Wednesday, December 18, 2013

an interview from 2001 with Palestinian psychiatrist Dr Eyad El-Sarraj

I was very sorry to hear tonight of the death of the remarkable Palestinian psychiatrist Dr Eyad El-Sarraj. This is an interview I conducted with him in 2001, in which he spoke of the dire state of mental health in Gaza and on his training and experiences as a psychiatrist and how he came to found the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP).

Dr Eyad El-Sarraj

Dealing with Palestine's Traumatized People
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 28 April 2001

The internationally-renowned Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights activist Dr Eyad El-Sarraj is deeply troubled at the impact Israeli actions in Gaza since October are having on the mental health of Palestinian women, men and above all children.

“In Gaza now every single person, adult or child, is traumatised to a different degree”, El-Sarraj told Saudi Gazette in an interview during a recent visit to London. “Do you know what the children’s preoccupation is now? Guns, terror, violence – nothing else – and they are very jumpy.”

Around half of Gaza’s 1 million inhabitants are less than 16 years old. The widespread feelings of fear and terror among children are causing numerous problems. There is a big increase in the number of children who suffer from bedwetting and insomnia, while in school children are finding it hard to concentrate and are showing rebellious attitudes.

For Dr El-Sarraj the current traumas of the younger generation are all too familiar. It was to help child victims of Israeli violence during the first intifada that he founded the Gaza Community Mental Heath Programme (GCMHP) in 1990.

“We have already lost a generation in the first intifada,” Dr El-Sarraj says. “That generation is poorly educated, even illiterate, and now a second generation is suffering from the same things – overcrowded schools, a backward curriculum, traumatised teachers, violence and hopelessness.”

In the first intifada many children were arrested, beaten, shot, exposed to tear gas and physically abused. They were left with lasting psychological damage, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, night terrors and sleep walking.

Many children witnessed their fathers being beaten by the Israelis and most of the Palestinians who were imprisoned were tortured. Unfortunately, some of the Palestinians who were tortured inflicted torture on others after their release.

 “We have what is called ‘identification with the aggressor’”, Dr El-Sarraj says. “When people come out of prison it is not only they who suffer, they make everyone around them suffer. They are isolated, paranoid, suspicious and aggressive and may be violent to women. When we started to treat children we found we could not treat them in isolation but must deal with the family as a whole.”

After the second intifada erupted GCMHP launched a Crisis Intervention Project to help victims cope with the traumas of being injured or witnessing relatives and friends being killed and injured, having their homes destroyed and being attacked by Israeli helicopter gun ships. Britain’s Department for International Development, the Canadian government and UNDP are among the foreign donors of the Crisis Intervention Project.

The project includes a free telephone hotline. “As Israel dissected the Gaza strip we could not move between clinics and centres and so we developed this hotline,” Dr El-Sarraj says. “A typical call to the hotline is from a mother suffering fear over her children –she may complain that her children’s behaviour has become violent and rebellious and that she cannot control them.” The hotline provides counselling and may arrange for therapy.

There are plans for GCMHP’s video department to produce a film, with the help of the Palestinian-British writer, film maker and producer Karl Sabbagh, on the current situation in Gaza and how GCMHP has responded to it. It is hoped that a version will be screened on British television.

As well as receiving international recognition for his pioneering work with GCMHP, El-Sarraj has been attracting much interest in recent weeks with his well-publicised call for Palestinians to adopt the path of non-violent resistance.

He sees non-violent resistance as a movement that would “liberate people in Palestine from fear, and liberate the Israelis from racism.” It would “start a peaceful dialogue with the people of Israel and would at the same time improve the situation for the Palestinians internally by advocating freedom of speech, the law, democracy, elections and so on.”

The most optimistic scenario he can see for the future is for such a movement “to join hands with the Israeli peace movement and friends everywhere in the world, so as to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied land and recognise a sovereign Palestinian state”.

Through non-violent resistance the Palestinians could escape the trap they have been in for the past 50 years. “This trap always links the Palestinians with violence and portrays Israel as the one party that is seeking peace. Palestinian violence can be taken as an excuse to impose what the Israelis call ‘security’ – which means grabbing more Palestinian land.”

There are reports that a growing number of people in Gaza and the West Bank share this vision and there have been several large peaceful demonstrations, although the Israelis have responded with brutality, using for example stun grenades and tear gas against the demonstration by 600 Palestinian women near Ramallah in March. Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi was among the injured.

El-Sarraj is critical of both of the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority (PA). “The Israelis have made the very serious mistake of not apologising to the Palestinians for everything they have done, from uprooting to occupation. Only once they apologise can there be a process of reconciliation. What is needed is a courageous Israeli leader to say we hurt the Palestinians and we are sorry, please forgive us and let us live together.” As for the PA, people have felt almost alienated by its conduct over the past seven years, and the intifada has shown clearly that it has no clear strategy or policy.

“In the first intifada we knew what we wanted, but this time we don’t know if we’re working for peace or for war. There has been no direction from the leadership. There is confusion and chaos at the level of the masses and we don’t know where we’re heading.” Dr El-Sarraj and Haider Abdel Shafi applied to the PA to found a new political party called the Movement for Democratic Change, but the PA refused to grant them a licence.

Dr El-Sarraj’s dual passion for psychiatry and human rights goes back to his days of studying medicine in Alexandria, Egypt. He spent four months during his medical training working in a psychiatric hospital, “and this was my introduction not only psychiatry but to human rights. The patients there were treated worse than dogs. It was a terrible experience but I learned so much from it, and it was enough for me to decide I was going to be a psychiatrist.”

El-Sarraj spent five years training and working at the famous Maudsley Hospital in London, and then went back to Gaza where he was the only psychiatrist for what must be one of the most stressed and traumatised populations in the world. He started a government psychiatric hospital in Gaza, although it had only 32 beds, and in his private clinic were a further eight beds.

Six months after the beginning of the first intifada the Israelis got him ejected as he had started to speak out on the impact of Israeli oppression on children and had made contact with sympathetic Israeli psychiatrists who went to Gaza and spoke out against the Israeli occupation.

At a conference in Berlin in 1988 he happened to meet Barbara Harrell-Bond, then the director of the Refugee Studies Programme at Oxford University, and with her encouragement he went to Oxford and drew up the plans for GCMHP, which he founded two years later.

GCMHP is a non-profit non-governmental organisation which now has eight clinics, dealing with children, women and torture victims. The clinics give counselling, cognitive therapy and, where appropriate, medication. GCMHP includes an Empowering Women programme which helps women develop their economic independence and enhance their skills.

GCMHP has also tried to overcome the stigma against mental illness that is common in Palestinian (and wider Arab) society and which may deter people from admitting they have a mental symptom and from seeking help.

The work of GCMHP is of relevance not only to Gaza, but to the Middle East and beyond. Its two-year diploma course in community mental health, taught in conjunction with several foreign universities, is the only course of its kind in the Middle East. GCMHP has drawn up a five-year plan which is due to start this year and which needs around $3 million a year. This year there is a deficit of between $200,000 and $300,000 and for next year they are assured of only around half the funds. Funds come most from Scandinavian countries and the European Union. In the future GCMHP hopes to set up a Trust Fund or Waqf to meet its financial needs.

