The Arab League says it will send Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi to Syria to try to resolve the crisis in the country.
Go to Source
Some believe that Nabil Al-`Arabi was picked as SG of the Arab League as a chastsement, to remove him from the decision making circle of the new Egypt. They see in the Saudi press’s criticism of al Arabi (and of course by association, the Saudi regime) as a clear indication that al Arabi needed to go. However, an Arab-watcher with impeccable contacts in the Egyptian nomenklaturs (Civilians & others) offered this take:
“… no sooner that the GCC ‘took in’ both the Hashemite & Alawi monarchies as life members of the ‘Sunni Club of Royals and royalists’, the ruling class of Neo-Egypt hastened , in a sudden & swift display of its own, pulled the rug from beneath the ‘Arab counter-revolutionaries’ feet & named the chief diplomat of Neo-Egypt at the SG of the Arab league…. The Neo-Egyptians felt outmaneuvered & outflanked by the ‘guild of royals’, who were unusually aggressive in asserting themselves & cementing their foothold in the Levant , and trying an ‘over-reach’ in North Africa, … and ‘hegemonizing’ Yemen… Al Arabi, known as the the ‘dynamo of Egypt’s foreign relations’ and through him the military junta , are pegged to rejuvenate the league into becoming a countervailing axis, balancing out the royal club. In my opinion, this is going to be significant & instrumental in the furthering an ‘Egypt + Algeria’s + Tunisia’ common stance, and chips away at the invigorated and reckless Saudi (and co.) strategy of co opting Arab revolutions. Some might say : “Egypt lost an influential player or suggest that he may have been eased out.” I say this is nonsense. We are only 4 months before a new democratic game kicks in, with all that this entails! I believe, the League & Egypt both gained an astute player that can blunt the whims of the royals for the benefits of all Arabs, with Egypt in the lead …”
(AFP) – “Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi on Sunday called on the United States to recognise a Palestinian state, as rival Palestinian factions prepare to sign a reconciliation accord in Cairo. Arabi urged visiting US Congressman Steve Chabot to “press Congress and the American administration to recognise a Palestinian state.” Recognition “would correspond with previous statements by the American administration supporting peace based on two states,” the official MENA news agency quoted him as saying…”
AFP – Egypt will permanently open the Rafah border crossing to ease the blockade on Gaza, Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said Friday, sparking Israeli concerns over the implications for regional security.
After the recent cabinet change, Egypt now has a Prime Minister and a Minister of Foreign Affairs who argue against Egypt’s role in the Gaza blockade. Nabil al-Arabi, the new FM, in particular is on record has criticizing that policy on the grounds of international humanitarian law. Will we see a change in the policy anytime soon?
In some sense, it already has changed. Palestinian officials from Hamas have been allowed to travel from Rafah. The border crossing has also been re-opened after a month-long shutdown following January 25, although it is still only taking 300 people a day. But fundamentally, the official position is the same for now. It’s based on a legal reality that the siege of Gaza is Israel’s responsibility, since it is the occupying power, as well as more convoluted legalism that the border cannot fully be reopened until Gaza is part of an independent Palestinian state. The real reasons for Egypt’s participation in the blockade were a mixture of anti-Hamas sentiment, legitimate concern that Egypt could be held responsible for Hamas’ actions by Israel, American and Israeli pressure on Cairo, and a fear that the Israelis were maneuvering to dump the Gaza problem onto Egypt’s lap.
THE INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR
ARABIC FICTION 2010
MUHAMMAD AL-MANSI QINDEEL, MANSOURA EZ ELDIN, RABEE JABIR, ABDO KHAL, RABA’I MADHOUN and JAMAL NAJI are today, Tuesday 15 December, named as the six finalists shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2010 (IPAF), the prestigious literary award celebrating the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction.
The shortlist of finalists was announced by Taleb Alrefai, Chair of Judges for the 2010 prize, at a press conference at the Beirut International Book Fair in Lebanon.
