A Banquet for Seaweed

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Date: 2000

Region: Africa

Subject: Religious, Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature

Artist: Haydar Haydar (b. 1936)

Confronting Bodies: Egypt’s Socialist Labor Party, Egypt's Islamic group and the rector of Al-Azhar University

Dates of Action: 2000

Location: Egypt

Description of Artwork: In 1983 Haydar Haydar published a novel in Syria called A Banquet for Seaweed. In the novel, a character says, “The divine Bedouin laws and the teaching of the Koran [are all] shit”.

The Incident: In 2000, Egypt’s Ministry of Culture reissued Haydar’s novel A Banquet for Seaweed as part of a modern Arab classics series that it was sponsoring. In a distorting review of the Egyptian edition of Haydar’s novel in Al-Shaab, a publication of Egypt’s Socialist Labor Party, the columnist Mohamed Abbas called the book an insult to Islam. This resulted in one of the biggest riots Egypt had seen in the prior ten years. The police were called out to calm the protestors, which they did with tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets.

Results of Incident: Legal action was taken against the government officials responsible for publishing the novel and there were calls for the assassination, or execution by beheading, of the novelist. In addition, the rector of Al-Azhar University called for a public burning of the book in a public place. The primary reason for this uproar is that Abbas left out an ellipsis in a passage he quoted from the novel. This omission resulted in the words Koran and shit being placed next to each other, and since it is unnecessary to use the verb “to be” in Arabic (they say, in other words, "the sky blue" rather than "the sky is blue") Abbas’s omission made it look like the author was calling the Koran a piece of shit.

Source: http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/archives/oldsite/2001/seaweed.htm, http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2274 and http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2000/483/eg13.htm