Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ban in Egypt in the Western Media

As you may be aware the issue over the the heritage series recently published in Egypt and a call from some prominent and conservative lawyers to not only ban the book but have the publishers arrested has resulted in worldwide media attention.  The media (especially in the West) loves a chance to talk about banning (especially in the Middle East) of anything. 

The reality of the situation anywhere in the Middle East is of course less black and white than is popularly imagined.  So-called "Islamists" are often generally painted as rabidly censorious men trying to ban everything, and while there certainly are some minor elements like this, there are like-minded conservative men (and women) with power in every religion and political background imaginable (consider how many books and other things (the ban on Ulysses by James Joyce for one, Lenny Bruce's jail time for another) have been banned or censored in the USA for example, where "free speech" is considered a sacred right). 

Any censorship (especially based on general abstractions like "immorality") is a serious matter to be sure but I would caution against blindly jumping on the anti-Islamist bandwagon too.  My own Arabic tutor in Damascus Syria who read the Nights in Arabic with me in the summer of 2008 was also an Islamic scholar, Quran teacher and Muslim.  He not only laughed at the relevant laughable parts of the Nights but also never glossed over any passages or censored anything (and openly did not think much of the Nights as a piece of literature or anything too).

(for more about the ban in Egypt on this blog click the 'censorship' label below on the right)

When The 1001 Nights is involved then the fireworks begin because the story collection is so well known around the world and so ingrained in cultures everywhere, especially in Egypt where one of the earliest Arabic printed editions hails from (Bulaq).

It's also a good opportunity for journalists to "creatively" use the number "1001" in their headlines.

("1001 Opinions over Arabian Nights," "1,001 arguments over 'The Arabian Nights'").

An aside:  it's curious and interesting how this group of lawyers is called something different in nearly every article (lawyers without 'restrictions,' 'shackles,' and 'borders' are three I've seen).


Here is the latest Western news with clips and links mainly from the UK, RFP and Canada:

BBC:  May 6, 2010:  "Egyptian lawyers call for Arabian Nights ban" - (radio interview with Egyptian author Alla Al Aswany who says:  "I believe that the culture in Egypt is too strong to be influenced by some fanatics like these people."

BBC:  May 5, 2010:  "Egyptian anger at Islamist call to ban Arabian Nights."

"Egyptian writers have condemned a call by a group of Islamic lawyers for the classic book Arabian Nights to be banned because it is "obscene".

The group, Lawyers Without Shackles, filed a complaint with Egypt's prosecutor general after the collection of folk tales was republished.

They called for the new edition to be pulped and the stories to be banned."


"But Writers' Union spokesman said the lawyers were behaving "like the Taliban".

"Those who want to destroy our heritage are taking the same path as the Taliban when they destroyed Buddha's statues," Mohammed Salmawy told the news agency AFP, referring to the destruction of the giant sculptures of Buddha in Bamiyan.

The book's publishers, the state-run General Organisation Cultures Palaces, said the republishing had been very popular and the print run had sold out.

"Egyptians are avid readers and they will not be influenced by a bunch of people who take advantage of Islam in order to suppress freedom," Ahmed Megahed, Chairman of the GOCP was quoted by Al Arabiya.

Arabian Nights, also known as The 1,001 Nights, is a centuries-old collection of Arabic and south Asian folk tales.

It includes the stories Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves."


from the Telegraph UK (May 7, 2010)

"Lawyers in Egypt call for Arabian Nights to be banned"


Times Online (UK) (May 7, 2010)

"Ban for indecency is new twist in tale of One Thousand and One Nights"

"The epic tale of One Thousand and One Nights may soon be banned in Egypt if a group of concerned citizens gets its way. A little-known organisation calling itself Lawyers without Restrictions recently filed a lawsuit calling for the iconic story collection to be confiscated and its publishers imprisoned.

The publishers, in this case, would be the Egyptian Government’s own General Authority of Culture. Efforts to contact Lawyers without Restrictions for comment were unsuccessful.

According to local press reports, the group’s lawsuit cites Article 178 of the Egyptian criminal code, which bans publication of material deemed “offensive to public decency”. Violations of that code bring a jail sentence of up to two years.

If successful, the action will deprive Egyptian readers of one of the most enduring cornerstones of ancient Middle Eastern literature. A hodge-podge collection of stories dating back as far as the 10th century and drawn from Arab, Persian and even Indian folktales, One Thousand and One Nights has no single author and no one definitive version. The tales are framed as a series of bedtime stories told to the King Shahrayar by his new wife Scheherazade. The bloodthirsty king was in the habit of marrying a new woman every night, then executing her in the morning.

But the crafty Scheherazade avoids this fate by telling her husband a series of stories. The nights usually end with a cliffhanger, leaving Shahrayar unable to carry out the death sentence if he wants to hear the ending. She is able to string out her storytelling for more than three years.

