Saturday, November 26, 2011

interview with hawra al-nadawi, the only woman on the ipaf longlist

Hawra al-Nadawi

When the 13-novel longlist of the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) was published earlier this month, the fact that it included only one woman inevitably attracted considerable comment. The one woman on the longlist is Iraqi-Danish writer Hawra al-Nadawi, whose longlisted debut novel Under the Copenhagen Sky is published by Dar al-Saqi.

The publisher told the tanjara: "Saqi was enthusiastic about this first novel; we felt on reading the manuscript that Hawra’ is a very promising young author. Her selection in the long list happily confirms our assessment. This novel is strong enough to constitute an important new addition to what could be called Iraqi Diaspora literature."

The six-book shortlist for the prize, and the identity of the judges, was to have been announced in Cairo on 7 December. However, IPAF says the announcement has been postponed until 11 January 2012, given "the current turmoil in Cairo and our awareness of, and respect for, the suffering and anxieties of many of those involved." IPAF adds: "It remains our intention to make this announcement in Cairo, recognising its importance as a hub for Arabic literature." The winner is due to be announced in Abu Dhabi on 27 March - the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Under the Copenhagen Sky tells of the love story between Huda, a teenager born in Copenhagen to Iraqi parents, and Rafid, an older man forced to emigrate to Denmark by the political situation in Iraq. The story begins when Rafid receives a letter from Huda, whom he has never met, asking him to translate her novel from Danish into Arabic. As their relationship grows, Huda begins to reveal that she knows more about Rafid than he first thought. The novel interweaves chapters from Huda’s manuscript with Rafid’s own account of the romance that develops between the pair through their email exchanges.

Al-Nadawi is not only the sole woman on the longlist, but she is also, at 27, the youngest of the 13 longlisted authors by more than 10 years. The next youngest is Syrian writer Fadi Azzam, longlisted for Sarmada, who turned 38 this year. Al-Nadawi and Azzam are among the three young authors longlisted for their debut novels; the third is Charbel Kattan (41) of Lebanon longlisted for Suitcases of Memory.

Under the Copenhagen Sky

Al-Nadawi, who now lives in London, answered the following questions for this blog:

Many congratulations on being included on the longlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) which was officially announced on 10 November. How did you hear the news, and what was your reaction?
Thank you very much. I was clueless as to when the long-list was to be announced, so I was not really expecting anything when the editorial manager at Dar al-Saqi called me early in the morning of that day to inform me that my novel was longlisted. I was of course happy to know that.

How does it feel to be the only woman on the IPAF 2012 longlist? Is it significant for you or do you think gender is irrelevant in the IPAF judging process?
Last year people were thrilled because there were as many as six women in the long list: this year they're thrilled because there is only one. This debate never seems to end. I truly believe that creativity knows no gender, no age, and no race, thus I never question any of those.

Your novel has an evocative title. Please tell us something about the novel and the writing of it. Is it autobiographical in at least some aspects?
I started working on the novel from early 2005 and finished it after four years. The main reason behind the idea of writing a novel was my desire to engage myself in something that would make me write every day. It is not autobiographical as I had no idea what the novel should be about when I took the decision to write. I started looking around me and found inspiration in my community and little by little the features of the characters started to emerge. The novel is based in Copenhagen: the main characters are of Iraqi descent and the novel focuses on the cultural differences with which the characters are dealing. Growing up I had always noticed that the media mainly highlights the actions and traits of people with different ethnic background – they are violent, they are ignorant, they are annoyingly different, they don’t integrate! etc. It almost never digs into their feelings to show how they feel about being an outcast, or in simpler terms, just different. Therefore feelings in general were a main concern for me while writing the novel. I wanted to bring this matter to the fore.

When and where were you born, and why did your family migrate to Denmark?
I was born in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in August 1984. My parents were imprisoned two months after my birth along with other family members, for political reasons. My father was sentenced to 25 years and my mother to 10. They were however released in the so-called general amnesty of 1986. I was kept with my mum, spending the first two years of my life in Saddamite prisons. During the 1991 uprising against the former regime my father was jailed again. Finally, when they miraculously released him, he decided that we had to leave Iraq so we migrated to Denmark where I grew up in Copenhagen.

Was there a dilemma for you over the choice of language in which you would write fiction, and how did you manage to maintain and develop your written Arabic while growing up in Denmark?
I am bilingual from birth. Being half Kurd, half Arab, I grew up speaking Kurdish and Arabic along with Danish, and languages have always had a huge impact on me. Since I went to a Danish school, my parents decided to homeschool me in Arabic and they were very strict about it. On the other hand Danes love languages, and they are great at teaching them too. In high school I had already had classes in Latin, French, German, English and of course Danish. But it was Arabic and oriental languages that truly fascinated me the most. Arabic is a very rich and strong language and gives you more freedom when you choose to play with it, so I prefer it when writing.

Did you always want to be a writer? Is there a literary trend in your family?
My extended family include poets and writers. I have been quite acquainted with literary life since childhood, and have always been passionate about wanting to be a writer.

Could you say something about your reading of fiction and whether any authors have been particular influences on your writing?
In order to become a good writer you need to be an excellent reader first. In Copenhagen there is an Arabic section in almost all public libraries. I used to go to the local library every day and spent hours after school reading. Over half of the Arabic books at the libraries were by Egyptian writers, and I was charmed by their rich style and the oriental spirit of the Middle East which they present so beautifully. However I don’t know which writer has influenced my writing in particular; it’s pretty hard to tell.

What was the earliest fiction you wrote, and had any of your writing, fiction or non-fiction, been published before Under the Copenhagen Sky appeared?
As far as I can remember the first fiction I wrote was a short story at the age of 10, and I continued writing reviews of books plus writing about my daily routine. Besides, I used to write poetry in Danish. Before publication of my first novel I published several articles online.

What did you study at university?
I am studying linguistics at present. I wish to specialize in Arabic in the future.

Did you master the skills of fiction writing on your own, or did you for example go to creative writing classes or a writing group?
I never took any classes whatsoever. When it comes to writing, my feelings are my compass. Writing a novel taught me to be patient. It's like a long weaving process – all you need is your tools and your determination.

