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

By 
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.”

Multiple Pressures From State Repression, Fundamentalist Retribution, Cultural Critiques and Competition From Global Media Choking Off The Voice Of The Arab Intellectual

By 
Elie Chalala
Many definitions of Arab intellectuals are rooted in the idealistic tradition that glorifies them as guardians of values and ethics, as figures closer to “angels” and “faqihs,” who stand above politics and power struggles and enjoy a monopoly over the authority of knowledge. These notions reflect social illusions and popular perceptions of the time when intellectuals were considered part of a sacred class. A recurrent list of names often cited and idealized as intellectuals include Mahmoud Abbas al-Akkad, Taha Hussein, and Naguib Mahfouz. These perceptions clearly distinguish the intellectual from the politician.
 

The Wonders of a Village Childhood

By 
Lynne Rogers
 
Stories My Father Told Me: Memories of a Childhood in Syria and Lebanon
By Elia Zughaib and Helen Zughaib
Cune Press, 2020
 
“Stories My Father Told Me: Memories of a Childhood in Syria and Lebanon” is a delightful collection of short one-page stories told to Elia Zughaib by his father, accompanied by paintings by his daughter, Helen Zughaib.

A Book Fair Writes an Old Story: How a Poster — And Regional Politics — Sank Effort to Invigorate Lebanon’s Publishing Industry

By 
Elie Chalala

Book publishers, journalists, authors, and cultural activists received a large blow earlier this month. The anticipated return of the Beirut International and Arab Book Fair was met with disappointment and anger as violence broke out over Hezbollah’s presence through some publishing houses, which many argued overshadowed the spirit of the event. For over half a century, the book fair has held a celebrated place in Lebanon’s culture. Considered the oldest Arab fair, the tradition began in April 1956 at the American University of Beirut, becoming a prestigious event showcasing thousands of titles and visited by tens of thousands for decades since its launch. Not even ceasing during the Lebanese civil war, the only time the book fair was previously canceled was in December 2006 during the anti-government sit-ins in downtown Beirut. The outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, the explosion of Beirut’s port later that year, and the worsening economic crisis forced it to once again close its doors until the surprise announcement of its return, marking its 63rd session, running from March 3 to March 13.

The Tragedies and Political Realities of Aleppo’s Old Red Light District

By 
Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
In a tale that spans generations, a recent novel shows the suffering of Syrian society through the abuse of sex workers and a struggle to make their smothered voices heard. Syrian novelist Ibtisam Ibrahim Tracy’s latest work, “Daughters of Lahlouha” (House of Culture for Publishing and Distribution, 2021), introduces readers to Syrian women suffering under both French mandate and Syrian regimes, social oppression, political tyranny, and the machinations of intelligence services over the past century. The novel was recently reviewed by Salman Zainuddin in Independent Arabia.
The corpse of the novelist Farida al-Raydah greets readers in the opening pages of the novel, crumpled in a chair with torn remnants of paper in her hands. On her computer lies an open, blank document entitled “Novel.” When a deliveryman named Abdel al-Salam discovers her, he searches through her belongings and finds the ready-to-publish manuscript of her novel discarded in the neighborhood trash bin.

Book Examines Lasting Legacy of Assassinated Cartoonist, Whose Work Drew on Experience of War and Exile

By 
Elie Chalala

A beloved artist in and beyond the Arab world, Palestinian political cartoonist and caricaturist Naji al-Ali's influence continues after 30 years after his death by assassination. Boualem Ramadani in the New Arab Diffah Supplement recently discovered a French book dedicated to al-Ali’s work, the first of its kind in France. Though published only in French, the book — "Le Livre de Handala" by Sivan Halevy and Muhammad al-Asaad, published by Scribest — includes important input from Naji al-Ali's eldest son, Khaled. He endeavored to preserve his father's legacy through the project. The book was first published in 2011 and received a new edition in 2015 with an updated preface from French political cartoonist Siné.

Beating Up the Already Battered: Modern Arab Media’s Role in Bullying and Harassment

By 
Naomi Pham

Harming, intimidating, or mocking the vulnerable are familiar behaviors; some have witnessed the abuse from afar, while others have experienced it. We used to think of bullying as something that children do in the schoolyard, and ideally something they learn to stop after reflection and normal maturation. But beyond the playground, bullying and harassment serve as standard practice in fields like modern media. Arab media and television promote harmful and offensive depictions to impressionable audiences for higher ratings and money. Media networks also give platforms to regressive messages that cause both emotional and sometimes physical harm.

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