The five-year plan would develop the services to reach more people, would upgrade the staff and would train more people. It would also strengthen links within the region in areas such as human rights, women’s rights, children, torture and rehabilitation. Countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Sudan and Lebanon have serious problems in some of these areas, El-Sarraj notes.

In Britain GCMHP has a small support organisation which is funded by Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust. “Lord Sainsbury told me ‘part of my heart is in Gaza’” El-Sarraj recalls. “He served with the British Army there and saw the whole tragedy of the Palestinians and the uprooting and the refugees.”

El-Sarraj points out that the GCMHP has itself been democratised. “Over the past year we have restructured it and we now have very efficient and active board of directors from Gaza plus an international advisory board of around 21 members”.

GCMHP has also delegated authority to staff in the different departments. “This takes time because in our tribal culture, where the boss or father figure who decides everything, people have to get used to the idea that it is their responsibility and their right to take decisions.”

Every two years GCMHP holds an international conference. The fourth one, in November 1999, was on women in Palestine. “We were planning that our conference this November should be on democracy and the Arab mind, but we decided to change the topic to reconciliation, trauma and peace,” Dr El-Sarraj says.

Unemployment is one of the most serious problems facing Gaza, and Dr El-Sarraj hopes that a software training and production project could provide employment. He points out that Israel and India are the second largest producers of software after India and thinks that Gaza has potential in this field.

“We don’t have any industry or agriculture to speak of. What we have is people and we could train their brains to produce software in this hi-tech age. I’ve already received promises from some quarters that they will support this and will help get us contracts with IBM Microsoft and other big companies.”

Although Dr El-Sarraj ardently hopes for peace, yet “in so many ways I fear peace when it comes, because all the energy of the Palestinians that is now directed against the common outside enemy will be directed against the internal enemy and if there is no internal enemy we will create it.” He worries that there will be a lot of violence within the community itself.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bloomsbury publishes new translation of Ahlem Mosteghanemi's Dhakirat al-Jasad

Ahlem Mosteghanemi signs The Bridges of Constantine at Bloomsbury's London HQ
Dhakirat al-Jasad, the debut novel of Algerian writer Ahlem Mosteghanemi, has won literary acclaim and become a bestseller throughout the Arab world in the 20 years since its publication in 1993 by Dar al-Adab of Beirut.  

Now Bloomsbury Publishing in London has published a new English translation of the novel, carried out by Raphael Cohen, under the title The Bridges of Constantine. Following its UK launch the translation is to be published by Bloomsbury USA in February.

The first English translation of Dhakirat al-Jasad, under the title Memory in the Flesh, was done by Baria Ahmar Sreir, with revisions by Peter Clark, after the novel won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1998.

Novels winning the medal are subsequently translated and published by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press. Memory in the Flesh was published by AUC Press in 2003, and republished in London by Arabia Books in 2008.

Dhakirat al-Jasad was followed by the novels Fawda al Hawass (1997) and Abir Sarir (2003). The trilogy enjoyed massive sales and made Ahlem a celebrity novelist. In dedicating The Bridges of Constantine to her late father Mosteghanemi writes: "The more than one million readers of this novel will for ever lack one reader: my father." The novel has been translated into several languages and turned into a TV series.

The cover of The Bridges of Constantine carries praise for the author and her work. Forbes magazine says she is "the most successful woman writer in the Arab world" and Elle refers to her as "the literary phenomenon".

The late Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella described her as "an Algerian sun which enlightens Arabic literature," and the late Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine said: "Ahlem has carved a place for herself as one of the most important writers of the Arab world."

Mosteghanemi's popularity in the Arab world is shown by her huge following on social media. She has nearly 3.2 million followers on Facebook, and more than 316,000 on Twitter.

other English translations of Mosteghanemi's work

In addition to publishing Memory in the Flesh, AUC Press published in 2004 Baria Ahmar's translation of Chaos of the Senses. In 2011 Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) published Raphael Cohen's translation of Mosteghanemi's "guide for broken-hearted women", (Dar al-Adab 2009), under the title The Art of Forgetting (reviewed in Banipal magazine here). The book has an associated website and Facebook page.
Dhakirat al-Jasad
But these translations of Mosteghanemi's work have not made her widely known to the general English-language readership. It could be that The Bridges of Constantine will be a breakthrough in this respect. Bloomsbury confirms that it is also to bring out the UK versions of translations of Fawda al Hawass and Abir Sarir (provisional title Bed Hopper), but it is currently unable to definitely say when the translations will be published, nor who the translator will be.

The fact that The Bridges of Constantine is published at a time of Arab upheavals, revolutions and civil wars may increase interest in a novel which sheds much light on revolution and its aftermath. In some ways Algeria's revolution and its Civil War in the 1990s were precursors of the wave of Arab uprisings that began three years ago.

The Bridges of Constantine is a compelling chronicle of the obsessive love of its first-person narrator Khaled, a middle-aged veteran of the Algerian War of Independence, for the daughter of his late revolutionary mentor Si Taher. Si Taher's daughter Hayat was only four when her father was killed in battle in 1960. When Khaled meets and falls for Hayat more than 20 years later, his love for her is intimately entwined with his yearning for, and memories of, Algeria and his native city of Constantine. He identifies Hayat with that city: "I witnessed you change unexpectedly day by day as you took on the features of Constantine."

The novel's translator Raphael Cohen studied Arabic at Oxford University and the University of Chicago, and now lives in Cairo. His previous translations include Mona Prince's So You May See (AUC Press, 2011) and, for Banipal, poems by Palestinian Marwan Makhoul.

Cohen's assured translation of Mosteghanemi's The Art of Forgetting showed he has an affinity with the tone, style and humour of her writing. In The Bridges of Constantine the language is lyrical and meditative, the narrative complex and rich. Cohen translates it with verve, conveying the ironic bitterness of Khaled and the roller coaster of his emotions in a bold translation which is more idiomatic than the novel's first translation. As in The Art of Forgetting, the text is peppered with aphorisms. Khaled is merciless on himself as his emotions of love, lust and passion swing wildly into hatred, jealousy and spite.

The text includes poetry written by the Palestinian poet character Zayed al-Khalil, 12 years his junior, who had lived in Algeria and became Khaled's closest friend. He left Algeria after the 1973 October war and joined up with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) in Beirut. When he arrives in Paris for a visit he stays with Khaled, who is not sure of the nature of his mission. Khaled has already told Hayat about the charismatic Zayed, and lent her some of his poetry, and he introduces the two. He is consumed by jealousy over their rapport, especially when  he has to go to Granada for some days leaving them in Paris. Khaled remains haunted by his imaginings of what may have happened between the two.
In choosing the title The Bridges of Constantine for Cohen's translation rather than using a translated version of the Arabic title Dhakirat al-Jasad Bloomsbury presumably wanted to avoid confusion with the first translation. The evocative new title is fully justified. Constantine, Algeria's third largest city, is famed for its ravines, gorges and spectacular bridges, and is sometimes called the City of Bridges. Images of Constantine's bridges appear repeatedly in the novel, sometimes associated with vertigo. When there are momentous meetings, such as his meeting with Hayat, Khaled writes of mountains becoming connected by bridges.

