Ibrahim Prize Refusal Commentary

A few days ago, I mentioned Sonallah Ibrahim’s refusal of the Novelist of the Year Prize in protest of the Mubarak government. The jury for the prize consisted of Arab writers from different countries, was chaired by Tayyib Salih (author of Heart of Darkness-in-reverse, Season of Migration to the North), and gave an award worth approximately $17,000, a sizable amount of money in today’s Egypt.
This weekend Jonathan pointed me to this article by Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz. Bar’el makes the point that Ibrahim is not entirely in opposition with the Mubarak regime: As an opponent of normalization with Israel, Ibrahim is in sync with virtually everyone in the political spectrum and with people within the Mubarak government, which makes his stand slightly less heroic and leaves a fellow writer (unnamed in the article) unimpressed. Bar’el also quotes an Al-Nahar columnist critical of Sonallah Ibrahim on the grounds that:

…where was Ibrahim when another intellectual, Said al-Din Ibrahim, was
tried and imprisoned because he called for the establishment of a democracy in Egypt?
Said al-Din Ibrahim, a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, was tried on suspicion of accepting money from foreign institutions and financial irregularities in his institution, the Ibn Khaldoun Research Institute. But the real reasons were different. Ibrahim initiated a student supervisory groups for the parliamentary elections; he called the regime in Egypt a gumlokhiyya – that is, a republic and a monarchy – after talk began about the possibility that Mubarak’s son Gamal would inherit the presidency; and he published studies about the injuries inflicted by the regime on the Coptic minority. The trial and imprisonment of Said al-Din Ibrahim stirred reactions throughout the world and led to the application of massive American pressure on Mubarak, who in the end ordered the court to “review” Ibrahim’s case and thus hinted in effect that he should be released from prison. At that time there were only a few Egyptian voices that came to Ibrahim’s aid, most of them not in public.
(…)
Sonallah Ibrahim wins applause even from the regime, says Jihad Azzine, as he did not utter a word against the absence of democracy in Egypt. “In one case the intellectual wins praise and respect and the status of a hero because he attacked his government on nationalist grounds, while in the other case, of Said al-Din Ibrahim, the intellectuals vanished even though it involved a colleague whom the regime attacked because of his demand for democracy.”

Said al-Din Ibrahim’s case is disturbing to say the least but attacking Sonallah Ibrahim for his silence seems to me to be a case of guilt by default, which I think is unfair to him as an individual. The point is well taken, though, when it refers to the intellectual class as a whole, and it’s something one can see in Egypt but also in other Arab (and non-Arab) countries.
Jonathan offers his comments on the issue here.

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