"He has more writers than readers," is how some describe the "prominent" columnists who write several weekly editorials for many newspapers and magazines. These writers are accused of stealing, cheating or both. Occasionally, I have met young writers who claim that they have written some article for some prominent writer. I have always remained suspicious to these claims and related them to the enthusiasm of the young writer who takes pride in his writing. However, I now seem to question the validity of some of these claims. This question became more relevant especially after analyzing the certain style of writers, only to find that there are some inconsistencies. Such analyzing is a skill that I have learnt from the assessment of many university students” papers, from which I could easily discern whether they were authentic or not.
I applied this skill to assess the articles of numerous prominent Arab writers. Not only did I find out that many of their articles were plagiarized, but I also found that some speeches of President Nasser for example, largely took ideas from those of the US president John Kennedy. We all vividly remember the phrase "Never question what did Egypt give us, but what we could give to Egypt." This phrase which was sung by many famous singers in Egypt was merely the literal translation of the famous saying by Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Up until last week, I would not have dared to write about the issue of plagiarism in the Arab world. However, something happened this week that prompted me to discuss the matter. A scandal in Kuwait was the reason. The daily Kuwaiti newspaper Al Watan published a two series review of an American book by Abdel Razaq Al Shaygi, Professor of Islamic Law in Kuwait University. The review was a lengthy article that plagiarized another, written by the researcher ”Alaa Bayoumi. Bayoumi had written the article for an internet journal (www.taqrir.org) of which the editor-in-chief, Mohamed Al Menshawi, is based in Washington D.C. Bayoumi sent a letter of protest to Al Watan which in response, issued an apology to him on the homepage of the website. What is provocative however, is the way in which Al Shaygi justified the whole matter.
In an article that was published in Al Qabas newspaper on the 15th of August, 2005, Al Shaygi wrote "I have found a lot of similarities between my two articles and the article of Bayoumi, but I immediately realized the source of the error. I contacted the Egyptian-International Center for Research and Studies, in Cairo, from which I frequently obtain information that I use for my writings in return for a fixed sum of money. The center promised to investigate the matter. They sent me a letter the next day that affirmed that a researcher who works for the center has admitted that he under-estimated the issue of plagiarism by freely quoting Bayoumi”s article without reference, mistakenly believing that the rules for plagiarism are less strict for book reviews. The center said that the researcher had limited time to carry out efficient research due to other responsibilities, nevertheless, it accepted that such excuses did not justify the fatal error."
Following this article, Mohamed Metwali, the director of the Center, issued a letter to apologize to Bayoumi saying, "At the Egyptian-International Center in Cairo, we bear all the responsibility for plagiarism since we are responsible for providing Dr. Al Shaygi with his material in accordance to a previous contract. We have investigated the matter and questioned the researcher who had prepared the material and he admitted that his preparation was rushed, as he was due to leave for a summer vacation. After such an unconvincing excuse, we have dismissed the researcher."
The head of the Center, Jamal Sultan, also wrote a letter to the editor-in-chief of Taqrir in Washington saying, "In the same issue of the newspaper Al Watan in which the plagiarized article by Al-Shaygi was published, another article by a writer called Nabil Fadl fiercely attacked Al Shaygi for copying the writing of Bayoumi. What was remarkable about this was that Fadl had commented on an article that had not even been published yet, indicating that the newspaper had leaked the news to Fadl. Moreover, it is odd that the newspaper dedicated half of the front page as well as full page inside the paper to the controversial topic. How could a newspaper possibly celebrate the humiliation of one of its own writers in such a way? Dr Al Shaygi merely fell victim to a careless researcher in Cairo. Such fierce violation of his image and dignity should stop immediately."
From all of the above, it seems that providing research material for prominent writers is an accepted practice in Egypt, since there are special centers for such a task. The problem for the director and the head of the center is merely that Al Shaygi has fallen victim to a researcher who was unaware of how to plagiarize successfully. In other words, plagiarism itself is not the problem but rather the extent of its obviousness. This is what is implied. It leaves one to wonder how many of the prolific writers are genuinely the writers of their own work. It seems that there is no difference between the truth and falsity in the Egypt of today, and that Egypt perhaps has become a professional ground for stealing ideas just as China is for fraudulent brand names imitating Prada and Gucci. In the case of Egypt, they plagiarize Huntington, Chomsky, and even Foucault.
In case people believe that plagiarism is an issue only for Egypt and Kuwait, I draw the reader”s attention to an article by Magdi Khalil in Asharq Al Awsat about Condoleezza Rice on 15 August. The same article was published in the Saudi newspaper ”Al-Youm” four days later attributing it to The Economist! Such a grave error shows that stealing in the Arab world, is not exclusive to other people”s money. The stealing of ideas and thoughts will be widespread as long as there remain a number of fake intellectuals with research centers at hand.
Those who steal from Arabic to Arabic are few. What is alarming however, is that I have evidence of stolen books, PHD theses, movies, novels, plays etc. all of which their ideas have been taken from other languages. Furthermore, some of the stolen ideas have been translated back into their original languages, boldly presented as original works! A civilization based on such fragility can never stand strong. Let us begin with purging our books and newspapers, and then let us appoint those who can distinguish authenticity from plagiarism from the works of prominent writers.
In the cases of Magdi Khalil and Alaa Bayoumi, some have taken their ideas. In my case however, a mass communications professor not only mistakenly attributed comments to me, but also married me to the New York Times columnist, Judith Miller! The only difference between Magdi Khalil”s article in Asharq Al Awsat, and that, which was falsely attributed to the Economist in Al-Youm, was the title, "What After?" In light of the prevalent plagiarism in the Arab World, the question "what after?" indeed remains unanswered.