Essays and Features

Ghassan al-Jibai (1952-2022)

Remembering A Courageous Writer: His Refusal of Censorship, of Exile, and of Silence
Elie Chalala and Naomi Pham
The late Syrian writer Ghassan al-Jibai (1952-2022) was known for his intellectual activities across various art forms, from theater to novels and poetry — but though his craft came in many forms, each harnessed his steadfast opposition to tyranny and oppression. His career as a theater director, dramatist, and writer suffered immensely under the Syrian regime.

A Lebanese Journalist’s Harsh Parting Words to the Former President!

Elie Chalala

Ghassan Charbel starts his article with unfulfilled wishes, with what former president Aoun should have done before his tenure ended. His tone borders on warranted sarcasm: "I know that General Aoun loves the palace. He would rather see it empty than be occupied by another, aside from his son-in-law, of course. But I wished he had said a proper farewell that respected the pain of the Lebanese and the institution of the presidency. I also assumed he would “deliver an apology” for the catastrophe brought upon Lebanon during his reign and at least for his failure to alleviate the people’s suffering.”

Once the Cinderella of the Arab Screen, Tragedy Overshadowed Layla Murad’s Life and Career

Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
A common methodology for Arab critics, journalists, historians, and academics in studying different cinema, music, and other art fields is to categorize them under “Golden” or “Classic” eras, which are defined based on a system of values, a code of behavior, or another classification, such as progressive or conservative. The downside of this method is that it may not allow for impartial analysis and may prevent a thorough understanding of the subject at hand.

Fateh Al-Moudarres: Syrian Artist Who Fought for Justice with Brush, Pen

Abd al-Rahman Munif
When Fateh al-Moudarres died, he left like a child treading the path of Golgotha, and in his death, as in his life, he appeared like Jesus the Redeemer, who never grew tired of giving counsel and setting examples.
Writing about al-Moudarres is either long overdue or too early. We entertained many ideas for a writing project to which Fateh would make the main contribution in the form of a long dialogue or interview. Although we were prepared, we kept postponing the practical steps, awaiting a more appropriate time. It seemed we had time on our hands until that June day arrived and took Fateh away.

Deconstructing the Algerian Revolution

George Tarabishi

When I translated Gerard Chalian’s book “The Difficulties of Socialism in Algeria” in the mid-1960s, I was hesitant and conflicted, for I felt I was violating a sacred institution. The Algerian question was, in our view (we, the generation who became politically conscious in the 50s), a perfect model of a holy cause and thus above criticism. To justify translating revolution, I wrote an introduction explaining that the transformation of Algeria into a state has allowed one’s transformation from a position of unconditional support to a position of conditional criticism. 
The intellectual courage of Mohammed Harbi lies in the fact that he has taken it upon himself since the early 80s to resume the postponed mission: the task of critically deconstructing the Algerian revolution and rewriting its history based on facts instead of the ideological mystification with which it was once shrouded. In keeping with this goal, he published in 1980 “The Algerian National Liberation Front: Myth and Reality.” This was followed in 1981 with “The Files of Algerian Revolution,” and one year later, “Algeria and Its Destiny.”

Growing Dysfunction of Arab Societies Parallels Rise in Violence Against Women

Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala

Gender-based violence is not a new phenomenon in the Arab world. Attacks against women have been on the rise for years. One might recall the attacks on female social media influencers in 2018, leading to the deaths of former Miss Baghdad Tara Fares, beauticians Rasha al-Hassan and Rafif al-Yasiri, and the human rights activist Suad al-Ali. In 2021, the gruesome death of Farah Hamza Akbar, a Kuwaiti mother killed in front of her children by her stalker, filled headlines with an outcry against the lack of protection for women. 

Riddles: A Living Part of Arab Folklore

Fatme Sharaffeddine Hassan

Folklore is a term that comprises the wide range of the oral traditions of a specific group of people. It is not easy for folklorists the world over to agree on one definite interpretation of the term. For example, in his book “The Study of Folklore,” Alan Dundes states that the term folk refers to a group of people who share at least one common factor, such as geographic location, religion, type of work, or economic status. Dundes adds that “a group formed for whatever reason will have some traditions which it calls its own.” Moreover, the study of people’s traditions and lifestyles within the diverse branches of folklore helps us rebuild periods of history that are still ambiguous to present day scholars. Folklore represents the sum of a societies’ creative power. One form of Arabic oral tradition that is a part of Arab folklore is the riddle.

Looking at Reading Rates Beyond Bogus Statistics

Yes, Arabs Read! But How Much?
Naomi Pham

As UNESCO celebrates World Book Day, many countries have turned their attention to not just books but also the reading rates of their citizens and how they compare globally. Many speculate that Arabs do not read as much as Europeans and North Americans. Time and time again, major publications and news outlets fill their headlines with the claim that Arab citizens read an average of only six minutes a year. This figure was cited in the early 2000s, attributed to the December 2011 4th Annual Cultural Development Report by the Arab Thought Foundation, which has yet to be published online. The number appeared in a TEDxRamallah panel in April 2011 by Fadi Ghandour, CEO of Aramex in Jordan, who claimed his source was UNESCO (UNESCO has denied ever publishing the statistic). According to Thana Atwi, a spokeswoman for the Arab Thought Foundation, the number was never meant to be read at face value but as a symbolic figure, as cited by Leah Cladwell on the website Hekmah. Regardless of right or wrong, one cannot deny that the reading rates in the Arab world are low, which may be why the erroneous “six-minute myth” has been repeated for over a decade and continues to be a statistic that many significant publications take seriously.

Mona al-Saudi (1945-2022): The Sculptor Who Befriended Stone and Challenged Traditions

Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala

Ensconced in her garden of stone and statues, Jordanian poet, artist, and sculptor Mona al-Saudi has always been connected to the earth around her. She spent her earliest years playing amidst the ruins of the Roman Nymphaeum near her home in Amman, enamored with the geometric forms. Staring at the towering structures, her mind wandered to the more existential questions of life from a young age. “I would leave my little friends to play with the statues, converse with them, contemplate their folds, and I felt that they were silent creatures full of life… These legendary archaeological sites gave me the feeling of man’s ability to create great works that remain for eternity. And that is how my dreams began,” she said, as cited by Ghazi Anayem in Thaqafat. This love of heritage and history followed her wherever she went, inspiring all her creations for years to come. She told Gulf News, “Our house was only three meters away, and when I opened the door of my house, I could step into the Nymphaeum, with its Roman baths, columns, and scattered sculptures all over. These were literally historical stones. And I used to play in these ruins. That is why I belong to this kind of era, which I feel endures.”


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