Banipal magazine of modern Arabic fiction has paid some attention to Arab writers in Scandinavia. For example it recently ran a special feature on Arabic writers in Sweden, and it has also published contributions from two Iraqi writers living in Denmark – poet Muniam al Faker and fiction writer Duna Ghali. Is there much of an Arab literary scene in Denmark from your experience?
I was not much involved in the literary scene when I used to live there. I know however that there are projects which aim to translate Arabic fiction into Danish and was very excited about that. Unfortunately nothing has yet been produced, so perhaps the whole translation plan is postponed.

Have the invasion of Iraq, and subsequent events there, had an effect on your writing?
The first time I went back to Iraq was August 2003. All the beautiful images that I’d had in my mind from the age of six were replaced with scenes of destruction. Still, I try my best not to let that affect my writing. There are certainly other beautiful sides of Iraq on which I would like to focus. Our multiculturalism for instance is a huge inspiration for me.

Are there plans for your novel to be translated into English? Do you have a literary agent?
My novel is based in Copenhagen; some Arab readers had no idea where Copenhagen is located on the map. Some of them had not even heard of it before the Muhammed cartoons. I think my novel gives Arab readers a new glimpse of how it is to be a young Arab living in Copenhagen. Through translation of the novel I will reach a new audience with a different background, and that’s a new goal for me.
Literary agents are an ultimate luxury for an Arab writer, of course I don’t yet have one.

How did your publishing deal with Dar al-Saqi come about?
Dar al-Saqi was the first publishing house I thought of when I decided to publish my novel, considering that they are well known and well read in the Arab World. So I managed to send them the novel which they received favourably and I have a good relationship with them.

Susannah Tarbush

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ipaf issues synopses and author bios for its longlist of 13 novels

The administrators of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often referred to as the Arabic Booker Prize) have now issued synopses and author bios for the 13 novels on the longlist for IPAF 2012 which was announced on 10 November. The shortlist of six novels will be announced in Cairo on 7 December, and the winner in Abu Dhabi on 27 March - the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The $60,000 prize is composed of the $50,000 award plus the $10,000 that goes to each shortlisted book.

Sarmada (pub. Thaqafa)
Fadi Azzam (Syria)

Documentary producer Rafi Azmi meets a strange woman in Paris - a Professor of Physics at the Sorbonne - who informs him that she has lived a previous life in his village of Sarmada, in southern Syria. It turns out that she is the reincarnation of a woman murdered by her brothers in an honour killing. Affected by her story, Rafi returns to his hometown, to discover an entire world previously hidden from him. The woman’s story leads him to delve into the depths of the place and uncover its secrets, desires, beauty and the co-existence of its people of different religions.

Fadi Azzam was born in Sweida, southern Syria, in 1983. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts in Damascus in 1998 and has written for Arabic newspapers, as well as publishing a number of stories in Arabic magazines. He is the author of a book entitled Things Underneath (Dar Merit, 2010). He was a cultural and arts correspondent for Al Quds al-Arabi between 2007 and 2009 and currently works as a producer of documentary films and three-dimensional cartoons in Dubai. Sarmada is his first novel; an English translation by Adam Talib was recently published by Swallow Editions.

Paving the Sea (pub. Riyad al-Rayyes)
Rashid al-Daif

The second half of the nineteenth century saw Syrians fighting to build a new Syrian state and Faris Mansour Hashem is one of the movement’s most fervent activists alongside his friend, the influential writer Georgy Zeidan. However his plans are thwarted as, whilst he is studying medicine at the newly-founded American University in Beirut, student strikes force him to emigrate to the United States. Following in the footsteps of his father and thousands of his fellow countrymen, he begins a new life in America, joining the American army and going to fight in the Spanish-American war in Cuba. It is after he marries that he decides to fulfil his dream of returning to Beirut. But the question is: can he achieve his dream?

Rashid al-Daif was born in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1945. He is Professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Lebanon. He has published 13 novels, three poetry collections and a short story collection about children. His works have been translated into 12 languages.

The Unemployed (pub. Al-Dar al-Masriya al-Lubnaniya)
Nasr Iraq (Egypt)

The Unemployed tells the story of a young, educated Egyptian man from a middle-class family who, like so many others, is forced to look for work in Dubai due to the lack of opportunity in Cairo. In Dubai, he discovers an astonishing world filled with people of all nationalities and he experiences mixed treatment from his friends, relations and acquaintances. And then, just as he falls in love with an Egyptian girl, he finds himself imprisoned for the murder of a Russian prostitute…

Nasr Abelfatah Ibrahim Iraq graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Cairo University, in 1984. He has worked in cultural journalism in Egypt and co-founded the Dubai Al-Thaqafiya magazine where he has been managing editor since 2004. He has published a number of books, including: A History of Journalistic Art in Egypt (2002), which won the Ahmad Bahaa al-Din Prize in its first year; Times of the Dust (2006); From the Excess of Love (2008); The Green and the Damaged (2009) and The Unemployed (2011). He currently works as Cultural and Media Co-ordinator for the Foundation of Culture and Science Symposium in Dubai.

Suitcases of Memory (pub. Naufel)
Charbel Kattan (Lebanon)

There are ‘lost’ bags in Beirut airport. A search is made for their owners and they either come to collect them or the bags remain forgotten in the storage room. There are also ‘orphan’ bags, whose owners cannot be identified... that is, until Ehab Alem arrives in the customs department. As a child, he lost his father in mysterious circumstances at the beginning of the Lebanese war, and he has dedicated his life to searching for him. So Ehab decides to solve the riddle of the five ‘orphans’ of the airport. Inside each bag is a story, told by its contents to those who are good at listening. As the owner of each bag is found, a different story linked to a part of the Lebanese war is told. In his quest to find each owner, Ehab starts to find himself by recalling his childhood. He begins to realise the meaning of life, revives his own hopes and falls in love, in turn bringing his own story to completion.

Charbel Kattan was born in Maghdouche, southern Lebanon, in 1970. He moved to South Africa in 1990, where he continued his higher education and obtained a degree in Information Technology. He currently lives and works in Johannesburg. Suitcases of Memory is his first novel.

