Essays and Features

Novelist Salwa Bakr Dares to Say it Aloud on Revolution's Successes and Failures

Elie Chalala

Salw Bakr was asked to explain the large quantity of novel publications in the Arab world. Once again, Bakr pointed at political repression as a clue, especially when repressive regimes, under which most Arab intellectuals live, curtail freedom of expression. She indeed found the large number of published Arab novels amazing, for half of the Arab world remains illiterate, something that hits home, since Egypt constitutes half of that population. According to statistics, the average Arab reader reads no more than a quarter of a page annually.


Radwa Ashour (1946-2014): A Literary, Cultural and Political Activist Icon, Echoing in Egypt's Valley

Nada Ramadan Elnahla

The valley was flooding with apparitions...Silence, followed by a crescendo. A sound that will echo in the valley years later. ("Apparitions")… Radwa Ashour—novelist, educator, human rights activist, politically committed intellectual figure, and critic—opened her 1998 autobiographical novel "Apparitions" (or“Specters”) with this powerful scene. Seventeen years later, on November 30, 2014, Ashour would join those apparitions, her gentle soul forever filling our valley with her inspiration, resistance and writings.

Hanna Batatu (1926-2000)

A Scholar with Passion for Knowledge, Disdain for Spotlight
Elie Chalala

Hanna Batatu, 74, a leading authority on the contemporary Arab world best known for his writings on Iraq and Syria, died June 24, 2000, at his brother’s home in Connecticut after a brief battle with cancer.  He passed away just a few days before American University of Beirut was going to honor him as one of its Millennium Scholars.

After Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Assad’s Disinformation Machine in High Gear to Exploit a Terrorist Moment
Elie Chalala

The mumanah or the rejectionists have flooded the media market with opinion-based analysis, as have the anti-Assad groups. The Assad disinformation machine, however, buries its head in the sand, refusing to face the fact that Assad’s brutality, more than any ideology, has been the most effective recruiter for the Islamic state and other jihadist groups. Those who lost homes, parents, and children do not need a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam to join jihad.


The Picture of a Woman From Aleppo!

Elie Chalala

This photograph lingers in the consciousness of the viewer. It displays, against a background of dust clouds, an exhausted woman accompanied by two children, fleeing the danger and distress of the bombing. There is something desperately poignant about her expression. Distress and shock mark her state of mind, as some newspapers wrote, but one wonders whether that does full justice to her mental state. She is flanked by her two children…

Life From Beneath The Knife

Hanna Saadah

My schedule brimmed with appointments like a bookshelf, stacked back to back. The names, silent like book titles, filed in the waiting room.  I motioned to Norma to follow me into my office.  She hesitated, trying to disengage from a conversation she was having with Mrs. Stitchmaker who stood at the window with questions about her bill. (From "Life From Beneath The Knife," by Hanna Saadah. Click on the link to read the full short story).

Lebanon and Algeria: Collective Memory and Cultural Trauma

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. 


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

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"!)


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