Egyptian initiative aims to support young writers

May 28, 2017
Overcoming hardships. Mahmoud Haggag (R), a local radio announcer (C) and an initiative writer pose following a local radio show. (Courtesy of Mahmoud Haggag)

Cairo - It is every writer’s dream to get published but the dream of­ten vanishes when the writer does not gain recognition. The 1,000-Writer Initiative aims to change that perspective by support­ing hundreds of Egyptian and Arab writers.
The project was initiated by Mahmoud Haggag, the head of the Free Media Syndicate in Egypt, to help Arab writers market their man­uscripts and turn some of them into films, television series or theatrical performances.
It provides writers with media exposure and attempts to complete deals with publishing houses to help writers get their works published.
“So far, 250 writers have joined the initiative; 65 of them were in­troduced during the Cairo Interna­tional Book Fair (earlier this year), while the rest have recently joined the initiative,” Haggag said.
The initiative’s idea was derived from the problems writers face with publishing houses.
“I noticed that some really dis­tinguished publications appear in the dark and fade away in the dark without being known to people. The writer in this case gets almost nothing. So I thought of launching an initiative that helps change this concept,” Haggag said.
Writers in Egypt and in the Arab world face several problems getting published.
“The first obstacle ahead of writ­ers is funding,” Haggag said. “Major publishing houses do not produce books from unknown writers. Even if the writer manages to publish his or her book, the publishing house afterward has all the rights.
“The writer, in some cases, espe­cially in Egypt, only gets about 20 copies of his or her book and then the publishing house gets all the financial outcome. In many cases the publishing house does not offer a contract that protects his or her rights.”
Haggag said a writer needs two things to succeed: Legal protection and media exposure.
Haggag said he hoped for the support of the Egyptian Ministries of Culture and Youth to help with organising events and publishing books.
Al-Rawy is among the publishing houses in Egypt that have joined the initiative.
“The principles on which the ini­tiative is based are the same ones that led me to open a publishing house. Every diligent writer should find a chance to publish his or her work and get his or her rights such as good publicity and distribution,” said Enas Nasser, al-Rawy co-owner.
Nasser says another obstacle fac­ing writers is the relation between publishing houses and bookstores.
“Bookstores, especially major ones, only seek profit. So they just care about well-known names writ­ten on covers of books in order to be able to sell,” Nasser said.
Nasser said he was optimistic about the initiative.
“If the initiative succeeds, it will cause a quantum leap in the literary scene in Egypt and the Arab world,” Nasser said.
Egyptian novelist Mervat el-Belt­agy is among the writers in the ini­tiative who said she has faced prob­lems with publishing houses.
“One publishing house published a novel I wrote and they tried to give me my money in the form of copies of my book,” Beltagy said.
“The initiative will introduce me as a writer to people. Fame nowa­days does not depend on writing or talent. Rather, it depends on how he or she manages to gather people around him or her or the number of his or her followers on Facebook,” she said.
The initiative has a legal unit that helps writers address issues of ex­ploitation and violations by publish­ing houses.
“The legal unit is composed of civil society organisations and in­dependent lawyers. The main pur­pose of the unit is to protect writers against the exploitation of publish­ing houses and to maintain intel­lectual property rights,” Haggag ex­plained.
“We are also planning to commu­nicate with parliament members to convince them to pass a law that protects the rights of writers and manages the relation between them and publishing houses.”
Lawyer Walid al-Haddad of al-Adl human rights organisation said that “among the initiative’s mechanisms is preserving the rights of the writer as well as the legal intervention be­tween the writer and the publishing house when needed.”
Writers younger than 35 years of age from Tunisia, Morocco, the Pal­estinian territories, Algeria, Yemen, Kuwait and the United Arab Emir­ates have joined the initiative.
About 85% of the books that have been produced so far are literary works.
“After the number of writers we have reaches 1,000, we will select the best 100 of them and support them. Every six months, we will se­lect another 100 and add 100 new ones to the remaining 900 so that the number remains 1,000 and in turn the initiative keeps going,” Haggag said.
“I expect that within four months we will reach the target number of 1,000 writers,” he concluded.