15 August 2017
In Turkey, as part of a purge following last year’s failed coup plot, some 150 media outlets have been shut down and around 160 journalists are in jail. In Egypt, dozens of independent websites where free-thinking people got their news are blocked. In the UAE, it is a crime punishable by imprisonment to express sympathy with the state of Qatar, which is being boycotted by four other Arab states on the grounds that it is a supporter of ‘terrorism’.

Alan Philps

Editor, The World Today


So how do writers cope with the extinguishing of free speech which has followed the brief Arab spring of 2011? In two interviews, the award-winning Turkish novelist Elif Shafak and the Egyptian writer Basma Abdel Aziz offer their views, suffused with sadness but never devoid of hope for the future.  

Shafak, the Turkish ‘literary guerrilla’, has sought refuge in London, after being put on trial (and acquitted) in Istanbul for ‘insulting Turkishness’. She tells Trisha de Borchgrave of her struggle against the historical narratives that are imposed by governments. Her latest novel, The Three Daughters of Eve, celebrates diversity against a background of increasing authoritarianism. It features three female students of Muslim heritage, one a convinced believer, one an unrepentant sinner, and a third who is just confused. Can these three people coexist? Or are they perhaps three faces of the same person?

In Cairo, the writer Basma Abdel Aziz is a rare combination – a novelist and a psychiatrist who works with victims of police violence. Her new novel, The Queue, is set in an unnamed totalitarian state where nothing can be said against the government’s false rewriting of history. She tells Helen Fitzwilliam that her friends are either in jail or in exile.  But she has not despaired of Egypt overcoming its current devotion to a strongman saviour: ‘For a brief moment in 2011 people were no longer frightened, and no one can take that away.’