DotIW 2019: Galal el-Behairy (Egypt)

For the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2019, Chris McQueer has written a letter of solidarity to imprisoned Egyptian poet, Galal el-Behairy

November 15, 2019

Profile

  • Genre: Poet and lyricist
  • Country: Egypt
  • World Press Freedom Index ranking: 163 (out of 180)
  • Status: Imprisoned

Galal El-Behairy is the author of Chairs Factory and Colorful Prison. He has written many lyrics for the singer Ramy Essam.

El-Behairy was planning to release his latest book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth, which, in his words, is a testament to “the value of women and of their good deeds in this world.”

In March 2018 El-Behairy was arrested, and his whereabouts were not disclosed to his family or lawyers until he appeared before the High State Security Prosecution one week later, where he showed signs of severe torture.

In May, El-Behairy attended a trial in the Military Court and was given the information that the verdict on charges related to his poetry was to be given in three days. It was  subsequently postponed.

At the same time, El-Behairy was being investigated by the High State Security Prosecution for both ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ and the lyrics he wrote for ‘Balaha’. The charges against him include joining a terrorist organization, spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military. An arrest warrant in the same case has been issued against Ramy Essam related to the song ‘Balaha’.

On 31 July 2018, Galal El-Behairy was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 10,000 L.E for ‘insulting the military’ and ‘spreading false news’. El-Behairy had already served 150 days in detention waiting for his sentencing.


For the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2019, writer, Chris McQueer has written a letter of solidarity to Galal el-Behairy


Dear Galal,

At the time of me writing this letter, it has been 611 days since you were arrested. Hearing your story and reading your poetry, it breaks my heart that I could not have been introduced to you through your work and your immeasurable talent, rather than this nightmarish ordeal which you are going through.

In those 611 days, the world has seemed to descend further into violence and anger and chaos. Your own world too, I imagine, has descended into this maelstrom of hate in a more direct and disastrous fashion.

It is only the last couple of months I have become familiar with your work and I am ashamed it had to be handed to me on a plate. Your writing is the kind everyone should seek out with great vigour. Fearless and triumphant. Words laden with great power that simultaneously hold down the pages and yet fly through the air, words brought out into the world by anger at a government, at a system, that isn’t working for its people. I don’t think it is unfair to say that those who have imprisoned you, punished you for daring to express your malaise at those in power, have little understanding at what it is you are really trying to do with your writing. Perhaps one day, hopefully before it’s not too late, they will wake up and see their errors.

Words laden with great power that simultaneously hold down the pages and yet fly through the air, words brought out into the world by anger at a government, at a system, that isn’t working for its people.

It is hard to comprehend that what has happened to you ever happening here in Scotland. It is hard to imagine such draconian reactions to those who speak out against those in power ever happening to writers here. It is hard to take in, think about and accept that this even happening at all anywhere in the world.

You were arrested for penning lyrics to a song. A song which spoke out against the Egyptian government and its policies. Less than a week after the release of the song, you were arrested and your whereabouts were not disclosed to your family or lawyer until another week later, where you appeared the High State Security Prosecution where your body appeared beaten with evidence pointing towards torture. Arrested, imprisoned and tortured, simply for exercising your right to express yourself.

The fact the government took offence to, and subsequently arrested, you for calling your book, ‘The Finest Women on Earth,’ claiming it was a dig at the army, shows their fragility, their ridiculousness and their fear that their own people may not see them as these tyrants see themselves. A book focusing on the strength and perseverance of women in Egypt, who you say you feel, ‘feel unique pressures, while ultimately being responsible for the success of the men who make up the majority of the country’s workforce.’ A book which is, you say, a testament to, ‘the value of women and of their good deeds in this world.’ A book which is timely, a book which is necessary.

A book of which all copies are now in the hands of the Egyptian government. Imprisoned, like you. Maybe they’ve been pulped or burned. Maybe one day though, like you, those words contained within their pages will be freed. One day those words will find themselves coalescing into book form once again.

Maybe one day though, like you, those words contained within their pages will be freed. One day those words will find themselves coalescing into book form once again.

It is tragic that those in power, see it fit to attack those who peacefully and non-confrontationally express their views, their disagreement and their discomfort with force and with violence. Silencing those who dare grumble. Imprisoning those who dare to speak out. Punishing those who have the audacity to disagree.

You remain in detention under the High State Security’s charges of terrorist affiliation, the dissemination of false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military. Yet, you continue to write. You show that you will not be cowed. You will not be broken. You keep writing, you keep your words flowing and allow them to traverse the world. They cannot contain that.

The charges you are held under are ridiculous, false, flimsy and weak. They violate the universal declaration of human rights. They violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, to each of which Egypt is a party.

Egypt, under President el-Sisi may seek to show itself to the world as strong, as being not afraid, but the prosecution of prominent artists such as yourself projects an image of fear and weakness. A government’s desire to punish self-expression only serves to demonstrate its instability.

You said, ‘Each one of us loves their country and each one of us fears for their country. However, each one of us has a personal vision that does not contradict the country’s interest.’

I hope to one day read writing of yours which can run rampant without the fear of prosecution hanging over it. I hope one day that we may cross paths. I hope one day you get to see the Egypt in your personal vision.

With love and solidarity,

Chris McQueer


Chris McQueer is an author, playwright and screenwriter from Glasgow. He has written two collections of short stories, Hings and HWFG, both published by 404 Ink. The first of which, Hings, was recently adapted into a series of short films for the BBC iPlayer. Chris’s books have been shortlisted for several awards and Hings recently won the Herald arts and culture award for outstanding literature. He is currently working on his first novel.