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Brexit and Lebanon’s Economic Collapse Close the Chapter of London’s Iconic Saqi Bookshop

By 
Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
For 44 years, Al Saqi Books has served as the beating heart of Arab culture for tourists, expatriates, and Arab readers in London — but after struggling to stay afloat amid a rocky economic climate both in the Middle East and at home in the United Kingdom, the independent bookstore recently announced its closure at the end of the month, just before the new year. Over the past decade, bookstores worldwide have been forced to shut their doors. Syria and Lebanon have faced closures due to economic and social crises (read more about the state of the Arab world’s publishing industry in Al Jadid, Vol. 25, Nos. 80-81, 2021 and Vol. 26, Nos. 82-83, 2022). The bookstore chain Borders was liquidated in 2011, and even Barnes & Noble has closed several of its locations. Independent bookstores have taken especially hard hits as the culture of reading shifts with technology, making it increasingly difficult to keep up with costs.
 

Ghassan al-Jibai (1952-2022)

Remembering A Courageous Writer: His Refusal of Censorship, of Exile, and of Silence
By 
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.

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

By 
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.

Growing Dysfunction of Arab Societies Parallels Rise in Violence Against Women

By 
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. 

Looking at Reading Rates Beyond Bogus Statistics

Yes, Arabs Read! But How Much?
By 
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.

The Catcher in the Bulgur?

Coming of Age Story Witnesses Tribulations of Growing up Arab American in Brooklyn
By 
D.W. Aossey
Coming of age stories can be tricky. In no other genre do authors willingly stick out their necks, relying on a single, flawed adolescent to heroically carry the day. No clever plot twist can save our young protagonists if they’re not up to the task; no quirky sidekicks or kinky lovers can plaster over the holes. The vulnerability of a Holden Caulfield, the dimwitted charm of a Forrest Gump, or even the precocious morality of a Kevin Arnold was always destined to shine. And then we have Michael Haddad, the teenager at the center of “Arab Boy Delivered” by author Michael Aziz Zarou.
 
It’s the early 1960s. A Palestinian family takes over a neighborhood grocery store in an Italian part of Brooklyn, where working-class residents pop in and out for bread, milk, beer, and cigarettes. They’re mild to outright discriminatory against Arabs. “Camel jockey assholes, go back to the desert!” comes up more than once; vandalism and other mischief loom. The police have little help. Michael, the young son of old country proprietors Aziz and Jamila Haddad, searches his parent’s worried expressions and philosophizes. He listens to 60s music and goes through his coming-of-age routine, seeming more grown-up than he should be. He looks at himself in the mirror and thinks. 

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