Friday, December 24, 2010

ALECSO-SOAS symposium on translation of Arabic literature

Above: Rita Awad of ALECSO (R) with Banipal co-founder and publisher Margaret Obank

The recently-announced shortlist of six books for the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, also known as the Arabic Booker) has triggered interest among translators and publishers keen to identify new titles for translation into English and other European languages.

One of the aims in creating the prize, launched in 2007 with funding from the Abu-Dhabi based Emirates Foundation, was to encourage an increased readership for Arabic literature through translation. As well as receiving a total of $60,000 in prize money, the winner is guaranteed translation of their novel into English; a number of the other shortlisted novels have also been translated.

The winner of the prize in its first year (2008), “Sunset Oasis” by Egyptian Bahaa Taher, has done well in its English translation by Humphrey Davies and has been translated into six other European languages. The English edition has been nominated for the world’s largest literary prize, the International IMPAC Dublin literary award worth 100,000 Euros.

The English translation by Jonathan Wright of the 2009 winner, Egyptian Yousssef Ziedan’s “Azazel”, is to be published by Atlantic next August. The novel has been translated into seven other European languages, and into Indonesian. The 2010 winner, Saudi writer Abdo Khal’s novel “Tarmi bi-Sharar” (“Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles”), is to be translated and published in English.

The role of IPAF in stimulating the translation and publishing of Arabic literature is just one sign of the growing international appetite for Arab literature in the two decades since Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz became in 1988 the first – and so far only – Arab to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

A three-day symposium on The Translation of Modern Arabic Literature into European languages held recently at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), London University explored many of the issues around the translation of Arabic literature.

The symposium was organised jointly by the SOAS Centre for Culture, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS), and the Tunis-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO).

In his welcome address the CCLPS chair Dr Ayman A El-Desouky (pictured) said the symposium represented “continual intellectual as well as institutional collaboration between SOAS and ALECSO”. It was the third SOAS-ALECSO symposium to be held since 2006.

Palestinian author and critic Dr Rita Awad of ALECSO said: “There is no doubt that translation is the cornerstone of cultural bridge-building and that literature, besides other artistic and cultural expressions, is the image and voice of the people’s spirit.” The translation of modern Arabic literature into European languages “will help in reforming the image of the Arabs and their cultures in the Western imagination, drawing a realistic human image in place of the long-prevailing stereotypes and their newly-drafted adaptations.”

The keynote address of was given by the Syrian Professor Sadik Jalal Al-Azm, Professor Emeritus of Modern European Philosophy at the University of Damascus on the subject of Translation and the Post-Modern. Professor Al-Azm was characteristically eloquent and challenging.

The participants in the symposium comprised around 20 scholars and experts from Europe, Russia and North America. One symposium theme was: “Are the works of modern Arabic literature received today only as the cultural production of a society in extremis, thereby confirming the zone of translation as a war zone, to quote Emily Apter?” (Apter, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University, is author of the 2006 book “The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature”).

From the papers given by the two speakers from the US, Elliott Colla and Samah Selim, it appeared that the context of translation from Arabic to English in the US is more problematic and embattled than is the case in Europe.

Colla is Chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC and is translator of several works of Arabic literature, including Libyan writer Ibrahim al-Koni’s “Gold Dust”. He said that while translation is often assumed to follow a path towards communication, comprehension and the deepening of cultural understanding, translation is “also a key part of how we conduct armed conflict. Indeed, translation is a routine protocol of modern empires, without which they would perish.”

Colla outlined the scope of contemporary military investment in Arabic-English translation, and depicted “the violent context in which, and against which us scholars and literary translators work in the present moment”,

In the past 10 years the US military and intelligence agencies have poured more than $10 billion into efforts to recruit, train and deploy tens of thousands of Arabic-English translators into the so-called Global War on Terror. According to one source, there are more than 10,000 military translators living in the Washington DC area alone.

In Iraq over 9,000 interpreters work for Global Linguist Solutions, the most successful of the various private firms who have received lucrative US contracts in translation and interpreting services. And the number of local Iraqi interpreters hired directly by the US army may be similar to this figure or even higher.

Samah Selim, the Egyptian born Assistant Professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages at Rutgers University, won the 2009 Saif Ghobash–Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for her translation of the collection of stories “The Collar and the Bracelet” by Egyptian Yahya Taher Abdullah.

Translation can be a lonely activity, and translators still sometimes receive less than their due acknowledgement. Selim spoke of “the intense work sessions, the daily grind, the moments of fantastic inspiration, the love-hate relationship to a text which is always a kind of paradox in that the text is one’s own and not one’s own. It’s a text that we as translators struggle selflessly to serve and at the same time selfishly to possess.”

Selim asked: “Why do we work so very hard as translators of Arabic for so little material reward? Now I think the answer is very obvious: let’s call it a labor of love – a visceral attachment to languages and their respective worlds, to the histories and places in which these languages are rooted and to the idea of culture as something, in Said’s words, to be fought over, tested and maybe even redeemed.” Translation is a vocation as much as a profession.

She examined the status of Arabic literature as “embargoed literature” as described by Edward Said in a 1990 essay of that title. This embargoing “depends on the silencing and, or, demonization of the voice of the ‘Other’ in order to succeed”.

There are in the US a number of institutions and organizations whose job is to police the ideological wall which was first raised up by the US versions of Orientalism, and by Cold War politics, and which has been greatly extended and reinforced by the events of 9/11. “There are real institutions with real sources of funding and real agendas that exist to continue this embargo.”

Selim distinguished the humanist translator from the committed or activist translator. To break the embargo requires “a different understanding of our role as translators and teachers as well as the ways in which conventional publishing restricts our ability to reach our full potential.” The committed or activist mode of translation depends on communities of activist translators working together.

As an example of committed translation Selim pointed to the Babels network of volunteer interpreters and translators, born out of the European Social Forum. Another example is the recent collaboration of Adalah – the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel – and the Palestine Education Project in New York on an anthology of contemporary prison writings by young men and women from the occupied territories.

The participants in the symposium included some of the most prominent translators of Arabic literature into European languages over the past two decades. Hartmut Fähndrich has translated more than 40 titles of contemporary Arabic literature into German. In 1984 he was appointed as editor of the Arabic Literature series of LENOS publishing house based in Basel, Switzerland. In 2009 he won a King Abdullah International Prize for Translation.

Among the many points Fähndrich made was that translators “get texts that sometimes leave very much to be desired.” There are often mistakes, or passages that are unclear in meaning, in the original Arabic. A main reason for this is that “Arab publishing houses lack editors.”

The Italian scholar and translator Isabella Camera d’Afflitto, Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at La Sapienza University in Rome, has translated authors including Naguib Mahfouz, Abd al-Rahman Munif, Ghassan Kanafani, Emile Habibi and Latifa Zayyad. In her paper she examined the many choices that translation from Arabic involves. (She is currently a judge of IPAF 2011).

Like some other participants in the symposium, Isabella Camera d’Afflitto was involved in the groundbreaking project of the Amsterdam-based European Cultural Foundation, Mémoires de la Méditerranée, between 1994 and 2001. The project led to the publication of 50 translations of 12 Arabic titles prepared by nine translators working in different European languages. Eight workshops brought the Arab authors and their translators together at the Escuela de Traductores in Toledo. She spoke warmly of working in such a workshop with the novelist Abdul Rahman Munif on the translation of his book “Sirat Madina” (“Story of a City: A Childhood in Amman”) into English and six other European languages.

Gonzalo Fernandez Parrilla, Associate Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at Universidad Antonoma de Madrid gave a Spanish perspective on the history and current state of translation from Arabic. He has translated into Spanish works by authors including Moroccan Rachid Nini and Egyptian May Tilmisani and is the author of a history of modern Moroccan literature.

Yves Gonzalez-Quijano of the Institute Francais du Proche-Orient in Damascus spoke on his long experience in translation and promoting publication of Arabic literature in French, including creating for the French publishing house Actes Sud in the 1990s the Mondes Arabes collection of translated works of modern Arabic literature.

Marilyn Booth, Iraq Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh and co-director of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World, focused on the relationship between the original author of an Arabic literary text and the translator.

The emergence of Translation Studies as an academic discipline has led to “a welcome accenting of the translator’s creativity and autonomy as a producer of aesthetic culture.” But this new valuation of the translator as cultural actor, “as, indeed author”, may have effaced recognition of the other forces that go into production of the published text. Editors, and the publicity apparatuses that frame the published text, have a hand in producing the text as does the original author.