The six books, selected from a longlist of 16, are (in alphabetical order):
|Al-Mansi Qindeel, Muhammad||A Cloudy Day on the West Side||Dar Al-Shorouk||Egyptian|
|Ez Eldin, Mansoura||Beyond Paradise||Dar Al-Ain||Egyptian|
|Jabir, Rabee||America||Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)||Lebanese|
|Khal, Abdo||She Throws Sparks||Al-Jamal Publications||Saudi Arabian|
|Madhoun, Raba’i||The Lady from Tel Aviv||Arab Institute for Publishing and Studies||Palestinian|
|Naji, Jamal||When the Wolves Grow Old||Ministry of Culture Publications||Jordanian|
Chair of Judges Taleb Alrefai commented on the shortlist of finalists: “A democratic, objective discussion was held, the most important target of which was to reach a list approved by the judging panel. The selected books represent the opinion of the panel, with due respect to and appreciation of all the longlisted novels.”
The panel of five judges were also revealed today. All specialists in the field of Arabic literature, they come from Kuwait, Egypt, Tunisia, France and Oman. They are: Taleb Alrefai (Chair of Judges), Kuwaiti novelist and short story writer; Shereen Abu El Naga, Egyptian lecturer of English and comparative literature at Cairo University; Raja’ Ben Salamah, Tunisian lecturer from the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities at Manouba University, Tunisia; Frédéric LaGrange, French academic, translator and Head of the Arabic and Hebraic Department at the Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV); Saif al-Rahbi, Omani writer and poet.
The prestigious literary prize, now in its third year, aims to recognise and reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage wider readership of such Arabic literature internationally through translation. It is run with the support of the Emirates Foundation and the Booker Prize Foundation.
At today’s press conference Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “IPAF is increasingly regarded as the leading prize in the Arab literary world. Its impact is indisputable, with its winners and shortlisted writers recognised as some of the most significant voices in contemporary Arabic literature – many of whom are now available to a wider world in translation thanks to the prize.”
Salwa Mikdadi, Head of the Arts and Culture Programme at the Emirates Foundation, added: “The Foundation is proud of its association with this increasingly influential prize. In three short years, the intellectual strength and operational independence of both the board of trustees and the judging panels have made it into the major fiction prize in the Arab World.“
The 2010 prize received 115 eligible submissions from 17 Arab countries – Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria – and the longlist of 16 titles was announced this November.
Joumana Haddad, the Prize Administrator, commented: “We are proud that the IPAF is contributing in increasing the interest in contemporary Arabic literature, whether reading or translating wise. No other Arab literary prize has ever enjoyed this much attention and influence, which proves that the IPAF came to fill an urgent need in our cultural life”.
The shortlisted finalists for the prize will each receive $10,000, with the winner receiving an additional $50,000. They can look forward to reaching wider audiences and potentially securing publishing deals – both within the Arab World and internationally. The previous two winners for the prize – Bahaa Taher (Sunset Oasis) and Youssef Ziedan (Azazel) – have not only secured English publications of their novels in the UK, through Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton) and Atlantic Books respectively, but also a number of international deals as a result of the prize.
The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2010 will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 2 March 2010, the first day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
A Cloudy Day on the West Side – Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel
Dar Al-Shorouk, Cairo, 2009
In his novel A Cloudy Day on the West Side, Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel evokes the period of great archeological discovery and nationalist struggle in Egypt. The novel tells the story of a young girl taken from home by her mother when she is forced to flee her abusive husband. After changing her name and fastening a crucifix around her tiny arm, the mother leaves her daughter at a village in Asyut. The fate of the girl, who grows up to become a translator, intersects with that of a number of historical figures from the period, including Howard Carter, Lord Cromer and Abdulrahman al-Rifa’i. This thrilling tale is brought to life by the author’s detailed and vivid descriptions of real historical events and places.