Toy of Fire (pub. Al-Ikhtilef)
Bashir Mufti (Algeria)

Toy of Fire is the story of a meeting between the novelist, Bashir Mufti, and a mysterious character called Rada Shawish, who presents Mufti with a manuscript containing his autobiography. Shawish’s goal in life has always been not to turn out like his father, who ran an underground cell in the seventies and committed suicide in the eighties. However, circumstances have driven him to follow in his father’s footsteps, resulting in him becoming a leading member of a secret group of his own.

Bashir Mufti is a writer and journalist, born in 1969 in Algiers, Algeria. He has published a number of short story collections and novels, including: Archipelago of Flies (2000); Witness of the Darkness (2002); Perfumes of the Mirage (2005); Trees of the Resurrection (2007) and Maps of Nightly Passion (2009). Some of his works have been translated into French. He often writes articles in the Arabic press and works in Algerian television as assistant producer of the cultural programme Maqamat.

Under the Copenhagen Sky (pub. Dar al-Saqi)
Hawra al-Nadawi (Iraq/Denmark)

Under the Copenhagen Sky tells the love story of Huda, a teenage girl born in Copenhagen to Iraqi parents, and Rafid, an older man forced to emigrate to Denmark by the political situation in Iraq. It begins when Rafid receives a letter from Huda, who he has never met before, asking him to translate her novel from Danish into Arabic. As their relationship grows, Huda begins to reveal that she knows more about him than he first thought. This novel weaves together chapters from Huda’s manuscript with Rafid’s own account of the romance that is developing between them through their email exchanges.

Hawra al-Nadawi is an Iraqi writer living in London. She was six when she and her family left Iraq for political reasons and moved to Denmark, where she grew up, learning Arabic at home. Under the Copenhagen Sky is her first novel.

Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness (pub. Dar Merit)
Mohamed al-Refai (Egypt)

Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness follows the life of hero Yahya. It opens with some bizarre events from his childhood, from the story of Ali ibn al-Aashara, who disappears from the town of Mahala al-Wasaaya, to the beautiful Saffiya who sets fire to herself and Ibrahim who loses his leg. We then follow Yahya as a young man, as he volunteers to fight in the 1967 war out of his love for Egyptian President Gamal Abd al-Nasser. However, defeat in the war means that his illusions quickly fade.

Egyptian writer Mohamed al-Refai is a cultural critic based in Cairo. He has written for the magazine Sabah al-Khair since 1980 and won the Mustapha and Ali Amin Prize for Journalism for his weekly column in 2000. He is also the author of a number of books on the theatre, including Palestine in Egyptian Theatre and Experiments in Arab Theatre. His radio screenplays include A Journey in Olden Times, Paradise Lost and Papers of the Barada River and he has written three series for television: The Overcoat, based on Nikolai Gogol's short story; The White based on Yusef Idriss' novel and The Extoller of the Moon, a programme about Baligh Hamdi, which is currently on air. He has also written screenplays for two films: The Case of Mr. Mungid and Stolen Dreams.

The Amazing Journey of Khair al-Din ibn Zard (pub. Dar Fada'at)
Ibrahim Zaarur (Jordan/Palestine)

This is a darkly comic and fast-paced stream of consciousness novel in which a lorry driver inherits 25 million dollars. Whilst he cannot believe that he will be rich, he soon gains a sense of himself and of his own importance and rich relatives acknowledge him after years of ignoring him. However, a surprise awaits him when he goes to collect the inheritance...

Ibrahim Zaarur was born in Palestine in 1939. He is a short story writer, novelist and journalist who has eight published novels. He currently lives in Amman, Jordan.

The Vagrant (pub. Dar al-Nahar)
Jabbour Douaihy (Lebanon)

The Vagrant provides a realistic, engaging portrayal of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a young man who finds himself uprooted by the conflict. The hero represents the crisis of the Lebanese individual imposed upon by a sectarian reality. We follow his struggle to belong as he faces unfamiliar situations and conflicts in a society that considers him an outsider.

Jabbour Douaihy was born in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1949. He holds a PhD degree in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne and works as Professor of French Literature at the University of Lebanon. To date, he has published seven works of fiction, including novels, short stories and children’s books. His novel June Rain was shortlisted for the inaugural IPAF in 2008, and will be published in English by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in October 2012.

The Druze of Belgrade (pub. Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi)
Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)

After the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hana Yaaqub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.

Lebanese novelist and journalist Rabee Jaber was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics’ Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including: Black Tea; The Last House; Yousif Al-Inglizi; The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005), Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009) and America, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010.

The Women of al-Basatin (pub. Dar al-Adab)
Habib Selmi (Tunisia)

The Women of Al-Basatin is an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of a modest family living in the Al-Basatin district of Tunis in Tunisia. Through the stories of this small matriarchal environment, we observe the contradictions of the wider Tunisian society, exposing a world in flux between burdensome religious traditions and a troubled modernity.

Habib Selmi was born in al-’Ala, Tunisia, in 1951. He has published four novels and two collections of short stories. A number of the stories have been translated into English, Norwegian, Hebrew and French. His first novel, Jabal al-’Anz (Goat Mountain), was published in French translation in 1999. His 2001 novel, Ushaq Bayya (Bayya's Lovers) was published in French translation in 2003 and excerpted in Banipal 18. Other novels include Surat Badawi Mayyit (Picture of a Dead Bedouin), 1990, Matahat al-Raml (Sand Labyrinth), 1994, Hufar Dafi’a (Warm Pits), 1999, and Asrar ‘Abdallah (Abdallah’s Secrets), 2004. Habib Selmi has lived in Paris since 1985. His novel The Scents of Marie-Claire was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009. An English translation of the book was published by Arabia Books this year.

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge (pub. Dar al-Ain)
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (Egypt)

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is an Egyptian writer and diplomat. Born in Kuwait in 1966, he grew up in Egypt, where he graduated from Cairo University in 1987 with a BA in Political Science. After graduation, he attended a number of universities in France and Canada and attained an International Diploma in Administration from The National School of Administration, Paris (1990-92). He went on to gain a Masters in International Relations from Ottawa University (1992-95) and a doctorate in Political Science from Montreal University (1993-98). He currently teaches political science at the American University in Cairo, but also lectures at a number of other universities. In addition, he writes political articles for several Arabic, English and French periodicals and newspapers.