The relationship of first author to translator is “often intimate, sometimes tense”. It is no secret that Booth and the Saudi author Rajaa Alsanea fell out when Alsanea, without consulting Booth, made extensive changes to Booth’s translation of Alsanea’s debut novel “Girls of Riyadh”.

Booth had been attracted to the novel by its “linguistic poly-exuberance and structural experimentation” which she tried to reflect in her translation. Booth considered Alsanea’s alterations to her translation resulted in a blander and more clichéd translation, and diluted the novel’s experimentation.

Despite this experience, Booth thinks that author-translator negotiations and relationships are in most cases “not only positive but lead to ongoing collaborations and even wonderful friendships.”

Booth has been conducting a survey of fellow translators of Arabic literature into English and other languages. She contacted 25 translators, of whom 12 have so far responded, and she quoted some of their observations. One translator said “I think Arab authors sometimes think they know English better than they do.” Another comment was: “Generally, the greater the writer, the more humble he is.”

Booth said “this humility is likely to be enhanced if the author is also an experienced literary translator herself or himself.” After Booth translated Egyptian writer Somaya Ramadan’s novel “Leaves of Narcissus”, Ramadan wanted some rewrites. Booth found her experience of working with Ramdan on the rewrite very positive, “largely I think because the author is herself a translator and thus understands the process and all that goes into it.”

Rasheed El-Enany, Professor Emeritus at Exeter University, and editor of the Edinburgh Studies in Modern Arabic Literature series, spoke on translations of Naguib Mahfouz’s works. Of Mahfouz’s 35 novels (counting the three novels of the “Cairo Trilogy” separately), all but three have been published in English translation. The three missing translations are to be published by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press by the end of 2011 – the centenary of Mahfouz’s birth. They are “Al Hubb Tahta al-Matar” (“Love in the Rain, translated by Nancy Roberts), “Qalb al-Layl” (“Heart of the Night”, translated by Aida Bamia) and Mahfouz’s final novel “Qushtumr” (“The Coffeehouse”, translated by Raymond Stock) published in 1988.

El-Enany has some concerns over the translation of the complete works of Mahfouz in English. “I don’t think that the entire oeuvre of Naguib Mahfouz deserves to be translated,” he said. “His 35 novels are of varying quality and artistic achievement. Some of them are hardly read in Arabic now and he was the first to admit, with his usual modesty, that he had written some very negligible fiction in order to deal with an issue of the day that he felt he needed to make a statement on.” But El-Enany acknowledged that even Mahfouz’s lesser works are still of socio-political interest.

El-Enany has encountered problems with some of the Mahfouz translations which he thinks are “symptomatic of the big majority of translations of Arabic fiction into English.” They include difficulties in translating dialect and colloquialisms, and in conveying the “religious register” of Arabic conversation. There is also a loss of the symbolic significance of proper character and place names.

Stefan Wild, Professor Emeritus in Semitic Languages and Islamic Studies at Bonn University, investigated in his paper “Translating Religion” the challenge translators of Arabic face in deciding how much Muslim vocabulary needs to be explained to the non-Muslim reader.

Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature, has played an important role in bringing Arab writers to new readerships through translation into English from languages including Arabic, French, German and other European languages. Next February Banipal marks the 13th anniversary of the publication of its first issue in February 1998. So far the magazine has in 39 issues published no fewer than 650 Arab authors in English. It has also launched a book publishing arm and a translation prize.

Banipal’s co-founder, publisher and former editor Margaret Obank spoke on the Banipal experience. Among the things that interested symposium participants was the way in which Banipal had brought four young Arab authors for a tour of the UK, giving them direct contact with new readerships at local venues such as public libraries, bookshops and theatres.

The growth in translation of Arabic literature over the past 20 years has coincided with developments in Translation Studies and Translation Theory, including US translation theorist Lawrence Venuti’s depiction of “foreignisation” versus “domestication” translation strategies.

While “foreignisation” communicates linguistic and cultural differences in a translation, rather than removing them, and intentionally keeps a sense of “foreginness”, “domestication” adapts the translation to the target culture as far as possible.

Christina Phillips, lecturer in Arabic Literature and Media at the University of Exeter, noted that “domestication” has come to be regarded by some as “reductive and deceptive”, while “foreignizing” translation strategies have gained favor. But Phillips argued that “the domesticating approach can be extremely effective in some cases while foreignization, even as it achieves its goal of disrupting target cultural norms and assumptions, can be self-defeating and obstruct cultural exchange”.

Phillips explored the differences between the two translation strategies through references to her own published translation of Mahfouz’s “Hadith al-Sabah wa’s-Masa’”, which could be seen as a “foreignized” translation, and to Lebanese author Hanan Al-Shaykh’s memoir of her mother “Hikayati Sharh Yatul” translated into English by Roger Allen. The London publisher Bloomsbury successfully “domesticated” the translated book for a Western readership by extensively restructuring and repackaging it, under the title “The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story”.

Although translation of modern Arabic literature into English and other European languages has increased, the amount of literature in translation remains relatively small. Publishing expert Peter Ripken [pictured (R) with Hartmut Fähndrich (centre) and Stefan Wild), who was for many years associated with the Frankfurt Book Fair, put things into perspective with his figures on the availability of Arab literature into German. There are some 600 books by Arab authors in print in German, of which some 450 are translations from Arabic and other languages while the remainder were written in German by authors including Syrian- born Rafik Schami.

The figure of 450 translations is less than 0.3 per cent of all books in the German fiction market, which is 40 per cent translated. Even in the German-language literary arena, which has done more than most to support translation and publication of Arab authors, translated Arab literature still has only a relatively modest presence.

Although the symposium was primarily concerned with Arabic literature in translation, attention was also paid to Arab authors who write directly in English and other European languages. The increasing presence of such authors may help promote interest in Arab literature in general and encourage translators and publishers to search for fresh Arab voices. But at the same time the growing availability of works from Arab authors written in European languages may not be good news for Arab authors whose work needs to be translated. In the German-language market the dominant position held by the prolific German-writing Rafik Schami who could lead German readers to think his voice is the voice of Arab literature.

Susannah Tarbush

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cinnamon Press publishes poet Omar Sabbagh's 1st collection

British-Lebanese poet Omar Sabbagh's debut collection
Susannah Tarbush
(Arabic version of this article appeared in Al-Hayat 13th Oct 2010)

The publication of Omar Sabbagh’s first collection of poems, “My Only Ever Oedipal Complaint”, establishes this 29-year-old British-Lebanese poet as an exciting, courageous compelling new poetic talent. The collection’s back cover carries praise from Lebanese former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who writes: “Greatly enjoyed...I recommend ‘My Only Ever Oedipal Complaint’ to everyone who wants to read poetry emergent from the soul of the south, yet chiselled from a native English rock.”

The collection was published recently by the independent publisher Cinnamon Press, based in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales. Omar, who writes in English, composed the collection’s 56 poems between summer 2006 and winter 2009/10.

Professor Philip Davis of Liverpool University, editor of The Reader magazine, writes on the book’s back cover: “Omar Sabbagh is a distinct presence and a powerful voice: a young poet worthy of attention.” And poet and lecturer Martyn Cruceifx finds that Sabbagh “writes brilliantly about alienation from country and family: even his love poems are often troubled, and this makes for a distinctively modern sensibility.”

Asked by Al-Hayat whether he has plans to get his poetry translated into Arabic, Omar says: “I haven’t really thought about translations, but would be very open to one.” He adds: “this book had to be written before I could move on. It’s what T S Eliot would call an ‘objective correlate’ of my prolonged adolescence, the objectifying of a certain period of tempestuous pain between two covers.”

The poet discloses: “I have a contract now for a second collection, provisionally titled ‘The Square Root of Beirut’, forthcoming in February 2012 from Cinnamon.”

Omar’s parents Mohamad and Maha Sabbagh left Lebanon in 1975 because of the civil war and settled in London, where Omar was born. They returned to live in Lebanon permanently only four years ago. Omar dedicates the collection to his father and to a mysterious female identified only by the initial “C”, who had a profound effect on the poet’s psyche. The second half of the collection is entitled: “’Hiatus Hayatee: For C”.

The moving first poem in the collection, dedicated to Mohamad Sabbagh, is entitled “A Father’s Love.” The final stanza reads: “Let me remember him, immemorial / as ringed time in a tree; / let the echoes of his voice remind me / the whole way home / of where home is; / and as my eyes turn to glass / I’ll lift them up to a father’s love.

