This Banned Books Week, we’re looking back on the saga of Magdy El Shafee’s Metro, which Words without Borders excerpted in our February 2008 Graphic Novel issue. At that time, Malamih publishing house had slated Metro’s release later that year. Portraying Cairo as a vortex of political corruption, it was to be Egypt’s first adult graphic novel.
In April 2008, police in Cairo seized Shafee’s novel for “disturbing public morals.” As WWB’s editorial director Susan Harris wrote at the time, the police “raided Malamih’s offices, confiscated all copies of the book, and forbade the publisher to print further copies. The police also ordered booksellers to deny all knowledge of the book and delete any relevant data from their computers, and jailed the publisher, activist Muhamed Al Sharkawi.” Amid a human rights uproar, Shafee and Al Sharkawi were brought to trial in 2009 for violation of public decency, and were ultimately fined five thousand Egyptian pounds each.
The banning of Metro did not silence Shafee: three years after we published Metro, he and his friends documented the February 2011 Tahrir Square protests in a graphic journal distributed during the revolution and published in our pages that week. Metropolitan Books published Chip Rosetti’s translation of Metro in 2012, with Newsweek celebrating its publication as “proof of the power of comics.” Five years and a revolution after it was banned, Metro made it back onto the Egyptian market in 2013. Susan Harris interviewed Shafee about the ordeal, noting: “The Egyptian government’s behavior only proved what Shafee was arguing.”