Egypt’s dangerous poetry: Civil servant imprisoned for writing a poem

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This week, a demand for pardon, written by Hanna Saïd, was relayed to President Hosni Mubarak via the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Yom. The former, in the letter pleads for the release of his big brother, Mounir Hanna Said Marzouk, a civil servant sentenced to three years in prison for having written a poem. The poem was found to be offensive to the Head of State.

Writing poetry can be a very dangerous art in Egypt. The brother of Hanna Mounir Said Marzouk, a civil servant sentenced to a three year prison term for insulting President Hosni Mubarak in a poem, has sent a letter to the Head of State demanding pardon for the amateur poet.

Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Yom mentioned the letter this week in one of its columns, followed by a judicial source that confirmed the information to the media on Tuesday. Until now, the case had been kept under wraps and the poet in question was unknown to the public.

A three year prison term for a poem

Mounir Hanna Said Marzouk wrote satirical poems for his friends and colleagues, hoping that his lines would one day be used as lyrics for a musical piece. He denies seeking to offend the President in his poems, insisting that he only addressed daily issues in his country.

Late May, 2009, after coming across one of his poems, one of Mounir Hanna Said Marzouk’s colleagues said it was “insulting” to the President and alerted the authorities who arrested him.

In Egypt, punishment for insulting the head of state ranges between 24 hours to three years imprisonment.

The civil servant was sentenced by the court of Maghagha in the Minya Governorate (Upper Egypt), to a three year prison term in late May; the highest sentence under such circumstances.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights denounced the conviction of Mounir Hanna Said Marzouk and threatened to appeal after the amateur poet was tried without counsel.

According to Magdi Abdelhadi, a BBC Arab world specialist, this case questions: the real reasons behind the arrest and sentencing of an unknown poet, in a backdrop of more readily available and serious satirical poems written by known authors, against the president.

Why Mounir Hanna Said Marzouk was targeted by the justice system and not those famous authors is yet to be known.

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