Many of the poems in the collection have personal dedications to family members or friends. The poem “Easy Going” is for “the two grandfathers I never met.” A number of the poems directly refer to Lebanon; “Rula’s Epiphany” begins: “Picture the undressed woman, Beirut, / her stone skins of yellowed pearl / the sun drips upon.

It is not easy for an emerging poet to make his mark, but Omar has had remarkable success in having his poems published in leading British literary journals including Agenda, Stand, Envoi, The Reader, Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Wales and The Warwick Review. The latest issue of Banipal, the London-based magazine of Arab literature, includes several of his latest poems.

Sabbagh thinks that “my literary side comes from my mother’s side of the family. Growing up she loved English literature, and she passed onto me the desire to read from an early age.” She gave him the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to read when he was 11. “Her mother, my now deceased grandmother Sabiha Faris, used to teach children’s literature at the American University of Beirut and one of my uncles on my mother’s side, Waddah Faris, was an art dealer and artist.”

Omar is a scholar as well as a poet, and is the final stages of revising the PhD thesis at Kings College, London University, on the subject of Narrative and Time in the writings of Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad. He read for his first degree, in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), at Exeter College, Oxford University, and then did an MA in English Literature. He started a doctorate at Cambridge, but left after eight months to devote himself to poetry. He then did a second MA, in creative writing, at Goldsmiths College, London University, at the same time embarking on his PhD at King’s College. He is currently doing a third MA, in philosophy, at Birkbeck College, London University.

At Goldsmiths he studied under the award-winning poet Fiona Sampson, who writes of him: “He is very very able, and I think very interesting as a cross-cultural phenomenon. (I don’t mean in ANY tokenistic way, I mean in the way he fuses Western liberal education and home experience). He writes in a range of genres, not just poetry – he’s incredibly bright, full of energy and assiduity. I warmly recommend him.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IPAF longlist announced

One of the striking features of the 16-book longlist for the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, AKA the 'Arabic Booker') is how many of the titles explore - often through love relationships - the experiences of Arabs in flux between the contemporary Arab region and the West.

The central character of Egyptian Khalid al-Bari's 'An Oriental Dance' is a young Egyptian who marries an older British woman. Through him, the author examines the Arab community in the UK. The heroine of Saudi novelist Raja Alam's [pictured] 'The Doves' Necklace', set in Mecca, offsets the sleazy underworld of that city with her love letters to her German boyfriend. In Syrian Maha Hassan's novel 'Secret Rope' a young Syrian woman finds in France a freedom that is denied her in her own country. And in 'The Eye of the Sun' by Syrian Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa, a woman returns home to Syria after living in exile in Sweden. Lebanese Renee Hayek focuses on the impact of the Civil War on family and friends, and relationships between those who stayed and those who left the country. The narrative of another Lebanese writer, Fatin al-Murr, in 'Common Sins' shifts between Lebanon and London as she depicts the resistance in southern Lebanon.

Egyptian Miral al-Tahawy [pictured] has a female narrator recount the story of Arab New Yorkers in the novel 'Brooklyn Heights'. The Algerian author Waciny Laredj takes a historical approach in 'The Andalucian House' which tells the story of a house in Granada through the generations of its inabitants over the centuries.

One of cruellest interfaces of Arab-Western interaction in the 21st century is that of Arabs in captivity, and under "extraordinary rendition", and this is the tough subject matter of 'My Tormentor' by Moroccan Bensalem Himmich [pictured]. The "war on terror" is also the backdrop to Syrian Fawaz Haddad's book 'God's Soldiers' in which a Syrian father goes in search of his son, who has joined Al-Qaeda, only to be kidnapped himself. Moroccan Mohammed Achaari's 'The Arch and the Butterfly', tells the story of a father whose son has joined Al-Qaeda rather than study in Paris, and has died a martyr in Afghanistan.

Saudi author Maqbul Moussa Al-Alawi in 'Turmoil in Jeddah' tells of British imperial involvement in the Middle East through a bloody naval confrontation between the British and Ottomans off Jeddah in the late 19th century.

'Women of Wind' by the Libyan woman fiction writer Razan Naim al-Maghrabi takes us deep into the world of women as she portrays the efforts of her Moroccan servant girl central protagonist to migrate illicitly by sea.

Relationships between religions in particular Arab countries are explored by Yemeni writer Ali al-Muqri and Egyptian Khairy Shalaby. In 'The Handsome Jew' al-Muqri recounts the story of a love affair and elopement of an Imam's daughter and her Jewish pupil. Shalaby dramatises Coptic-Muslim relations in the Egyptian Delta through his account in 'Istasia' of a Muslim lawyer who brings the murderer of a Coptic man to justice.

Much has been made of the headline-grabbing fact that 7 of the 16 authors on the longlist are female, the largest representation of women on the longlist in the prize's four-year history. The list is also noteworthy for its geographical range, from Morocco to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and from Syria down to Sudan. The Sudanese writer listed is Amir Taj al-Sir - family name also transliterated as al-Sirr; the Jeddah-based Saudi newspaper Okaz and its sister publication Saudi Gazette proudly report that al-Sirr is "an Okaz writer" as well as highlighting the presence of Saudi authors Raja Alem and Maqbul Moussa al-Alawi on the longlist. Last year IPAF was won for the first time by a Saudi writer - Abdo Khal for 'Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles'.

The longlist:

The Arch and the Butterfly
by Mohammed Achaari
Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)

The Doves’ Necklace
by Raja Alem
Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)
Saudi Arabian

Turmoil in Jeddah
by Maqbul Moussa Al-Alawi
Saudi Arabian

An Oriental Dance
by Khalid Al-Bari
El-Ain Publishing

God’s Soldiers
by Fawaz Haddad
Riad El-Rayyes Books

Secret Rope
by Maha Hassan

A Short Life
by Renée Hayek
Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)

My Tormentor
by Bensalem Himmich
Dar El Shorouk

The Andalucian House
by Waciny Laredj
Jamal Publications

Women of Wind
by Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi
Thaqafa l-al-Nashr (Cultural Publications)

The Handsome Jew
by Ali Al-Muqri
Dar al-Saqi

Common Sins
Fatin Al-Murr
Dar An-Nahar

by Khairy Shalaby
Dar El Shorouk

The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter)
by Amir Taj Al-Sir
Thaqafa l-al-Nashr (Cultural Publications)

Brooklyn Heights
by Miral Al-Tahawy
Dar Merit

The Eye of the Sun
by Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa
Arab Scientific Publishers

As usual, the identity of the IPAF judges is being kept secret until the announcement of the shortlist - on 9 December in the Qatari capital Doha,this year's Arab Cultural Capital. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Monday 14 March 2011, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. IPAF is funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy and is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

From the announcement issued though IPAF's London-based PR firm Colman Getty:
The longlist includes seven women writers, the highest number in the prize's history. The as-yet nameless Chair of Judges comments: “This year’s novels were thematically varied, covering the issues of religious extremism, political and social conflict, and women’s struggle to liberate themselves from the obstacles standing in the way of their personal growth and empowerment. We are delighted with the very high percentage of women who reached the longlist compared with previous years.”

Joumana Haddad, Prize Administrator, comments: “The Prize in its fourth year has become a critical conscience and a literary reference in all that relates to the modern Arabic novel, in both the Arab and Western worlds. The 2011 longlist is proof of that.”

2011 marks the fourth year of the Prize, the first of its kind in the Arab world in its commitment to the independence, transparency and integrity of its selection process. Its aim is to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.

To date, the three winners of the Prize have been translated into English, in addition to a range of other languages including Bosnian, French, German, Norwegian and Indonesian. Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (2008) was translated into English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) in 2009, Youssef Ziedan’s Azazel(2009) will be published in the UK by Atlantic Books in August 2011 and news of an English translation of Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles (2010) will be announced shortly. In addition, a number of the shortlisted finalists have also secured translations, the most recent of which is an English translation of Inaam Kachachi’s The American Granddaughter through the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation.

Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, comments: “The longlist for the fourth International Prize for Arabic Fiction is as varied, talented and powerful as ever and includes writers from seven Arabic countries, a high proportion being women.”

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic and each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. It was launched in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy.

Details of the 2011 longisted authors and novels:

is a poet and novelist from Morocco. He is the head of the Union of Moroccan Writers and was Minister of Culture from 1998 to 2007. He has published a number of works of fiction and poetry, some of which has been translated into French, Spanish, Russian and Dutch.

The Arch and the Butterfly Tackling the themes of Islamic extremism and terrorism from a new angle, The Arch and the Butterfly explores the effect of terrorism on family life. It tells the story of a left-wing father who one day receives a letter from Al-Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believes is studying in Paris, has died a martyr in Afghanistan. The novel looks at the impact of this shocking news on the life of its hero and consequently on his relationship with his wife.

RAJA ALEM is a well-known Saudi novelist living in Mecca. She has published a number of novels and plays. Two of her works, written in collaboration with American novelist and cinematographer Tom McDonough, have been published in English: Fatma: A Novel of Arabia (2002) and My Thousand and One Nights (2007). In The Doves’ Necklace, she defends the old town of Mecca which is threatened with destruction in the name of modernisation.

The Doves’ Necklace - The sordid underbelly of the holy city of Mecca is revealed in this astonishing story. The world painted by heroine Aisha embraces everything from prostitution and religious extremism to the exploitation of foreign workers under a mafia of building contractors, who are destroying the historic areas of the city. This bleak scene is contrasted with the beauty of Aisha’s love letters to her German boyfriend.

MAQBUL MOUSSA AL-ALAWI is a Saudi writer, whose stories and articles have been published in local newspapers. This is his first novel.

Turmoil in Jeddah - Set towards the end of 19th century, Turmoil in Jeddah is a story of Ottoman nationalism played out in the Arabian Gulf. When an Arab naval captain pulls down the British flag on his ship and raises the Ottoman flag in its place, he provokes outrage from the British Consul, the ship’s protector, and events spiral out of control, culminating in bloodshed and a popular uprising against the British.

KHALID AL-BARI is an Egyptian writer with a degree in Medicine from Cairo University. He has lived in London for over 10 years. He has published two books, one of which is a biography.

An Oriental Dance tells the story of a young Egyptian who, on marrying an older British woman, moves to England. Through his eyes, the reader is given a vivid account of the struggles and relationships of the Arab expatriate community living in the UK.

FAWAZ HADDAD is a Syrian novelist born in Damascus. A full-time writer, he has published several novels and a collection of short stories. He was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009 for The Unfaithful Translator and was on the judging panel for the Hannah Meeena Novel contest in 2003 and the Almazraa Novel contest in 2004. A chapter from his novel Passing Scene was published in English in Banipal Magazine in 2008, translated by Paul Starkey.

God’s Soldiers - an action-packed story set in modern-day Iraq ,in which a father goes in search of his son who has joined Al-Qaeda, hoping to take him back to Syria. Despite the protection of the American and Syrian Secret Services, the father is kidnapped by his adversaries and, along the way, finds himself in an audience with the real-life character Abu Muses al-Zarqawi, once Iraq’s most notorious insurgent.

MAHA HASSAN is a Syrian novelist and journalist living in France, who has published her work in a number of Arabic newspapers and online. She is the author of two novels, but she has been banned from publishing in Syria since 2000. In 2008 she lived for a year in the former, renovated apartment of Anne Frank and her family at the Amsterdam Merwedeplein, at the invitation of Amsterdam Vluchtstad.

Secret Rope contrasts life in Syria and France through the story of a mother and daughter. After her marriage in Syria, the daughter finds she must return to France to pursue a life of freedom that she cannot achieve in her homeland.

RENÉE HAYEK was born in southern Lebanon and studied philosophy at the Lebanese University, before embarking on a career in journalism and literary translation. She is the author of a collection of short stories called Portraits for Forgetfulness (1994) and one of the stories within the collection, The Phone Call, was translated into English and included in Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women. Her novel, Prayer for the Family, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009.

A Short Life gives an eye witness account from a woman living in Lebanon during the long years of Civil War. Writing in the present tense, the reader is given an insight into daily life in wartime, from the difficulties and dangers of travelling across the country to the war’s effect on social life, from family to relationships with friends who have remained and those who have sought a new life abroad.

BENSALEM HIMMICH is a Moroccan novelist, poet and philosopher and the current Minister of Culture. He has published 26 books, both literary and scientific works, in Arabic and French, and has won numerous literary prizes including the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature (twice) and the Riad El Rayyes Prize. His novels The Theocrat (2005) and The Polymath (2004) have been translated into English by Roger Allen. His novel, Black Taste, Black Odour, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009.

My Tormentor - a gripping novel, whose narrative style is a blend of Kafka and One Thousand and One Nights, in which Himmich imagines an innocent man’s experience of extraordinary rendition in an American prison. During his captivity, the protagonist is subjected to interrogation and torture by both Arabs and foreigners and yet, against all odds, the author manages to find some hope in an otherwise desperate situation.

WACINY LAREDJ is a prolific Algerian author, well-known both in his own country and in France. His books are published in Arabic and French. He has won a number of prizes for his work, including the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Literature in 2007.

The Andalucian House relays the history of a house in Granada through the stories of the people who live there over the centuries. Amongst its many residents are two famous, real-life characters: the first, Dali Mami, a sixteenth-century pirate who fought for the Turks and was responsible, amongst other things, for Miguel de Cervantes's period of captivity in Algeria and the second Emperor Napoleon III, whose wife Eugenie was born in Granada.

RAZAN NAIM AL-MAGHRABI is a Libyan writer who has published five collections of short stories and a novel called ‘Ala Madar Al-Hamal.

Women of Wind is a moving story of female friendship and the secret lives of women. It tells the story of a Moroccan servant girl who requests the help of the women in her life to help raise enough money secure a passage on a smugglers’ ship. Before the heroine embarks on her harrowing voyage, the narrative weaves together the stories of the different women who help her, from the Iraqi woman who acts as a go-between between the heroine and the smugglers, to a female novelist and a little girl whose mother has abandoned her.

ALI AL-MUQRI is a poet, journalist and novelist born in Yemen. Al-Muqri started writing at the age of 18. After the reunification of Yemen in 1990, he became a cultural editor for various publications. Since 1997, he has been editor of Al-Hikma, a literary publication of the Yemeni Writer’s Association. He also heads a literary journal called Ghaiman which was established in 2007. His novel, The Man from Andalucia, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009.

The Handsome Jew tells the story of two teenagers from opposing religious backgrounds who meet and fall in love against a backdrop of Yemeni culture. The story begins in a local village when the daughter of the Imam teaches a local Jewish boy to read and write Arabic. When they decide to run away to the capital in order to be together, neither foresees the long-lasting consequences of their decision.

FATIN AL-MURR is a teacher of French literature at the Lebanese University. She has published a novel and a short story collection.

Common Sins
A story of love and resistance set in Lebanon. Told from the perspective of a female narrator, Common Sins moves between southern Lebanon, Beirut and London and gives a perceptive view of the resistance in southern Lebanon.

KHAIRY SHALABY was born in Kafr al-Shaykh in Egypt’s Nile Delta in 1938. He has written over 70 books, including novels, short stories, historical tales, and critical studies. The Lodging House was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2003 and he won the State Prize for Literature in 2005. His books have been translated into several languages including English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Urdu and Hebrew, and some adapted for film and television. The Lodging House (2006) and The Times Travels of the Pickle and Sweet Vendor (2010) have both been translated into English.

Istasia is a Coptic widow living in the Egyptian Delta, who becomes a local legend when she dedicates her life to revenging the death her son through prayer. Assistance comes in the unlikely form of the son of the village’s leading Muslim family, notorious for their ruthlessness and cruelty, a lawyer who decides to investigate the case and bring Istasia’s son’s unknown murderers to justice. The moral of the story is that not every Muslim is good or Christian evil and that, no matter the religion, God will answer the prayers of anyone who has been wronged.

AMIR TAJ AL-SIR is a Sudanese writer. He has published nine novels, two biographies and one collection of poetry.

The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter) is the story of a former secret service agent who, having been forced to retire due to an accident, decide to write a novel about his experiences. He starts to visit a café frequented by intellectuals, only to find himself the subject of police scrutiny.

MIRAL AL-TAHAWY is an Egyptian writer currently living in New York. Her first novel, The Tent, was widely acclaimed when it was first published in Arabic and was published in English by the AUC Press in 2000. Her other works have also been translated into different languages, including English, French and Spanish.

Brooklyn Heights tells the story of New York’s Arab immigrants and those who live among them through the eyes of the female narrator. By contrasting her experiences in her chosen home, America, and her homeland Egypt, she reveals the problematic relationship between East and West. It is a story of fundamentalism and tolerance, loss and hope in love. Simple yet full of rich detail, the novel evokes the atmosphere of America over the last decade.

IBTISAM IBRAHIM TERESA is a Syrian writer who has published four novels and two short story collections.

The Eye of the Sun - protagonist Nasma returns to Syria after years in exile in Sweden and is forced to confront painful memories. Her story reveals a past filled with conflict: from domestic turmoil under a cruel and manipulative father, to political upheaval affecting both her family and the entire population of Aleppo. As well as relating the events that shaped her life up until the present, the novel explores the relationships she has with the men in her life, from her father and brother to her lovers, the man who tortures her and the man to whom she is now married.

In addition to the annual Prize, IPAF supports an annual nadwa (writers’ workshop) for emerging writers from across the Arab world. The inaugural nadwa took place in November 2009 and included eight writers, who had been recommended by IPAF judges as writers of exceptional promise. The result was eight new pieces of fiction which have been published in English and Arabic by Dar Al Saqi Books in Emerging Arab Voices 1, which was launched at Sharjah International Book Fair on 27 October 2010 and will be published in the UK in January 2011. A second workshop took place in Abu Dhabi in October 2010 with seven writers. Both nadwas were run under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, UAE

Sunday, October 31, 2010

book on the ricin terror plot "that never was"

Ricin! The Terror Plot that Never Was
Susannah Tarbush

[original of article published in Arabic translation in Al-Hayat newspaper on 30 October 2010]

Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot that Never Was
by Lawrence Archer & Fiona Bawdon
published by Pluto Press of London and New York
206 pages, 2010

The so-called “ricin plot” is a major terrorism case that came to trial in Britain in 2005, during the “war on terror” era that followed the September 11 2001 terror attacks in the USA. Ricin is a poison that is extracted from the beans of the castor oil [zeit al-khirwa’] plant. Anti-terror police uncovered an alleged “ricin factory” when, on 5 January 2003, they raided a flat above a pharmacy in the Wood Green area of North London after a tip-off from the Algerian authorities.

On 8 January 2003 the media reported that the anti-terror police had found ricin in the flat and that Britain was under threat of a poison attack. The front page of the tabloid Daily Mirror newspaper consisted of a picture of a skull and crossbones superimposed on a map of Britain, with the headline: “Deadly Poison Found in Britain: It’s Here! ” No fewer than six inside pages of the newspaper were devoted to coverage of the “ricin plot”.

And yet, as would be shown during the “ricin trial”, there never was any ricin in the flat.

Both the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US Secretary of State Colin Powell used the uncovering of an alleged Al-Qaeda “ricin cell”, and the finding of ricin, to strengthen their case for the necessity of military action against Iraq which began on 20 March.

In his 5 February 2003 speech on Iraq before the UN Security Council, Colin Powell said the “ricin cell” was part of an international network linking Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Iraq. He said information on the “UK poison cell” had come from a “detained Al-Qaeda operative”.

Powell did not name the detained operative, but he is assumed to be an Algerian named Mohammed Meguerba who had been arrested and released on bail in Britain in September 2002. He had fled Britain and ended up in Algeria where he was captured, interrogated, and probably tortured. The Algerian secret police warned Britain on 31 December 2002 that a poison gas attack was to happen in the next few days.

As well as being used to strengthen the case for military action against Iraqi, the ricin case was also used as part of arguments for tougher anti-terror legislation which reduced civil liberties.

In the “ricin trial” that began in September 2004 five Algerians were each accused of “conspiracy to murder”, and “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”. It was planned that this first ricin trial would be followed by a second trial of a further four Algerians.

The trial by jury lasted seven months, and cost £20 million Sterling. Evidence from the government military research establishment Porton Down during the trial showed that there had in fact been no ricin in the flat.

Expectations were high among the British government, police and security services that the trial would result in all five defendants being convicted, and that this would be seen as a major success in the “war on terror”.

There was therefore shock when on 8 April 2005, after the jury had deliberated for 17 days, the foreman of the jury Laurence Archer [pictured] rose in court and announced “not guilty” verdicts on four of the five accused: Mouloud Sihali, David Khalef, Sidali Feddag and Mustapha Taleb.

The jury did find the fifth defendant, Kamel Bourgass, guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance by using explosives or poisons to spread fear or disruption. The judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison.

But on the other, more serious, charge facing Bourgass – that of conspiracy to murder – the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Plans for the second trial of four further Algerians were abandoned, as were plans to retry Bourgass on the conspiracy to murder charge.

After the trial ended, Lawrence Archer and some other members of the trial jury remained deeply concerned by various aspects of the trial and by the inaccurate and exaggerated media coverage. They realised that the British authorities were treating the four Algerians men the jury had acquitted as if they were still terror suspects. It was as if the authorities considered that the jury had reached the “wrong” verdicts.

The jury members came to know of things of which they had been ignorant during the trial. For example they had not known that Bourgass was already serving a 22-year prison sentence for stabbing to death a policeman, Stephen Oake, and wounding three other policemen, during their attempt to arrest him in the northern English city of Manchester on 14 January 2003. Bourgass’s trial and conviction for this murder had taken place in 2004, but it had not been reported in the media so as not to prejudice the ricin trial.

When Archer and some of his fellow jurors found that the men they had acquitted were threatened with deportation to Algeria, they spoke out in newspaper interviews and TV documentaries under conditions of anonymity.

And in an amazing extending of the hand of friendship towards the men they had acquitted, they even decided to try and meet them. Around a year after the trial ended Archer and other two jurors succeeded in meeting Mustapha Taleb, at his asylum hearing, and some days later they had lunch with Sihali [pictured below] and Khalef and discussed the case. Since then Archer and another juror have regularly visited Sihali and have become warm friends with him as he fights British government plans to deport him to Algeria.

Now Lawrence Archer has co-written a book with legal journalist Fiona Bawdon, newly published by the London publisher Pluto Press under the title “Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot That Never Was”. The famous human rights lawyer, Queen’s Counsel Michael Mansfield, who defended Sihali during the trial, wrote the foreword to the book.

The book claims to tell for the first time the full story of the so-called “ricin plot” and trial, and of what has become of the four defendants since the jury acquitted them. It is thought to be the first-ever book on a British court case written by a former juror (although stringent legal rules control the confidentiality of juries, and Archer was not permitted to write any details of the jury’s discussions in the jury room during the trial).

Archer is a 56-year-old telecommunications engineer with no previous history of political activism. He told Al-Hayat that the trial had been a life-changing experience. Before the trial he had not been particularly interested in politics, apart from voting in elections. “The trial process made me query a lot more things, and I am definitely more politically aware.”

At the launch of the book at a reception in central London, Fiona Bawdon told the guests: “I don’t think anyone who knows the story of the Ricin plot trial can fail to be shocked at the way this case was hijacked by politicians, by the police, by the security services, and at the impact this continues to have on the lives of the acquitted defendants.”

Among the guests at the launch were some of Britain’s most prominent human rights lawyers. In addition to Mansfield they included Mrs Gareth Pierce, Imran Khan, Louise Christian, Matthew Ryder, and the Palestinian Queen’s Counsel Michel Abdel Massih who defended Bourgass. Among the other guests was Mouloud Sihali.

The previous Labour government took steps to reduce the right to trial by jury, and to allow for certain trials to be heard by judges only. Bawdon said the positive aspect of the ricin case it that it was “the most powerful riposte to those who seek to chisel away at the jury system, or who argue that juries are somehow a luxury we can’t afford any more, particularly in the current environment, or that jurors somehow are not equipped to really understand complex cases or to deal with highly politically charged issues.”

Bawdon said the jurors were just about the only ones who did actually understand the case while everybody else got swept away with the hysteria around the “Factory of Death” and the newspaper headlines. “The jury looked at the evidence and came up with the conclusions that they did and I think that that is something we should be very proud of, and that we should celebrate and also should be prepared to defend.”

In his foreword Mansfield raises eight “disturbing” unanswered questions of public importance around the case, which have “serious implications for the integrity of our political and judicial systems.”

For example why did Tony Blair and Colin Powell fail to correct their misrepresentations about the existence of “ricin” in the build-up to the Iraq war? And on what basis did the Metropolitan Police and the then Home Secretary Charles come to use the ricin case as part of the justification for calling for the 90-day detention of terror suspects without charge?