Egyptian novelist Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel was born in 1946 in the Egyptian delta city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra, where his father was a worker. His first novel, Breaking of the Spirit, was inspired by events surrounding workers’ unrest in the city. A medical school graduate, he worked as a doctor in the countryside before dedicating himself to writing. He currently lives in Kuwait, where he works as an editor for monthly magazine Al-Arabi. He has won two awards for his writing, the State Incentive Award in 1988 and the Sawiris Foundation Award in 2006. He has published several novels, short story collections and children’s books and his novel Moon over Samarkand has been published in English by the American University in Cairo Press.
Beyond Paradise – Mansoura Ez Eldin
Al-Ain Publishing, Egypt, 2009
In Beyond Paradise, Mansoura Ez Eldin engages with Egypt’s rural middle class through the character of Salma. The editor of a literary magazine, Salma is trying to dispose of her negative self-image by liberating herself from a past loaded with painful memories. The process encourages her to write a novel in which she tells her family history: a history of love, a history of the body, a history of movement across the social classes within her village, a history of madness, and a history of writing. Through this process Salma’s identity is split into two. On the one hand she observes and narrates in the present, whilst on the other she delves frantically into the hidden depths of her memory.
Egyptian novelist and journalist Mansoura Ez Eldin was born in Delta Egypt in 1976. She studied journalism at the Faculty of Media, Cairo University and has since published short stories in various newspapers and magazines: she published her first collection of short stories, Shaken Light, in 2001. This was followed by two novels, Maryam’s Maze in 2004 and Beyond Paradise in 2009. Her work has been translated into a number of languages, including an English translation of Maryam’s Maze by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press. This year, she was selected for the Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. She was also a participant of the inaugural nadwa (writers’ workshop) held by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Abu Dhabi this November.
America – Rabee Jabir
Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre), Morocco and Lebanon, 2009
America evokes the story of the Syrians who left their homeland in the early twentieth century to try their luck in the young America. Spurred on by a sense of adventure and the desire to escape poverty, they made the epic journey. Leaving their homeland with only a few belongings, their journey takes in everything from their travels across mountains and plains, to their gradual integration into American society, later becoming citizens of America and fighting its wars. In particular, the novel focuses on the character of Marta, who travels alone to New York in search of her husband, with whom she has lost contact. America is a tribute to those who left Syria in search of a new life from those who remained behind.
Lebanese novelist and journalist born Rabee Jabir was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including: Black Tea; The Last House; Yousif Al-Inglizi; The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005) and Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009).
She Throws Sparks – Abdo Khal
Al-Jamal Publications, Baghdad/Beirut, 2009
A painfully satirical novel, She Throws Sparks depicts the destructive impact that power and limitless wealth has on life and the environment. It captures the seductive powers of the palace and tells the agonising story of those who have become enslaved by it, drawn by its promise of glamour. She Throws Sparks exposes the inner world of the palace and of those who have chosen to become its puppets, from whom it has stolen everything.
Abdo Khal is a Saudi novelist born in al-Majanah, southern Saudi Arabia, in 1962. He studied political science at King Abdel Al Aziz University in Jeddah before starting writing in 1980. He is the author of several works, including: A dialogue at the Gates of the Earth, There’s Nothing to be Happy About, and Cities Eating the Grass. Some of his works have been translated into English, French and German. In addition to his writing, he is a member of the board of directors of the Jeddah Literary Club and the editor-in-chief of the Ukaz newspaper, for which he writes a daily column.
The Lady from Tel Aviv – Raba’i Madhoun
Arab Institute for Publishing and Studies, Beirut, 2009
In The Lady from Tel Aviv, Raba’i Madhoun tackles the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli issue, focusing on a pivotal time of anxiety and suspicion, with tensions on the point of boiling over. The novel’s protagonists are Palestinian exile Walid Dahman, who is returning home to Gaza after many years in Europe, and Israeli Dana Ahuva, who happens to be sitting next to him on their flight into Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Their dialogue takes the reader into the far realms of memory, history and the self. The Lady from Tel Aviv is a novel that, in its complexity, intricacy and ambiguity, avoids the dogma of ready-made ideology.
