CAIRO—A translation house affiliated with the Egyptian government has set off new fears about freedom of thought and expression in Egypt by setting strict new guidelines for the books it will accept for translation into Arabic.
The National Center for Translation, a nonprofit state-run organization, announced the new conditions last month, stating that books proposed for translation “should not oppose religion, social values, morals and customs.”
The guidelines apply only to what the center itself will accept for translation, but they are expected to have a broader effect, both in the number and scope of translated books and in the decisions of private, for-profit publishers.
The new guidelines come as a result of “the center’s getting proposals to translate books that insult religious symbols and institutions,” as well as works “that promote homosexuality, perversion and atheism,” the center said in a statement that was posted on its Facebook page but later removed.
The center announced numerous other conditions on works it will accept for translation. Among them: Books must be recent publications no more than five years old, must be translated from the original language and not from an intermediate language, and must range from 60 to 500 pages in length, though heritage books, encyclopedias or dictionaries may be excluded from this condition.
The center said it created the guidelines with the aim of “presenting what is new and urging the proposers to follow the cultural scene and select valuable works.”
Removing the statement from Facebook does not represent a reversal of the new guidelines, said Engy Al-Anwar, a media official at the National Center for Translation, who explained in a phone call that the post was deleted because of the many critical comments it drew and out of “decency” to followers of the center’s page.
Al-Anwar described the criticism as a “strange and unjustified attack.”
The head of the center declined to comment beyond what the statement said.
Created for Sharing Knowledge
The National Center for Translation was established in 2006 as a nonprofit government agency whose aim is to open windows for Arabic readers to knowledge in all languages and cultures, and to fill the knowledge gaps. Within years, it became one of the most famous translation houses in the Arab world due to the diversity of translations it provides, in terms of topics and languages it translated from.