Photo Book Seized by Egypt’s Censors
A shipment of editor Basma W. Hamdy’s Walls of Freedom, a photography book on the street art of revolutionary Egypt, was just seized by the new Egyptian government. Here Hamdy speaks of her shock and surprise.
When did you learn that Walls of Freedom was seized by authorities in Egypt? I found out [on Wednesday] through the Egyptian press.
Was a reason given to you for the seizure? The reason was not given to me personally, but an article was published in an Egyptian online newspaper in Arabic stating that the book was “instigating revolt” and “demonstrating how to resist army and police authorities,” and that it will be further investigated.
Has this happened to you before? Was there any warning? This has never happened to me before but there has been a clear decline in freedom of expression in Egypt and people have been feeling insecure about expressing their opinions lately. The media has become increasingly biased and prominent activists and journalists have been jailed for speaking out. However, I did not expect this to happen to a book that documents our revolution.
Does this place you and your colleagues in jeopardy? It’s too early to say at this point. But it might cause issues especially for people currently in Egypt. It is mainly a cause for concern because things were taken out of context. For example, the fact that the book is published in Germany is framed as a sinister fact! The book documents the street art of a revolution that was calling for freedom and social justice and naturally the images and the artwork in the book are very powerful. But the documentation aspect is being misinterpreted and framed as a call to rebel.
What do you think the outcome will be? Do you have options? I don’t know, I think the 400 copies are confiscated and we won’t see them again. It may be difficult to sell the book in Egypt. However, it is available in bookstores currently and has been sold in Egypt for the past year. The mechanism of censorship in Egypt is unpredictable and happens randomly so it’s hard to predict the outcome. I think we will continue to stand by our book and sell it and spread it because that period in Egypt’s history is worth the noise. We are also hopeful that the investigation might prove that the book is a historical account rather than any sort of manual on how to revolt!
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The Writing on the Wall From the subways of a collapsing New York City to the paradigm-shifting streets of Cairo, calligraphic graffiti has transcended mere tags to become the true voice of the people. Check out Angela Riechers’ look at the subject, plus the Cuban Design Re(Evolution) and more in the International Design Issue of Print.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →