When it is not possible for a budding author in Egypt to publish his/her first piece of creative writing, except at his/her own expense or by waiting patiently for his/her work to eventually be published, by which time the writer may have decided to give up on his/her talent or to follow a different path, he/she is compelled to find an alternative to showcase his/her talent in creative writing.
This alternative has emerged in the form of blogs, a free service that offers internet users the opportunity to express their views on a wide variety of topics ranging from politics and culture to personal issues. It has become the new tool for young creative writers in Egypt and an important means of expressing political opposition as well as cultural opposition in the country, allowing taboo subjects to be brought to the fore. Meanwhile, however, questions are being raised concerning the future of the conventional book.
Mohammed al Ashri is an Egyptian novelist who works as a geologist in the field of excavation and has a blog where he publishes creative writings, critiques, and displays various portraits. He said, “I created my blog to be independent and write without restriction after finding that after many years of visiting and contributing to online forums, one cannot be completely free and you are always bound by the policies of that forum or website. There is censorship of ideologies and even if it is not repressive, it is a boundary that limits one’s imagination.”
Mohammed continues, “I read many different local and international blogs in order to develop my own and because I want to communicate with readers of various orientations. I want to reach that stage of instant writing of novels whereby the audience can contribute to the novel moment by moment, but I thought this would take some time as the blog establishes its audience. I created the blog gradually with narratives, prose and critiques that I had written on my four published novels. From time to time, I write something new for the readers, to relate to them and so that they can take to the blog. After that there is the actual writing stage and the implementation of my new narrative projects, which I have been preparing for a while.”
Nael al Toukhi, an Egyptian novelist and translator who had a collection of short stories published has also created his own blog. He says, “When I turned to writing on my blog, I was looking for a different kind of writing that is far from the literary and journalistic styles. I wanted something that is in between these styles and that would sharply ridicule society in a similar way to Ziyad Rahbani’s collection entitled, “Al Aqal Zeena.” Some bloggers write about their personal experiences whether adaptations, journals or literary pieces, but I wanted something else. I wanted writing that was going to focus on reality, especially local issues with a tone of surrealism and jest, suitable for literary works in which one cannot distinguish between the author’s imagination and reality.”
Al Toukhi has written on a number of subjects including Bahaism, conspiracy theories, the government, and well-known figures such as Munir, Fayrouz and Dalida. He has written in the Egyptian colloquial dialect because he “wanted to develop its use after having been overused in poems that are mostly melancholic. I wanted to give it a new essence of mockery and skepticism, perhaps this is the result of Ziyad Rahbani’s influence who wrote most of his work in the Lebanese dialect. I don’t like the gravity of classical Arabic. Journalistic and literary styles of the language are restricting, the latter to a lesser extent, therefore, in my own blog, I do not have to write in a way that does not suit me.”
Amro Izat told Asharq Al Awsat about his blog. “When I created my blog I had a lot of motivation to write personal journals and following my experience in journalism, I felt the need to write in a general and free manner. I had lost my enthusiasm for contributing to forums or group emails as both are subjected to limitations and are bound to a certain style of writing. Amro considers blogs a revolution from the technical side in the field of writing as he says, “it is now possible for anyone who knows how to email to create a personal site on the internet, to write what they want with no restriction and to interact with others who share this freedom.” He continues, “blogs have become an important form of media, however not a substitute for official media due to issues of credibility.”
Amro further considers blogs a method to develop ties between various inclinations and ideologies and to develop activity within society, for example, in the recent past, a group of Egyptian bloggers as part of the campaign for change used creative ways to launch movements such as the solidarity campaign with Sudanese refugees, or in cases of violations against freedom of expression and the arrests of internet activists from various movements.
Salma al Banna is a poet and an artist and she says that at the beginning, she did not allow all her work to be viewed online but eventually gained the courage to display all of her work. She stated that blogs have changed her way of thinking as she has been introduced to a new way of writing and different ideas. She says that blogs “are a way to write without restriction and the community of bloggers is the closest representation to reality as it conveys the opinions of different people and sometimes in a more daring way than usual.”