Monday, December 29, 2008

saleh al-kuwaity's 100th anniversary

The Al-Kuwaity brothers in Iraq days with singing legend Muhammad al-Qubanji © Shlomo al-Kuwaity

Saleh al-Kuwaity’s 100th birthday celebrated in London
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 29 December 2008

Saleh al-Kuwaity, one of the greatest figures in 20th century Iraqi and Arab music, was born in 1908 to a family of Iraqi Jews in Kuwait, to where his father had migrated from Basra in the late 19th century. Saleh and his brother Daoud became famous musicians in Iraq, but their musical careers were disrupted when they left for Israel in 1951.

“When their plane took off into the Baghdad skies, it signaled for Saleh and Daoud al-Kuwaity the end of their rise and the beginning of their decline” says Saleh’s son Shlomo.
However, the songs of Saleh al-Kuwaity remained popular in Iraq, Kuwait and beyond. This was shown when two years ago Shlomo and other family members managed to produce the 18-track double CD “Daoud & Saleh al-Kuwaity: Their Star Shall Never Fade.”

“The album had a limited release, and was sent, among others to some prominent Arab figures around the world and in Kuwait and Iraq in particular” says Shlomo. “We were very surprised at the positive responses from the Kuwait, Saudi, Lebanese and Iraqi press, and also from a whole host of online websites which specialize in Arabic music.”

Now a special day has been held at the Brunei Gallery of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Saleh, who died in 1986.

The climax of the day was a packed-out concert during which some of the current generation of Iraqi musicians living in exile performed Saleh al-Kuwaity’s music to a wildly appreciative audience.

A main organizer of the event, the London-based Iraqi oud master Ahmed Mukhtar, said in his welcoming speech: “We commemorate Saleh al-Kuwaity as a person of artistic value not as Iraqi or Kuwaiti, but as of great human value. He managed with his rich compositions to establish some very valuable music in the area, and in particular for the Iraqi people: all the Iraqis tend to sing his songs and are still attached to his classical compositions.”

Mukhtar paid tribute to “the genius of Saleh al-Kuwaity” and the way in which “he created new styles of Iraqi maqam music and freed the maqam from its restrictions and mixed some of it with urban music.”

The concert began with Mukhtar performing variations on several of Saleh al-Kuwaity’s songs. The singer Ismail Fadhel, who lives in Australia, then delivered in rousing style a succession of al-Kuwaity songs. The Iraqi instrumentalists in the ensemble were London-based violinist Taher Barakat and, from the Netherlands, qanoun player Jamil al-Assadi and percussionist Ali Khafaji. The concert was a joyous occasion, with the audience clapping and singing along to songs laden with memories.

During the concert Mukhtar presented a 100th anniversary award to Shlomo al-Kuwaity, who later described the celebration for his father as “incredibly exciting. I was totally surprised and touched to see that he is still present in people’s hearts.”

He added: “For our family and for me, of course it was a great honor. But most important for us is restoring his place in the history of Arab music. We think he deserves it. The response of the audience was overwhelming and I felt at home. I must thank the organizers and SOAS for this event, and hope that a door has been opened without differences of religion and without politics. Just for the Arts!”

The centenary day began with a talk by Shlomo on the extraordinary musical journey of his father Saleh and uncle Daoud. As boys, their musical gifts were revealed after an uncle returned from a business trip to India with a violin for Saleh and an oud for Daoud, two years Saleh’s junior. (The brothers would remain faithful to these instruments throughout their lives.) Their father arranged for them to have lessons with the Kuwaiti musician Khaled al-Baker. They learnt the elements of Kuwaiti, Bahraini, Yemeni and Hijazi music and song, and became famed for their performances at gatherings of dignitaries.

The brothers recorded for the Baidofone company, which in those days would travel to Kuwait. After Baidophone stopped visiting Kuwait in 1928, Kuwaiti artists traveled to Basra to make recordings. A club owner asked Saleh and Daoud to stay in the city and work at his club as musicians. This was when they started to perform with the legendary maqam singer, Muhammad al-Qubbanji.

In 1930 the brothers moved to Baghdad and began to work as musicians in the Malha el-Hilil club accompanying the famous Jewish singer Selima Murad, married to fellow singing star Nazem al-Ghazli. She asked Saleh to write songs for her: the first was “Qalbak Sakhr Jalmoud”(“Your Heart is Rock Hard”).

Over the next two decades Saleh al-Kuwaity was the pre-eminent song writer in Iraq, composing songs for singers including Zakiya George, Munira al-Hawazwaz. Afifa Iskander and Zohour Hussein.

When the great Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum was touring Iraq in 1931, Saleh taught her “Qalbak Sakhr Jalmoud”. Another towering Egyptian performer, the singer and composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab made trips to Iraq in the early 1930s. He was very interested in Iraqi and Kuwaiti music, and would sit with Saleh after performances so the two could learn from each other.

In 1936 the al-Kuwaity brothers were asked to found an orchestra for the new Iraqi broadcasting service. They were also favorites of King Ghazi, who had a personal radio station in his palace. The king gave Saleh a personally inscribed watch, which is still in the possession of the al-Kuwaity family – and is still working.

Many of the instrumentalists in Iraq were Jewish. According to Shlomo, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said, himself a keen amateur musician, switched on the radio one day in 1945 and found there was no music. “When he contacted the radio, he was told that it was Yom Kippur and the Jews did not work. And so it was decided to set up another orchestra with non-Jewish musicians under the direction of Jamil Bashir.”

The tumultuous politics of the region shattered the position of the Jewish community in Iraq. Most of its members emigrated, and in 1951 the al-Kuwaiti brothers left Iraq for Israel. This was despite the Emir of Kuwait’s sending messengers the day of their departure asking them to move to Kuwait, where he guaranteed they would be treated with great respect.

Like many Iraqi Jews, the al-Kuwaity brothers initially faced a difficult time in Israel. Saleh set up a store for household items in the market of Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood. “The store was not a great success,” Shlomo recalls, “but it did serve as a kind of office and address for people who wanted them to perform.” Eventually the brothers had their own radio program on the Arabic service of the Kol Israel official radio station, and this enabled them to reconnect with their lost listeners in the Arab world.

[picture of Saleh al-Kuwaity © Shlomo al-Kuawity]
At the 100th anniversary celebration, the Iraqi author, artist and columnist Khalid Kishtainy recalled Baghdad at the time when the al-Kuwaity brothers were in their heyday. He spoke of Saleh’s well-know love affair with the Muslim Syrian singer who adopted the Christian name of Zakiya George, thinking this would make it more acceptable for her to sing in public.

In a film screened at the event, Ahmed Mukhtar interviewed Yeheskel Kojaman, a London-based Iraqi-Jewish expert in Iraqi music and author of the book “The Maqam Music Tradition of Iraq”, He also interviewed, over the phone, Baher al-Rajab musician son of the Iraqi-Jewish musician Hashim al-Rajab.

In the film it was stated that a committee was formed in Iraq in 1973 to “remove the impurities in the Iraqi heritage.” Many names vanished, including those of the al-Kuwaity brothers, although their music was still widely listened to.

The day also included the screening of a program broadcast by the US-sponsored satellite TV channel Al-Hurra. In the program three experts on Iraqi music, including the conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra Abdul Razzak al-Azzawi, discuss Saleh al-Kuwaity’s importance and identify him as the definitive Iraqi composer of the 1930s and 1940s.

Shlomo notes that at the 8th conference of Baghdad University’s Faculty of Fine Arts this year, Ibrahim al-Jazrawi presented a paper entitled “Saleh al-Kuwaity and his work in Iraqi music and poetry”. Al-Jazrawi proposed the establishment of a library to preserve all material related to Saleh.

Following the success of the double CD, and with fresh material surfacing from sources in countries from the Netherlands and England to Iraq and Kuwait, the family is now working on a publication on the lives and work of Saleh and Daoud al-Kuwaity. Like the double CD, this seems destined to become a treasured collector’s item.

Monday, December 15, 2008

arab booker shortlist

shortlisted titles (credit James Darling)

The shortlist of six novels for the $60,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), announced last week at an event in London’s South Bank arts complex, confirms the importance of Beirut as a publishing center. No fewer than five of the novels are published in Beirut, two of them by Dar al-Adab.

At the same time the shortlist reflects Egypt’s continuing domination of Arabic fiction writing. As in the first year of the prize, the shortlist includes two novels by Egyptian authors. The other shortlisted writers cover a broad sweep of the Arab world, from Tunisia to Palestine-Jordan, Syria and Iraq.

The winner of the first IPAF, who was announced in Abu Dhabi last March, was Egyptian Bahaa Taher for “Sunset Oasis”. Taher’s publisher, Dar al-Shorouk of Cairo, is the only non-Lebanese publisher with a book on the IPAF 2009 shortlist.

The IPAF 2009 winner will be announced in Abu Dhabi on March 16, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The winner will receive a total of $60,000, comprising the $50,000 prize itself plus the $10,000 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors.

IPAF was established in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with funding from the Emirates Foundation and support from the Booker Prize Foundation, which administers Britain’s leading fiction prize the Man Booker. IPAF is often referred to as “the Arab Booker”.

At the announcement of the shortlist, the chairman of the Booker Trust Jonathan Taylor said: “This is only the second year of the prize, but already it seems to be pretty well established. Indeed last year’s winner, Bahaa Taher’s novel ‘Sunset Oasis’, is in the process of being translated into eight languages – including, rather remarkably, Serbian – and the other shortlisted authors are also being translated. ”

The chairman of the five IPAF 2009 judges, the eminent Lebanese scholar and literary critic Youmna el-Eid, read out the titles of the shortlisted books. The best-known author on the shortlist is probably Jordanian-Palestinian poet and novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah, with “Time of White Horses” published by Arab Scientific Publishers of Beirut. The two Egyptians shortlisted are Muhammad Al-Bisatie for “Hunger” (Dar al-Adab) and Yusuf Zaydan for “Beelzebub” (Dar al Shorouk).

Syrian Fawwaz Haddad is shortlisted for “The Unfaithful Translator” (Riad el Rayyes, Beirut). The Iraqi journalist Inaam Kachahi – the only woman on the shortlist – is included for “The American Granddaughter” (Al Jadid, Beirut). From Tunisia there is Al-Habib Al-Salmi with “The Scents of Marie-Claire” (Dar Al Adab).

In all, 131 books were submitted, but ten were deemed unsuitable and the judges read 121 books to arrive at their 16-book longlist announced on November 11. Youmna el-Eid’s co-judges (pictured with el-Eid) are the Egyptian Rasheed El Enany, Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Director of Arab Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, England; the Emirati writer, journalist and head of the Dubai Cultural Council Mohammad al-Murr; the Palestinian-Jordanian critic, journalist and author Fakhri Saleh, and the German translator of Arabic literature Hartmut Faehndrich.

As in the first year of the prize, the identity of the judges was kept secret until the announcement of the shortlist. This secrecy might seem excessive, but last year the organizers explained it was enforced so as “to ensure the independence and integrity of the selection process.”

El Eid stressed that the judges made their selections irrespective of a particular writer’s position or country of origin. Some well known authors of the 121 books considered were omitted from the longlist. And a striking example of a longlisted author who did not make it to the shortlist is the Libyan Ibrahim al-Koni, famed for his novels set in the desert among the Tuareg.

Al-Koni is an acclaimed author who won the Mohamed Zefzaf Prize for the Arabic Novel in 2005 and the 2008 Sheikh Zayed Award for Literature, and his some 60 books have been translated into 35 or so languages.

But then the shortlist for the Man Booker prize itself produces upsets almost every year: for example there was shock in September when Sir Salman Rushdie, widely tipped to win this year’s Man Booker for “The Enchantress of Florence”, failed to make the shortlist.

The six shortlisted novels encompass a wide range of Arab historical, social, religious and political concerns, and explore their impact on individuals. Muhammad Al-Bisatie’s “Hunger” tells of those on the bottom rungs of society, and the contradictions between rich and poor. The judges describe it as “a detached yet intimate portrait of day-to-day lives”.

Inaam Kachachi, Paris correspondent of Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, delves into the dilemmas of Iraqis who have grown up abroad, and their relationship with Iraq. A young American-Iraqi woman, “The American Granddaughter”, returns to Iraq as an interpreter for the US Army after the 2003 invasion.

In “Time of White Horses” Ibrahim Nasrallah depicts the history of three generations of a Palestinian family in a small village, from Ottoman times to the modern era. The judges observe that this saga is descended from a genre introduced into Arabic fiction by Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s “Cairo Trilogy”.

Tunisian Al-Habib Al-Salmi’s “The Scents of Marie-Claire” evokes another genre of Arabic fiction, exploring the East-West relationship through a love affair between an Arab man and a Western woman. Earlier examples of this genre are Tayib Saleh’s “Season of Migration to the North” and Tawfik Al-Hakim’s “Bird from the East”.

Yusuf Zaydan’s “Beelzebub” is set in fifth century Upper Egypt, Alexandria and Northern Syria at a critical time in Christian history. The novel, by a respected Muslim historian, has received critical praise but has upset the Coptic Orthodox Church, which reportedly tried to get it banned.

The central figure of Fawwaz Haddad’s “The Unfaithful Translator” is a translator accused of betrayal. He builds a network of literary figures, journalists and critics to campaign for the upholding of human values and an end to oppression in the art of writing. Ironically, this novel upholding freedom of expression is apparently banned in its author’s home country, Syria. (This was similarly the case with a novel by a Syrian author shortlisted for IPAF 2008, “In Praise of Hate” by Khaled Khalifa).

One of IPAF’s main aims is to encourage the translation of Arabic fiction into English. Arrangements for the translation of the eventual winner of the 2009 prize, and the other shortlisted novels, are already being discussed.

The English translation of the 2008 winner “Sunset Oasis”, being carried out by the highly-regarded translator Humphrey Davies, is funded by the philanthropist and publisher Sigrid Rausing. It is due to be published in the UK by Sceptre, a Hodder & Stoughton imprint, late next summer. The other five novels shortlisted in 2008 have been, or are being, translated into English and other languages.

Taylor says: “We are also becoming aware of another challenge and priority which is to improve the distribution and availability of our Arabic shortlisted writers within the Arabic-reading world. That may be as great a challenge – or even a greater challenge – as securing translation.”
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, December 15 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

lerman critical of macshane's 'new anti-semitism' book

Antony Lerman's incisive New Statesman review of former Labour Europe Minister Denis MacShane's book 'Globalising Hatred: The New Anti-Semitism' is headlined 'Misdirected Passion'. Lerman [left] dismisses MacShane's arguments and material as "familiar stuff" which will only have added credibility for those who are "swayed by exaggeration and ready to overlook a surfeit of unsubstantiated assertions and errors of fact".

Lerman is director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and, as any regular reader of the Jewish Chronicle will know, his critics are legion. He is a signatory to Independent Jewish Voices, and a contributor to the recently-published volume 'A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zioinism and Jewish Identity' (Verso). His review of MacShane's book is unlikely to persuade his enemies to revise their view of him.

Lerman argues that, through "elevating" Anti-Semitism and writing that it is "the world's most pernicious ideology and practice", that it is "preventing just and equitable solutions to world problems", and that Islamism is merely a sub-component of it, MacShane betrays a lack of knowledge and understanding of anti-Semitism's modern history. For example, MacShane writes that "Israel is the one state in the world where anti-Semitism cannot exist", when there has been ample evidence of anti-Semitic neo-Nazi groups emerging there in recent years. And MacShane ignores, say, the hatred that led to the Rwandan genocide, or that is curently directed against the Roma.

Lerman adds: "Unsurprisingly, at the heart of MacShane's definition of 'neo anti-Semitism' is the belief that 'anti-Zionsim is Jew-hatred by other linguistic means'". Further, although MacShane wants a Palestinian state, the arguments in his book are a "gift to the israeli right and right-wing Diaspora Jews, who use the mantra 'the world is against us and Palestinians are like Nazis' to stymie any determined moves towards a two-state solution."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

israeli settlers' 'pogrom' against hebron palestinians

Israeli newspaper Haaretz has a horrifying article and video today on what Avi Issacharoff terms a progrom by rampaging Israelil settlers against Palestinians in Hebron.

The article begins:

Hebron settler riots were out and out pogroms

By Avi Issacharoff

An innocent Palestinian family, numbering close to 20 people. All of
them women and children, save for three men. Surrounding them are a few dozen masked Jews seeking to lynch them. A pogrom. This isn't a play on words or a double meaning. It is a pogrom in the worst sense of the word. First the masked men set fire to their laundry in the front yard and then they tried to set fire to one of the rooms in the house. The women cry for help, "Allahu Akhbar." Yet the neighbors are too scared to approach the house, frightened of the security guards from Kiryat Arba who have sealed off the home and who are cursing the journalists who wish to document the events unfolding there.

