Friday, July 31, 2009

palestinian kids in gaza 'break world kite-flying record'

Al-Jazeera English video of more than 6000 Palestinian children on a Gaza beach trying to break the world record for the greatest number of kites flown from one location. An event full of all sorts of symbolism.

Kite-flying, banned in Afghanistan under the Taleban, became a symbol of freedom for Afghan children. 'The Kite Runner' Gaza style!

John Ging, director of operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency, later told Al-Jazeera that the event was a success. "No question about it, [the record] was actually smashed," Ging said."But now we have to go through the process of verification.

"We're confident that when all the materials are put together and sent back to the Guinness people they will confirm that we've broken the record here today." Ging said representatives from Guinness were unable to travel to Gaza, but provided the UN with rigorous guidelines in order to verify the attempt.

"The adjudicator who would normally come, was not able to come to Gaza because it is unsafe. But it's ok for children here in Gaza," Ging said."We need to get a grip with this thing, the fact that the children are having to live in this situation."

The BBC has a report and video on the event, and AP also has a report.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

when andy (motion) met harry (patch)

Thanks to the poster of a comment on Carol Ann Duffy's poem Last Post, who has reminded me of Andrew Motion's poem 'The Five Acts of Harry Patch: The Last Fighting Tommy'. The BBC West Inside Out website has a page on Andrew's poem with a video of him reading it to Harry. The Telegraph published the poem.
There's also news footage of Harry celebrating his 109th birthday, sharp-brained, husky voiced, and his remark: "If any man says he was in the trenches and went over the top and he wasn't scared he's a liar". Harry wrote about his experiences in 'The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, the Oldest Surviving Veteran of the Trenches' written with Richard Van Endem.

poet laureate carol ann duffy's ww1 poem 'last post'

Carol Ann Duffy's Poem for the last of World War One

from the BBC Today programme website:

The last of the British survivors of World War I have died. Henry Allingham's funeral takes place today, with the funeral of Harry Patch to follow next week. To mark the occasion, we asked Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to write a poem.



In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home-
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce- No- Decorum- No- Pro patria mori.
You walk away.

You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too-
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert-
and light a cigarette.
There's coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly write it backwards,
then it would.


Harry Patch

Monday, July 27, 2009

banipal focus on arab authors writing in dutch

Magazine of Arab literature goes Dutch
by Susannah Tarbush

WRITERS of Arab origin living in Europe have made their mark mainly writing in English, French and, to a lesser extent, German. The latest issue of Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature, introduces us to a lesser known but important sector of Arab writers in Europe: those who write in Dutch.

Ninety-seven pages of the 35th issue of Banipal are devoted to a Writing in Dutch special feature, guest edited and introduced by Dutch poet, journalist and editor Victor Schiferli.
The special feature showcases ten authors of Arab origin who live in the Netherlands or Belgium and write in Dutch.

Young Arabs form a vibrant part of the Dutch literary fabric. It will probably surprise some, for instance, to learn that the new poet laureate of the Netherlands is an Arab. He is the Palestinian-Dutch poet, actor and dramatist Ramsey Nasr, born in Rotterdam in 1974. He was voted into the position this year after serving as the official poet of the Belgian city of Antwerp.

Nasr’s poems in Banipal 35 include “What’s left: A poem about empty dishes”; he was asked to write this poem shortly after becoming poet laureate, to mark the exhibiting at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam of the painting “Woman Holding a Balance” by the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. Some of Nasr’s work is overtly political, such as “The subhuman and his habitat” about Palestinians in the West Bank, from where his father originated.

Schiferli writes in his punchy introduction: “During the nineties Dutch literature was enriched by new and energetic voices, the work of young writers of Arab origin. Their writing broke the mould of Dutch literature, taking up themes that had never before been explored”..

Certain of these writers, such as Hafid Bouazza and Abdelkader Benali [pictured], “shot to fame and received various prestigious literary prizes. They were all over the media.” But since 9/11 the situation has grown more difficult. Events such as the murder of anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002, and of film director Theo van Gogh in 2004 have strengthened the feeling of “us and them”.

The question of the identity of Arab writers in the Netherlands is therefore, a touchy subject. Hafid Bouazza [pictured], who was born in Oujda, Morocco, in 1970 and went to live in the Netherlands seven years later, resents being labeled as someone “between two cultures”.
In one interview he said: “I will personally hang the next Dutchman who asks me whether I feel ‘more Moroccan than Dutch or vice versa’ and fine anyone who calls me a ‘builder of bridges’ – I am not an architect.”

Bouazza won the E du Perron Prize in 2000 for his debut short story collection “Abdullah’s Feet”. Since then three of his novels have been published, as well as essays and poetry.
Banipal 35 publishes an extract from his 2009 novella “Mockingbird”; in lyrical, sensuous language the narrator describes how he has withdrawn to the mountains of northern Morocco after a period of personal upheaval which anti-depressants have failed to ease.

Abdelkader Benali too made a sensational literary debut, with his 1995 novel “Wedding by the Sea”, which became an international bestseller and won numerous awards. Banipal 35 includes an extract from his fourth novel “My Mother’s Voice” which returns to the theme of his first book - that of immigrants trapped between two cultures

Rachida Lamrabet [pictured] is a human rights lawyer whose first novel “Woman Country” appeared two years ago. The lively extract from her novel depicts how young Europeans of Moroccan origin are viewed by indigenous Moroccan youths when they return to Morocco for the summer holidays.
The excerpt from Amsterdam-born Rashid Novaire’s novel “Roots” is reminiscent of Anglo-Pakistani writer Hanif Kureishi’s “The Buddha of Suburbia” with its blend of comedy and semi-autobiography. A young man explores the history of his father, who is a first-generation Moroccan immigrant TV actor in the Netherlands and who also has a new wife and daughter.

In addition to the poetry of Ramsey Nasr, Banipal 35 includes the work of two other Arab poets writing in Dutch, Fouad Laroui and Mustafa Stitou.

Seven of the ten writers featured are of Moroccan origin, while two are from Iraq. Rada Sukkar studied civil engineering in Baghdad and Delft, and is now involved in water management policy in the Netherlands.

Her first novel “The Treasure Room of Babylonia” was published in 2006. In the section published in Banipal, an Iraqi bride has travelled to the Netherlands to join her Dutch husband. Rodaan ‘Al-Galidi [pictured], born in Iraq in 1970 is represented through an extract from the novel “Thirsty River”.

Al-Galidi fled Iraq in 1992 and has lived in the Netherlands since 1998. His gruesomely satirical family epic is set in southern Iraq during and after Saddam’s rule. The English translation will be published in the UK by Aflame Books in October.

The poems and fragments of novels translated from Dutch and published in Banipal 35 whet the appetite of the reader for more. It is to be hoped that certain publishers may feel it worthwhile to commission translations from Dutch into English of these novels or poetry collections in their entirety so that they can reach the wider audience they deserve.
Saudi Gazette 27 July 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

a (partial) paatcha experience at london's sarchnar iraqi restaurant

In The Iraqi Cookbook, the Iraqi medical doctor turned food writer Lamees Ibrahim describes the famous Iraqi dish paatcha, a type of tashreeb - meaning a dish made of sauce poured over dry bread in a deep dish.

She writes: The most unusual tashreeb is paatcha, which is a tashreeb of lamb's head, trotters, pieces of stomach and tongue. In Baghdad, specialised shops cooked and sold paatcha to men, especially poor labourers, who started the day at dawn by performing fajr (sunrise) prayers at the mosque. Instead of going home to wake their sleepy wives and children for an early breakfast, they gathered at the shop of Abu Al Paatcha to enjoy a big bowl of their delicious tashreeb followed by a few cups of strong dark, sweet tea. They exchanged jokes and set off ready for their long hard day's work. By midday, the shop-keeper would have sold out, washed up, closed and gone home.

Last night I had the chance to sample paatcha for the first time, not in Baghdad but in London at the Iraqi Kurdish restaurant Sarchnar Kabab in Edgware Road (the restaurant's name comes from a free in Kurdistan). An Iraqi friend had been promising for some time to take me there for the paatcha experience, and last night was the night. As it was latish the restaurant had run out of some of the components of the paatcha - there were no lamb's feet - but the lamb's head was there, as was a bowl of deliciously tender pieces of meat on the bone in a clear broth on a bed of bread pieces. The restaurant has its own oven working ceaselessly to produce flat bread. Tashreeb dishes are, like bread and butter pudding, or even the simple bread and milk of childhood, an example of the way in which bread can be transformed when incorporated into recipes. The texture of the flat bread in the sauce is somewhat pasta like, although the sauce soaks in rather than clinging. Paatcha appears in Ibrahim's Iraqi cookery book not in the meat section, but in the bread and tashreeb chapter, which reflects the important place of tashreeb in Iraqi cuisine.

The service from our waiter Aki was charming. To wash down our meal we drank from large glasses of shenina, yoghourt drink with ice cubes. The tashreeb was well-seasoned and extremely tasty. The sheep's head came with tongue, eye and brain in tact. My dining companion shared the first and last of these; the eye went untouched. The meat of the head was again meltingly tender, with the occasional cartilaginous crunch.

Paatchi may not be the most glamorous -looking of dishes (the head, cheekside down, is in the dish on the right), but it is delectable, and the tashreeb qualifies as a comfort food. The dish glimpsed on the left was is my companion's bamia in a rich sauce. Rice came sprinkled with sultanas.