At the age of 27 Khaled lost his left arm fighting in the War of Liberation. To help him recover from trauma and depression after the amputation, his wise Yugoslav doctor advised him to "build a new relationship with the world through writing or painting."

Khaled chose to paint, and his first-ever painting, entitled Nostalgia, with the date 'Tunis, '57' , was of Constantine's suspension bridge. When Hayat is away from Paris for many weeks on a visit back to Constantine, he paints - in "my strangest ever experience of painting" - a series of pictures inspired by Constantine's bridges. One of the pleasures of The Bridges of Constantine is Mosteghanemi's depiction of the creative processes of writing and painting, and their relation to the world. Many of the conversations between Khaled and Hayat are on art and literature.

During the War of Liberation, Si Taher and other fighters had secret bases in Constantine's mountains. A decade before the war began, Khaled was at the age of 16 imprisoned for six months in Kidya prison for taking part in demonstrations. Si Taher, 15 years  his senior, was among his cellmates: "Meeting some men is like meeting one's destiny" writes Khaled. After the War of Liberation broke out in 1954 Khaled joined the FLN and fought  under Si Taher's leadership.

Elements in The Bridges of Constantine have parallels with Mosteghanemi's own life. Her father, Algerian political militant Mohammed Chérif, was imprisoned for a period under French rule. Ahlem was born in Tunisia when her family was living in exile there. In her dedication of The Bridges of Constantine to her father she describes him as "a son of Constantine who would say, 'there are cities where we live and others that live in us.' He made me fall in love with the city that lived within me and that I had not visited before writing this book."

The Bridges of Constantine explores Khaled's life and the story of Algeria from the 1940s to the 1980s. In the post-independence period Khaled was given responsibility for publishing in Algeria. "My life revolved around books. At one point I almost abandoned painting for writing." Among the literary references in the novel are numerous quotes from the work of Malek Haddad. Khaled has become deeply disillusioned with the mistakes that were being made in Algeria after the revolution, with the real needs of the people ignored in the drive for economic development. His job involved censorship and he felt he was "somehow responsible for dumbing down the population" and "spoon-feeding them lies."

Later on Khaled becomes sicked by the growing corruption he witnesses among members of the new Algerian elite. Hayat's uncle Si Sharif, Si Taher's brother, is well-connected with these circles whereas Khaled's brother Hassan, who still lives in Constantine, suffers in the system of rampant wasta and bribery. Hayat is on the one hand a free young woman, but on the other she is bound by convention and keen to safeguard her reputation. She has been kept under the wing of her uncle and is anxious that he should not find out about her meetings alone with Khaled. She is herself enmeshed within the power system.

The novel has a circular structure, with the first and final sections set in the wake of the October 1988 anti-government riots in Algeria. The first chapter finds Khaled in Constantine, where he has returned to live after his years of self-imposed exile in Paris. Surrounded by old drafts and blank pages, Khaled is trying to write a novel of his love story with Hayat. He is writing in retrospect but she is very much present through his constant addressing of “you”.

Hayat is herself a novelist, and a few months earlier Khaled had seen in an Algerian magazine an article about her latest novel The Curve of Forgetting accompanied by a photograph of Hayat. "The electric thrill ran through my body again, firing my pulse, as though I were facing not your picture but you."

we are never cured of memory

The reader knows from the start that this is a doomed love affair. Khaled recalls how Hayat once told him: "We write novels for no other reason than to kill off their heroes. To finish off the people whose existence has become a burden."

"We are never cured of memory" Khaled says on the first page of The Bridges of Constantine. "That's why we paint and why we write. And why some of us die." Later, it becomes clear this is a quote from his Palestinian poet friend Ziyad al-Khalil, speaking to Hayat in a restaurant when Khaled first introduces him to her.

After this introductory chapter, the rest of The Bridges of Constantine is Khaled's novel about Hayat.

Khaled's relationship with the adult Hayat began in Paris in April 1981, when she came to an exhibition of his paintings. He had not seen her since 1962. "... I am not fool enough to say I fell in love with you at first sight," Khaled writes. "Let's say I was in love with you before first sight. There was something familiar about you, something that attracted me to your features." He asks himself: ""Which of the women in you made me fall in love?"

After one long conversation in which Khaled reveals much about his life in Algeria she tells him she loves him. It seems though that her love for him is of a different kind from his erotic compulsion towards her.

Khaled already has a lover, Catherine, whom he meets on a weekly basis. Catherine is a woman "perpetually on the verge of becoming my true love , and this time - once again - she wouldn't." He had met her when she was posing in an art class as a life model posing and he admitted to her that  he had never seen a naked woman in daylight before. He compartmentalises his relationship with her, and later on he also has affairs with other women in an attempt to drive Hayat from his mind. At one stage his passion for Hayat renders him impotent with Catherine.

'Arabic is the language of my heart'

When he had met Hayat in Paris in 1981 she told him her first novel had been published two years earlier. She  speaks to him in French, but - like Mosteghanemi - she writes in Arabic. "I could have written in French but Arabic is the language of my heart. I can write in nothing else," Hayat tells Khaled. He had read the novel with bitterness and pain, wondering whether the male character was fictional or someone who had passed through Hayat's life.

After Khaled's initial encounter with Hayat at the exhibition she returns numerous times to see him and talk with him at the gallery and in a cafe. He sees them both as being war wounded: "They amputated my arm, they severed your childhood. They ripped an arm from my body and took a father from your arms." She wants to know more about her late father, other than the "ready-made words in praise of heroes and martyrs."

Si Taher's family had taken refuge in Tunis while he fought in Algeria the war of liberation. Khaled recalls how when he left the Front with his badly wounded arm to seek treatment in Tunisia Si Taher gave him one last mission: to get the name of Si Taher's six-month-old daughter officially registered.
This was how he came to hold Hayat on his lap.

Si Taher had instructed Khaled that the girl was to be registered with the name Ahlem. But for the first six months of her life she had been Hayat and this is the name by which Khaled continues to refer to her. "Your name as a child lingers on my tongue, as though you were still the you of decades ago."
Anthony Quinn as Zorba in the film of Zorba the Greek
Hayat does not exactly discourage Khaled's feelings for her. She tells him: "There's something of Zorba about you - his stature, his tan, his trimmed unruly hair. Perhaps you're more handsome than him, though." She says Zorba is the man "who has had the most influence on me" and that "it's amazing that someone's disappointment and tragedy can make him dance." There are other references to Zorba, and to the music of Theodorakis, in the novel.