The media had been excluded from most of the ricin trial so as not to prejudice the trial of four other Algerians in the planned (but later abandoned) second ricin trial. Archer and his fellow jurors found that much of the press reporting after the trial ended was inaccurate and exaggerated. The media described Bourgass as an Al-Qaeda operative. In the words of the tabloid Sun, Bourgass was “Osma Bin-laden’s master poisoner – with a mission to murder as many Britons as possible.” But in fact a link between the accused men and Al-Qaeda had never been made in court during the trial.

As was confirmed during the trial, ricin was not found in the Wood Green flat. So where did the reports of ricin originate? It is true that when the Wood Green flat was raided, an initial test by a scientist from Porton Down found a weak positive indication for ricin in a pestle and mortar. But further tests for ricin carried out two days later at Porton Down came out negative. There was no ricin in the flat.

Bizarrely, Porton Down failed to inform the police or government ministers of the negative result for ricin until more than two months later, on 20 March 2003. Why this long delay? And even then the government and police did not publicly correct the previous reports that ricin had been found.

Even though the anti-terror police did not find ricin in the flat they did find suspicious material including handwritten recipes for poison and explosives, in Bourgass’s handwriting. They also found 22 castor beans, a small number of cherry stones and apple seeds, acetone and equipment to weigh and measure and thermometers. There was also more than £4,000 in cash.

Bourgass had written out recipes not only for ricin but for cyanide (from fruit seeds), botulinum (from rotting meat), nicotine poison (“cigarette poison”) and solanine (“potato poison”). Police also found a Nivea skin cream pot containing a brown sludge which may have been the product of an attempt to make nicotine poison.

Meguerba had “confessed” to the Algerians under interrogation that he and Bourgass had trained as poison experts in terror camps in Afghanistan. It was alleged that the recipes Bourgass had copied came from a Al-Qaeda website or manual, but the recipes were crude and investigative journalist Duncan Campbell presented evidence during the trial that they came from right-wing and survivalist websites in America. Though clearly Bourgass and Meguerba had been up to no good, they were amateurs rather than skilled operatives.

During the trial Bourgass tried to shift all blame to Meguerba. Meguerba’s fingerprints were all over the poison recipes, and Bourgass said during the trial that the suspicious items in the Wood Green flat had belonged to Meguerba. Bourgass claimed he had copied the recipes only at the request of Meguerba who wanted villagers in the Setif region of Algeria to use them to protect themselves.

In their book Archer and Bawdon describe Meguerba (in a reference to the Shakespeare play “Macbeth”) as the “ghost at the feast” at the trial. Although he was physically not at the trial, but held in Algeria, even in his absence he overshadowed the proceedings “with the prosecution portraying him as the shadowy and dangerous mastermind behind the plot.”

When police had arrested and then released Meguerba on bail in September 2002 they had found Sihali’s address in his wallet and had subsequently arrested Sihali and Khalef who were found to have false passports. Sihali and Khalef were both charged under the Terrorism Act and held in Belmarsh high security prison awaiting trial. Sihali received 15 months sentences for each of his false passports.

Khalef also had photocopies of poison recipes and explosives handwritten in Arabic, which would later be found to be photocopies of what Bourgass had copied.

Meguerba’s “confession” in Algeria was the basis on which arrests that led to the ricin trial were made. But how reliable was his “evidence” under interrogation, and quite possibly under torture? The jury was often been sent out of court for long periods during the trial while the judge and lawyers held legal arguments on what evidence was allowed to be used in court. In the end Meguerba’s evidence was not used in court after the judge decided it was inadmissible. The prosecution lawyer Nigel Sweeney said Meguerba was a liar and his evidence unreliable.

Archer and Bawdon do not paint the Algerian defendants as angels. Only one of them (Mustapha Taleb, who had been given political asylum in 2000) was in Britain legally. The book places the men in the context of the savage Algerian civil war, during which many young Algerians left their country. Many of them had false passports and forged identity documents and multiple identities – which especially after 9/11 would be seen as very suspicious.

The book repeatedly gives example of misleading and inaccurate media coverage. Overblown media coverage in relation to Sihali and Khalef started before the ricin “factory” find, after Sihali and Khalef were arrested in September 2002 and charged with possessing false identity documents.

On 17 November 2002, the day before Sihali and Khalef were due to make a court appearance in relation to the false identity documents, newspapers described the two as suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists who planned to gas an underground train, release cyanide or plant a dirty bomb on a ferry.

It is still not clear where these lurid stories came from.

The then Home Secretary David Blunkett dismissed the reports of gas attacks as “nonsense” but added that the police had picked up those who “were planning to set up a cell to threaten our country”. In fact they were only charged with having false passports. It was unwise for a Home Secretary to make such comments, as they could have compromised a future trial.

The book examines the fate of each of the four men the jury acquitted. Of the four it is Sidali Feddag – who was only 17 at the time of the trial – who has most successfully rebuilt his life. He has married a British-born Algerian woman and is studying for a law degree while working in a pizza parlour and waiting for the outcome of his asylum application.

In October 2008 Khalef was given the right to stay in the UK for five years, a term which will be extended if he keeps out of trouble.

But things have been more difficult for Sihali and Taleb. On 15 September 2005, two months after the four suicide bombings in London on 7 July in which 52 innocent people were killed, police raided the homes of Sihal and Taleb, told them they were a threat to national security and gave them deportation orders. They were held in Belmarsh high security prison for four months, without charge, and on their release were subjected to the harsh form of house arrest known as “control orders.” Their struggle not to be deported back to Algeria has taken place under the controversial Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in which intelligence is heard in secret. Over the past five years, Taleb has been held at various times in Long Lartin prison or at home under control orders.

SIAC ruled in May 2007 that Sihali is not a threat to national security, but he still faces a threat of being deported. In May 2010 he lost his appeal against deportation, but he was recently granted the right to appeal against this SIAC decision.

Monday, September 27, 2010

record number of novels submitted for IPAF (the Arabic Booker)

above: Abdo Khal, the Saudi winner of IPAF 2010

International Prize for Arabic Fiction celebrates its fourth year with increase in submissions

The organisers of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF – popularly known as the Arabic Booker) announced on Monday 27 September that a record 123 entries from 17 countries, all but one of them Arab, were received for the 2011 prize. A statement released via IPAF’s PR advisers Colman Getty said: “Submissions have now closed for IPAF 2011 and the organisers are delighted to announce another healthy round of entries for this young but prestigious literary prize”. As before, the identity of the judges is being kept secret until the shortlist for the prize is announced, on 9 December. The winner will be declared on 14 March.

Novels were submitted to the prize from Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Libya, Sudan, Qatar and, for the first time, Afghanistan. Over a quarter of the submissions came from Egypt, home of the first two IPAF winners Bahaa Taher (winner in 2008, for Sunset Oasis) and Youssef Ziedan (2009, for Azazel). This sets the record for the highest number of submissions from one country in the prize’s three year history.

In 2009, there were 118 entries from 17 countries and the eventual winner was Saudi Arabian author Abdo Khal for Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles. There was a growing number of submissions from female writers this year, with works by female writers forming 29% of the overall submissions, up from 16% last year and 14% the year before.

IPAF was launched in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, in April 2007 and it is funded by the Emirates Foundation, a leading UAE philanthropic organisation, and supported by the Booker Prize Foundation. It is open to living authors whose novels are written in the original Arabic. Publishers were requested to submit up to three novels published between August 2009 and July 2010, although only one novel per author is eligible and titles cannot have been submitted in a previous prize year. In addition, if the judging panel – whose names will be revealed at the same time as the shortlist announcement – feel that any book should have been submitted, they have the right to call it in. Any new titles by previous IPAF winning or shortlisted authors may also be submitted.

The longlist for the 2011 Prize will be announced on 10 November 2010, with the shortlist and panel of judges announced on 9 December 2010 and the winner announced on 14 March 2011. The shortlisted finalists for the Prize will each receive $10,000, with the winner receiving an additional $50,000. Both can look forward to reaching wider audiences and potentially securing publishing deals – both within the Arab World and internationally. Previous winners and shortlisted authors have secured English publications of their novels and a number other international translations as a result of the prize.

Jonathan Taylor CBE, Chairman of the IPAF Board of Trustees, and of the Booker Prize Foundation, comments: “Now we are into the fourth year of the Prize, it is good to see its continuing momentum and to celebrate the impact it is having on high quality literary fiction in the Arab World, in terms of profile, book sales and translation.”