Sarchmar Kabab is that rarity in London - an authentic Iraqi restaurant. I have only been to one other - the Babylon, that was open for a time in Westbourne Grove but which mysteriously and suddenly closed, with the electric lights inside left blazing for months.

I intend to return to Sarchnar to sample some other dishes, such as the various kubba, among them the Mosul kubba - the broad saucer-shaped speciality of that city. (“The size of this kind of kubba is a matter of pride to the maker, and the mouselians are proud of being able to make the largest sizes possible,” writes Ibrahim). And maybe to have the full paatcha experience, lamb's feet and all.

'the iraqi cookbook' by lamees ibrahim

The Iraqi Cookbook
Lamees Ibrahim

Published 2009
Stacey International, London
Interlink Publishing Group, Northampton, Massachusetts
302 pages, hardback

Iraq has one of the world’s most ancient cuisines, thanks to its two great rivers and the irrigation systems that fed the fertile soils of Mesopotamia. The country’s history, and its position as a focus of trading and cultural interactions, produced over the centuries many exchanges of culinary influences.

But the past decades of political upheavals, war and mass migration have taken their toll on agricultural production and on social and cultural patterns. Millions of Iraqis have been scattered abroad, and it has become more difficult for culinary skills to be passed down the generations.

It was a perceived need to provide the younger generation of Iraqis living outside their country with access to their culinary heritage that prompted Lamees Ibrahim [pictured], a London-based Iraqi medical doctor, to write The Iraqi Cookbook. She started the book as a collection of recipes for her son and daughters and then realized there are many young British Arabs who find it hard to read Arabic cookery books, which anyway are primarily designed for people living in Arab countries with easily available ingredients.

Ibrahim first came to London as a postgraduate student at a time when ingredients vital to Iraqi cookery were hard to find or unavailable. In the past 20 years the availability of Middle Eastern ingredients has vastly improved in Britain and other Western countries. It is increasingly possible to find ingredients such as date syrup (dibis), pomegranate molasses, dried or powdered limes, whole wheat kernels and cracked wheat (burghul).

Over more than 300 pages, lavishly illustrated by photographer Terry McCormick, Ibrahim leads the reader across the spectrum of Iraqi dishes. The recipes range from the elaborate to the minimalist. One of the simplest dishes is the delicious tamriyya haneeney, a mixture of dates and eggs fried in oil which is “one of the most famous and traditional sweet dishes among poorer communities in Iraq.”

The more extravagant dishes include stuffed whole lamb (qoozi) and the regal parda pilaou, a deep pie filled with rice, peas, meatballs or chicken pieces, hard boiled eggs, sultanas, flaked almonds, vermicelli, baby potatoes, mixed spices and ground cardamom. There is a recipe for domla Baghdadia, in which a variety of stuffed vegetables are cooked together, and three recipes for maqlouba – large cake-shaped layered assemblages of meat or chicken, nuts, vegetables and rice which are turned upside down at the end of cooking.

There is an entire chapter on kubba, shells stuffed with a minced meat mixture. The numerous kubba recipes reflect the ingenuity of Iraqi cooks in devising shells from a variety of ingredients, including burghul, boiled rice, mashed potatoes and ground rice. One of the most distinctive types of kubba comes from Mosul and has a flat saucer shape. “The size of this kind of kubba is a matter of pride to the maker, and the mouselians are proud of being able to make the largest sizes possible,” writes Ibrahim.

Another characteristic Iraqi meal is the tashreeb (a sauce served on a base of dry bread) known as paatcha, made of lamb’s head, trotters, pieces of stomach and tongue. Ibrahim remembers shops in Baghdad that were devoted to the cooking and selling of paatcha and catered particularly for poor labourers who would eat the dish for breakfast after morning prayers.

The most famous Iraqi soup is probably hareesah, a porridge of whole wheat cooked with lamb. Shiites cook hareesah in large cauldrons on the 10th day of Muharram, on which they mark Ashura. It is served in bowls topped with sugar and cinnamon and doused with smoking hot oil.

No book on Iraqi food would be complete without a mention of the famed barbecued fish, samak masgouf, served in Baghdad restaurants along the river Tigris. Ibrahim has fond memories of evening promenades with live music and poetry that would end with a samak masgouf meal. The Iraqi Cookbook contains recipes for fish such as carp, bream and sea bass as well for masmouta, a dish made from dried fish by the tiny Mandean community.

Like the Mandeans the different religious communities in Iraq have had their own culinary specialities. The book includes a number of recipes from Iraqi Jews, such as kubba in beetroot sauce, unleavened bread and a chicken dish known as tabyeet which was cooked overnight on a very low heat for the Sabbath.

There have been various historical and regional influences on Iraqi food. Ibrahim says that tatar qoulaghi, mini ravioli in yoghurt sauce, probably dates from the time of the Ottoman Empire. Iran has had a considerable impact, as in fasanjoon, chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce.

Ibrahim often suggests one or more variations on her recipes, and she has made them as vegetarian-friendly as possible. The recipes are on the whole straightforward to follow, although in some places they seem at times geared more to those already familiar with Iraq food than to the novice.

The Iraqi Cookbook is an important contribution to the still small volume of literature on Iraqi cookery available in English, and it is bound to attract a readership far beyond the pool of young Iraqis in exile at whom it was originally aimed.

Susannah Tarbush
Banipal magazine

Saturday, July 25, 2009

palestinian singer reem kelani with kardes turkuler

Palestinian songstress Reem Kelani performs in TV studio with Kardes Turkuler during a recent visit to Turkey. A fabulous soulful rendering of 'Ya Raayhin En-Nabi', with David Beebee on piano.

Monday, July 20, 2009

denys johnson-davies' 'fertile desert' book of uae stories

‘Fertile’ literary vistas open up in the UAE
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 20 July 2009

DENYS Johnson-Davies, the doyen of translators of Arabic literature to English, has always been a pioneer. In 1946 he published in Cairo at his own expense, the first-ever book of Arabic short stories to appear in English translation – a selection from the work of Mahmoud Teymour. More than 60 years on he has scored the latest in a string of ‘firsts’ with the publication of the anthology “In a Fertile Desert: Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates”.

According to its publishers, this is the first such anthology “to emerge from this commercially and culturally vibrant center of the Arab world.” It is published in paperback in the UK by Arabia Books, under an arrangement with the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press.

Moreover, in 2007 - the first year of the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards - Johnson-Davies won the Award for Personality of the Year in the Field of Culture. He subsequently thought that in return for this “very worthwhile “prize, he would like to do something for UAE literature. That “something” was the compiling and translation of an anthology of short stories.

It was not until the 1970s that the genres of novel and short story were discovered by readers and potential writers in the UAE. When Johnson-Davies started selecting stories for his anthology, he was not certain he would be able to find enough worth translating. Only one UAE writer is known beyond the Middle East, and that is Dubai-born Muhammad Al-Murr. He has 14 volumes of short stories to his name, some of which have been translated into English.

Johnson-Davies [pictured] need not have worried. Through combing a variety of sources for suitable stories, including published anthologies, magazines and the Internet, he reached his target of 20 stories. He had previously translated and published one short story by a UAE writer, and that was “The Sound of Singing” by Ajman - born Salma Matar Seif. The story appeared in his anthology “Under the Naked Sky: Short Stories from the Arab World” (Saqi Books, 2000), and it is republished in “In a Fertile Desert”.

In the story a girl is fascinated by a beautiful black woman who has a secret power over the girl’s brutal grandfather. The grandfather has “the heart of a pearling ship’s captain who buries his divers in the sea’s depths.” His secret unravels to reveal a harrowing scenario with the oppression of women and slaves at its heart.

The stories chosen by Johnson-Davies portray a world far from the clichéd images of ultra-luxurious buildings and glitzy lifestyle associated with Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Many of the stories reflect anxiety over change, and mixed feelings towards the old days when living conditions were harsh but authentic. The oral tradition of storytelling continues to influence written stories.

Certain of the stories involve marriage choices. “A Decision” by Ebtisam Al-Mualla depicts a man who has brought his British wife back to the UAE. He coldly tells her he is still in love with the local girl he had wanted to marry but whose dowry he could not afford to pay. The twist at the end of the story is predictable, but the story has a certain poignancy.

The contradictory pressures on Emirati youth in the apparently liberal atmosphere of Dubai form the basis of “A Slap in the Face” by Dubai-born Abdul Hamid Ahmed, editor-in-chief of the English-language daily Gulf News. A young man from the town of Khor Fakkan travels to Dubai. When he follows a particular woman and makes a vulgar request of her, he is hauled in by the police.

The stories in “In a Fertile Desert” frequently have an air of mystery. “Fear Without Walls” by ‘A’ishaa Al-Za’aby is a creepy tale centering on an abandoned house around which all sorts of legends have sprung up.

Johnson-Davies points out that since he started working on “In a Fertile Desert, there has been increasing interest in the UAE in arts and literature. Several important projects and publications have been launched such as the Kalima translation project of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.
He is hopeful that his first anthology of stories by UAE writers to appear in English translation will be followed by others, and that UAE writers “will become better known in the rest of the Arab world and will increasingly attract the attention of other translators.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

al-aswany on his reasons for beirut39 chair resignation

The Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany has given the interview below to Lousie Sarant, posted on the Almasry Alyoum website, explaining the reasons for his resignation as chair of the judges of Beirut 39. This is, to put it mildly, rather a different account from that given by judge Abdo Wazen in his article in Al-Hayat.