The cries rain down, much like the hail of stones the masked men hurled at the Abu Sa'afan family in the house. A few seconds tick by before a group of journalists, long accustomed to witnessing these difficult moments, decide not to stand on the sidelines. They break into the home and save the lives of the people inside...
article in full

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

guardian blog 'visits' egyptian literature

As the English Pen Atlas blog points out, the Guardian Books blog World Literature Tour is currently 'visiting' Egypt.The tour blog posting and comments section reflect the fact that Egyptian literature is increasingly available in translation : the names that recur most are, predictably, Naguib Mahfouz and Alaa al-Aswany. Bahaa Taher, winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) - the 'Arab Booker' - in its first year, for 'Sunset Oasis', is also mentioned. (I have his 'Love in Exile' from Arabia Books in my shelves in the 'soon to be read' section). Yahya Hakki ('The Lamp of Umm Hashim') gets a write-up by commenter suzanabrams.

Other names featured include Ahdaf Soueif (London-based and writing in English), Tawfik al-Hakim, Taha Hussein, Nawal al-Saadawi, Radwa Ashour, Sonallah Ibrahim, Somaya Ramadan, Edwar al-Kharrat, Khairy Shalaby ('The Lodging House', though I prefer the original title in Arabic 'Wikalat Atiya' - lodging house somehow suggestive more of a dismal out of season seaside B&B than a once-splendid cavernous caravanserie). From the new generation Khalid al-Khamissy (pictured below, author of 'Taxi'), Ahmed Aalidy ('Being Abbas El Abd'), Magdy al-Shafei (the graphic novel 'Metro'), Marwa Rakha ('The Poison Tree'), Miral al-Tahawi ('The Tent', 'The Blue Aubergine', 'The Gazelle's Walk)' , and May Telmissany ('Dunyazad').

So far, the blog entry on Egypt has attracted only 17 comments (some of which weren't on Egyptian literature, but suggested a next stop on the 'tour'), much fewer than the 45 for Portugal, the previous stop, Nigeria (42), Australia (116 comments), Ireland (213). Of course it's not really appropiate to compare interest, as indicated by comments, in relatively newly available Egyptian fiction with that in literature from Anglophone countries.
Egypt was chosen as a destination by readers of the blog, but there was a miniscule number of votes. It got 2 votes, tied with the same number for a combined destination of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. As Egypt had been shortlisted a few times previously it was the final choice. Surely Moroccan literature (including poetry) is 'present' enough to merit inclusion in its own right rather than only as part of a general Maghreb entry. Or, if one insists on a general North African entry, why not expand to `include Libya. From a younger generation is Booker-shortlisted Hisham Matar ('In the Country of Men'); veteran authors available in translation include Ibrahim al-Koni, Ahmed Fagih, and those anthologised in Ethan Chorin's 'Translating Libya'.

Monday, December 01, 2008

abdelillah hamdouchi's police novel 'the final bet'

Watching the Detectives Moroccan Style
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette December 1 2008

The picture of British actor Kenneth Branagh on the cover of the latest issue of the London-based weekly Radio Times reflects the public’s abiding appetite for crime drama, and the hope of the BBC that this will extend to crime fiction in translation. The picture shows a rumpled-looking Branagh in his latest role as Swedish detective Inspector Kurt Wallander, the central figure in a series of novels by Swedish author Henning Mankell.

The three 90-minute Wallander dramas, shot on location in the southern Swedish seaport of Ystad, are a highlight of the BBC’s end-of-year schedules. Mankell’s books have been published in 33 countries and his books have been bestsellers in Europe. He has won several international prizes for his Wallander series.

Mankell is just one of a growing number of crime writers from Europe and beyond whose books are, partly through translation into English, widening the vistas of crime fiction. Now Arabia Books of London is hoping that the Moroccan author Abdelilah Hamdouchi (pictured below) will prove a worthy addition to ranks of crime writers in English translation with the publication of “The Final Bet” translated by Jonathan Smolin.

“The Final Bet” is being promoted as the first Arabic detective novel to be translated into English. Hamdouchi, who lives in Rabat, is described as one of the first writers of detective fiction in Arabic. He has written eight novels, and is an award-winning screenwriter for Moroccan TV and cinema. All his police novels, including “The Final Bet”, have been produced for Moroccan TV.