Mosteghanemi took risks in writing Dhakirat al-Jasad. She is a female author writing as a man, and an older man at that. He is over 50 when he meets Hayat, a woman roughly half his age. A tale of obsessive love is a risky endeavour. There is a danger of overblown prose, of descending into a self-pity fest. But the novel has a strong narrative line and a sense of urgency in the telling. The plot is well constructed and has momentum. The story keeps one reading. Overall, The Bridges of Constantine is a deep and beautiful work.
Susannah Tarbush, London

Friday, December 06, 2013

'Keep Your Eye on the Wall: Palestinian Landscapes' launched in London

report by Susannah Tarbush, London
The book Keep Your Eye on the Wall: Palestinian Landscapes, published by Saqi Books in London, brings together the work of seven award-winning artist-photographers and four writers in response to the Wall under construction through the West Bank. It was recently launched in London with a discussion event at the Mosaic Rooms.
The panel at the launch comprised the book’s two editors - Paris-based journalist and editor Olivia Snaije and London-based editor Mitchell Albert - plus two contributors to the book: Palestinian artist Steve Sabella and London-based writer, editor and curator Malu Halasa.

L to R: Olivia Snaije, Malu Halasa, Steve Sabella and Mitchell Albert

Mitchell Albert gave a slide show of images and artists’ statements from the book and Malu Halasa read extracts from her essay in the book, Oppressive Beauty: Against Aestheticising the Wall. Steve Sabella spoke about his work and life as a Palestinian artist, and about his works in the book. There was then a Q and A session with the audience.   

The beautifully-bound 192-page book is itself a work of art. Its concertina format somehow resonates with its theme of the Wall. It is accompanied by an exhibition of work from the book, shown so far in Arles and Paris.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian lawyer, human rights activist and award-winning author Raja Shehadeh writes in his foreword to Keep Your Eye on the Wall: "When I opened the dossier prepared by the editors of this book in advance of publication, I found the photographs shockingly beautiful and evocative - by far the best I have seen of the Separation Barrier.”

slide show at the launch of Keep Your Eye on the Wall

The wall is referred to variously as the "security fence" by Israel, the "Apartheid Wall" by Palestinians, and the "Separation Barrier" or "Separation Wall" by almost everyone else. It is "one of the world's most emotionally charged and controversial constructions of the past ten years," says the book’s introduction. Construction started in 2002. When completed the Wall is expected to extend for 709 kilometres through the West Bank. This is more than twice the length of the Green Line, Israel's recognised border with the West Bank. A map shows the intricate twists and turns of the Wall's course.

“A series of concrete slabs, barbed-wire ‘buffer zones’, trenches, electrified fences, watchtowers, thermal-imaging video cameras, sniper towers, military checkpoints and roads for patrol vehicles have dismembered the cities of the West Bank and segregated them from occupied East Jerusalem,” says the introduction.“Symbolically, the wall in Palestine is this century’s Berlin Wall, albeit four times as long as that hated Cold War icon and more than twice as high.”

Olivia Snaije (L) and Malu Halasa

The Wall has attracted the interest of various Palestinian and foreign artists, such as Banksy, who have done art works and graffiti on its surface. These works are highlighted in for example the book Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine.

Keep Your Eye on the Wall has a different approach. It is not so much a book of art done on the wall itself as an expression of the artistic response of Palestinians and some others to the Wall. Six of its seven artist-photographers are Palestinian. Besides Steve Sabella they are Noel Jabbour, Raed Bawayah, Taysir Batniji, Raeda Saadeh and Rula Halawani. The seventh photographer is the German Kai Wiedenhöfer for whom photographing separation walls has been a major preoccupation since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Among the four writers featured in the book is the acclaimed Palestinian author Adania Shibli. Her contribution takes the form of a powerful disquieting short story, The Fence. Born in Palestine in 1974, Shibli lives between Ramallah and Berlin. Two times winner of the Qattan Young Writers' Ware - Palestine, Shibli is the author of two published novels and many short stories as well as narrative and art essays. 

Raja Shehadeh was an ideal choice as writer of the foreword. He has an intimate relationship with the landscape of the West Bank. His books include Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape(2007) - winner of the Orwell Prize - and Occupation Diaries (2012).

In mid-November Shehadeh and Penny Johnson won the 2013 General Prize at the MEMO Palestine Book Awards as editors of Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home.

Shehadeh writes in his foreword that each of the photographs in Keep Your Eye on the Wall is "a personal statement by the artist of what the land means to him or her, and the impact and implication of the presence on it of the wall Israel is building."

Shehadeh writes movingly of what the wall means for him, and asks: "How could it have been, that a developed country like Israel could build such a monstrosity." He sees the wall as being built not for security reasons but more likely as a "play for grabbing more Palestinian land, and for the economic benefits that accrue to those contractors and producers of concrete, surveillance equipment, reams of barbed wire, etc involved in its construction. It has been, by far, the largest economic project Israel has ever undertaken."

There are various ways of resisting Israeli efforts to claim and land, whether through settlements or the wall. The aritst in Keep Your Eye on the Wall are doing it through their art, "expressing their feelings with great skill and beauty and echoing the feelings of much larger segments of the Palestinian population that have to survive and make do with life in a divided, disfigured land," writes Shehadeh.

The exhibition of Keep Your Eye on the Wall is curated by Masasam Curatorial Projects, with curators Monica Santos and Sandra Maunac. It has works by Taysir Batniji, Rula Halawani, Raeda Saadeh, Steve Sabella and Kai Wiedenhöfer. The exhibition was shown in Arles from 1 July to 22 September and in Paris from 12 September to 2 October.

It is due to be shown at the Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai in Art Dubai 2014 and at the Contemporary Art Platform in Kuwait. Interest has been expressed by Goethe-Institut in Ramallah, and it is hoped the exhibition will be mounted in the USA at some point.

Rula Halawani will be exhibiting some of her photographs from the book at a collective show in Italy in 2014, and Sabella is also expected to have some pieces from Disturbia and Metamorphosis in a London show.


Noel Jabbour

The New Motif, 2012
© Noel Jabbour

We Are Not Enemies But Friends,  2012
© Noel Jabbour

Noel Jabbour was born in Nazareth in 1970 and studied photography and art in Jerusalem. She has exhibited in Europe, the Middle East and US and her work is in collections worldwide.
Her sequence of nine works in Keep Your Eye on the Wall is entitled Illusion.

Jabbour says in her artist's statement "you believe there is hope", given the reduction in the number of checkpoints and fewer soldiers on the roads between the big cities compared with previous stays in the West Bank. But "then you’re confronted with a bigger, higher barrier: the massive infrastructure of sophisticated control. You end up at the Wall. There is no escape from the ideological master plan behind it."

Raed Bawayah

from Toward the Sky series, 2012 
© Raed Bawayah 
from Toward the Sky series, 2012
© Raed Bawayah

Raed Bawayah was born in Qatana, Palestine, in 1971. He studied at the Naggar School of Photography in Musrara, Jerusalem. His work is in several collections. He lives and works in France and Palestine. In his compelling black-and-white portraits in his series Toward the Sky, Palestinian workers "climb toward the sky, landing on the Israeli side of the Wall." The Wall divides their village of Yamoun, next to Jenin, from Palestinian villages in the Galilee region of Israel. Thousands of Palestinians have moved to these villages to work. In his artist's statement Bawayah describes their grim lifestyle.