Louise Sarant interviews Alaa El Aswany on why he resigned as head of the Beirut 39 literary Competition

“I have suffered 20 years in Egypt because of this type of competition. I will never inflict this on any other young writer," explains internationally acclaimed Egyptian novelist Alaa Aswany after he stepped down as jury president of the Hay Beirut Festival.

Beirut39 is a collaboration between the Hay Festival and Beirut World Capital of the Book 2009 and is a project aimed at bringing together 39 of the most interesting writers of Arab heritage under 39 years of age. Two conditions are mandatory for each candidate: they need to be under 40 years of age, and they must have at least one book printed.

Aswany was offered to preside over a new jury made up by Abdo Wazen, Lebanese writer, poet and cultural editor of the international daily Al-Hayat newspaper, Alawiya Sobh, Lebanese writer and poet and Saif Al Rahbi, Omani poet and editor in chief of “Nazwa", an Omani cultural magazine. “One day after I accepted their offer, I received a list of 90 names of young writers who were candidates for the competition. I later learned that those names had been chosen by the literary magazine Banipal, which issued its own selection."
Furious, he contacted Cristina La Roche, the president of Beirut39 in order to redefine the meaning of “open competition", which he considered misused in this context. “How can you call it 'open' when a magazine is filtering the candidacies?" His indignation did not cool down when he was told that Banipal has been researching literary talents in the Arab World for a long time, and consequently knew who the new promising novelists where.

Negotiations followed this incident until late May, when Alaa Aswany, accompanied by a British press officer, met with Cristina La Roche in London in order to reach a final agreement. “I had already made up my mind at that time. I told Cristina that if the competition was carried on in this manner I would step down as president of the jury."

According to Aswany he gave Cristina La Roche two options: first, to change the name of the competition from “open" to “Banipal" to reflect its true nature, or to launch a huge campaign to advertise the competition in the Arab world. “In Egypt no one was aware of the mere existence of this literary contest, except people with good connections in the cultural field and a bunch of journalists".

They finally reached an agreement, adding two more months to the initial deadline as well as arranging a campaign in the press that was supposed to start on the 1 June. Unfortunately none of the above promises were actually carried out, the deadline for the candidacies submission remained the 31 June and the press campaign never happened.

“I came back to Egypt on the 23 June after attending some conferences in France and Italy, and noticed that none of the commitments we agreed on during the London meeting came true. I wrote Cristina La Roche a letter at once to resign from the jury."

Mrs Laroche explained to Al Masry Al Youm that she has great respect for Alaa Aswany, but his role was to judge the stories, not to administer the prize. “It’s a pity it did not work out, but if more young writers got to hear about this project then his involvement will have been positive," said the president of the competition.

Aswani's resignation has been criticized by some who claim that in fact Aswany had asked for extra money to remain president of the jury. “I faced many attacks after I took the decision to withdraw from this competition. Some said that I wanted more money. They disregard the fact that I once was heading the jury of Al Akhbar Al Youm literary competition and did not get a single pound for that. In the end we discovered not less than 10 talented new writers that were unknown until then!" adds clearly irritated.

According to Aswany, Hoda Barakat, an acclaimed Lebanese novelist and member of the same jury wrote him an email days after his resignation, announcing that she was leaving the committee as well, for the same reasons. “I think they ignored my nature and temperament when they asked me to be president," explains Alaa, his eyes glowing. "They must regret it badly!"

What a pity that such a significant and worthwhile competition has been marred by such acrimony among the judges. Given the high profiles of those involved, this is bound to leave a bad taste for some time to come in Arab literary circles. Perhaps the Beirut39 organisers should have taken more care to make absolutely clear the terms of reference, conditions and approach to be adoped in advance of appointing specific judges.

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to lose one judge may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose more than one (including the chair to boot) looks like carelessness.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

caine prize winner e c osondu of nigeria

EC Osondu at the awards ceremony holds the latest Caine anthology "Work in Progress and other Stories" which includes the stories of all five 2009 Caine finalists (published by New Internationalist Publications in the UK and Jacana Media in South Africa).

Short story on displacement wins Caine Prize for African Writing
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette July 13 2009

Announcing last Monday that the Nigerian writer EC Osondu had won the tenth 10,000-pounds ($16,000) Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Waiting”, the chair of the Caine judge Nana Yaa Mensah praised the story as “a tour de force describing, from a child’s point of view, the dislocating experience of being a displaced person.” The announcement of Osondu’s victory was the climax of the Caine prize-giving dinner held in the Divinity School of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.

In an interview in London the day after winning the prize, Osondu told Saudi Gazette that “Waiting” had been inspired by his experience in 2005 of teaching a summer program in Syracuse, New York, to a group of Sudanese and Somali youngsters uprooted from Africa by conflict.
“I was their creative writing instructor, and we ended up telling stories instead of writing them,” said the genial Osondu, who radiates a calm energy. “One of the things that struck me most about these guys, which is what informed my story, is that they were the happiest people on earth. They were always smiling. I thought that if I’m going to write this story, I have to write it so that their laughter shines through.”
“Waiting” is set in an African refugee camp and is narrated by a young boy who has been encouraged to write by a kindly nun who has also given him “Waiting for Godot” to read. In a simple, yet powerful passage, the boy explains why his name is Orlando Zaki. “Orlando is taken from Orlando, Florida, which is what is written on the T-shirt give to me by the Red Cross. Zaki is the name of the town where I was found and from which I was brought to this refugee camp.” His friends in the camp are similarly known by the inscriptions written on their T-shirts.
The children are waiting for a photographer to take their pictures, which the Red Cross will send to people abroad. The children hope that the pictures will lead to their being adopted. Orlando hears from his friend Acapulco that there used to be dogs in the camp, but during a time of food shortage the dogs turned on the people and tore a child to pieces. Osondu comments: “It has been known for dogs to grow suddenly aggressive, and this is like what the country has done to its children. The country has suddenly turned on its children and started eating them up.”
Osondu had pursued a career in advertising in Nigeria at one time, and he says this background helps him produce the lean prose for which the Caine judges praised him. “Because I used to be an advertising copywriter, the urge to pare down, to contract, is very strong,” he explained.
He had a number of short stories published in anthologies in Nigeria, and was then offered a place on the three-year Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing course at Syracuse University, New York. He now teaches creative writing in the English Department at Providence College, Rhode Island.
This is not the first time that Osondu has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize, which is awarded for a short story of between 3,000 and 10,000 words written by an African writer and published in English. In 2007 he was shortlisted for “Jimmy Carter’s Eyes” which tells the story of a village girl who is blinded by boiling cooking oil and gains a kind of second sight.
There were 122 entries for the Caine Prize this year, from 12 African countries. The four writers shortlisted along with Osondu were Ghanaian Mamle Kabu for her story “The End of Skill”, South African Alistair Morgan with “Icebergs”, and two Kenyans – Parselelo Kantai with “You Wreck Her”, and Mukoma wa Ngugi for “How Kamau wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile”. In addition to the cash prize, the Caine winner is awarded a month at Georgetown University as a Writer in Residence, with all travel and living expenses covered.

Osondu’s short stories have over the years appeared in a variety of anthologies, magazines and online publications. His growing stature within African literature was confirmed recently by the inclusion of one of his stories in “Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing.”
“Waiting” first appeared in the arts and politics magazine Guernica.

Other Osondu stories to have won accolades include “A Letter From Home”, published in Boston University’s AGNI literary journal. It was chosen by the Million Writers Award as one of the top ten online short stories of 2006. The story “Teeth” won Stone Canoe Journal’s Allen and Nirelle Galson Prize for Fiction in 2007.
Osondu’s story in the current issue of Fiction Magazine, “An Incident at Pat’s Bar”, features an American oil company executive who is kidnapped in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

While the majority of Osondu’s stories are set in Nigeria, others involve Nigerians in America. He is intrigued by what happens to immigrants when they are taken out of their “natural ecology”. He asks: “How are immigrants affected by new geographies? How does it change them: does it turn them into better people, or into lunatics?”
Osondu’s winning of the Caine Prize is bound to increase the interest of publishers in his work. Although a collection of short stories has been in preparation for some time, his priority now is to finish the novel he is writing. “But I’m taking my time, I refuse to pressure myself into rushing pell-mell to finish it because of this prize,” he said.
Osondu reads widely, and is particularly impressed by the work of certain Arab writers, including Egyptian Alaa al-Aswany’s novel “The Yacoubian Building”. His fondness for Arab literature was sparked by the novels of Egyptian Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz and the works of playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim, including “The Fate of a Cockroach”.
Osondu says: “There is a certain love of storytelling in literature from the Arab world – this ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ quality – that I admire so much.” Like African writing, Arab writing is rooted in story, narrative and the oral tradition. “When I read ‘The Cairo Trilogy’ by Naguib Mahfouz I said this voice sounds similar to the voices I hear in my own neighborhood.” Osondu also has a penchant for the songs of the great Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum: “When you listen to her it’s like poetry.”
Caine update: In the ten years since the inception of the Caine Prize its winners and finalists have notched up an impressive roster of achievements. Now Jonathan Cape has published a novel, "On Black Sisters' Street", by Nigerian Chika Unigwe who was shortlisted for the Caine in 2004 for her story "The Secret" and who lives in Belgium.