Palestinian writer Raba’i Madhoun was born in al-Majdal, Ashkelon, Israel, in 1945. Along with his parents, he was uprooted from his homeland during the 1948 Nakba exodus and as a consequence his childhood was spent in the Khan Younis Palestinian refugee camp situated in the Gaza Strip. He studied at Alexandria University, Egypt, and since 1973 has worked as a journalist. His written works include the short story collection, The Idiot of Khan Younis, an academic study (The Palestinian Intifada) and his autobiography, The Taste of Separation. He currently works as an editor for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper in London.
When the Wolves Grow Old – Jamal Naji
Ministry of Culture Publications, Amman, 2009
When the Wolves Grow Old reveals the secret lives of the social climbers who have travelled from Amman’s poor quarters to positions of wealth and power, providing an insight into the world of the city’s preachers, politicians and charitable institutions. The book is told by a succession of characters who narrate incidents and scenes that repeat, conflict and develop from one character to the next. However the protagonist, ‘Azmi al-Wajih, remains silent and shrouded in mystery throughout the novel: is he the only one of these wolves that does not grow old? When the Wolves Grow Old is a story of human frailty and the complex interaction between sex, religion and politics.
Jamal Naji is a Jordanian writer of Palestinian descent, born in the ‘Aqbat Jaber refugee camp, Jericho (Ariha) in 1954. He began writing in 1975 and his published works include: The Road to Balharith, Time, The Remnants of the Last Storms, Life on the Edge of Death, The Night of the Feathers, What Happened Thursday and The Target. He was president of the Jordanian Writers Association from 2001-2003 and he currently works as head of the Intelligentsia Centre for Research and Survey in Amman, Jordan.
I don’t have time to get into any detail here, or to find comparable up-to-date figures, but I’d just like to throw you a thought that has been with me for a while, which I hope someone more competent may carry further. Here’s what the European Journalism Centre has to say about Algeria’s printed-press landscape:
Algeria has about 50 daily or weekly publications. Most of them circulate 15.000 copies, roughly estimated. Only four newspapers are estimated to boast circulation greater than 50.000 copies: Arabic- language El Khabar (530.000); Le Quotidien d’Oran (140.000-198.000) Liberté (120.000- 150.000) and El-Watan (70.000-90.000) in French.
These must be old figures, since Ech Chorouk El Youmi actually passed El Khabar to become the biggest paper a few years back, also claiming around 500,000 copies. I don’t know which one is ahead at the moment, but as far as I know they’re both still up there at somewhere, both said to be above 400,000 copies/day + weekly supplements and such. In fact, Ech Chorouk claims to have temporarily broken the frankly incredible 2,000,000 limit during the recent Algerian-Egyptian football wars, where it played a leading part by publishing sensationalist claims of Algerian fans having been murdered (the paper shamelessly puts it down to its journalistic “rigour and professionalism”).
UNNAMED GENERAL TO PRES. BOUDIAF: "So, here's the program: Today you go to Algiers, on March 2 you go to Oran, on June 29 to Annaba … and on June 30, you'll be at El Alia." (Cartoon by DILEM.)
Recall: those papers are all privately owned. While not necessarily independent from the cirles of power, they definitely represent different perspectives and to some extent different interests. Liberté, for example, is identified with the ultrasecularist Berberist liberal party RCD, while the Arabophone El Chorouk tends to more Islamic perspectives, eg. running series with Sheikh Qaradawi. They have all had problems with the government at various points in their history, and while there are certainly areas they won’t touch, they can be quite outspoken in their criticism of the government. They tend to tread very carefully with the army and security issues, but President Bouteflika is regularly read the riot act in several of these papers. If they go much too far, they can certainly be shut down, as was the case of Le Matin (now only available online), but that is rare. In short, then, as far as press freedom goes, Algeria is much freer than full-blown dictatorships like Tunisia and Libya, but broadly similar to liberalized autocracies such as Egypt, Morocco and perhaps some other of the better-placed Arab countries — maybe Kuwait, perhaps Yemen, I don’t really know — although behind regional star Lebanon, and obviously Israel.
