Between the agony of the author and the shock of the publisher – Mohamed El Sharkawy who was in prison at the time after his arrest on April 6 – I read Humphrey Davies’ - the translator - note on wordswithoutborders.org:
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 only relief comes from Dina, an idealistic journalist. In this extract Shihab plans and executes the robbery with surprising results.
I was lucky to have one of the Arabic copies so I flipped through it looking for what could have possible upset the big boys. Nothing clicked! Yes, there were a few words here and there along the lines of “little shit” and “asshole” and, whether we like it or not, they are part of many people’s daily vocabulary. And yes, there were a few illustrations of Shihab and Dina in bed … no Kama Sutra here … just illustrations of naked bodies! The story itself sheds light on the government’s corruption and on other social ailments that are consuming what is left of the Egyptian identity.
Naira El Sheikh, the publisher’s fiancée told Reuters that the police made the accountant, who was the only person in the office, sign an undertaking to ensure that any copies returned are sent to the vice police and she interpreted the raid as an act of revenge by the police, who were much criticized in 2006 and 2007 for their treatment of Sharkawi during an earlier spell in custody. Police also took away contracts and downloaded the phone number memory from the land line. The vice squad usually deals with sexual offences but Naira said the novel had no more sex than other recent publications which have not had trouble with the authorities.
Upon speaking to Mohamed El Sharkawy after his release, he said “I don’t get it; METRO was in the Cairo book fair and it has been widely sold ever since – so where were they then? On April 20, Magdy El Shafee was subpoenaed and he was accused of “disturbing public morals”. On April 21, right before my final release, I was questioned on the political overtones of the novel. We were both released and the case is pending court review.” Concluded the publisher who said in the author’s defense that “METRO is reflective of the real society we live in yet it is pure fiction with no particular names or direct accusations.”
Naira El Sheikh is more concerned with the illegal procedures of the confiscation; “the people who barged into the office had no court order, on what basis were they authorized to confiscate the book? Who gave them the authority or permission to withdraw all copies from bookstores before the court rules for or against the charges? Now the publisher lost money and the writer lost face while they will start investigating the case after the confiscation already took place.”