Monday, July 13, 2009

2 iraqi masters perform: poet moddafar nawab and oudist ahmed mukhtar

The London-based Iraqi oud master Ahmed Mukhtar has posted on YouTube this video of a performance given by him and the famed Iraqi poet Moddafar al-Nawab in Zurich, filmed by Swiss TV and broadcast by Iraqi TV.

Videos of other performance by Ahmed can be found on his YouTube channel at:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

'opera in arabic' project gathers pace

above: Don Giovanni performed at the Al Ain Classical Music Festival, Abu Dhabi

Dr Aly Sadek’s “Opera in Arabic” Project
Susannah Tarbush
original of article published in Al-Hayat in Arabic translation 10 July 2009
The past four months have been exceptionally eventful for the Egyptian opera lover and retired medical doctor Dr Aly Sadek as he continues to fulfil his dream of bringing opera – and especially the operas of Mozart operas – to Arab audiences in Arabic translation from the original German or Italian.

In March Dr Sadek was invited to present a performance of his translation from Italian to Arabic of Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Al Ain Classical Music Festival in Abu Dhabi. This was the first time “Figaro” had been performed in Arabic in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. The production was commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).

The opera was performed by Arab opera singers and the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra conducted by Zbigniew Graca.

This was the second year running Dr Sadek had been invited to the Al-Ain Festival, which is now in its ninth year. In March 2008, with the same orchestra and conductor, he had presented his Arabic version of “Don Giovanni”, directed by the Polish theatre and opera director Ryszard Peryt.

Videos of this performance can be seen on the internet site YouTube, where Ali Sadek has setup a channel of videos related to his “Opera in Arabic” Project. One viewer of the video of the final act of the Arabic Don Giovanni on YouTube wrote: “Wow! I cannot believe this is in Arabic! It is GREAT! I haven’t heard anything like[it]! BRAVO!” This reaction is typical of the enthusiasm with which Arab audiences have responded to chance to hear Mozart’s wonderful operas sung in Arabic – an enthusiasm that might surprise those in the West who assume the Arab world has little interest in Western music, and particularly not in the “difficult” musical dramatic form of opera..

On 9 and 10 June Dr Sadek’s translation of “The Marriage of Figaro” was performed at the Alexandria Opera House (also known as the Sayyid Dawish theatre) in Egypt. And on 22 June there was a gala operatic recital at the Egyptian embassy in London, “An Evening with Mozart in Arabic”, hosted by the Egyptian ambassador Hatem Seif al-Nasr and his wife.

The “Mozart in Arabic Ensemble” comprises the Egyptian soprano Mona Rafla, the Egyptian baritone Raouf Zaidan and the Lebanese bass baritone Toufic Maatouk, accompanied on the piano by the notable British pianist Kathron Sturrock.
During the recital they performed arias and duets in Arabic from three Mozart operas – “The Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni”, and “The Magic Flute”.

As is always the case when “Opera in Arabic” translations of Mozart works are performed, the audience reaction was very enthusiastic. Dr Tarek Ali Hassan, the first and founding chairman of the National Cultural Center of Egypt and the new Cairo Opera, described the recital as “a lovely evening. Everyone enjoyed it.” They found they could understand the sung Arabic, and the translation opened up what without translation would have remained “a closed box of mysteries”.

Dr Aly Sadek passionately believes that opera should be sung in the language audiences can understand; as he explained to Al-Hayat, “an opera is a play set to music”. Unless the audience can follow the words and understand the action and emotions of the play, the opera may sound like “singers being hysterical, and shouting”. To have operas sung in Arabic translation makes opera more acceptable to a wider audience of music lovers, who would never otherwise attend opera.

Opera has a long history of performance in Egypt, where the Cairo Opera House was opened in 1869 during the reign of Khedive Ismail Pasha to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in that year. That opera house burned down in 1971, and it was not until 1988 that the new Cairo Opera House opened as part of the National Cultural Center.

And yet Dr Sadek believes that despite this history of opera in Egypt the “language barrier” has held back the acceptance of opera by the general public, and is a major reason why opera has not gained the popularity and appreciation it deserves. The audience for opera is still very small.

The debate about whether opera should be sung in its original language or in translation into the language of the audience is by no means confined to the Arab world of course. Dr Sadek points to the example of the English National Opera, which is one of Britain’s two main opera companies and which performs all its operas in English translation.

Dr Sadek has worked with much dedication and determination to bring his vision to reality over nearly a quarter of a century, ever since he founded his “Opera in Arabic” project in 1985. He is so committed to his project that he took German lessons in Vienna, and also taught himself Italian, so that he could translate Mozart’s operas directly from those two languages rather than having to translate into Arabic from an English translation.

Translating opera poses special challenges for a translator. In the view of Dr Sadek, the translator must get to know the opera intimately and “take it completely inside” them. Just as a bee takes pollen inside it and makes honey, the translation of opera is like a transformation occurring inside the translator. Not only does the translator have to get the meaning right, but the sung language should not be “disfigured” but pronounced as normal Arabic. Dr Sadek works closely with the singers to make sure the words can be heard clearly and loudly enough . The translation can be a lengthy process: it took him three years to translate “The Magic Flute” from German to Arabic.

The three events so far this year showed three different Arab audiences for the Mozart operas in Arabic. One is in Egypt itself. A second audience is Arabs at international music festivals elsewhere in the Arab world, such as the Al Ain Festival. In Lebanon there was a recital of pieces from Mozart operas in Arabic at the 2006 Al-Bustan International Festival of Music held annually in Beyt Meri. The singers were Mona Rafla, Raouf Zaidan and Mohammad Abu al-Khair.

The United Arab Emirates has been a particularly fruitful location for “Opera in Arabic” performances. Before the 2008 and 2009 performances of “Figaro” and “Don Giovanni” at the Al-Ain Festival, there was in 2007 a recitals at a concert organised by the Abu Dhabi Concert Committee and ADACH, and also at a concert in Dubai held by the Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Foundation.

The recent recital at the Egyptian embassy in London was to a third main target audience of “Opera in Arabic” - Arabs living outside the Arab world in Europe or North America.

The “Opera in Arabic” project has also attracted interest in the wider world of international opera. In 1991, there was a recital of pieces from Mozart operas in Arabic at the Alte Rathaus (Old City Hall) in Vienna. Mozart spent the last ten years of his life in Vienna, where he died in 1791 at the age of only 35. Dr Sadek says: “In Vienna there is great interest in Mozart opera in Arabic”. His project is so highly appreciated that in 1991 the “Mozart Gemeinde in Wien”(Mozart Society of Vienna) presented him with both the Mozart Medal and Honorary membership of the Society.

The combination of a career as a medical doctor specialising in anaesthesia with the opera project is an unusual one, but Dr Sadik’s love of Western classical music, and especially of Mozart, developed at an early age.

Aly Sadik was born in Cairo in 1945 and undertook his school education at ‘Les Freres’ French school in Cairo before entering the faculty of medicine at Cairo University. He graduated as a doctor in 1970, and specialised in anaesthesia. He did his postgraduate training and practice in England where he was awarded the Fellowship of the Faculty of Anaesthetists at the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 1976. He followed his medical career in the UK, and lives in London.

His love of classical music began when he was a small boy. “Although I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the music of a large number of composers, Mozart’s music was always the nearest one to my heart,” he says. He adds: “My life without Mozart’s music would have been for me much poorer and less fulfilling. My opinion was, and is, that Mozart’s music stands as unique in its perfection and beauty, beyond comparison in the world of music.”

Not long after launching his Opera in Arabic Project In 1985 he started to translate Mozart operas, producing Arab versions of Cosi Fan Tutte (1987), The Marriage of Figaro (1988), Don Giovanni (1990), Idomeneo (1992) and The Magic Flute (1994).

At the same time he worked to get Mozart operas digitally recorded on CD. In this he received much encouragement from the acclaimed Egyptian orchestral conductor Youssef El-Sisi. El-Sisi had appeared as a guest conductor in Poland, and he suggested to Dr Sadek that the CD recordings be made in Poland. The recordings were made in Katowice, southern Poland, with the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by El-Sisi, and opera singers from Egypt.

Each CD recording is accompanied by detailed booklets of 200 or more pages prepared by Dr Sadek which include the sung Arabic texts, the texts in their original language and in English translation, and full articles on the historical background to the operas.

So far three Mozart operas have been recorded on CD. “Cosi Fan Tutte” was recorded in 1989 on a set of three CDs. The recording of the “The Marriage of Figaro” followed in 1990, and “Don Giovanni” in 1992.

The late Palestinian scholar and activist Professor Edward Said, who was himself very musical and an accomplished performer on piano, praised one of these recordings in an article he wrote for Harpers in July 2002. The article was a highly critical review of the book “What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response” in which neoconservative academic Bernard Lewis stated that Western music “falls on deaf ears” in the Islamic world (except for Turkey and Israel).

Edward Said wrote that this was “a total falsehood”. Said pointed out that several Arab capitals have very good conservatories of Western music. In addition, “the Cairo Opera House has pioneered the performance of opera in Arabic, and in fact I own a commercial CD of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ sung most competently in Arabic.”

