Shining all over Egypt

Shine, shine, you who shine on all of us 
Shine, shine, you who shine wherever you go 
No one can shine like you shine 
You made people feel confused and lost 
You made people feel happy and lost

Are you shocked by these lines of verse? Aghast at their temerity? Their author has just been given the maximum sentence allowed under Egyptian law – three years in jail and a fine of $18,000 – on charges of insulting President Hosni Mubarak (who is referred to throughout the country as The Laughing Cow).

The offending lines were written by Mounir Said Hanna Marzouk, an obscure civil servant from Maghagha in southern Egypt.According to the BBC, he “began writing poetry only recently and was encouraged when his colleagues at the office enjoyed reading it. But things took a turn for the worse when he began to write about problems at work and everyday life.”

One colleague made a formal complaint and he was hauled in by the authorities for interrogation. He was tried and sentenced without help from a lawyer, and might easily have remained forgotten in jail for the next three years. It was only when his family appealed to President Mubarak for pardon that the case started to attract public attention.

Why on earth do Arab regimes still pursue these ridiculous “crimes” of “insulting” the head of state or “defaming” the country? As the Egyptian blogger Zeinobia (whose translation from the offending poem is quoted above) puts it: “So what if he mocks Mubarak? Mubarak is not a God, he is just a president.”

The case, she says, is reminiscent of King Farouk’s last days in power, when writers and poets like Bayram el-Tunsi were punished or exiled for “defaming” the monarch.