Kai Wiedenhöfer

Gaza Strip Border, Kibbutz Netiv Ha'Asara, Israel
© Kai Wiedenhöfer

©Kai Wiedenhöfer
Kai Wiedenhöfer was born in Germany in 1966 and studied photography and editorial design in Germany and Arabic in Damascus. He has won numerous awards. In 1988 he photographed the fall of the Berlin Wall, and believed it represented the end of walls as political instruments. "Yet, on the contrary, walls have had a big renaissance. Barriers have gone up in the US, Europe and the Middle East in the aftermath of political, economic, religious, and ethnic conflicts." When construction began on the Separation Barrier in occupied Palestine he grew concerned and he documented the process in 2003-2010 and published a book, Wall. His book Confrontier (2013) is about separation walls worldwide.
Taysir Batniji

from Untitled, Gaza 
© Taysir Batniji

Taysir Batniji was born in Gaza in 1966 and studied fine arts in Palestine in France. His work has been exhibited in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, the US and Brazil and is in several collections. In 2012 he was awarded the Abraaj Capital Art Prize. He lives and works in Palestine.

His series is Untitled (Gaza Walls) and he made it in 2001 during the first months of the second intifada. "As the days went by, the doors and walls of the city - which had already become bulletin boards since the First Intifada - now became veritable canvases for portraits of "martyrs", along with posters, slogans, and graffiti. The succession of faces on death notices were soon erased, worn away by time, covered over, or torn off deliberately. "This series reflects on a double disappearance: of those who gained "recognition" through their images on posters, and of the disappearance of the posters themselves.

Raeda Saadeh 

One Day, 2013
from Concrete Walls
©Raeda Saadeh
Raeda Saadeh was born in Umm al-Fahm in 1977 and studied fine arts in Jerusalem and New York. She has participated in shows in Europe, the Middle East and the US and her work is in various permanent collections. She lives and works in Jerusalem.
"The woman who recurs in my work lives in a state of occupation that begins with the political and ends with the psychosomatic," says Saadeh. "She is saner than she should be, both fragile and strong, fully awake and responsive, constantly on the move."
Steve Sabella

© Steve Sabella

© Steve Sabella
Steve Sabella was born in Jerusalem in 1975 and studied photography and visual arts in Jerusalem, the US and the UK. He has exhibited internationally and his work is in collections including the British Museum and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. A monograph of his work is being prepared in collaboration with the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, where he lives.
In his artist's statement in his Disturbia and Metamorphosis photographs in Keep Your Eye on the Wall, Sabella explains that his work in 2008-11 "focused on liberation from mental exile and the splintering of identity, and grew into Disturbia, an investigation of the physical body and the hidden 'scars of occupation'."
In Metamorphosis, Sabella highlights materials that connote restriction of movement: "Barbed wire, for instance, which unexpectedly evokes the stitching of a wound." On close inspection of what appears to be the Separation Barrier, "the viewer may notice concrete fragments that are beginning to dissolve. Metamorphosis emphasises precisely this opposition and transformation: a conflict between form and function, vision and perception, stagnation and transcendence."
Rula Halawani

 from Gates to Heaven, Jerusalem, 2012
©Rula Halawani
Born in Jerusalem in 1964, Rula Halawani studied photography in Canada and the UK. Her work has been exhibited in the Middle East, Europe and the US and is in several collections and the private Nadour Collection.  Halawani has received numerous awards, and founded the Photography Programme at Birzeit University, Palestine, where she teaches.
For Halawani the eight ancient main gates of Jerusalem's Old City were a familiar and beloved sight. But in 2002 Israel erected its Separation Barrier "and installed other kinds of gates, divorcing Palestinians from their families, homes and from Islamic and Christian holy sites." In making her Gates to Heaven She photographed these gates on the Israeli side of the Wall around Jerusalem and never saw them open.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Dishes from Qatar celebrated at Nour Festival culinary evenings

Anissa Helou and Aisha Al-Tamimi in the Books for Cooks kitchen

report and pictures by Susannah Tarbush

Compared to the cuisines of many other countries in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, the cuisine of Qatar is one of the least known internationally. Londoners had a rare and welcome chance to watch Qatari food being prepared, and to eat the delicious and colourful results, at two  Dishes from Qatar evenings held last on Tuesday and Wednesday last week at the  famous Notting Hill bookshop Books for Cooks. I was invited along to the Tuesday event.

The evenings featured Aisha Al-Tamimi, a leading Qatari cook, accompanied by a team from the Food Forum of the National Museum of Qatar. Aisha was partnered in her cookery demonstration by the well-known Lebanese-Syrian cook, food writer and consultant Anissa Helou. Aisha is the author of several books, which were display at the evening. Anissa's latest book is Levant: Recipes and Memories from the Middle East (Harper Collins, 2013).

books by Qatari cook Aisha Al-Tamimi

Anissa and Aisha are lively characters with keen senses of humour, and their rapport with each other and with the audience enhanced an informative and entertaining evening.

The Dishes from Qatar evenings were part of the Nour Festival of Arts from the Middle East and North Africa, running in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea from 1 October to 30 November.

The evening was also part of  Qatar UK 2013 - a year-long programme of events to celebrate and develop the partnership between Qatar and the UK. The programme aims "to increase engagement between the people of both countries in the spirit of innovation, openness and learning." Qatar Museums Authority and the British Council are co-ordinating the programme of activities in both countries, in association with several other partners.  On the second Dishes from Qatar evening the guests included the Qatari cultural attaché in London and his wife.

Aisha Al-Tamimi

Nadya al-Saleh, Senior Specialist for Programmes at the National Museum of Qatar, introduced the event. "Today, as we all know, food is a main aspect of our life: it brings us joy, and happiness, I think all of us love food," she said. "It is also a main, important and accessible way to understand the culture, and the identity, of any nation."

The new National Museum of Qatar, currently under construction, is scheduled to be opened at the end of 2015, 40 years after the original museum was opened. The new museum is being built around the original museum, to architect Jean Nouvel's innovative design inspired by the desert rose. Nadya explained that despite its name, the desert rose is not a flower. Desert roses are rose-like groups of crystal found in desert regions.

 Anissa Helou

The new National Museum will explore the history and the identity of Qatar and of its people. "One of its important features is a 70-seat auditorium for the Food Forum and kitchen demos. And we will also have the food culture programmes" Nadya said. "Tonight we are very happy to present the two special ladies: Anissa Helou - our National Museum of Qatar food consultant - and our famous Qatari chef Aisha al-Tamimi."

Nadya made various contributions to the discussions of Anissa and Aisha with the audience during the cookery demonstration, talking for example about the food culture around Ramadan, and about Qatar National Day held annually on 18 December. Ramadan foods include the traditional harees, a kind of porridge made of cracked wheat cooked with meat or chicken and then given a lengthy beating.