Dr Tarek Ali Hassan, who is like Dr Aly Sadek an Egyptian medical doctor with a deep involvement in music, very much supported the “Opera in Arabic” Project when he [Dr Tarek Ali Hassan] was the first and founding chairman of the National Cultural Center of Egypt and the new Cairo Opera from 1989 to November 1992.

Dr Hassan shares Aly Sadek’s love of Mozart’s operas, which he says are “a microcosm of human emotions”. He describes Mozart as “a great treasure, not just for the West but for the whole of humanity”. In the past, “this treasure was closed to Arabic speakers”.

The first live performance of an opera translated by Dr Sadik was on 12 March 1991 when the Arabic version of “The Marriage of Figaro” had its premier at the Cairo Opera House . A year later Don Giovanni , directed by Ryszard Peryt , had its premier there. The Arabic version of “The Marriage of Figaro” has been particularly popular in Egypt, and it has been performed more than 50 times at the Cairo and Alexandria opera houses although the recent performance at Alexandria Opera House was the first time it had been performed in Egypt since May 2005.

Dr Sadek is now translating Mozart’s last opera “La Clemenza di Tito” [meaning “The Clemency (ie mercy), of Tito”] written in Italian and composed in the last year of Mozart’s life. It is based on the life of the Roman Emperor Titus.

Looking to the future Dr Sadek hopes that further full performances of Mozart’s operas in Arabic, as well as recitals of pieces from the operas, can be organised, for audiences including Arab communities in Europe and North America. Such performances will of course depend on the necessary sponsorship being arranged.

above, from L: Aly Sadek, conductor Zbigniew Graca, director Ryszsard Peryt

Thursday, July 09, 2009

tablet contributor's vicious attack on novelist claire messud over palfest

The latest issue of Asians in Media magazine has a short piece on 'The Jewish Queens of Bollywood' referencing a podcast in Tablet Magazine - a new (or at least renamed) online US-based Jewish publication, not to be confused with the 169-year-old London-based Catholic publication The Tablet.

AIM reports: Did you know that there was a time when Jewish women were among the leading ladies of Bollywood? No, neither did we. But there was an era when Baghdadi Jewish families who had emigrated to India starred in Bollywood.

The American online Jewish magazine, Tablet, explores:

Rose Ezra. Ruby Myers. Farhat Ezekiel Nadira. From the earliest years of Bollywood, these and other Jewish actresses garnered starring roles. And while they may have looked somewhat exotic to moviegoers, they came from Baghdadi Jewish families who had been living in India for decades. Reporter Eric Molinsky speaks to film scholars, as well as friends and relatives of these once-beloved but now mostly forgotten stars of Indian cinema, to find out how they became the “go-to girls” for leading female roles in the 1920s, ’30s, and beyond.

The topic was fascinating to me - especially as I have met in London some of the Jews of Iraqi origin whose ancestors settled in India. In the podcast Eric Molinksy interviews film scholars, and friends and family of the Indian Jewish actresses. I could discern some parallels with the story of Jews in the world of music in Iraq, including the late Saleh al-Kuwaity whose 100th birthday was celebrated with a conference and concert in London six months ago.

Visting the Tablet website gave me a chance to have a look around an American Jewish general interest publication which was launched last month under the slogan "A New Look at Jewish Life" as the successor magazine to Nextbook. Its editor Alana Newhouse is former cultural editor of New York Jewish weekly The Forward. Tablet has a lot of interesting and provocative content: for example 36-year-old playwright David Adjmi interviewed on his Syrian-Jewish roots and on the Syrian-Jewish community in New York, which he explores in his new play 'Stunnning'. In the Scroll section of op-ed pieces, there is a light piece on 'Is Jon Stewart a prophet' - and a vicious attack by Michael Weiss on the distinguished novelist Claire Messud for her recent article in the Boston Globe 'Walking Miles in Palestinian Feet' based on her participation in the Palestine Festival of Literature (Palfest).
A sample from Weiss's piece:
Until recently, British author Claire Messud had only written about Palestine as a vogue political issue that interrupts—but remunerates—the life of quiet contemplation being fitfully led by Murray Thwaite, the liberal newspaper columnist who features prominently in her debut novel, The Emperor’s Children...Now Messud’s attentions have returned to the Middle East, this time with a column in the Boston Globe recounting her recent very unpleasant time in Israel and the West Bank. Messud and a handful of other writers from around the world had traveled to Jerusalem to attend Palestine Festival of Literature, originally scheduled to take place at the Palestine National Theater—that is, until event was relocated, along with its attendees, all bedecked in their evening wear and spilling their cocktails over the rocky terrain, by “machine-gun toting Israeli soldiers in flak jackets. Weiss dismisses Messud's article as a monument to cant and banality...her background coloration scans like some Fodor’s Guide to Orientalist Cliché":

Contrary to Weiss' assertion, 'The Emperor's Children', longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2006, is far from being Messud's "debut novel". That was 'When the World was Steady' , nominated for the PEN/Faulkner award, which appeared in 1995. It was followed by 'The Last Life' (1999) and 'The Hunters' (2001).

Weiss quotes approvingly from a blog by The New Republic's editor in chief Marty Peretz on Messud's article. Weiss notes that Messud's husband, the critic James Wood, was Peretz's "star book critic" on TNR before he graduated to the New York Review of Books. Peretz's intemperate and vulgar attack on Messud ranges much wider than her article on Palfest. Along the way he takes in Messud's introduction to the reissue a few years ago by Everyman's Library of four early novels by Irene Nemirovsky, the French-Jewish writer who converted to Catholicism but died in Auschwitz.

For another view of PalFest by someone who was in Jerusalem at the time although not at the festival, and who mentions Messud and praises 'The Emperor's Children', see Alex Stein's piece posted on Harry's Place.

Messud's father was a French pied noir who grew up in Algeria. Her most recent published work is a short story in the New York Review of Books. There is also a podcast of her reading the story.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

hay festival statement on alaa al-aswany & beirut39

Just recieved Hay Festival's statement on the resignation of Egyptian novliest Alaa al-Aswany - author of 'The Yacoubian Building', 'Chicago' and 'Friendly Fire' - as chair of the judges of Beirut39:

In reply to Alaa Al Aswany’s resignation, the following statement has been issued by HAY FESTIVAL of Literature, Organizer of “Beirut39”.

HAY FESTIVAL is grateful to Alaa Al Aswany for his contribution to the project “Beirut39”. This project is an open competition subject to certain criteria, and anybody fulfilling the criteria is welcome and encouraged to apply. One of the criteria for eligibility, is that candidates must have at least one work published (poetry/fiction) and we will stick to that premise.

The other conditions state that the writer should have Arab origins and born in 1970 or after. The candidate can also write in any other languages.

Consequently, we are pleased to proceed with three judges committed to promoting young writers, Abdo Wazen, Lebanese writer / poet and cultural editor of the international daily Al-Hayat newspaper, Alawiya Sobh, Lebanese writer and poet, Saif Al Rahbi, Omani poet and editor- in –chief of “Nazwa” Omani cultural magazine. They have the challenging, yet rewarding task of selecting the best 39 writers among many other nominees, more than 300 up to this date; a figure which will be surely increasing till the deadline of 31 July 2009. For more information, please visit the website:

We are confident that “Beirut39” has been advertised through the right channels so far. In addition, we have assured Alaa Al Aswany and the jury members that we will continue working to maximize the calling for nominations and applications so as to extend the scope of the project.

Our thanks to the Beirut World Book Committee for their support on Beirut39.

google trans of abdo wazen article on al-aswany & beirut39

Google's (absolutely lousy) automatic translation of Abdo Wazen's article!

Ala Aswan and "Beirut 39"

مقال عبده وازن Abdo article Wazen

عبده وازن Abdo Wazen علاء الاسواني Alaa el

لم يكن من المفاجئ ان يستقيل الروائي المصري علاء الأسواني من لجنة تحكيم مهرجان Not surprisingly, to resign, the Egyptian novelist Alaa of the Aswan Festival Jury « بيروت 39» الذي تنظمه مؤسسة «هاي فستيفال» البريطانية احتفاء بـ «بيروت عاصمة عالمية للكتاب 2009». «Beirut 39» was organized by the «Hay Festival» British mark b «global capital Beirut Book 2009». وكان الكثيرون من الصحافيين والكتّاب يتوقعون أن يعلن الكاتب الذي أصبح عالمياً، هذه الاستقالة، وقد أعلنها فعلاً وان لم تكن ذريعته مقنعة أو واضحة تماماً And many of the journalists and writers expect to announce the writer, who became the world, his resignation, has already announced, and were not convincing pretext or very clear . .

