I knew would never be published or seen by a reader but I accepted that and saw it as a way to clear my conscience in front of God.
The only good thing that has come from all of this is that I went from being an unknown censored writer to a famous one and every time I would travel I would receive a tug on the ear and a couple of warnings at Cairo airport, which I would forget as I remained silent. I considered these warnings as a sign that the authorities had read my writing and that they disapproved of them.
When I was invited to Istanbul to attend a conference on Palestinian media in April I was surprised that the officer at the airport asked me to step aside and wait because this was an issue that needed to be “reviewed”. Four officers took me to a side office, sat me down and proceeded to offer me all kinds of cold and hot beverages. One of them informed me that my passport information was being forwarded to an intelligence office that dealt with matters of national security and that an officer in another division was trying to follow up on the issue. This entire experience was very new to me.
I sat there quietly and pondered this situation the like of which did not even happen to me during my most difficult years when President Sadat accused me of being a communist; this was according to the editor of Tahrir newspaper at the time, Ali Hamdi, may his soul rest in peace. He eventually fired me from the newspaper. I also never experienced this type of thing during the Mubarak era even though I was warned against many of the pieces that I would later publish as a collection called Forbidden Articles, which led to me being banned from working for a newspaper as a profession. Furthermore, I never experienced such a thing during the presidency of Dr Mohamed Morsi, who was also not pleased by many of my writings and harsh critiques of his policies and labelled me as a “trouble maker”. Despite all the challenges that I have faced over the past few decades, I had never experienced a situation like the one I was surprised to find myself in en route to Istanbul.
The officials at Cairo Airport passport control delayed me for nearly 30 minutes until one of them came in with my passport saying, “congratulations”. This pleased me because I was not aware that allowing a citizen to pass through the airport was something that required congratulations. I held my tongue and rushed to make my flight; I have not discussed this scenario with anyone until now.
When I was invited subsequently to a conference on dialogues of the third world in Madrid I went to the airport quite early because I expected some delays; I went through a similar experience with some minor differences. This time I was moved from office to office and eventually I was taken to meet a national security officer on another floor. I sat there for more than an hour unable to believe what was happening to me. As the time for take-off approached, I told the officers with me that I could not sit any longer and I asked them to take me to the national security official so that I could retrieve my passport. It was as if they had been waiting for me to say this so that they could accuse me of failing to comply with orders. They brought back my bag from the plane and I was told to go home.
Two hours later, I was surprised to find that the Associated Press had broadcast the news that I had been prevented from travelling and that a number of other media organisations did likewise. I was happy to find that many news agencies both in Egypt and abroad began to call me in order to verify if the news was true and what reasons I was given for being prevented from travelling to Madrid.
Despite the fact that this scenario granted me a lot of free fame, I still did not expect it because as the Middle East news agency said, I was not aware of the fact that I was forbidden to travel. Asking several well-known and experienced lawyers about this new restriction I was informed that it is a recent development that many officials are turning a blind eye to because it is among the new illegal policies that are being endorsed without the knowledge of the attorney general. We are now also facing a new type of restriction known as “forbidden by sovereign decree”, which is being issued by national security officers and violate a number of constitutional articles. This, of course, is all being done without the knowledge of the attorney general. These are the signs of our new “civil state”, the one for which we held elections this week. I guess it must be a good omen.
Translated from Shorouk newspaper, 25 May, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.