So in that way they are similar: many Middle Eastern countries have a semi-free press, which is mostly independent but not free to write what it wants. What is considered a red line varies from country to country, but on the whole, Algeria’s press appears about as free/unfree as that in Morocco or Egypt. But in one way, it really stands out. Rembember the print figures above? Now compare them with local giant Egypt (2006):
The announced circulation figures for local newspapers are generally seen as unreliable. The daily Arabic Al-Ahram says it sells approximately one million copies a day, as does Al-Akhbar. Al-Masri Al-Yom is believed to distribute between 10,000 and 50,000 copies a day. Topping the weekly independent newspapers is Al-Osbou, with a circulation of between 100,000 to 120,000 copies. It is followed by Al-Dostour, with between 80,000 to 90,000. The Nasserist Party’s mouthpiece Al-Arabi and the independent Sawt Al-Umma, are believed to distribute around 30,000 copies each.
(N.B. both Ahram & Akhbar are state-owned and benefit from government support. Algeria’s state-owned papers are El Moudjahid, El Chaâb, El Massa, and Horizons [website virus-alert] neither of which is widely read — they’re crap — but still massively distributed to public institutions and such, probably as part of some scheme to line politicians’ pockets.)
Compare those numbers. Then compare populations: Algeria ~35 mil, Egypt ~80 mil. More than twice the size. The same discrepancy is apparent if one compares with Morocco (similar size, at ~35 mil), where readership is really low, despite having some interesting papers — probably mostly because of it being a poorer country:
Newspapers in Morocco suffer from a fairly limited readership. In Morocco, which has 33,8 million inhabitants, all print media combined sell 350,000 copies/day, compared with 1,3 million copies in neighboring Algeria, which has 33,3 million inhabitants.
Again, a significant difference: the Algerian readership is measured at almost four times the Moroccan figure.
So, to conclude this rambling heap of unrelated statistics: it would quite simply seem that Algerian papers sell incredibly well, compared to Arab countries with a similar level of press freedom. Even if we assume that the Algerian print numbers above are too high, we could cut them in half, and they would still be eyebrow-raising figures. Why this is so, I’m sure one could speculate forever, but what I’m interested in here is the effect: even if Algerian papers are not exceptional for their content, their impact on public opinion must be proportionally far bigger than in comparable countries, simply because they are read so widely. Yet I’ve never seen this noted anywhere, even in literature on Arab media.
It would seem to me that the Algerian press gets far too little credit as a factor in public opinion, and in Algerian politics generally, since outside watchdogs tend to focus on the content and the limits of political reporting, rather than the actual reach of newspapers. While most private papers in Arab countries tend to cater to rather slim sections of elite opinion, Algeria’s papers have achieved at least some mass-market reach, while at the same time they remain reasonably independent and pluralist.
Of course, there’s no denying it, red lines persist in both domestic (eg. security issues & elite affairs) and foreign (eg. W. Sahara) policy. It’s obvious that the country is not in any way, shape or form a democracy, and that decision-makers will not respond to public opinon unless forced to. And compared to developed countries, say any in Europe, the Algerian print figures are obviously very low. But even under these circumstances, the Algerian press can clearly drive and shape policies at times, even when the state seems hesitant to pursue them, and this role may well come to grow in the future, as the press asserts its independence and censorship methods are blunted by technological developments.
The football riots of these past weeks are a case in point. Independent papers (presumably with the tacit acceptance of the government) were the ones to fan the flames, both in Algeria and Egypt. The press, more than television or radio, seems to have been the main force in mobilizing civil society — admittedly for a lousy goal* — in a way and with an effect rarely seen in this region. For all the overwhelming importance of al-Jazeera and other electronic media, it just seems to me that the influence of the printed press (and its online appendices) is underrated, as its popular impact slowly grows with literacy and increased independence. It could be a force for good — empowering civil society, such as it is — but also, as the above example shows, for bad: sensationalism and inflammatory journalism to sell copies. But if I’m not altogether mistaken about these figures and what they signify — and contrary opinions are welcome — it’s a force to be reckoned with, and a phenomenon which people would be well served to pay more attention to.
(*) pun intended.