Many of the tales certainly do contain aspects that would be objectionable to readers with delicate sensibilities. These include plenty of Canterbury Tales-style bawdiness, including premarital and extramarital sex.

“There’s lots of sex and some of it is quite descriptive depending on what version you get,” said a Cairo-based professional translator."


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Response from Egypt - Ban on the Nights

Thanks to Nadine for keeping me up to date as to what's going on in Egypt with this recent call to ban the Nights and imprison its publishers. You can find most all the info about the incident on this blog under the 'censorship' label below.

Here is a show in Egypt (in Arabic) called "Cairo Today" in which the host Amr Adib and his co-host Amal Othman talk about the ban proposal and essentially deride it. The backlash against this group of lawyers does seem formidable within their own country and as such I hope they fail in their attempts to jail the publishers and ban the Nights.

Here's the show from their website:

if the video doesn't work (I found it to be problematic sometimes) you can watch it on youtube here:

(but the youtube video was uploaded by someone with a website they list on the entirety of the show so it's a bit annoying - don't go to their website!)

- M

Friday, May 21, 2010

Banned in Egypt - Colombian National Radio

There has been a lot of press lately about the group of lawyers in Egypt who want to ban the recently published "Heritage Series" reissue of the 1001 Nights and a lot of backlash too within Egypt.

I was recently interviewed by Hernan Restrepo at the Colombian National Radio station in Colombia about the incident.

Here is the article in Spanish:

And here is the link to the mp3 (in Spanish and English): 19 michael lundell candidato a phd en literatura inglesa experto en las mil y una noches web.mp3

Ultimately here are my thoughts on the matter:

- the 1001 Nights is a lot more "risque" than most people think
- it shouldn't be banned but I would understand the sudden outrage over it by conservative types of any religion or political or cultural backgrounds (most people don't even know what's in the 1001 Nights and are always surprised when they find out)

Maybe we need Scheherazade to step in at this point to soothe everyone's nerves?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

shahd barmada - alf layla wa layla

Here is Shahd Barmada from Syria ( singing Umm Kulthum's 'Alf Layla wa Layla' (One Thousand Nights and a Night). Barmada came in second place on the hit Arabic show "Super Star 3" a singing competition affiliated with the makers of Pop Idol and American Idol.

here's a link to the Umm Kulthum songs:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Anthony Hopkins Cast As A Sorcerer In Arabian Nights

From the Hollywood Reporter ( comes news that Anthony Hopkins will be playing a sorcerer in the upcoming 3D action adventure film based (extremely loosely) on the Nights.

From the article:

"Anthony Hopkins is in final negotiations to play the villain in “Arabian Nights,” an action-adventure pic directed by Chuck Russell.

Inferno’s Bill Johnson is producing with Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray of Mayhem Pictures. ROAR also is producing.

Written by Russell and Barry P. Ambrose, the period epic centers on a young commander (Liam Hemsworth) who, after his king is murdered in a coup, joins forces with Sinbad, Ali Baba and the Genie from the magic lamp to rescue the queen, Scheherazade.

Hopkins will play Pharotu, an evil sorcerer who killed Sinbad’s love, a mermaid, and is looking to amass more magic for himself.

An end-of-summer shoot is being eyed."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

1001 Covers

Here are a number of covers of Arabic versions of the Nights I found. If anyone has others please send them over and I'll post them here.

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

From 1001 Nights

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

more news on Egyptian attempts to ban the Nights

From Gulf News in the UAE comes more info on the recent call to ban the Nights.


By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
Published: 00:00 May 5, 2010

Selected quotes:

""When I recently bought One Thousand and One Nights, published by the state-run Authority of Cultural Centres, I was shocked at the offensive phrases it contains," said Ayman Abdul Hakim, a lawyer belonging to Lawyers without Shackles, a non-governmental group that has lodged a complaint with Egypt's Chief Prosecutor demanding a ban on the book."


"Abdul Hakim said their move was prompted by the recent re-publication of the book, which is " a waste of public money".

"We have published One Thousand and One Nights many times, and the latest one is based on an old version revised by a cleric from Al Azhar [the Sunni Muslim world's prestigious institution]," said Ahmad Mejhad, the chairman of the Authority for Cultural Centres, an affiliate of the Ministry of Culture. "This version has no immoral words or illustrations," added Mejhad.

"I am stunned by the calls for confiscating" the book, which is part of the Arab heritage. "We should be proud that this literary work has influenced the world heritage in the East and the West," Majhad said."

see also original posting on this issue here:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Paul McMichael Nurse's Eastern Dreams - Early Release

From 1001 Nights

Paul McMichael Nurse's excellent and accessible history of the 1001 Nights (Eastern Dreams: How The Arabian Nights Came to the World) is set to be released earlier than expected by its publisher Penguin Canada. The new date is this August 1.

Here is the book's Penguin page:,,9780670063604,00.html?EASTERN_DREAMS_Paul_McMichael_Nurse

Looking forward to it!

- M