“The Final Bet” was published recently as a hardback by the American University of Cairo (AUC) Press. It was recently issued as a paperback by Arabia Books, which was founded earlier this year by Haus Publishing and Arcadia Books in close cooperation with AUC Press.

The story opens with the stabbing to death of a rich old Frenchwoman Sofia who lives in a swanky area of Casablanca with her much younger Moroccan husband Othman. She was 73 and Othman not yet 33, younger than her son by her first marriage. Sofia owned a restaurant on the coast managed by Othman who, thanks to her wealth, wears expensive Italian clothes and drives the latest BMW.

Othman married Sofia for the material benefits she would bring him and his family, but feels trapped by this marriage to a far older woman who physically repels him. He is having a passionate affair with Sofia’s beautiful young Moroccan aerobics teacher Naeema, who despairs that he will ever leave Sofia. Othman is the prime suspect in Sofia’s murder, especially after it emerges that Sofia had changed her will to make him her sole beneficiary.

On one level “The Final Bet” is a conventional police procedural, and not a particularly sophisticated one. What adds to its interest of the novel is the light it sheds on changes in wider Moroccan society and their impact on policing.

We are in a Morocco of mobile phones and aerobics classes, a society that is in some ways modernizing but which is failing to provide its young people with the opportunities they desperately need. Othman was a bright law graduate who like many other educated Moroccans found himself joining the ranks of the unemployed. He had considered emigrating illegally to Europe across the Strait of Gibraltar, but could not afford to pay the boat smugglers, and had even contemplated suicide.

Sofia’s first, French, husband had been killed in a car crash and her second husband, from whom she was eventually divorced, was a young Moroccan immigrant in France who had persuaded her to open a restaurant in Morocco. Knowing Sofia’s proclivities for young Moroccan men, Othman had set out to woo her and his marriage to her had seemed his last chance. “When he met Sofia he thought Europe immigrated across the Strait to him.”

The characters of the policemen are drawn with touches of humor. There is Allal ben Alawaam, known by those under his command as Alwaar or “rough guy”. He and like-minded cops opposed the recent reforms curbing police violence.

The novel is set at a time when the government is calling for an end to torture-related deaths in police custody, is launching investigations into police misconduct and is arresting police implicated in human rights violations. Alwaar has found it hard to do his job without using brutality, and he has become addicted to betting on racehorses.

At one point Alwaar releases Othman after questioning him. When Boukrisha protests, Alwaar asks him what he wants him to do in this age of democracy and human rights when there is “no more falaqa, no more shock treatment, no more beatings or torture.”

Alwaar’s sidekick is the impulsive younger Inspector Boukrisha, and their team includes the hopeless Asila who dozes off in his old car while supposedly keeping Othman under surveillance.

The role of the good guy of the story is taken by lawyer Ahmed Hulumi who studied law at university with Othman, and who has taken a public stand in support of human rights. He picks holes in the police investigation of Sofia’s murder, and discovers some clues vital to Othman’s defence.

The book’s translator Jonathan Smolin is assistant professor of Arabic at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. In his afterword he puts the novel in its political context. The so-called Years of Lead, in the 1970s and 1980s, had been a period of grave human rights violations in Morocco. At that time reference to the word ‘police’ was virtually taboo, and the police almost never appeared in Moroccan fiction. The growing liberalization of the 1990s produced new forms of fiction, and genres such as literature on illegal immigration and prisons started to appear.

It was in the mid-1990s that the first modern Arabic police novel was born. “The Final Bet” was first published in Arabic in 2001, and dealt with themes of police reform and legal rights. All the evidence relating to Sofia’s murder seems on the surface to point to Othman as the guilty party, and Hamdouchi shows how the police make no effort to look for new leads. In addition, he criticizes the way in which an individual arrested in Morocco cannot have a lawyer present during initial police questioning.

Given that crime fiction is a thriving area of the British book market, “The Final Bet” will surely attract interest from aficionados of the detective genre, as well as from those with an interest in Moroccan and Arab fiction. And who knows, maybe it will be turned into a drama for British TV: even if there is no role for Kenneth Branagh there are plenty of Middle Eastern actors in Britain who could play Othman, Alwaar et al.