Other supporters of the Prize include Etihad Airways, as the official airline of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. An independent Board of Trustees, drawn from across the Arab world and beyond, is responsible for the overall management of the prize.

In addition to the annual prize, the IPAF supports literary initiatives and in 2009 launched its inaugural nadwa (writers’ workshop) for a group of aspiring writers from across the Arab world. The workshop – the first of its kind for Arab writers - took place in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. It resulted in eight new pieces of fiction by some of the Arab world’s most promising authors, five of whom have recently been selected for the Beirut39. This collection of stories will be published by Saqi Books in the UK in 2011. A second nadwa will take place in Abu Dhabi from 19–26 October 2010.

Monday, July 26, 2010

'mornings in jenin' by susan abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin: Susan Abulhawa's Palestinian family odyssey

“Mornings in Jenin”, by the Palestinian-American writer Susan Abulhawa [pictured below], is a rarity in being a novel on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict written in English by a Palestinian and published by a mainstream Western publisher, Bloomsbury of London, New York and Berlin.
With the muscle of Bloomsbury behind her, and with her novel written in highly accessible vivid prose that carries the reader along, Abulhawa stands a good chance of becoming a mainstream bestselling author. Comparisons are being made between “Mornings in Jenin” and the 2003 novel “The Kite Runner” written in English by US-based Afghan Khaled Hossein which was a runaway bestseller and was also made into a film.
With translation into some 20 languages, Abulhawa’s novel is already enjoying success beyond the English-reading world. The author reported on her Twitter feed on 14 June: “Starting the week with awesome news! Mornings in Jenin is the #1 bestseller in Norway! [i’m ridiculously excited].”
Susan Abulhawa was born to refugees of the 1967 Six Day war. As a teenager she moved to the US where she graduated in biomedical science and forged a career in medical science. In 2001 she founded Playgrounds for Palestine – an organization dedicated to upholding Palestinian children’s Right to Play. She lives in Pennsylvania with her daughter.
“Mornings in Jenin” traces over six decades the lives of four generations of the Abulheja family. The family is originally from the village of Ein Hod east of Haifa, where life traditionally revolved around the cultivation of olives and figs.
The family lives through the vicissitudes visited on the Palestinians since the 1940s. The main character Amal is the granddaughter of the patriarch Yehya. She is an attractive personality, with passion, humor and intelligence. Abulhawa depicts with tenderness and acuteness Amal’s process of growing up in the harshest of circumstances, and the characters with whom she strikes up friendships throughout her life.
The prologue to the novel finds the adult Amal in Jenin refugee camp in 2002 with the muzzle of an Israeli soldier’s rifle thrust against her forehead. Amal wonders “if officials might express regret for the ‘accidental’ killing of her, an American citizen. Or if her life would merely culminate in the dander of ‘collateral damage’.”
Abulhawa clearly has a mission as a novelist. Her writing is fuelled by a sense of anger and urgency. She cites the late Palestinian scholar and activist Dr. Edward Said as a major influence. “He lamented once that the Palestinian narrative was so lacking in literature, and I incorporated his disappointment into my resolve.” The Palestinian academic and politician Hanan Ashrawi directly encouraged her to write, after reading Abulhawa’s published memories of Jerusalem.
“Mornings in Jenin” is backed by extensive research, and includes a bibliography. Abulhawa draws extensively on her own experiences. For example she traveled to Jenin in 2002 after hearing reports of a massacre in the town’s refugee camp. “The horrors I witnessed there gave me the urgency to tell this story,” she says. “The steadfastness, courage, and humanity of the people of Jenin were my inspiration.”
An earlier version of “Mornings in Jenin” was published a few years ago as “The Scar of David” by a small US press that subsequently went out of business. “The Scar of David” was translated into French and published by Editions Buchet/Chastel under the title “Les Matins de Jénine”.
Anna Soler-Pont then became Abulhawa’s literary agent and, as Abulhawa puts it, “began breathing new life into the novel”. It was subsequently translated into a score of languages, and Bloomsbury offered to reissue it after extensive revisions and editing.
The publication of “Mornings in Jenin” could hardly be more timely. Palestine is very much under the spotlight as a result of the blockade of Gaza, the continuing outrage over Israeli settlement expansion and demolition of Palestinian homes, and alarm over the threat of war in the wider Middle East.
Earlier this month Abulhawa made a well-received appearance at the London Literature Festival in conversation with writer Rachel Holmes at a session held by the festival in partnership with the Palestinian Festival of Literature (PalFest). Since its inception in 2008, Palfest has taken many high-profile British and other writers to Palestine, and Abulhawa herself participated in this year’s PalFest in May.
“Mornings in Jenin” comes with praise on its cover from two well-known British writers – travel writer Michael Palin and novelist Esther Freud – and from Hanan Ashrawi. Palin writes that the novel gives a “powerful and passionate insight into what many Palestinians have had to endure since the state of Israel was created”. For Freud it is “a powerful and heartbreaking book.” Ashrawi describes the novel as “a unique literary experience not to be missed.”
One main strand of the novel starts with Amal’s older brother Ismael being wrenched from his mother’s arms by an Israeli soldier in the chaos of the violent expulsion of the inhabitants of Ein Hod from their village in 1948. The soldier gives the child to his wife Jolanta, a Holocaust survivor rendered barren by brutal assaults on her by the Nazi SS. The couple bring Ismael up as their son David. But the boy has a scar on his face as the result of being dropped in his crib by his brother Yousef: this scar would “mark Ismael’s face forever, and eventually lead him to the truth.”
The narrative takes the reader through the brutalities of attacks on Palestinians by Zionist terror groups, and then by Israeli soldiers, in the 1940s; the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians when Israel is created in 1948; the agonies and uncertainties of life as refugees in Jenin; and the 1967 war in which Amal’s father Hasan disappears, her brother Yousef is taken prisoner and tortured, and her mother is psychologically destroyed. Amal herself is shot at by Israeli soldiers and her severe abdominal injuries lead to permanent and extensive scarring.
Amal wins a scholarship to America where she tries to reinvent herself as American “Amy”. Her teacher brother Yousef had joined the Palestinian resistance after the 1967 war and she had lost contact with him. But he manages to trace her and phones her in the US in 1981. She joins him in Beirut where he is living with long-time sweetheart, now wife, Fatima. Amal falls in love with and marries a Palestinian doctor, Majid, and returns to the US while pregnant to wait for her husband to join her.
But then Israel invades Lebanon and lays siege to Beirut. The withdrawal of the PLO, including Yousef, to Tunis is followed by the massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila camps. Amal suffers a series of losses, and a member of her family is driven by grief and fury to carry out a suicide attack.
Running alongside the story of Amal is the story of Ismael who had been raised as David. After the 1967 war, fellow Israeli soldiers tell him that the imprisoned Yousef bears a strong resemblance to him, and in an effort to obliterate these hints of a link between him and Yousef he beats Yousef up at a roadblock. Years later David, by now a semi-alcoholic, traces Amal to try to establish the full truth of his origins.
One line of attack against the novel has been that almost the Israeli characters are unsympathetically drawn, but Abulhawa is showing the Israelis as they are experienced by Palestinians in specific contexts. It cannot be denied that the record of Israeli violence against the Palestinians over many years has been extraordinarily savage.
She does present a different version of possible Palestinian-Jewish relations in the friendship that blossomed in the late 1930s between Amal’s father Hasan, then a teenager, and a young Jew Ari Perlstein. Ari, the son of a German professor who had fled Nazism, reappears much later in the narrative as a kindly elderly professor.
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 26 July 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