The Nabatean (pub. Dar al-Shorouq)
Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)

As in his earlier, IPAF-winning, novel Azazel Youssef Ziedan brings history to the reader in intimate detail, removing the halos from famous historical characters and transforming them into flesh and blood, with real dreams, mistakes and achievements, strong and weak points. This novel focuses on the fabled Nabateans – an ancient Arabic people living across the Middle East before the arrival of Christianity and Islam – who helped prepare the way for the Muslim conquest of Egypt.

A highly respected Egyptian scholar specialising in Arabic and Islamic studies, Youssef Ziedan (born June 30, 1958) is director of the Manuscript Centre and Museum affiliated to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. University professor, public lecturer, columnist and prolific author, he has written two critically acclaimed and best-selling novels Azazel (winner of IPAF 2009) and The Shadow of the Serpent. The English translation by Jonathan Wright of Azazel is due to be published by Atlantic Books in the UK in April 2012. Ziedan has worked as a consultant in the field of Arabic heritage preservation and conservation in a number of international institutions: UNESCO, ESCWA and the Arab League. He has also directed a number of projects aimed at the delimitation and preservation of Arabic manuscripts – the cataloguing, editing and publishing of these historic texts is something he is devoted to and they, in turn, influence and inform his fiction.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

egyptian author & former mubarak photographer ahmed mourad interviewed by the observer

above: Ahmed Mourad in his days as Mubarak's official photographer; photo published in The Observer newspaper

During his recent tour of England together with two other Egyptian novelists newly published in English by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), Ahmed Mourad - author of the thriller Vertigo - surprised many with his revelation that he was for years official photographer to the now deposed President Husni Mubarak. For example, he spoke of his role as photographer during the appearance of the three writers at an evening reception and literary event at the residence of Egypt's ambassador to the UK Hatem Saif Al Nasr. Vertigo is published by BQFP in English translation by Adam Talib. The other two writers on the tour were Khaled AlKhamissi (author of Taxi, trans by Jonathan Wright), and Ahmed Khaled Towfik (Utopia, trans Chip Rossetti).

Now The Observer newspaper has published an interview with Mourad conducted by Peter Beaumont in which the writer speaks both on his role as Mubarak's photographer and as the author of Vertigo. The interview is headlined: "By day I shot my boss Hosni Mubarak. By night, I dreamt of dictator's downfall".

The interview begins: "Every day, Ahmed Mourad quietly seethed as he peered through a lens darkly at Hosni Mubarak and reflected on the misery that his boss – the man he knew as "Mr President" – was inflicting on Egypt's 80 million people.

"After five years as the personal photographer to Mubarak, recording everything from world leaders' visits to quotidian family gatherings, Mourad, then 29, had seen enough and was 'ready to explode', as he puts it now.

"That was in 2007, four years before the inspirational uprising that forced Mubarak out in February this year, after 30 years of dictatorship. At the time, thousands of workers were on strike and journalists were protesting about being silenced, but Tahrir Square was quiet. If you did not want to go to jail, with the attendant risk of being tortured, there was little outlet for political protest. So, in the evenings, Mourad vented his anger by writing.

"The result, later that year, was Vertigo, a racy, blood-spattered thriller that exposes the greedy, seedy, corrupt businessmen and politicians who get rich by exploiting the poor. It was a story that resonated in Egypt and the book – which Mourad says was never meant for publication – became a bestseller. Now, after its translation into English, he has talked for the first time about the emotions that inspired him to write it.

"'I was ready to explode because I had been living a dual life for five years, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,' says the dapper, quietly spoken Mourad. 'During the day, I spent hours working with Hosni Mubarak – a man who had been burying the dreams of Egyptians for three decades – and at night I was with my friends, who were cursing him and wishing he would disappear. What was really making me angry was that I knew the Egyptian people were destined to live better and he was the reason why that wasn't happening.'.... more

Thursday, November 17, 2011

جدارية سجن أبو سليم

جدارية سجن أبو سليم

عاشور الطويب

قال لي شبيهي وهو معي في زنزانتي: أنت لست سوى حنجرة صارخة في البري.

صاح صوت واهن من آخر عنبر السجن: المغني هرم يا محمد الأمين1 وهرمنا معه ....لكننا نشهد تخليص البلاد من قبضة الطاغية. واجهني الجدار جملة صامتة. هذه صحراؤهم و صحراؤنا. بخطوط مستقيمة ومنحنية تصير بلادا و عباد. اقفلْ باب الزنزانة عليّ لا يهم، مفتاحها هاهنا بين أصابعي فحم أسود و حلم نافر. اقفلْ باب الزنزانة عليّ لا يهم، هواء بلادي لي و دحرجة الوقتِ بين دخول الصباح و رنين القوقعة لي. همس صوتٌ من أوّل عنبر السجنِ: يهزُّ الملكُ أوتارَ كمانه، العينان مقفلتان، يحلمُ بولائم الدم. يشدّني شجنٌ لصوتِ طفلي في مصراتة2. أحضنُ في القلب ضحكتَه المضمَّخة برائحة النعناع.

جالسٌ، ظلِّي رمادي وقلبي أبيض كالثلج. هناك، هناك على ربوة عالية صوتٌ عذبٌ.

يشدّني الشجنُ إلى ارجوحة أمي في مصراتة. احضنُ في القلب نَفَسَها المضمّخ بالقرنفل والزعتر البرّي.

"في الليل أيضا ينام الغبار"

قال شبيهي النائمُ بجانبي في ابوسليم3 في عنبر لستُ أذكرُ منه إلا رائحةَ الألم.

"فُلْكُ الراحلين على حَرْف البحر دهشةٌ و قلقْ، فأيّ الجياد سيعدو نحو شطآن السكونْ؟"

قلتُ والمساءُ البغيضُ لا يريد أن ينته: كنتُ أعلمُ أنَّ الحمَام سيجيء ذات صباح ويحطّ على نافذة زنزانتي العالية، سيحمل لي في منقاره الصغير نتفة من سحابة و على ظهره قطرة مطر. هذا الحزنُ كأنّي أعرفه! أبكي كلّما أراه...انني أبكي الآن.