Nadya al-Saleh, Senior Specialist for Programmes at the National Museum of Qatar

Coffee plays a central role in Qatari hospitality and guests at Dishes from Qatar were greeted with dates and small cups of fragrant Qatari coffee. They were given recipe sheets for the coffee and dishes prepared during the evening, as well as canvas tote goodie bags decorated with the UK Qatar UK 2013 logo. The bags contained fridge magnets and a hard-backed notebook with the logo, and a decorative little dallah made from golden wire and containing a sachet of coffee and spice mix with instructions on how to use it.

Holding a splendid traditional dallah, Aisha demonstrated how Qatari coffee is made and served. She placed a kind of brush in the spout of the dallah to strain ensure the poured brew from coffee grounds and spices. Some Qataris still use the traditional dallah, but nowadays thermos flasks are used to keep the coffee hot for hours.

 Aisha Al-Tamimi with traditional dallah coffee pot

Aisha made the coffee by boiling a lightly roasted coffee for around 10 minutes with saffron, cardamom, a spice mixture - including mastic, cloves and other spices - plus a little powdered milk to lighten the brew. The addition of powdered milk is not traditional, but Aisha said it is now the way most people in Qatar, and many people in Saudi Arabia, prepare coffee. She explained how a visitor's little cup of coffee will be refilled repeatedly until the visitor shakes the cup from side to side to indicate "enough".  

Nadya al-Saleh serves coffee the modern way - from a thermos flask

Aisha then moved on to prepare the main dish of the evening - marguga. Anissa noted that every Middle Eastern has a dish made with bread - for example the fatteh of Lebanon and some other countries. Marguga is Qatari savoury bread dish. It involves making a salona, "a cross between a soup and a stew, a kind of broth with vegetables and meat, flavoured in different ways." The broken up bread is added to the pot towards the end of cooking.

Marguga derives its name from the very thin flat bread that is its vital ingredient. Another popular bread dish, particularly in Ramadan, is tharid - said to have been the favourite dish of the Prophet Mohammad.

Anissa described marguga as "basically like an Arabic pasta dish except that the difference between the Arabian version and the Italian version is that marguga is not al dente at all, it has to melt." Aisha added that marguga is far more spiced than an Italian pasta dish. 

The recipe sheet for marguga included the recipe for bread made from a simple flour, water and salt dough "kneaded for half an hour" and then rolled very thin and cut into strips and added to the marguga.  For her demonstration Aisha used already baked flat Iranian bread.  

In her marguga Aisha used skinned organic chicken cut into pieces which she dry roasted rather than boiled it before using it to make the dish. The list of ingredients for marguga covered a page and a half of the recipe sheets. Alongside onion, garlic and tomatoes were vegetables including courgettes, potatoes, carrots, aubergine, pumpkin and green pepper. There was a battery of spices and herbs: star anise, cloves, curry leaves, fresh ginger, green chilli, fresh coriander, parsley and dill, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, fennel, paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, cinnamon stick, dried red chilli flakes. An essential ingredient of Gulf cookery, pierced dried black lime, was also included. 

 Aisha shows some of the ingredients for marguga.

There was particular interest from the guests in the b'zar - described by Anissa as "a wonderful spice mixture" - of which a tablespoon was added to the marguga. Aisha's b'zar incorporated 29 spices. Each family tends to have its own recipe for b'zar. Anissa said two of Aisha's sisters are in charge of making and distributing the b'zar for Aisha's entire extended family.  Aisha and Anissa contrasted the use of spices in Lebanese and Qatari cuisine. In Lebanon food is mainly spiced with black pepper, cinnamon and allspice. But in Qatar "we must put in red chilli, cumin, coriander, fennel etc... like Indian food," Aisha said. 

While Aisha prepared and cooked the food she told the guests how she got married at 15 and was told by her husband after the honeymoon that she should herself learn to cook rather than employing a cook. From an older sister she learned how to prepare mashbuss, white rice, salona and other Qatari staples. She continued to learn from her sisters, friends, books, magazines, with results that were received enthusiastically by her husband. She widened her culinary repertoire when she went to the US where he did his master's degree, and then to Wales, where he did his PhD. During this time she did various cookery courses, including one in cake decoration.

Aisha with plates of mini regag of various flavours

As her starter at Dishes from Qatar Aisha made mini regag, small flavoured discs of thin crispy bread.  Her secret weapon in making the mini regag was an electric chapati maker. She placed teaspoons of bread batter on the plate, spaced to allow for spreading, and then lowered the lid for a short time.  She lifted the lid to reveal the magical transformation of the batter into regag. "I love these little crackers: there is a commercial venture possibility here!" said Anissa. 

Aisha showed plates of mini regag that she had made earlier and said "they are nice to serve when visitors come - nice tasting, and small." Four different flavours were used in making the  mini regag:  saffron and rose water; ketchup; crushed flaked almonds and ground fennel; and poppy and sesame seeds with a pinch of cayenne pepper and fine sea salt.

During the first course of the dinner that followed the demonstration, the mini regag were served with a yoghurt dip including cucumber, walnuts, barberries and fresh mint. The flavoursome regag had a unique crunchy wafery texture which complemented the dip beautifully.

marguga is served

The margug was bursting with colours and flavour. It was certainly a plus visually and taste-wise that many of the vegetables were cut in generous-sized chunks rather than cut small. The bread had been transformed to a softness, adding to the "comfort food" nature of the dish.

The sweet dish of the evening was balalit, made with cut vermicelli, turmeric, ghee, cardamom powder, sugar, water, rose water and eggs. The vermicelli is boiled with turmeric and cardamom and then drained and mixed with sugar, rose water and saffron. The desert is then baked uncovered in a low oven uncovered to dry the noodles. Finally it is topped with an omelette, made with black pepper and coriander. Some Qataris prefer to scramble the eggs. Balilit is similar to certain Indian vermicelli sweets topped with an omelette.

"This is a typical breakfast in Qatar, and it's really delicious" Anissa said. Aisha said she makes it when people visit in the mornings, between breakfast and lunch. She recalled how neighbours used to gather in their houses every day and would eat sweets such as balalit, khabees and aseeda. Balalit is also served as a sweet after lunch and in the evenings. 

Aisha prepared her balalit the traditional way, adding the dried vermicelli to boiling water. Nowadays the vermicelli is sometimes fried before boiling to make a richer, deeper-coloured dish.  