zeid hamdan makes mark in london

Zeid Hamdan: Lebanon's underground maestro
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 22 July 2010
A throng of young people, many of them Lebanese, crowded into the basement of the Hoxton Gallery in East London a few nights ago for an eagerly-awaited performance by the legendary pioneer of Lebanese underground music Zeid Hamdan and his new band Zeid and the Wings.
Hamdan was born in Beirut in 1976, a year after the outbreak of the 15-year civil war. He is a pivotal figure in the development of alternative or underground music in Lebanon both as a performer and as a producer.
In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Hamdan said: “I grew up in a region where there is not an alternative movement for music. You have classical stars, and then the pop mainstream”. The mainstream pop scene has become dominated by Arabic video clips and “doesn’t have a beautiful vibration.”
Hamdan wanted “to give the Beirut youth a new model, a new way of considering Arabic music.” The Lebanese younger generation “has been traveling and learning abroad and coming back to the country with ideas.” The underground developed as a musical expression of this generation hungry for social and political change.
Hamdan and his band had been invited to London by the cutting edge Monocle magazine/website to record a show for Monocle’s Summer Series. Hamdan also took the opportunity to appear with his musicians at the concert arranged in the trendy area of Hoxton famed for its art galleries and restaurants.
The other acts booked for the concert included local bands Franco and Second Head and the Lebanese electro musician Charif-Pierre Megarbane, founder of Cosmic Analog Ensemble and of Heroes and Villains.
During the event, the performance of Zeid and the Wings could not quite go according to plan, with the visas of three members of the band not coming through in time for them to travel. The final line-up in the Hoxton Gallery consisted of Zeid with two members of Wings – keyboardist Rita Okais, and nay and bass clarinet player Bechir Saade – plus backing vocalist Reine Kabban, Charif-Pierre Megarbane on bass and local drummer Oscar Challenger.
Hamdan has his own special brand of on-stage charisma, and sang a selection of his songs in Arabic and English in his distinctive tender and soulful voice which in its upper reaches has an otherworldly quality. He was ably backed by the attractively-voiced Reine Kabban. Zeid and the group received an enthusiastic response to numbers including “Chouei”, “Castle of Sand” and “Ocean”, with “Sah al-Naum” as an encore.
Earlier in the day Monocle had recorded a Summer Series show with Zeid and his musicians in the Hospital Club in Covent Garden. Monocle will release the Zeid show as a podcast in mid-August. Producer Alex Mills said the “absolutely amazing” recording “went so well”.
Hamdan has come a long way since, as a young boy living in Paris, he first picked up a guitar and found himself spontaneously composing a song. His family moved to France for six years in 1986 when Zeid was ten.
While living in Paris he got to know the music of Western performers such as the Doors, David Bowie, French hip hop artists and above all the Beatles. “My band The New Government is very influenced by the Beatles” he says.
Hamdan typically has several music projects on the go. His solo vehicle is ShiftZ, into which “I throw all my experimentation. It can be a reggae song, it can be Arabic electronics. Shift Z is my playground, my space for myself.”

He has founded several bands over the years. After he returned to live in Lebanon in 1992 his first band was Lombrix, which released the hit EP “Lucy” in 1994. It was a time of optimism and stability and the press was interested “that a young Lebanese band made an EP after the war which had a mixture of Western and Eastern influences.” The Lombrix line-up included singer Yasmine Hamdan (no relation to Zeid), possessor of a beautiful sultry voice.
After other members left the group, Zeid and Yasmine formed Soapkills. Why this name? Hamdan explains: “I wrote a song called Soapkills, and it talked about erasing all remains of the war, cleaning up the town – like killing the memory, killing the truth, through the action of washing up.”
Soapkills drew both on classical Arabic song and on electronics. Zeid and Yasmine first wrote songs in English, but then the artists Rabih Mroue and Walid Sadek joined the group and worked with them on Arabic lyrics. Soapkills gained much from this input “because their writing in Arabic was so rich and funny, and because Rabih is an incredible flute player and Walid is a trumpet player.”

After Mroue and Sadek left the group Zeid and Yasmine continued as a duo and enjoyed considerable success in Lebanon and beyond. But the parting of ways came at the end of 2005 when Yasmine saw her music future as being in Europe and moved to Paris while Zeid wanted to develop the local Lebanese music scene.
Soapkills remains influential, and six of its albums are still on sale.
Hamdan was involved with several other acts on the burgeoning Lebanese underground scene, such as Scrambled Eggs. In 2006, he met Katibe 5, a hip hop group of five young Palestinians from the Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp. He got them signed to the Lebanese label Incognito and co-produced their 2008 CD “Ahla Bil Fik Moukhayyamat”.
In November 2004 Hamdan formed The Government. The name was changed to The New Government the following year after Lebanon was plunged into a period of assassinations and political instability. The New Government’s first CD was released in 2006.
The band had five members, of whom three now remain: Hamdan and French brothers Timothée and Jérémie Regnier. Although the Regnier brothers live in France, they regularly perform and tour with Hamdan.
On June 7 last year, the day of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, The New Government released five free downloadable tracks to “voters” who cast a vote for the band on its website. Hamdan sums up the band’s indie rock style as “a blend of the Pixies tendency with the Beatles, Beach Boys and Franz Ferdinand.”
Hamdan’s African project Kanjha Kora-ShiftZ began in December 2006 when he was brought together with Kandia Kouyate, a 17-year-old singer and kora player from Guinea. The duo’s collaboration produced a highly appealing mixture of “reggae, hip hop, Guinean music and electro.”
Hamdan says The New Government and Kanjha Kora have signed publishing agreements with Moka Music, a subdivision of Chrysalis, and should be developing their new albums by the end of this year.
Hamdan has also worked to develop the singing career of Syrian singer Hiba El-Mansouri, who was last December signed by Jihad Al-Murr of Murr TV (MTV). Hamdan produced and directed Hiba’s first video, “Ahwak”, released in January this year. MTV recently released a video of Hiba’s rendition of “Fog el Nakhl” directed by Pedros Temizian with music produced by Hamdan. MTV is soon to produce a third video, the song “Suleyma” written by Nawaz Charif and originally sung by Zakia Hamdan.
Hamdan has written music for several films, and is currently scoring the music for the latest movie by controversial Lebanese director Danielle Arbid, due for release in spring 2011. He has also licensed seven tracks to Shankaboot, the Arab world’s first Arabic webdrama, which is produced by Batoota Films in association with the BBC World Service Trust. A Shankaboot launch concert took place in Beirut on June 12 with performers including Zeid and the Wings.
Hamdan is negotiating a CD release for Zeid and the Wings with the independent Beirut record label Forward Music,. “If we agree, a CD should be ready by the end of the year,” he says.
He has also produced with Wings, “with a special boost from Marc Codsi”, a song for the Nat Geo Music Channel series “Making Tracks.” On July 30, Zeid and the Wings are to perform at the Batroun International Festival in Lebanon, in an event entitled the Electro-Acoustic Waveform.
As ShiftZ, Hamdan is due to perform with the Syrian singer Dima Orsho in Damascus, Friday. “We’ll be creating an hour of live music in a workshop taking place from July 20 to 23. The concept is to create music for the live digital performance of a young genius visual artist called Mohamad Ali.”
As if all these activities weren’t enough, Hamdan is also playing guitar with Ziad Saad’s electro band Pop Will Save Us. “I think this band has a unique style and I am curious to push this project that has been on hold for too long,” he says.
below: Hoxton Gallery gig

Monday, July 12, 2010

BQFP signs up Ahmed Khaled Taufiq's dystopian novel 'utopia'

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing announced today that it has signed up the Arab world's most prolific horror and science fiction writer, Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq, to publish his bestselling Arabic novel Utopia in English translation in autumn 2011. (The author has copious internet references with his surname transliterated as Tawfik; BQFP transliterates it more accurately as Taufiq).

BQFP describes Utopia as a grim futuristic account of Egyptian society in 2023 which takes readers on an adventurous journey that ventures out of the gated communities insulating the wealthy from the bleak realities of Egyptian life. "A young man and a young girl break away from the idyllic bubble of affluence they know, and delve into the harsh existence of the impoverished Egyptians that live right outside the fortified gates of their compounds. Utopia’s twists and turns will certainly leave readers in suspense until the very last page."

Since its release in 2008, Tawfiq’s novel has enjoyed wide acclaim and was reprinted three times to fulfill the overwhelming demand of Arab readers. "With over 200 published titles, Tawfiq has perfected the art of horror and science fiction" BQFP says. It cites praise from the famed Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany who dubs Utopia “a wonderful novel, a real addition to Arab literature.”

Tawfiq was born in 1962 in the city of Tanta, Egypt. In 1985, he graduated from Tanta University's medical school, and later received a PhD in 1997. In January 1993, he published the first installment in his Ma Waraa Al Tabiaa series of novels titled The Vampire and The Legend of the Werewolf.

The signing up of Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq is an interesting development in the publishing of Arabic literature in English translation. Arabic fiction in various genres has been translated, but this may be the first publication in English of an Arab horror/science fiction author. An Egyptian equivalent of Stephen King?