حنجرةٌ تصيحُ: وطني يغيب أين؟ و سهمُ الكفِّ ممدودٌ في الفضاء بلا قصيدة.

من ذا يَقدِرُ أن يأخذَ حنجرةَ التاريخ؟.

خاطَبَهم رئيسُ السجن: أنتم في أسوء سجن على ظهر الكرة الأرضية. نحن نتعامل مع ثلاث أشياء فقط: 1- ثلاجة الموتى. 2- الكلاب المفترسة. 3- البحر كاتم الأسرار.

لم يسمعوا شيئا. كانت الحرب على أشدها.

أمامي سحبٌ بحجم الوطن... أيها ستمطر! ضباب كثيف! أحاول الرؤية من قريب.

الهواءُ لا يثبتُ على كلامٍ واحد. من أعلى يتساقط حَبُُّ الزمان، من أعلى يشيخُ المساء
وتتأرجحُ الطمأنينة على أعواد الكذب.

من تحت ماسورةالمدفع الطويلة لمِحَ نجمةً تقتربْ.

- مرّ على كتفه بندقية
-أين ؟
-في آخر الطريق.

قال شبيهي:

كلُّ عودٍ فيه ما فيه وكلُّ بلادٍ لها ساحةٌ للبكاءْ.

قلت: قدمٌ واحدة تبحث عن عتبة باب، يدٌ تعلّق في الهواء رمّانة فارغة.
اضْربْ طبولكَ واحْسبْ ميزانَ شهواتك بفتور اللحظةالهامشية.

"قد أكون بارعا في مراقبة النجوم في عتمة الليل" قال دون أن يلتفت إليهم, الذين حملهم النوم في مركبته الذهبية. لم تكن السماء المتلألأة بارعة في اخفاء ضحكتها, ولا الثعلب الصغير بارعا في الاقتراب, غير أنّ الكثيب كان يحلم بطوابير النمل الأسود تعبر فلوات الشتاء. "هيهات" قال وهو يرفع من على عينيه سحب الحزن الحامض، هيهات هيهات.

كم هشَّةٌ وقفةُ الرجل يفحصُ نسيجَ الحزن بيدين ترتعشان كم حادّةٌ ظلمة النهار و كم خائنة عيون القاتل. مُدَّ رأسك من البريقة4 إلى رأس لانوف5، لا تخف من ضيق الطريق، فقد تشتهي امرأة أو حنظلة مدورة ملساء قد تقطف دون أن تدري وردة القلب.

حلمتُ البارحة بعريشة بيتنا.لم أذق أطعم من عنب عريشة بيتنا. لم يكن بيني وبين أمي غير سحب بيضاء عابرة. رفعت عينيها، نادتني: محمد سيفتح الجبّ بابه وستطير في المدى الشاسع أحلامك فاغلق عينيك عند الفجر وادخل مدينتك العالية. سألتني: هل فتحت في جدارك كوّة، تمدّ المدينة منها يدها وتضع الحناء على أصابع الجموع النائمة معك؟

يا محمد ان طالت غيبتك فلأمر! ليس في يدي غير الغبار، ليس في العين غير البكاء، ليس في البرية غير الالم. فلتنتظر فجرا يطوي الأرض طيا ويشرب معك عصير البرتقال قبل أن يقوم الصباح من مكانه.

يا محمد، سأذهب الآن لأزرع ورودا حمراء في زنازين الميتين. سلام لك إلى قيام الساعة.

صرختُ عاليا: سلمي لي على أبي، قولي له لا يبكي عليّ، سأعود....سأعود.

على عريشة عنب بيتنا نامت الحناجر المتعبة....صمتا رجاء لا جلبة ولا ضوضاء.

قُربَ عشّ طائر الدوري وضعتُ لافتة بيتي ورأيتُ في السماء وجه أخي الحبيب.

سقطت من شجر قريب أصواتُ أنين. ليتني أقدرُ تقبيل عينيه، ليتني أجمع آهاته عنه، ليتني ....

"من أين يأت الظل؟" سأل سجاّنٌ "من أين ولا شمس تجلس في الزنزانة أو تلامس الجذار؟" قال ثانية.

سجدوا جميعا، سجدوا على ذراع ميّت. كانوا بعين واحدة. عين بلا حزن.

من يحمل حزني معي؟ من يحمل سجني معي؟ غابة من رجال، غابة من نساء و أطفال، غابة من عويل وضحك متقطع، غابة من أنفاس عطرة، غابة من شهيق وغابة من زفير، غابة من ظلال باردة، وغابة من رمل يابس ساخن، غابة من رياح و غبار، غابة من صهيل خيول برية، وغابة، غابة من عيون زوجتي البهية.

"ماذا في آخر الأخبار" يسأل سجانا سجينُ؟

-لا جديد في الحرب، لقد انتصرنا وستقتلون.

غابة من نواح وشجن. هل نامت القبرات في نافذة زنزانتي؟ لعلها صارت غابة من ريش وريح. إني متعب يا بلاد القناديل المطفأة6.

ما أوسع باب سجنك و ما اضيق صدرك. كيف استطعتَ قتل الزمن على عتبة زنزانتي؟ كيف مسحت بماء النار جبين عابري بّوابتك الصدئة؟ قلتَ لنا ستأكلكم أنيابُ النسيان.

قلتَ لنا ستعلّقون من خصّيكم على باب المدينة الشرقي. قلتَ لنا .....

-و لكن ما الفائدة....ستموتون على كل حال.

في غفلة عنك و عن حرّاسك، رفعتُ مئذنتي على كتفيّ. هيأتُ للأحباب وليمة و وتركتُ البحر على وسادتي كي يستريح. لو كنتَ تعلم أن الوادي قد صاحتْ عصافيرُه حين التفتُّ إلى آخر نهار ودخلتُ قبوكَ. في غفلة عنك و عن حّراسك، بارَكني الأنبياء. قد يضيق المكانُ على القادمين! قد يجيء المساءُ بلا ظلمة! قد يخون الجسدُ المدمّى! لكن سيعيش الوطن هنا أبدا،

سيعيش الوطن هنا أبدا، هنا أبدا.