كان مهرجان «بيروت 39» الذي يقضي بجمع 39 كاتباً من الجيل العربي الشاب، روائيين وشعراء وقاصِّين، قد انطلق، وكان الاسواني وافق بترحاب، على ترؤّس لجنة التحكيم The Festival «Beirut 39» which provides for the collection of 39 writers from the Arab young generation, novelists, poets and Qasin, has launched, and the el and the welcome, the chair of the Arbitration Commission . ولم تمضِ أيام على اعلان المشروع حتى تقدمت اليه أسماء كثيرة تخطت حتى الآن الثلاثمئة من الدول العربية كافة، اضافةً الى المغترب العربي. . Only days until the announcement of the project put forward by many names so far exceeded the three hundred from all Arab countries, in addition to the expatriate Arab. وقد لقيت فكرة المهرجان ترحيباً لدى الكتّاب الشباب ووجدوا فيها فرصة ملائمة للتلاقي والتعارف والحوار. The festival idea was welcomed by the young writers, and found the appropriate opportunity to meet and know and talk. انطلقت فكرة المهرجان بسرعة عبر وسائل الإعلام، على اختلافها، وعبر الانترنت والمواقع الالكترونية التي تغزو المدن والمناطق، وسرعان ما استجاب لها الكتّاب الشباب وتنادوا للتقدم الى المسابقة بغية المشاركة في المهرجان. Launched the idea of the festival quickly through the media, different, and through the Internet and web sites that are invading cities and regions, and quickly responded with young writers and advocate for progress to the competition in order to participate in the festival. وبدت بيروت بذاتها تعنيهم مثلما يعنيهم المهرجان الفريد ذو البعد العالميّ. Beirut alone, and seemed to them as the festival unique is concerned the global dimension. ولئن بدا المهرجان المقصور على 39 كاتباً شاباً غير قادر على استيعاب الأسماء العربية البارزة التي لم تتخط التاسعة والثلاثين عمراً، فهو سيمثل حتماً شريحة مهمة تختصر خريطة الإبداع العربي الشاب. While the festival was limited to 39 young writer is unable to absorb the outstanding Arabic names that have not got beyond the age thirty-ninth session, it will definitely shorten the task of a map of the Arab youth creativity. فالمهرجان العالمي اختار هذه القاعدة منذ انطلاقته وكانت له سابقة نجحت أيما نجاح، وقد جمع خلالها 39 كاتباً شاباً من بلدان أميركا اللاتينية قاطبة واحتفى بهم في بوغوتا عام 2006 World Valmehrjan chose this rule since its inception and has been highly successful previous success, which has brought together 39 young writers from all the countries of Latin America and celebrated them in Bogotá in 2006 . .

كان الجيل العربي الشاب في حاجة ماسّة الى مثل هذا المهرجان العالمي. Arab young generation is in dire need of such a global festival. فالمعروف أن معظم المهرجانات العربية تستثني الجيل الجديد، ونادراً ما تستضيف الأسماء الشابة، مقتصرةً المشاركة على الأسماء المكرّسة واللامعة وعلى «النجوم» الذين Known that most Arab festivals exclude the new generation, and rarely plays host to the names of young, limited participation at the names on the illustrious and «stars» who - بحسب ظنها - يخطفون الأضواء ويمنحونها المزيد من «الشرعية». ولم يكن الاقبال العربي الغزير على المشاركة في مسابقة «بيروت 39» إلا دليلاً على حماسة الشباب وحلمهم بمثل هذا اللقاء الذي لن يتكرر - Dismissed by - who grab the limelight and give more «legitimate». Arab turnout was not heavy to participate in the contest «Beirut 39» only evidence of the enthusiasm of young people and their dream of such a meeting, which will not be repeated . .

كان من المتوقع أن يستقيل علاء الأسواني من رئاسة لجنة التحكيم ومن اللجنة نفسها، على رغم ترحابه بهذه البادرة وتحمسّه لها. Was expected to resign from the presidency of Aswan Ala of the Arbitration Commission and the Commission itself, in spite of this gesture Trahabh and enthusiasm to it. فهو سرعان ما اكتشف أن عمل التحكيم يتطلب الكثير من الجهد والتضحية مقابل مكافأة مالية صغيرة، علاوة على أن الكتّاب التسعة والثلاثين هم سيكونون «النجوم» طوال المهرجان، ولن يكون على اللجنة إلا أن تختفي بعد أن تكون أدّت وظيفتها. He soon discovered that the work of arbitration requires a lot of effort and sacrifice in return for small financial reward, in addition to the book are thirty-nine will be the «stars» Throughout the festival, will be on the Committee only to disappear after they have function. وعلاء الاسواني لم يعد قادراً على التخلّي عن نجوميّته بعدما حالفه الحظ وترجمت روايته «عمارة يعقوبيان» الى لغات شتى ومهدت أمامه الطريق الى العالمية. Alaa el is no longer able to give up his star, after a little bit of luck and translated his novel «The Yacoubian Building» to the various languages and paved the way to the front of the world. لكنه لم يدع فرصة هذا المهرجان تفوته فوافق على ترؤس لجنة التحكيم، على أن ينسحب لاحقاً فيقطف الكثير من «الصخب» الإعلامي من غير أن يبذل أي جهد. But he did not let this opportunity miss the festival, agreed to preside over the jury, to be true to be picking a lot of «noise» is not the media make no effort. وهذا ما حصل فعلاً. This is what actually happened. لكن حججه التي تذرّع بها كانت واهية ومفضوحة But the arguments that were used by the senseless and absurd . فماذا يعني أن يبرّر استقالته بعدم نشر اعلانات «مدفوعة» عن المسابقة في الصحف وعلى الشاشات الصغيرة؟ . What does that justify his resignation not to publish ads «driven» Pageant in newspapers and on the small screen? بل ماذا يعني كلامه عن حصر المرشحين في دائرة صغيرة مع انه يعلم ان الترشيحات انهالت من كل أنحاء العالم العربي؟ What is the meaning of his words, but for countless candidates in a small circle with it knows that the nominations coming in from all over the Arab world? ثم لماذا هذا العداء الذي يضمره لبعض الكتّاب الشباب الذين لم تجذبهم أعماله ولم يمتدحوه، فوصفهم بأنهم مجرد صحافيين؟ Then why this hostility Idmrh for some young writers who were attracted by its work and no Imitdhoh, describing them as mere journalists? وقد فات الاسواني أن أكثر من أربعين كاتباً شاباً من مصر تقدموا حتى الآن الى المسابقة، ما يعني ان المهرجان لم ينحز لبلد دون آخر أو لفئة دون El that has been overdue more than forty young writers from Egypt, have so far to the competition, which means the festival does not align itself to a country without the other or any one group دون أخرى أو لأسماء دون أخرى . Without the other or of the names without the other.

بدت حجج الأسواني واهية وغير مقنعة بتاتاً. Aswan arguments seemed flimsy and not convincing at all. لماذا لم يعترف الأسواني صراحة أن لا وقت لديه لقراءة أعمال ثلائمئة كاتب عربي شاب، هو الذي كما قال، يظل على سفر، بين عاصمة وأخرى، لاهثاً وراء عالميته وطامحاً - ولو بالسر - الى الوصول الى قائمة نوبل؟ Why did not explicitly recognize the Aswan that has no time to read the work of a young English writer Thelaimip, which as he said, continue to travel between the capital city to another, running behind the universality and aspiring - if secret - access to the list of the Nobel? لماذا لا يعترف الأسواني بعدم حبّه للكتّاب الشباب الذيم لم يعربوا عن اعجابهم به وعن حماستهم لأعماله؟ Why does not recognize the Aswan not love the book youth panellists did not express the admiration and enthusiasm for his work?

حصد علاء الأسواني ما كان يحلم بحصده من صخب اعلامي وضوضاء وأعلن انسحابه من لجنة التحكيم، رئيساً وعضواً، وهو كان يعلم أن مهمته ستكون بمثابة عبء شديد عليه، هو الكاتب الذي أصبح عالمياً. Alaa el harvesting what he had dreamed of Bhsdh noise and clamor of the media and announced withdrawal from the arbitration, the Chairman and members, he knows that his task would be a great burden, is the writer, who became the world. وكفاه أن استقالته - ولو لم تكن مبررة - شغلت الصحافة مثلما شغلت أوساط الكتّاب الشباب. Efficient and that his resignation - even if were not justified - filled the press served as the young writers. لكنه يدري حتماً أن مثل هذه الطريقة يستحيل تصديقها أو أخذها جدّياً But he certainly knows the way that such ratification, it is impossible to be taken seriously . .

لا يحتاج مهرجان «بيروت 39» الذي تشارك فيه وزارة الثقافة اللبنانية التي لم تُعرف يوماً بتشجيعها للأجيال الشابة، لا يحتاج الى الإعلانات المدفوعة في الصحف والمجلات والشاشات الصغيرة والفضائيات ليخاطب الكتّاب العرب الشباب وليدعوهم الى المشاركة في المسابقة. فهؤلاء هم في غنى عن مثل هذه الإعلانات - على خلاف ما يظن الأسواني - لأنهم على بيّنة مما يحصل في الساحة الثقافية العربية وكذلك العالمية Festival does not need «Beirut 39» in which the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, which has never known for encouraging the younger generations, does not need to paid advertisements in newspapers, magazines and small screens and satellite channels to address the young Arab writers and invite them to participate in the competition. They are indispensable for such declarations - unlike what is thought Aswan - because they are aware of what is happening in the cultural scene as well as the Arab World . .

انسحب علاء الاسواني، لكن المهرجان مستمر والكتّاب العرب الشباب التسعة والثلاثون سيلتقون في بيروت التي ستستعيد من خلالهم هويتها الثقافية الطليعية وصفتها كمختبر للأدب الجديد Alaa el withdrew, but the festival is continuing and the Arab Writers Thirty-nine young people will meet in Beirut, which will restore them to their cultural identity and described the lead laboratory for the new literature . . (عن الحياة). (For life).

arabic article on beirut39

One of the Beirut39 judges, Abdo Wazen, has written an article in Arabic for Al-Hayat resposted on Kikah about the departure of Alaa al-Aswany as chairman of the Beirut 39 jury.

