Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian writer whose column used to appear regularly in the pages of Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote a week ago in the International Herald Tribune claiming that she had been banned from its pages for having stepped on one too many mines.
An activist who studied at the American University in Cairo, and who worked as a reporter for Reuters before moving to New York City and shifting to opinion writing a few years ago, Mona was never one to mince her words when it came to the bad behavior of the Egyptian government and President Hosni Mubarak. Earlier this year she moved back to Cairo to take part in the Kefayah (Enough) movement’s street protests against government rigging of parliamentary elections.
She wrote about these experiences in her column, denouncing the Egyptian government’s repression of average citizens yearning for greater freedom and accountability in government. Before she left Cairo, she was called in by the intelligence services and questioned about her writings. This, as she says in her IHT piece, was meant to scare and intimidate her. Lucky for us, it didn’t.
Now, her former boss at Asharq Al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed, has written a long piece defending his paper and basically calling Mona a liar. He claims that the Egyptian government never pressured the paper to stop printing her column, yet he does not say why they were using fewer and fewer of them until eventually they stopped using them altogether. For me, his piece raises more questions than it answers, which is always a bad position to be in when you are trying to defend yourself.
Mona for her part, I’m sure, is probably happy that she won’t have to see any more of her columns spiked. In fact she’s going to be a visiting professor this fall at AUC.
(One interesting factoid I did learn about her, is that according to Alhomayed she wrote her columns in English and Asharq translated them into Arabic.)
Several people who read Mona’s piece accused her of being nasty and vindictive, but I found her refreshingly free of any overt hostility in her piece, which I found commendable. Unlike other scorned writers who have thrown much meaner hissy fits than Mona.
Fawaz Turki wrote a similar piece in the Washington Post last April (“How to Lose Your Job at a Saudi Newspaper”) claiming that Arab News, the paper that I work at, had spiked several of his columns, and had sacked him for bravely writing about corruption in the Arab world.
What he didn’t tell readers was that we had never sacked him in the first place, and that his piece on East Timor, which he claimed we refused to run, appeared in the newspaper in full and also on our website.
I can only assume that his paranoia got the best of him, and several weeks of silence from our editor in chief, who was traveling at the time, was construed as being a “sacking”. If only he had talked to us before writing that piece, he might still have a column at the paper.+Thanks to Saudi Jeans for pointing the way to the Alhomayed piece.