ها قد جاءت الطيور إلى ميعاد الماء والطاعنون في السنّ يخيطون أفواه حكايات الحرب بحنكة بالغة.

مركبي عريُ الندى، جاءت به النباتات و الدعوات القديمة. الأذرع العالية بحري، موجه أشواق و زفرات خافتة. هلمّ إلي تقول الهتافات من وراء الجبل. هلمّ إليّ تقول الأناشيد من مصراتة.

كم خفيفة هي الحرية! و كم عظيم هو الانسان. ياه! ما أثقل العقود الأربعة الماضية.

شاعر ليبي، طرابلس


محمد بن الأمين: رسام ليبي شاب سجن هو و أخوه الحبيب بن الأمين في الأسبوع الأول من ثورة 17 فبراير ضد القذافي وسجنا في سجن أبوسليم الشهير بطرابلس.

أفرج عنه الثوار يوم 20.8.2011 بعد تحرير طرابلس.

مصراتة : المدينة التي يقيم فيها الرسام وقد عانت دمارا كبيرا على يد كتائب القذافي لكنها انتصرت عليه.

أبوسليم: سجن رهيب مقتل فيه عام 1996 في ساعتين 1269 سجين سياسي وإلى حد الآن غير معروف أين دفنوا.

منطقة نفطية في شرق ليبيا

منطقة نفطية في شرق ليبيا

عنوان قصيدة لشاعر ليبي اسمه علي الرقيعي مات عام 1966

This poem by Libyan poet Ashur Twebi is posted on Misrata artist Mohammad Bin Lamin's Facebook album of his remarkable cell drawings and other prison art produced during his imprisonment in Abu Salim jail - from the start of the revolution until the liberation of that terrible place on 20 August 2011.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

libyan artist mohammad bin lamin's facebook album of his abu salim prison art

Following the trail from a Tweet and photo issued by Libyan writer, blogger and podcaster Ghazi Gheblawi, I am delighted to find that the famous Libyan artist from Misrata, Mohammad Bin Lamin, has assembled a fantastic album on Facebook of his art from Abu Salim Jail Tripoli where Bin Lamin was incarcerated throughout the revolution. I first wrote about his prison art on this blog on September 2, shortly after the liberation of Abu Salim jail. I based that piece on a news report from freed Abu Salim by the BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. It is wonderful to now have the privilege of accessing Bin Lamin's full Facebook album of his prison art. As well as his wall drawings, they include haunting sculptures of faces of fellow-prisoners fashioned from silver foil food containers (a sample is above). The Facebook site has a page of information on Bin Lamin and his place in Libyan art. It includes material from Ghazi Gheblawi's blog Imtidad.

Mohammad Bin Lamin: My Drawings on the walls in Abu Salim Jail - 6.

Mohammad Bin Lamin was seized by Gaddafi forces from his Misrata studio on 18 February, together with his poet brother Elhabib Elamin, and taken off to Abu Salim jail in Tripoli. The drawing below bears both their names:

Mohammad Bin Lamin: My Drawings on the walls in Abu Salim Jail - 10.

Mohammad Bin Lamin: My Drawings on the walls in Abu Salim Jail - 11.

Mohammad Bin Lamin: My Drawings on the walls in Abu Salim Jail - 11.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

only one woman on 13-strong 'arabic booker prize' - IPAF - longlist

International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2012 longlist is announced
Susannah Tarbush

The longlist of 13 novels competing for the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF - popularly knows as the 'Arabic Booker'), worth a total of $60,000 to the winner, was announced today. The entrants comprised 101 novels from 15 countries, published in the past 12 months. It is striking that there is only one woman among the longlist's 13 authors - in statistical terms, 7.7% of the list. The sole woman on the 2012 longlist is Iraqi-Danish writer Hawra al-Nadawi for Under the Copenhagen Sky (Dar al-Saqi). Al-Nadawi left Iraq with her family for political reasons when she was six. She grew up in Denmark learnt Arabic at home, and lives in London.

Under the Copenhagen Sky (Taht Sama' Kobinhaghin) by Hawra al-Nadawi

This low female presence on the longlist is in marked contrast to last year when the 16-book longlist included seven women - ie 43.8% - the highest proportion in the prize’s history. The chairman of the 2011 IPAF judges, Iraqi poet and novelist Fadhil al-Azzawi, said when the 2011 longlist was announced: "We are delighted with the very high percentage of women who reached the longlist compared with previous years.” It is understood that 2011 was an exceptional year for the proportion of women writers from whom IPAF entries came; presumably publishers submitted a lower proportion for the 2012 prize.

In each of the first three IPAF shortlists, there was only one woman among the six shortlistees. In 2011 there were two. The organisers and judges of IPAF have stuck to the principle, as surely they must, that works submitted just be judged solely on literary merit and that there should be no tokenism as regards gender of geography. The low representation of women on the IPAF longlist raises wider questions about women and the Arab literary and publishing scene. Complaints about the low representation of women in a literary prize are hardly unique to IPAF or the Arab world: it was unhappiness about a perceived male dominance of the Booker Prize that led to the launching in the UK in 1996 of the Orange Prize for fiction by women.

For the first time in the first four years of IPAF's existence the 2011 prize went to a woman - Saudi writer Raja Alem for The Doves’ Necklace. The co-winner was Moroccan Mohammed Achaari with The Arch and the Butterfly. The Doves’ Necklace, for which London-based Andrew Nurnberg Associates is the UK agent, recently secured English-language publishing deals with The Overlook Press in America and Duckworth Books in the UK. Achaari’s novel will be published in English translation by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) in 2012.

Stephanie Gorton of Overlook Press said when the Alem deal was announced: "Overlook is proud to be publishing this book for an English-language readership. We are excited to collaborate with Raja Alem, who has overcome significant obstacles to gain recognition for her brilliant writing and as the first woman to win the IPAF. The Doves' Necklace is a dark, elegant, and wonderfully entertaining novel that deserves all the acclaim it has received, and is sure to receive in the future."