Don't think even the eg Man Booker judging process has ever seen anything quite like this!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

alaa al-aswany no longer on beirut39 jury

Since I wrote the previous article, on Alaa al-Aswany's "Friendly Fire", which concluded with the author's enthusiastic comments about his chairmanshiop of the judges for the Beirut39 project, Beirut39 has responded to a query I e-mailed asking them about conflicting information on Al-Aswany's being chair of the judging panel. The information is on different pages of the Hay/Beirut39 website at
drop-down menu of judges on the site does not list him as one of the judges, who now number three - Lebanese poet and cultural editor in chief of Al-Hayat newspaper Abdo
Wazen, Lebanese writer Alawiya Sobh and Omani Saif Al Rahbi, poet and chief editor of the cultural magazine Nizwa. But on the site's
questions and answers page, and according to its press release he is still the jury's chair. The e-mailed reply to me from Beirut39 said he is actually no longer part of the jury. What's going on; was there some kind of difference of opinion over the approach to be adopted? Arabic literature is a notoriously disputatious field, which is one reason why the identity of the judges in the first two years of the "Arabic Booker Prize" - the International Prize for Arabic Fiction - has been kept secret until the announcemement of their shortlist.

Beirut39 will select and celebrate 39 of the most important Arab writers aged 39 or less. It is an important project that is a joint venture of Beirut World Book Capital 2009 and Britain's most high-profile literary festival, the Hay Festival. The organisers said some time back that "Beirut 39 will be the
flagship project of Beirut Unesco World Book Capital 2009".
As far as the outside world is concerned, having the world's best-known contemporary Arab author as chair of the judges would have been bound to have added to the kudos of Beirut39, so it is intruguing that for whatever reason he is no longer part of the jury.

This is not the first time there has been a shakeup in the composition of the Beirut 39 jury. The project started off with a panel of judges consisting of Abdo Wazen, Huda Barakat, Elias Khoury and Maher Jarrar, in May this was replaced by the Alaa Al-Aswany - Abdo Wazen - Saif al-Rahbi -Alawiya Sobh lineup, which gave a extended the geographical sweep of Arab author-judge from Lebanon to Egypt and Oman.

Maybe it's been general knowledge for some time that Al-Aswany is no longer a judge, let alone chair, and I've cottoned on late! Could be I'm reading too much into it. Still, it's an intriguing develoment' given the enthusiasm he expressed over chairing the Beirut39 jury when he appeared at Foyle's bookshop. To recap:

Al-Aswany, who is 52 this year, is keen to encourage a younger generation of fiction writers. He is the chairman of the panel of judges of ‘Beirut 39’, a collaboration between the Hay Festival and Beirut World Capital of the Book 2009. The idea is to bring together the 39 most interesting Arab writers aged 39 years old or less on a list to be announced in September.

Al-Aswany hopes that the Beirut39 list will include some lesser-known writers. He was previously the chair of a competition of novels in Egypt, organized by the newspaper Akhbar El -Yom. He presented a shortlist of ten novels, and then three winners, none of which were well known to critics or the public. “I am very proud that I did that and I must tell you that, to me and the judges, many of these ten names write much better than very known names. I believe that we must really work hard to present real talents, and not to stay in the same circle of people who are known.”

alaa al-aswany's 'friendly fire'

Alaa al-Aswany trains his “Friendly Fire” on Britain
Susannah Tarbush

The Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany has enjoyed phenomenal success with his novels “The Yacoubian Building” (first published in Arabic in 2002) and “Chicago” (2007). They were runaway bestsellers in Egypt and other Arab countries, and were translated into 27 languages.

Between publication of these two novels, a collection of his earlier work was published in Arabic in 2004 under the title “Friendly Fire”. It consists of a novella entitled “The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers” and a number of short stories.

Al-Aswany recently visited Britain for the publication by the Harper Collins imprint Fourth Estate of the English edition of “Friendly Fire” in an excellent translation by Humphrey Davies.

Al-Aswany is much appreciated in Britain, where Fourth Estate published the English translation of “The Yacoubian Building” in 2007. Publication of the English edition of “Chicago” in Britain by the same publisher last year further boosted his standing.

There is something very appealing about Al-Aswany, with his husky bass voice, his vivid manner of expressing himself in English, his humor, and the inspiring way in which he speaks of writing and literature. Alongside his literary career he still practices as a dentist, and is a campaigner for democracy.

During his latest visit to Britain he was much in demand by the media and for literary events including a speaking engagement and book signing at the famous Foyles Bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road.

This was the third time in little more than a year that Al-Aswany had appeared before a packed audience at Foyle’s, an indication of his popularity with readers. He was interviewed by the Iraqi playwright and Imperial College scientist Hassan Abdulrazzak, author of the play “Baghdad Wedding”.

Asked why he chose the title “Friendly Fire”, Al-Aswany said he found it to be “very consistent with the content of the stories. You could be damaged very severely by the people who are closest to you.”

In his preface to the book, Al-Aswany reveals that he based the character of Isam Abd el-Ati, the first- person narrator of his novella, on his late friend Mahmoud Mahmoud Mahmoud, known as Triple Mahmoud. Isam is “a frustrated, highly educated young man who suffers from the tyranny, corruption and hypocrisy in Egyptian society.” His growing alienation leads to a loosening of his grip on reality, and a passionate encounter with a German woman proves to be a tipping point.

The novella begins with the famous statement of the Egyptian nationalist leader Mustafa Kamil: “If I weren’t Egyptian I would want to be Egyptian.” Isam mocks this as “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” and challenges the reader to find a single Egyptian virtue.

In his preface Al-Aswany gives an account of his dealings with the General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO), which he had initially hoped would publish the novella. GEBO functionaries accused Al-Aswany of being anti-Egyptian, despite the author’s insistence it was his fictional character Isam, and not he himself, who expressed such views. When negotiations with GEBO fell through, Al-Aswany published the novella privately together with some short stories in an edition of some 300 copies.

After the huge success of “The Yacoubian Building”, publishers were keen to get hold of earlier material that Al-Aswany had written. Even then, one major publisher was nervous about publishing the novella, and “Friendly Fire” was eventually published by the pioneering publisher Merit. The book’s novella and 16 short stories are marked by the powerful characterization and the storytelling gift evident in Al-Aswany’s two novels.

Al-Aswany is interested in the psychological process whereby someone who is oppressed becomes in turn an oppressor. In “The Kitchen Boy” he gives a portrait of the tyrannical Dr Bassiouni, the General Surgery department chairman. Hisham, a brilliant medical student, desperately seeks the key to ingratiating himself with Bassiouni.

In another story a husband who suspects his wife of infidelity after finding an incriminating letter tells her they must get a divorce. He ignores her request that they discuss the matter and beats her to a pulp. She submits to his violence, but the person he really injures is himself.

Three of the stories are set in boys’ schools. Al-Aswany sees childhood as “a treasure, and something very precious for fiction. Children are much more profound than they look – they have many more feelings than we expect.” A disabled boy with an artificial leg experiences a brief moment of ecstasy and freedom after he persuades a classmate to let him ride his bicycle. In “Izzat Amin Iskandar a grossly fat boy is tormented by his classmates when a teacher forces him to participate in a gym lesson.

Al-Aswany is sensitive to the position of women. In one story a young man takes advantage of a poor girl and in effect ruins her. He then courts a beautiful head-scarfed fellow accountancy student who manipulates him into marrying her by feigning shock after he kisses her.

In “Latin and Greek” a young woman graduate from a poor family answers an advertisement to teach French to a seven-year-old boy. She walks out of the job interview when the would-be employer, sensing her desperate need of the job, tries to humiliate her.

“Dearest Sister Makarim” takes the form of a letter to a woman from her brother working in Saudi Arabia. The whiny letter reveals the meanness of the brother, and the plight of the sister left in Egypt to cope with their cancer-stricken mother.

Asked what he is currently writing, Al-Aswany smiles and says it is “very dangerous” to talk about a work in progress. He takes several years to write a novel, waking at 6am every day to write for a few hours before donning his dentist’s gown. Part of his motivation for writing is the belief he has “a wonderful idea, so if I tell you the idea now and I see on your face that it is no big deal I will stop writing”. He will only say that the current novel is set in 1940s Egypt.

Al-Aswany, who is 52 this year, is keen to encourage a younger generation of fiction writers. He is the chairman of the panel of judges of ‘Beirut 39’, a collaboration between the Hay Festival and Beirut World Capital of the Book 2009. The idea is to bring together the 39 most interesting Arab writers aged 39 years old or less on a list to be announced in September.

Al-Aswany hopes that the Beirut39 list will include some lesser-known writers. He was previously the chair of a competition of novels in Egypt, organized by the newspaper Akhbar El -Yom. He presented a shortlist of ten novels, and then three winners, none of which were well known to critics or the public. “I am very proud that I did that and I must tell you that, to me and the judges, many of these ten names write much better than very known names. I believe that we must really work hard to present real talents, and not to stay in the same circle of people who are known.”

