Magdy El Shafee’s Metro, the first adult Arabic graphic novel, is set in a chaotic modern Cairo pulsing with financial and social insecurity. Shihab, a young software designer who has been forced into debt by corrupt officials, decides to get out of his dilemma by taking “direct action”: robbing a bank, with the help of Mustafa, his loyal but reluctant sidekick. He finds himself caught in a vortex of financial and political corruption…
The Daily News Egypt site has an interview with the artist.
“Words and ideas seem to float out of Magdy El Shafee like steam under the lid of a saucepan — a sort of gentle chaos surrounds the pharmacist turned graphic novel artist… He tells me about the time he put on a white winter jacket which made him look like an astronaut when he zipped it up. ‘All I needed was a helmet! I told me family ‘look at me I look like an astronaut’. What did they say? I wondered. ‘They laughed — I don’t know why’.”
Magdy goes on:
“‘All my life I’ve been interested to know why people only tell stories with words, not pictures. Once I found a magazine that does comics for adults, and I really liked it, I said “that’s something I can do”.”
El Shafee is a big fan of the storyboard, saying it “depends on something like the editing in cinema which separates cinema as the seventh art; the storyboard separates comics as the ninth art. You have a space, and events which happen very quickly, or very slowly, and you divide up the page according to this.”
Now for what happened next.
“El Shafee reports that police raided the offices of the Malameh publishing house located in Cairo, confiscated all copies of the book, and forbade the publisher to print further copies. The police also ordered booksellers to deny all knowledge of the book and delete any relevant data from their computers. The publisher, activist Muhamed Al Sharkawi, has been imprisoned since April 6 for his activities in a general strike; police have demanded that he, his fiancée, and the author appear before the police bureau. Al Sharkawi was physically abused by officers during a spell in custody two years ago.”
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information says this:
“On Tuesday, April 15, a force of discipline police led by a colonel broke through Malameh publishing house located in Cairo and owned by blogger Muhammad Al Sharkawi who is under arrest for the April 6th strike. The police force confiscated copies of the novel entitled “Metro” written by Magdi El Shafi’i . The novel is to be the first of graphic illustrated novel in Egypt and its events take place in a political and social frame. The police force confiscated the novel for being harmful to the “public manners” for using the colloquial language in expressing the events.”
Mohamed Al Sharkawi has been in prison since April 6th. Here is what the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has to say about his previous spell in custody, in May 2006:
“…When a crowd of people gathered, police officers pulled him into a building entrance where they continued beating him. A few minutes later, El-Sharkawi was carried unconscious in a police vehicle. He retrieved his consciousness only to suffer more from the continuous torture that was taking place in the car. In Qasr El Nil police station his clothes was forcefully taken off. He was then sexually attacked to punish him for his non-compliance to stay at home.”
“Mohamed Al-Sharkawi…Thursday 25th May, few hours before being tortured. His look changed completely after torture. His eyes swelled, his skin gets darker, his clothes are torn out and the shoes prints are clearly seen on his neck. We failed to take a photo for him after torture. State Security men attacked Gamal Eid when he tried to take a photo for him during investigations.”
The fact that he has been through all this and he is now publishing – or attempting to publish – this graphic novel is a testament to something I hope I might be able to muster, in similar circumstances. I will keep an eye out and if Amnesty gets anything going I will let you all know.
Here’s the Washington Post.
As it happens, my friend The Cat Lady – herself almost a comic strip character – is currently holidaying in Egypt with her two offspring, one of them a very gifted teenage novelist, cartoonist and magazine editor. They were possibly in Cairo, possibly (though not, I concede, probably) walking past the very street where the raid was taking place at the time. It is a very small world, and Magdy El Shafee seems like our kind of people. Please let’s send him, and his publisher Muhamed Al Sharkawi, our best thoughts.
N.b.: Editing in to link to my new post on this subject, as the trial for these two men approaches on April 4 2009.