The longlisted authors are from seven countries. Lebanon and Egypt each have four authors on the list, while Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia and Jordan are each represented by a single author. A Saudi novelist won the prize in 2010 and 2011, but the 2012 longlist has no novel from Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state, nor from Yemen. The 2011 longlist had two works by Morcccan novelists (both of them former ministers of culture) which made it to the shortlist, and one of which won IPAF, but Morocco does not feature on the 2012 longlist and neither does Libya.

IPAF says: A number of the longlisted novels have a Lebanese war theme: other common themes include displacement – both for expatriate Arabs and those who have lost loved ones in childhood – and the challenge of rediscovering one’s roots and identity.”

The longlist includes a previous winner of the prize, Egyptian Youssef Ziedan with The Nabatean. Ziedan won IPAF in 2009 for Azazel, due to be published in English translation by Atlantic Books in the UK in April 2012.

Youssef Ziedan

The $60,000 cash prize, first awarded in 2008, is composed of the prize of $50,000 plus the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlisted books. IPAF was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy. The Foundation funds the prize, which is also supported by Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and Etihad Airways.

The shortlist will be announced on 7 December in Cairo and the winner in Abu Dhabi on 27 March on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Inernational Book Fair held from 28 March – 2April.

As in previous years the identity of the judges is still secret at this stage in the judging process. IPAF says only that the judges are “five specialists in the field of Arabic literature”. The judges’ names will not be disclosed until 7 December when the shortlist is announced. The as-yet-unidentified chair of the judges said today: “The fifth cycle of IPAF takes place in exceptional circumstances, with many Arab uprisings against despotic regimes which have been entrenched in most regions of the Arab world for long decades."

He or she added: “Without actually asserting that the novels nominated for this prize cycle directly prophesy the Arab Spring, we can say that many of them paint a picture of the stifling conditions prevalent before the explosion of uprisings. They take the reader into the underground world of the secret police and portray the thirst for freedom of many of their heroes and secondary characters, at the same time exposing the opportunism of those who co-operate with those secret forces.”

The longlist includes three writers who were shortlisted, but did not win, in previous years. They are Jabbour Douaihy of Lebanon (shortlisted for June Rain in 2008); Tunisian Habib Selmi (The Scents of Marie-Claire, 2009) and Lebanese Rabee Jaber (America, 2010). Ezzedine Choukri Fishere was longlisted for the Prize in 2009, for Intensive Care.

Fadi Azzam

Also on the longlist is Syrian author Fadi Azzam whose longlisted novel Sarmada was recently launched in London in English translation, by Adam Talib, as the first title of new imprint Swallow Editions the brain child of the Germany-based German-writing Syrian writer Rafik Schami.

The eponymous location of Azzam’s novel is a Druze village in southern Syria, and the novel is steeped in Druze tradition and culture. There is also another Druze-related novel on the longlist: The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber, set in Ottoman times. A new novel by the prolific Jaber, born in Beirut in 1972 and one of the Beirut39 athors, was recently published under the title Tuyyur Holiday Inn (The Birds of Holiday Inn - Dar al Tanwir, Beirut).

The New York district of Brooklyn features for the second year running in the title of a longlisted book, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Egyptian Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (published by Dar al-Ain). The 2011 longlist featured Brooklyn Heights by Egyptian Miral el-Tahawi, which progressed to the shortlist.

The fact that four of the 13 longlisted authors have previouly been shortlisted in the four IPAF judging cycles, with one of them being an IPAF winner, may give rise to concerns that IPAF is not spreading its net widely enough. But equally it could be seen as testimony to the record of certain Arab authors in regularly producing high-quality works of fiction. There may also be resentment that Egypt and Lebanon between them account for authorship 8 of the 13 books. But this continuing dominance of Egypt and Lebanon is hardly surprising, given the historical pre-eminence of these two countries in Arab writing and publishing.

The announcement of the longlist is bound to increase speculation as to the identity of the judges during the four weeks remaining until their identity is unveiled. IPAF and its PR Colman Getty of London exercise utmost discretion and were today unwilling to identify all 15 countries from whose authors books were submitted for IPAF 2012 least this makes it possible to identify at least some of those submissions which have failed to make the longlist.

The 2012 IPAF longlist (authors in alphabetical order)

by Fadi Azzam
publisher: Thaqafa

Paving the Sea
By Rashid al-Daif
Riyad al-Rayyes

The Vagrant
by Jabbour Douaihy
Dar al-Nahar

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge
by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
Dar al-Ain
Rabee Jaber
The Druze of Belgrade
by Rabee Jaber
Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi

The Unemployed
by Nasr Iraq
Al-Dar al-Masriya al-Lubnaniya

Toy of Fire
by Bashir Mufti

Under the Copenhagen Sky
by Hawra al-Nadawi
Dar al-Saqi

Suitcases of Memory
by Sharbel Qatan

Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness
by Mohamed al-Refai
Dar Merit
Habib Selmi
The Women of al-Basatin
by Habib Selmi
Dar al-Adab

The Amazing Journey of Khair al-Din ibn Zard
by Ibrahim al-Zaarur
Dar Fada'at

The Nabatean
by Youssef Ziedan
Dar al-Shorouq

from the IPAF Press Release issued through Colman Getty:

The Prize, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2012, has become a leading cultural event in the Arab world. Lauded as the ‘foremost literary award for writing in Arabic’ (The National) and ‘the yardstick of literary excellence’ (The Times), it is the first of its kind in the Arab world in its commitment to independence, transparency and integrity. Its aim is to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.

In the past five years the Prize has secured English translations for all of its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008), Youssef Ziedan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010) and joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011). Taher’s Sunset Oasis was translated into English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) in 2009 and has gone on to be translated into at least eight languages worldwide. Ziedan’s Azazel will be published in the UK by Atlantic Books in April 2012, and Abdo Khal and Mohammed Achaari’s books will also be published in 2012, by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. Raja Alem’s The Doves’ Necklace has recently secured an English language publisher, with The Overlook Press in America and Duckworth Books in the UK. All of the winning titles, and a significant number of shortlisted and longlisted books have been translated internationally in South America, Europe and Asia.

Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, commented: “Five years on, it is hugely gratifying to see how the prize is fulfilling its purpose: to recognise and reward the best of Arabic literature and to encourage translation internationally. We are also delighted to see how the prize has stimulated Arabic fiction writing, as a genre.”

Salwa Mikdadi, Head of Arts & Culture Programme at the Emirates Foundation, adds: “The Prize continues to garner regional and international interest in Arabic literature, as evident in the multiple editions and the translations into over twelve languages. The Foundation is proud to continue its support of the Prize in its fifth year.”

For further information about the Prize, visit or follow the prize on Facebook

The first five winners of the Prize are:

2008: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt)
2009: Azazel by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)
2010: Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia)
2011: The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and The Doves' Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia)

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: Nadwa1, which was launched at Sharjah International Book Fair on 27 October 2010 and in the UK in January 2011. Two further workshops took place in Abu Dhabi, in October 2010 and October 2012. All three nadwas were run under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, UAE.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

'poetry towards peaceful coexistence': forums held in Dubai and London

above: a video of highlights from the Dubai Forum and the Mosaic Rooms event in London

Poetry Towards Peaceful Coexistence

An event held at the Mosaic Rooms in central London on 19 October discussed the themes that emerged at The Foundation of Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain's Prize for Poetic Creativity’s literary and intellectual symposium held in Dubai on 16-18 October.

The Dubai forum, entitled "Poetry Towards Peaceful Co-Existence", was held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who attended the opening session. The London forum was programmed to complement the subject areas debated in Dubai.

The two events were linked by author and broadcaster Paul Blezard, who flew from Dubai to London, to participate in both Forums. In London he gave a vivid account of what he had witnessed in Dubai. He named two Arab poets who had "just astonished with their performance" and who had received massive applause: 22-year-old Dalal al-Baroud who is from Kuwait and Sudanese TV presenter Rawda al-Haj who is quite well known and whose poetry is "just extraordinary" in its imagery and rhyme forms.

In his opening speech in Dubai, Abdul Aziz Saud Al-Babtain [pictured], Chairman of The Foundation, highlighted the role of poetry in promoting dialogue between civilisations and said that the decision to hold the event in Dubai reflected the Emirate’s leading role in bringing about peaceful coexistence and understanding between people from different cultural backgrounds.

The speakers who took part in the London event were:

• Rosie Goldsmith, journalist and broadcaster, chair
• Sarah Ardizzone, award winning translator
• Sharmila Beezmohun, deputy editor Wasafiri magazine [pictured]
• Paul Blezard, Literary director, The Firebird Poetry Prizes
• Christina Patterson , writer and columnist, The Independent
• Rhona Wells, assistant editor, The Middle East magazine

The Dubai Forum was attended by Arab and foreign academics and poets from five continents. The sessions discussed the impact of Arabic and world poetry on human communication throughout the ages, and there were readings from an international line up of poets including prolific writer and poet Yang Lian from Beijing, who lives in exile in London; Egyptian poet and writer Yaser Anwar; poet and cultural critic Kirpal Singh from Singapore; American poet, essayist and professor Brian Turner and the International Kristal Vilenica Prize 2009 winner Luljeta Lleshanaku from Albania.

Abdul Aziz Saud Al-Babtain, a prominent Kuwaiti poet and businessman, established and fully financed The Foundation of Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain's Prize for Poetic Creativity. He also established The Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Prize for Imam Al-Bukhari's Grandchildren, an annual prize of U.S. $100,000 to restore the genuine cultural bridges between the Arab Nation and the recently independent Asian Islamic states.

Al-Babtain said: “I am delighted with the response to the Forum in Dubai. Academics and poets travelled from far and wide to take part in the symposium, and the result was three days of inspiring speeches and debate. Speakers were in general agreement with the theme of this year’s Forum – that poetry can play a role in developing cultural understanding in a time of political, social and economic change around the world.”

Al-Babtain, recently appointed as Honorary President of the Verona-based World Poetry Academy continued: “A specific message of Arabic poetry is that to move forward, there needs to be an understanding between cultures and people, and The Foundation will continue with its work to champion the importance of poetry in our contemporary world.”

The "Poetry Towards Peaceful Co-Existence" themes were: ‘The image the of Other in Ancient Arabic Poetry’, ‘The Image of the East in World Poetry’, The Image of the Other in Modern Arabic Poetry and ‘Horizons of Exchange’. The seminars featured renowned academics including Juan Pedro Sala from Spain, Dr. Barbara Makhalak from Poland, Dr. Natalia Klimanin from Russia, and Dr. John-Claude Villain from France.

Paul Blezard [pictured] said: "It was a privilege to be invited to perform poetry in Dubai as the guest of the Abdul Aziz Saud Al-Babtain Foundation. Delegates, professors, poets, critics and publishers from all corners of the Arabic speaking - and writing - world mingled with non-Arabic poets and academics. Their time on stage in Dubai was used to great effect, opening the audiences to regions of the world, modes of thought and poetic forms that were as diverse as they were accomplished.”

Blezard added: “To find myself discussing nursery rhymes as early poetic influences with poets from Albania to Saudi Arabia, and to talk about Dante with Kuwaiti, Sudanese and Egyptian poets makes me think that, while poetry may not cure the world’s ills, it certainly opens up communication, discourse and friendships that will endure across the boundaries of distance, politics and language. The Al-Babtain Foundation should be lauded for providing the opportunity and means for such exchanges to happen.”

Blezard observed: "There are, I am given to understand, still areas and countries in which poetry is the medium of the news, where poets have not only the right - because of their stature and standing within the societies in which they live - but also the responsibility to say the harsh truths that cannot be said more modern mass media forms... poets are allowed to say the unsayable still."

He said: "I was astonished at how controversial some of the poems I heard were against the leaders of the nations from which some of the poets came, against the governments, against the frustrations of the recent revolutions."

Rosie Goldsmith [pictured], who chaired the London event, said: “Poetry Towards Peaceful Co-Existence was an incredibly ambitious topic to debate, and a hugely ambitious aim for all of us who both love poetry and long for peace. Poetry can and should play a part in developing a broader understanding between different cultures, but this is a subject for a much longer debate.”