Thursday, July 02, 2009

relations between india and the arab world

Rethinking the relationship between India and the Arabs
Susannah Tarbush

The launching by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center of a two-year research programme known as the GCC-India Research Group reflects the growing interest on both the Indian and Gulf sides in widening and deepening their relationship in many spheres.

The project was launched at a symposium held at the Gulf Research Centre, an independent think tank, on June 16. It is a joint initiative of Saudi businessman Abdel Aziz Sager, who is the founder and chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, and the Indian ambassador to the UAE Talmiz Ahmad. A workshop on the programme is expected to be held in India towards the end of this year.

The co-director of the GCC-India Research Group ,Christian Koch [pictured], told Al-Hayat that Centre aims in its research to be “very practical”, and that its research on the Gulf and India is not intended to be merely academic but to lead to specific policy recommendations.

Koch is currently drawing up a draft action plan for the project. The research will focus on politics, security, economics and energy, and social and cultural aspects. Koch’s fellow director of the Research Group, Ranjit Gupta, was in the Indian Foreign Service for 36 years and is India’s former ambassador to Yemen, Oman and several other countries.

The GCC-India Research Group project is one sign of a wish to put the relationship between the Gulf States and India on a more systematic and productive footing, beneficial to both sides. In a highly uncertain world where the old superpower balance no longer exists there are powerful new actors on the international political stage, including India. India is part of a group of four fast-growing developing economies known as BRIC –the initials of first names of Brazil, Russia, India and China. On June 19 the four BRIC countries held their first summit, in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

The Arab and Indian sides have vital mutual interests. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, total exports and imports between the Arab countries and India was $102 billion in 2007-08, and the figure is expected to rise to $500 billion in the next 10 years.

For India, which imports 75 per of its rapidly growing oil consumption and is the world’s fifth largest consumer of oil, there is a need to try to ensure security of oil supplies. The GCC is India’s second largest trading partner after the US.

India is very keen for increased investment from the Arab world. The president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Harsh Pati Singhania, recently told the Financial Express newspaper that “more than $2 trillion investable funds are lying at the disposal of Arab countries, which can be targeted for further growth and development of India’s infrastructure, industrial and services sectors on a sustained basis.”

India has the world’s second largest population of Muslims after Indonesia, of around 150 million. The employment of Indians is an important aspect of the GCC-India relationship. It is estimated that there are at least 4 million Indians in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, although considerable numbers have been leaving as a result of the economic downturn.

Beyond the economic issues, there are vital political and strategic considerations in the relationship between the Gulf and India. Since the ending of the Cold War, the international political and security map has been changing and power has been shifting towards Asia. India and the GCC are located in an area of high instability, which encompasses Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East crisis. At the same time the area is home to much of the world’s vital oil and gas resources.

This century so far has seen a major upswing in Arab Gulf contacts with India. King Abdullah’s visit to India in January 2006 was the first visit to India by a Saudi monarch for 51 years. There are some 1.7 million Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, and more than 100,000 Indians visit Saudi Arabia for the hajj every year.

The ‘Delhi Declaration’ signed during King Abdullah’s visit allowed for a “reliable, stable and increased volume of crude oil supplies to India through long-term contracts.” Both sides agreed on joint ventures and the development of oil and natural gas. A Saudi-India joint business council was also set up.

The high-level GGC-Indian contacts continue. In the second week of June the UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on a tour of seven Asian countries, became the first foreign minister to visit New Delhi since the new Indian government was formed following the elections.

One of his meetings was with India’s Minister of New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah. Abu Dhabi is seeking India’s support for the location of the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi wants to host the new agency in MASDAR City, the world’s first carbon-neutral city. But it is competing with three European countries – Germany, Spain and the Netherlands – to host the agency.

During his visit Sheikh Abdullah praised the role of the more than 1.5mn Indians in the UAE. The UAE has been looking at opportunities for investment in India, in infrastructure and other sectors. It is reported to have invested already over $4.5 billion there, and is among the top 10 investors in India. The two sides agreed to exchange cooperation in the energy sector, and especially in oil.

On the wider Arab level, India and the Arab League agreed last December to set up an India-Arab Cooperation Forum. The agreement was signed in New Delhi by India’s then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. The agreement is intended to strengthen relations in fields including culture, trade, energy and human resources. Moussa reiterated the Arab League’s condemnation of the terror attacks in Mumbai in November, and Mukherjee express strong concern over Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Mukherjee said India had always supported the Palestinian cause, and that there was much support for the Palestinian people among Indians.

It is not only Arab countries of the Gulf that hope to benefit from an improved relationship with India. Last year Syria’s president Hafez al-Assad visited India, the first visit there by a Syrian president since his father Hafez Al-Assad visited three decades earlier. In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, Bashar Al-Assad urged India to play a bigger role in the Middle East peace process, and also expressed interest in India’s massive developments in the information technology field. He hoped India would be able to help Syria in this field. He also hoped for more Indian investment in Syria, where the Indian public sector company OVL is already deeply involved in oil exploration.

Although the Arab side has hoped for India to do more in the Middle East peace process, there is some unease over its growing relationship with Israel, which this year became India’s largest military supplier.

It was in 1992 that India upgraded its relations with Israel to ambassadorial level full diplomatic status, after the October 1991 Madrid peace conference. In 2003 Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Israel.

In February this year India signed a $1.4 billion anti-missile system deal with Israel, the largest-ever arms deal between the two countries. Israel will develop and manufacture seaborne and shore-based systems against missile attacks on India. The deal has caused considerable controversy in India, including allegations of bribes. In April India launched an advanced spy satellite bought from Israel to keep watch on the country’s borders; the satellite will also help Israel boost its intelligence gathering on Iran.

On the cultural side of the relationship between the Arab world and India, the India Arab Cultural Centre at the Jamia Illia Islamia (National Islamic University) in New Delhi has been playing a particularly active role. The foundation stone of the Center was laid by the then Saudi ambassador to India Saleh Mohammed al-Ghamdi in February 2007.

The centre’s director Zikrur Rahman[pictured] is a former diplomat who in a 35-year diplomatic career served in various Arab countries. He was at one time located in Ramallah, serving as Indian ambassador to Palestine. After retiring from the diplomatic service Rahman, who speaks Arabic fluently, decided that he wanted to promote Arab culture in India. “It was very unfortunate that in India, such a big country, there was not a single Arab cultural centre.”

The centre is playing a role together with Abu Dhabi’s huge translation and publication project Kalima, part of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, in translating books by Indian authors to Arabic. The centre translated a first batch of nine books over a period of six months, and they were published by Kalima.

The books by Indian authors writing in English which were translated to Arabic include “The Argumentative Indian” by the Nobel prizewinning Indian economist Amartya Sen; “The Shade of Swords: Jiihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity” by M J Akbar; “Moderate or Militant: Images of India’s Muslims” by Mushirul Hasan; “Being Indian” by Parvan K Varma, and “Nehru: The Invention of India” by Shashi Tharoor.

At the same time the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage is helping with the translation of Arabic works into Hindi and Urdu, including six books by Arab women writers.

Rahman told Al-Hayat that the centre is planning a four-day Arab film festival in August, with films from many Arab countries, and a retrospective of the films of the late Egyptian director Yousef Chahine. The inaugural film is expected to be “Al-Sefara fi El-Imara” starring Adel Imam. Before the screening of the film there will be a joint cultural programme presented by Arab and Indian dance troupes.

Rahman stresses the need for attention to be paid to the estimated 3 million Arabic manuscripts in Indian libraries, many of them unedited and unpublished. In October this year it is planned that a seminar on documents on the Arabian peninsula in Indian archives will be held at the India Arab Research Centre in cooperation with the King Abdulaziz Research Center of Riyadh.

In addition, the centre is planning to hold an international seminar on “understanding Arab culture”. Rahman says: “There seems to be an urgent need of such an event in particular after the neo-conservatives during the Bush era tried their best to distort the image.”

Indian film is very popular in some Arab countries. Dubai has hosted several Indian film award ceremonies and festivals, with Bollywood stars travelling to Dubai to take part. While a number of Bollywood films have been shot in Dubai, it was only this June that the first Bollywood film to be shot in Kuwait was released. The film [pictured] is entitled “Kahin Na Kahin Milenge” meaning “We Will Meet Somewhere”.

There are thought to be around half a million Indians in Kuwait. The film, which is in Hindi with Arabic subtitles, tells of an Indian family that has lived in Kuwait for 25 years. The only daughter of the family, Joyee, does not want to return back to live in India with her parents. The actress Manisah Kelkar, who plays Joyee, says the girl “loves her birth place, Kuwait, as much as her father loves his native country, India”. Kuwaiti ambassador Ajai Mathotra said that he hoped more Indian films would be shot in Kuwait. Some of the dance numbers are performed by local Kuwaiti men in dishdashas.

Despite the growing momentum in Arab, and particularly Gulf, interactions with India problems remain. Negotiations on a GCC-India free trade agreement began in 2004 but are still some way from a conclusion. There have been tensions over the relationship of Gulf countries with Pakistan, and on attitudes towards the Kashmir conflict. Terror attacks in India, and especially those in Mumbai last November, have raised security anxieties over the growth of Islamist extremism in the Indian sub-continent. There are also long-standing concerns about the treatment of Indian workers in certain Arab countries. The frank discussion of such issues will be an important part of attempts to deepen GCC-India relations.

original of article published in Arabic in Al-Hayat June 28 2009