Essays and Features

Lebanon and Algeria: Collective Memory and Cultural Trauma

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By Wided Khadraoui

Lebanon and Algeria: Collective Memory and Cultural Trauma

Wided Khadraoui writes an analysis of two plays, Algerian playwright Slimane Benaissa’s “Les fils de l’amertume” (Sons of Bitterness,) and Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s Incendies (Scorched). Both works examine themes of collective memory, repression, and cultural trauma instigated by violent upheavals within Algeria and Lebanon. This leads to a fascinating discussion of the role that these issues have played in stifling “Arab Spring” movements in these two countries.

Taking the form of a dialog between a terrorist, Farid, and journalist, Youcef, “Les fils de l’amertume” explores the overlapping influences of religious fundamentalism and nationalism in Algeria. The play also addresses the fall-out from a devastating civil war, economic crisis, and a multitude of social injustices. Even Algeria’s attempts to control violence creates unforeseen consequences.

Unlike Benaissa’s play. Mouawad’s Incendies, never reveals the setting, although that anonymous land obviously represents Lebanon. The plot centers on the theme of hiding and demystifying secrets. Twins Janine and Simon return to the Middle East to fulfill their dying mother’s wish, after sending off two letters from her, one to the father they thought had died before their births, and one to the brother they never knew existed. As shocking as these events may be, many more surprises await discovery. Like other survivors of war hoping to make sense of what has happened, the twins will encounter “…a truth that is like a green fruit that has never ripened,” but which, with exposure, finally become digestible, if not palatable. Students, scholars, and those who appreciate intelligent, well-written and reasoned drama, will not want to miss this beautifully crafted analysis of two unique and timely plays. 

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Literature can be a useful tool for confronting tragedies of the past.  In their newest plays, Algerian playwright Slimane Benaissa and Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad examine the trauma inflicted by the violent upheavals in their respective countries, exploring ideas of collective memory and rebuilding a society that has imploded.  

'Realist' Scholar's Argument Delights the Syrian Regime: 'To Crush ISIS, Make a Deal With Assad"!

By 
Elie Chalala

"It feels surreal to even contemplate the possibility of Western powers crushing ISIS while allying with a regime that has facilitated the deaths of more than 200,000 of its citizens, displaced half of Syria's population, and transformed more than half of the country's infrastructure into a pile of rubble. How could the oppressed and marginalized Sunni communities ever trust in an alliance made with their tormentors?" (From The 'Realist' Scholar's Argument Strikes Delight in Syrian Regime: 'To Crush ISIS, Make a Deal With Assad"!)

The Uncompromising Voice of Syrian Screenwriter Fouad Hamira

By 
Rebecca Joubin

A Study in Courage: Screenwriter and Activist Fouad Hamira

Cinematic activist, Fouad Hamira, who began his career working for the National Theater, has become one of the leading voices for justice in Syrian television. Despite all attempts to silence him, this man of courage and conviction remains as vocal as ever. Since the current uprising in Syria, he has denounced injustices such as the government’s attempts to reframe the battle for Syrian freedom as a sectarian uprising. 

Fouad Hamira, who began as an employee in the National Theater, has gone on to become one of the leading voices in Syrian television drama. He is renowned for his unwillingness to compromise with the forces of societal and political oppression. His controversial “Ghazlan fi Ghabat al-Dhi‘ab” (Gazelles in a Forest of Wolves), which was filled with a poignant critique of corruption and the abusive nature of power, was finally allowed to air  in 2006, although he had written the miniseries 15 years earlier.

Nidal Seijari: A Lost Voice for Peace

By 
Rebecca Joubin
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Born in Latakia in 1965, Nidal Seijari went on to graduate from al-Mahad al-‘Ali li-l-Funun al-Mesrahiyya (Higher College of Theater of  Arts)and become a member of the Artist’s Union in 1991. Seijari was well known as an actor, film director, and art consultant in Syrian television drama. One of the most sha‘bi (popular)and beloved Syrian actors of all time, he fought throat cancer courageously for a number of years. He passed away on July 6, 2013, at the age of 48.

Darwish Indicts Modern Arab Poets

By 
Nancy Linthicum
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Celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish has served as a symbol of the Palestinian struggle and a model of near perfection among contemporary Arab poets for several decades. After constant harassment, including imprisonment by Israeli authorities, Darwish had to leave his homeland in 1971, moving from one country to another in the Arab world and abroad. Throughout his many moves, Darwish increased his readership and became known as a herald of “resistance poetry” or shi’r al-muqawamah.

The Egyptian Contemporary Novel:

A Survey of a Revolutionary Endeavour
By 
Nada Ramadan
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One of the recurrent discussions in literary circles in Egypt is whether a new literary movement has started and whether we can dub it “Revolution Literature.” It was on the 25th of January, 2011, that the Egyptian Revolution was hailed as successful, and why not, President Mubarak’s abdication was celebrated till the early hours of dawn in the streets and squares across the country.

The Eye of the Needle

By 
By Hanna Saadah
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1970:

“Why are you blushing?”  I asked, as her blue eyes gazed obliviously into the tepid afternoon.

“I’m just worried,” she sighed, and said no more.

“Are you worried about the king or the paupers,” I teased.

“What king and paupers?  What on earth are you talking about?”

“King Hussein, of course, and the Palestinian resistance fighters, whom he has just evicted...”

The Sword of Amin Maalouf

By 
Abduh Wazen
5

Politicians recognized the position Amin Maalouf occupies in France and the francophone world well before the Academy; these politicians include the Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy who made the author of “Leo Africanus” (Leo the African) accompany them in their visits to Lebanon. And how embarrassing it seemed when President Chirac, in his 1996 visit to Lebanon, introduced his “friend” Maalouf to the three presidents of Lebanon: President Elias Hrawi, Prime minister Rafik Hariri, and House Speaker Nabih Berri. Can you imagine that scene? Lebanese top officials waiting for a French president to convene a meeting between them and a renowned Lebanese author. Perhaps these men found it strange for a novelist to accompany presidents in political missions?

Amin Maalouf,  perhaps the most famous and popular member of the French Academy, is a best-selling author and known as an intellectual whose works “honored” the French language. Maalouf’s contributions are considered an answer to the call of the Academy, whose exclusive and main concern is safeguarding the French language and preserving French culture.

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