Egypt author protests Hebrew translation of novel
'The Yacoubian Building' author slams translation as "theft"
One of Egypt's best-selling novelists lashed out on Friday at an unauthorized Hebrew translation of his best known novel, describing it as intellectual "theft."
Alaa al-Aswany told AP that he will sue an Israeli center for translating his hit book, "The Yacoubian Building," without his permission.
The Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information acknowledged it translated the novel against al-Aswany's will on the grounds of "expanding cultural awareness."
The center's founder, Gershon Baskin, said that al-Aswany is against culture normalization with Israel and that is why he turned down several requests to translate the novel into Hebrew.
In consultation with the organization's board, Baskin said, he decided to offer a link to a PDF file of the Hebrew translation, sending it out to the 27,000 people on the group's e-mail list.
"This man apparently rejects the fact that his country has been at peace with Israel for 30 years," Baskin said. "With all due respect to his copyright privileges, we decided it was important for people here to read this book. Let's give the Israeli Jewish public an opportunity to understand Arab society better."
Al-Aswany, a dentist-turned novelist, said bringing up his opposition to normalization with Israel was an attempt to distract from what he characterized as a theft.
"The fact is someone's intellectual property has been stolen and that this happened in Israel, a country that claims to be democratic," he said.
"This is a violation and they are trying to cover it up and justify the theft," he added, noting that his position on normalization conforms with the policies of the writers' and journalists' unions which suspend membership of those interacting with Israel.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel but after three decades, relations are still cold and many intellectuals refuse to "normalize" until the Palestinian situation is resolved.
Al-Aswany said that he asked his international literary agent to file a complaint.
Baskin has said that if al-Aswany wants to sue, they are ready to face him in an Israeli court.
The 2002 novel which was reprinted at least eight times and translated to some 29 languages, is a trenchant critique of Egypt's current socio-economic situation colored with nostalgia for a more tolerant past.