Ahmed Naji’s The Plant

Novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji has now served more than nine months of his two-year prison sentence for ‘violating public modesty’. The charge relates to the the publication of excerpts from his 2014 novel Istikhdam al-Hayat (The Use of Life) in Akhbar al-Adab magazine, also in 2014.

Two motions for a stay of implementation of Naji’s sentence filed by his lawyers have been rejected. A successful stay would have allowed Naji to be free pending his appeal, for which a date has not yet been set, despite it being filed in late April. A third motion for a stay on Naji’s sentence is now due to be heard on 26 November.

Together with colleagues at Arabic Literature (in English), Egypt Art On Trial, PEN International and The Tahrir Institute, English PEN is co-ordinating a Twitterstorm to call for Ahmed Naji’s release. If you have a Twitter account, please consider tweeting your support and sharing details of Naji’s case and examples of his writing any time on 25 November, but particularly between 6-8pm GMT (1-3pm EST, 8-10pm Egypt Time) with the hashtag #FreeNaji.  

In order to draw further attention to Naji’s case, we are delighted to be able to publish the following short story from Naji’s forthcoming collection, kindly translated by Mona Kareem.

The Plant

I will not come through the door or the window,

but as a plant you cannot notice with your naked eye.

I will grow day after day, to the sound of your singing and the rhythm of your breath at night. A small plant you will not notice at first, growing beneath your bed.

From door to bed, to bathroom to closet, standing or sitting against the mirror. Through all these acts, and to the sound of your humming, I will grow. A small green plant. With grand slim leaves sneaking out from beneath your bed.

I once read about plants that survive on light and prey on other creatures. With their glowing green leaves, they surround them and lure them in with a pleasing, lustful smell, then devour them. For hours and days and years, sucking on them. Sucking your toes one by one, making my way up.

What should I do with the bee? What should I tell the flower?

You become one with the flower. You grow up. You become a tree. While I remain a plant, in need of your humming, awaiting a song. A part of me is falling every morning, and I cannot catch it. A part of me flies off every time I lie in bed. But when I wake up I cannot remember what.

Sometimes I am reminded to look under the bed.  But I don’t find the green plant. Nor do I find you.

Translated by Mona Kareem


Join the Twitterstorm for Ahmed Naji

If you have a Twitter account, please consider tweeting your support and sharing details of Naji’s case and examples of his writing any time on 25 November, but particularly between 6-8pm GMT (1-3pm EST, 8-10pm Egypt Time) with the hashtag #FreeNaji.

Suggested tweets:

  • Join me in showing support for imprisoned novelist Ahmed Naji by joining today’s Twitterstorm #FreeNaji pic.twitter.com/4V9qRCEcBuji
  • Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji should be released immediately & unconditionally https://www.englishpen.org/campaigns/ahmed-najis-the-plant/ #FreeNaji
  • Read Ahmed Naji’s short story The Plant (transl. Mona Kareem) & join the call for his release https://www.englishpen.org/campaigns/ahmed-najis-the-plant/ #FreeNaji
  • Read acclaimed Lebanese writer Hanan Al-Shaykh’s letter to imprisoned Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/hanan-al-shaykh-writers-to-imprisoned-writer-ahmed-naji/ #FreeNaji

Sign the petition for Ahmed Naji’s release

You can also sign a petition expressing solidarity with Ahmed Naji.

Send a message of support

If you would like to write to Ahmed Naji, please email cat@englishpen.org and we will pass your messages on.

Read and share Ahmed Naji’s work

Share Mona Kareem’s translation of Ahmed’s ‘The Plant’.

Write to the Egyptian authorities

  • Expressing concern at the continued imprisonment of Ahmed Naji;
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Naji and all other writers and journalists currently detained in Egypt in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party, as well as with articles 65 and 67 of Egypt’s constitution;
  • Urging that Article 178 of the penal code which criminalises content that violates public morals be reviewed as a matter of urgency to ensure that it is not used to impose restrictions which exceed those that may be imposed under international law.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,

Office of the President,

Al Ittihadia Palace,

Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt,

Fax: +202 2 391 1441

Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg


Salutation: Your Excellency

Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial

Minister of Justice

Mohamed Hossam Abdel Rahim

Ministry of Justice,

Lazoghly Sq.,

Fax: +202 2 795 8103

Email: mjustice@moj.gov.eg

Salutation: Dear Minister


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This content is published by the English PEN staff.

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