Aisha carries the balalit to the table

Aisha and Anissa pose for pictures while guests tuck into the Qatari feast
for further information on Qatari food activities follow @eatqatar on Instagram 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

'Songs of Exile' Vox Holloway concert for Syrian refugees includes premiere of Cry Palestine

All proceeds to benefit Hand in Hand for Syria

Sunday 1 December at 7.30 pm
St Luke's Church Hillmarton Road
London N7 9RE

Tube: Caledonian Road Buses: 17, 91, 259, 29, 253

VOX HOLLOWAY in association with
St Luke's Church, West Holloway


A concert in aid of Syrian refugees
featuring the World Premiere of

by Reem Kelani, Harvey Brough and Justin Butcher


songs of Spanish Exile
written and performed by Clara Sanabras

with the Elysian Quartet and the 70 Voice Community Choir, Vox Holloway

Tickets £12 Concessions £5 BOOKING INFORMATION 07970 785641 VOXHOLLOWAYN7@GMAIL.COM

for further information read:
Vox Holloway raise their voices for Syrian refugees.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Banipal Book Club brings Arab short story telling to London's Nour Festival

Following the success of the first-ever Banipal Book Club Short Story Circles held in November 2012 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Book Club organised a second session of Story Circles last week at Kensington Central Library.

Like last year's event at the V and A, the well-attended  Short Stories from the Arab World was part of the Nour Festival of contemporary art, film, literature, music and performance from the Middle East and North Africa. The Festival is being held in venues throughout the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea from 1 October to 30 November.

Celia Shenouda (L) and Charis Bredin

The three stories translated from Arabic which were read and discussed during the evening are downloadable from the Banipal magazine website. They are Mordechai's Moustache and his Wife's Cats by Palestinian author Mahmoud Shukair translated by Issa J Boullata; Black Kohl . . . White Heart by Kuwaiti writer Mona al-Shammari, translated by Sophia Vasalou; and Ali the Red by Luay Hamza Abbas of Iraq, translated by Maia Tabet.

Members of the audience were given copies of the two issues of Banipal and the Banipal Books volume in which the stories appeared. And they were kept well supplied with drinks and delicious Arab snacks in the breaks between stories. The discussions that followed each story were lively, the diverse audience contributing rich perspectives.

The event was chaired by Margaret Obank, publisher, cofounder and former editor of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature. The stories were read by stalwarts of the Banipal Book Club, which was founded last year and meets monthly in the meeting room of the Banipal Arab British Centre Library of Modern Arab Literature (BALMAL) located at the Arab British Centre. Charis Bredin read the first story, Mordechai's Moustache and his Wife's Cats. Shukair is well known for his  gifts of satire and humour under occupation. These qualities are much in evidence in the title story of the author's first collection in English translation, published by Banipal Books in 2007.

Mordechai, a former soldier, and his wife Stella are middle-aged Israelis of modest means who are on their own now their  grown-up children have left home. Stella devotes herself to her three cats while Mordechai grows his handlebar moustache. But Mordechai grows annoyed with the cats, and she in turn resents his moustache. Mordechai decides to volunteer for military service at checkpoints. Posted to the Qalandiya checkpoint he has  his first close encounters with Palestinians.

"Conflicting ideas and feelings overcame him. He was almost ready to express his sympathy for these unarmed human beings waiting for a hand gesture from him," Shukair writes. "However, the security of the state was greater than all other considerations and this made him suppress his tender feelings; for these people – in the final analysis – were the enemies of Israel!" Mordechai sees the young men as potential saboteurs, possibly armed with suicide belts or machine guns.

But he can't stop  himself admiring the Palestinian women. "He cast direct looks at the bodies of the young women crowding at the checkpoint. He said to himself: 'The Palestinians have beautiful girls!' And quickly compared them with the girls of Tel Aviv, thinking: 'But the girls in Tel Aviv are more beautiful.'" The story ends with Mordechai agreeing to shave off his moustache - which the Palestinians had made fun of - if his wife will get rid of her cats. Their negotiating this agreement raises questions of negotiation more generally.
Mahmoud Shukair
(L to R) Aurora Tellenbach, Margaret Obank, Celia Shenouda

There was dark humour in Mona al-Shammari's story Black Kohl . . . White Heart, read by Aurora Tellenbach. The story appears in Banipal 47, the magazine's current issue, which has a Special Feature on Fiction from Kuwait. A voluptuous young woman, Tiba, has travelled from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait to be married off to a Kuwait man. She is horrified to find her spouse is "an overweight and feeble-minded simpleton who didn’t talk like grown men did, who ate like a child, and slept like a brute." Living in the extended family she is observed by her husband's young niece, the first person narrator of the story, who is bewitched by her beauty. "Her lips are always glossed with jujube lipstick. They’re swollen like red cherries ripe for plucking. Her deep black eyes are like chestnuts; the black kohl makes them wider, and lends languor to her gaze. Her skin is the colour of milk mixed with honey." The child innocently sees how she plots an escape from the arranged marriage, and the story ends with an ingenious twist.

Mona al-Shammari

Ali the Red, read by Celia Shenouda, was published in Banipal 37, in a Special Feature on Iraqi Authors. It was the most gruesome of the three stories, shot through with various forms of violence, yet having flashes of humour. The first-person narrator was at school 20 years earlier with four boys named Ali for whom the sports master had devised monikers. Ali was Red not because of any political affiliation but because of his ruddy complexion. Now the narrator is summoned to the coroner's office to identify the corpse of Ali, whose "forehead and half of his face had been gouged by bullets." The vividly recounted story is set among workers, some toiling like Ali in a quarry, others in the harsh conditions of oilfelds where they might be buried in collapsing well-heads. An Iraqi woman in the audience found the story a reflection of the everyday brutal killings that Iraq has been suffering for years.
report and photos by Susannah Tarbush

Celia Shenouda reads Ali the Red

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

5th IPAF Nadwa for emerging Arab writers opens in Abu Dhabi resort

 IPAF Nadwa mentor: Mohammed Achaari

Eight emerging writers - four men and four women - from eight Arab countries yesterday began the writers' workshop  known as the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) Nadwa, held annually in Abu Dhabi.

This year's Nadwa is led by two mentors:  Moroccan writer Mohammed Achaari - joint winner of IPAF (often referred to as the Arabic Booker) in 2011 for his novel The Arch and the Butterfly - and Lebanese author May Menassa, shortlisted in IPAF's first year, 2008, for Walking in the Dust.

The eight emerging writers participating in the Nadwa are Ayman Otoom (Jordan b1972); Hicham Benchchaoui (Morocco b1976); Samir Kacimi (Algeria 1974); Noha Mahmoud (Egypt b1980); Lulwah al-Mansuri (UAE 1979); Bushra al-Maqtari (Yemen b1979);  Abdullah Mohammed Alobaid (Saudi Arabia b1984), and Nasrin Trabulsi (Syria). (Full biographical details are below)

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the prestigious IPAF Nadwa, which brings together emerging writers from across North Africa and the Middle East and gives them the opportunity to hone their skills under the tutelage of IPAF winning and shortlisted authors.

This is the sixth year of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The longlist for IPAF 2014 will be announced on Monday 6 January, the shortlist on Monday 10 February 2013, and the winner on Tuesday 29 April

May Menassa

This year's eight-day IPAF Nadwa, from 29 October to 5 November, is taking place in the secluded desert resort of Qasr Al Sarab. It is sponsored by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.

The eight participants were identified by former judges of IPAF as ‘ones to watch’.  Aged from 29 to 43, they come from  a variety of writing backgrounds and professions.

