“Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull,” George Orwell says in his novel 1984. His words about a dystopian world, which centralises the iron-fisted control of military regimes, aptly portend the harrowing realities that prevail today. In an act of abject oppression or, as Orwell would say, ‘thoughtcrime’, Egyptian security forces recently arrested a student in front of the main gate of Cairo University for carrying Orwell’s time-tested novel. Freedom ‘is’ slavery, isn’t it?
A student named Mohamed T, 21, who resides in the neighbourhood of Warraq, was arrested on Sunday, reported the Egypt Independent. When taken into custody, Mohamed was carrying two cell phones without batteries, a hard disk, two USB drives, and a copy of the novel 1984. Security officials also said they found notes on the student, which referred to “the Islamic caliphate and ways of how it should be applied in a country,” the Al-Arabiya News reported.
Denying the reason for the detention, Major General Mahmoud Farouk, head of the Investigations Unit at the Giza Security Directorate, said, “None of us know anything about this novel in the first place,” reported the Mada Masr. He confirmed that the student was arrested as he was filming security forces stationed around Cairo University, adding that he has been referred to prosecution for investigation. He said the novel was simply listed as part of the items the student was carrying, citing it as a “legal and routine procedure.”
Mokhtar Mounir, a lawyer at the Academic Freedoms Unit of the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), stated that the novel will most likely be used as evidence against the student during the investigation process. Farouk commented, “Although confiscating personal belongings of defendants is routine procedure, we have a history with many students who have been arrested with novels that are used as evidence against them.”
Mounir quoted the case of a student who was arrested this year from his house. “Part of the confiscated evidence included two studies about academic freedom released by AFTE and books on Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna,” he shared. He also referred to the case of a group of students that was arrested a few months ago, whose novels, revolutionary artwork and flash drives were part of the confiscated evidence retracted from them.
According to Mounir, even the accusation of filming police forces is illegal. “As long as the student is filming in a public place, there should not be any legal penalty according to the Penal Code,” he said. “But the recent crackdown on freedom in public spaces has made random arrests the easiest thing the police can do,” he added.
Orwell’s novel reads, “We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
This is not the first time that the novel has been a cause for concern amid regimes impervious to change. Earlier this year, those travelling to Thailand were warned not to bring copies of 1984 to the country to ‘blend in’, reported the Daily Mail. An in-flight magazine, found in a Philippines Airline, advises visitors about ways in which they can avoid trouble during their stay in the military-ruled Thailand. The article states, “Don’t carry George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. You don’t want to be mistaken as an anti-coup protestor.” The novel has become a symbol of political resistance in Thailand, with people staging silent readings in resistance to the military regime, which seized power in May.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2014.
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