The Nadwa offers emerging authors a retreat where they are able to work on a new piece of fiction, or to develop an existing, unpublished work. In addition to their mentoring sessions with Mohammed Achaari and May Menassa, the participants will take part in daily discussions with their peers, critique each other’s work, and discuss literature in more general terms.

 the first volume of works produced at the IPAF Nadwa

The fruits of the Nadwa will include eight new works of fiction. These will  in time be edited and translated into a bilingual volume of extracts. To date, two volumes IPAF Nadwa volumes have been published, by Saqi Books and Arab Scientific Publishers. Two previous Nadwa participants – Egyptian Mansoura Ez Eldin and Saudi Mohammed Hasan Alwan – went on to be shortlisted for IPAF. Alwan's novel The Beaver, which was shortlisted in IPAF 2012, began life in the 2009 IPAF Nadwa.

Mohammed Achaari said:  "I am greatly looking forward to encountering new texts as they are in the process of being created." He noted that "it is commonly thought that writing is a work which happens between the writer and their text, in isolation and solitude. Perhaps this is true at a deep level, but transforming this almost sensory intimacy into open dialogue and group interchange gives the writing another dimension, as it becomes a shared effort." Achaari says "it will be exciting to get to know these new works in the mirror of other texts, both during the workshop and as they develop afterwards".

Fleur Montanaro

IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro, who is coordinating the Nadwa, adds: "We are delighted to be celebrating the fifth year of the IPAF Nadwa, which provides a forum for talented young writers from across the Arab world to interact and engage with each other's work. In the company of Mohammed Achaari and May Menassa as mentors, this year’s Nadwa promises to be as inspiring and stimulating as ever".

IPAF is the leading international prize for Arabic literature. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), and run in association with the Booker Prize Foundation in the UK, the Prize aims to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.
Further information on the Prize can be found at: 


Ayman Otoom is a Jordanian poet and novelist, born in Jerash, Jordan in 1972. He went to secondary school in the UAE and graduated in Civil Engineering from the Jordanian University of Science and Technology in 1997. He then went on to obtain a B.A. in Arabic Language from the University of Yarmuk, Jordan, in 1999 and an M.A. and doctorate in Arabic Language from the University of Jordan in 2007. He has published several volumes of poetry, including his most recent Take Me to the Al-Aqsa Mosque (2013), and is the author of three novels: My Friend, Prison and They Hear Her Whispering (both published in 2012) and The Taste of Death (2013). He is currently a teacher in Amman.

Hicham Benchchaoui is a Moroccan writer. Born in al-Jadida, Morocco, in 1976, he trained as a journalist and has written for several Arab newspapers and periodicals. From 2008 to 2010 he worked as a cultural reporter for Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada and Moroccan newspaper Al-Jarida al-Oula. He also co-edited the seventh edition of Sisra magazine, published by the cultural association Aljouf, Saudi Arabia. He is the author of two novels and four short story collections. His novel Nap on an Autumn Sunday came third in the Al Tayeb Salih Award for Creative Writing in 2012. 

Samir Kacimi is an Algerian novelist. Born in Algiers in 1974, he graduated with a Law degree and currently works as a newspaper columnist. His first novel was Declaration of Lostness (2009), the first Algerian novel to deal with prison in Algeria, which won the Hashemi Saidani Award for the best Algerian debut. In the same year, he published his second novel A Great Day to Die, the first Algerian novel to reach the IPAF longlist. His third novel, Halabil, was published in 2010 and chapters from his next work In Love with a Barren Woman (2011) were featured in English translation in Banipal Magazine. His most recent novel is The Dreamer (2012).

Noha Mahmoud is an Egyptian writer, born in 1980. She currently writes for Egyptian newspaper The Republic. She has published three prose works and three novels: Telling Stories Sitting on Marble Blocks (2007), Rakousha (2009) and Hallucinations (2013), for which she won the Dubai Cultural Prize. 

Lulwah al-Mansuri is a writer and journalist from the United Arab Emirates. Born in 1979, she has a B.A. in Arabic and a diploma in Family and Media Studies. Her novel, The Last Women of Lengeh, was published by the Department of Media and Culture in Sharjah in 2013. Her short story collection, The Village Which Sleeps in My Pocket, won the Dubai Cultural Prize in 2013.

Bushra al-Maqtari was born in Taiz, Yemen in 1979. She is a writer and novelist and member of the executive board of the Union of Yemeni Writers. She has published a prose collection called The Furthest Reaches of Pain (2003) and a novel, Behind the Sun (2012). Her writing has been published in various Arab newspapers and periodicals. In 2013, she was awarded the Françoise Giroud Award for Defence of Freedom and Liberties in Paris and also the Leaders for Democracy Prize, presented by the Project on Middle East Democracy, in Washington.  

Abdullah Alobaid is a Saudi Arabian writer. Born in Riyadh in 1984, he studied Management Information Systems at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. He is the author of one novel, Nicotine (2011), and Companion, a book of prose and poetry (2013). He has also written scripts for television dramas and, for the last four years, has performed stand-up comedy. 

Nasrin Trabulsi is a Syrian writer. Based in Kuwait, she works as a television news presenter. She has a B.A. in Dramatic Literature and is the author of three collections of short stories – Waiting for a Legend (1997), Scheherazade Got Bored (2004), The Last Dance Rehearsal (2008) – and a book of prose poetry, entitled Speech of the Dumb (2009). She has published a number of critical articles in Arab newspapers and specialist periodicals on literature and the theatre, as well as a series of articles called From the Balcony of Humanity in Sawa Magazine and the Kuwaiti al-Qabas newspaper. Currently, she writes a column for Al-Quds al-Arabi called Fadaai'yat. She has hosted several literary evenings in which she dramatically enacted her short stories, in Damascus, Kuwait, Cairo and Sharjah.  


Mohammed Achaari was born in 1951 in Zerhoun, Morocco. After studying Law and Administration, he worked in political and cultural journalism and was editor of a number of newspapers and cultural supplements. He has written articles on literature and the arts, including poetry and short stories. For three consecutive years, he was head of the Union of Moroccan writers and his political work led him to take up various government posts, including that of Minister of Culture in Morocco from 1998-2007. His 11 poetry collections have been published in Baghdad, Beirut and Casablanca, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent poetic voices of the 70s generation in Morocco. His 2011 novel The Arch and the Butterfly won IPAF and was recently nominated for Italy’s Ziator Prize. His works have been translated into a number of languages. He lives in Rabat, Morocco, where he is a full-time writer. 

May Menassa was born in Beirut in 1939 and holds a postgraduate diploma in French Literature. She began her career as a broadcast journalist in 1959. She has worked as a critic for the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar since 1969. She has published eight novels, as well as two children’s books and she has worked on many translations, mainly from French into Arabic. Her fifth novel Walking in the Dust was shortlisted for IPAF in 2008. Her first novel, Pages from Notebooks of a Pomegranate Tree (1998), was translated into French in 2012.