Essays and Features

The Fear of Throats

Daoud al-Shiryan

Hamad is an elderly Syrian man and a devout Muslim, who has lived in the city of Hama since he was born. Each day, he wakes up early, heads toward the Orontes River (Al Assi River), washes up and performs dawn prayers in a mosque on his way to work. On Sunday, July 3, as usual, Hamad headed toward the Orontes. As soon as he finished washing, though, he saw a body floating on the water. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the body belonged to a young man whom he recognized as Ibrahim Kashoush. Only the previous day, he had watched Kashoush electrifying the masses in the Orontes Square with his chants. Who would kill a young man singing for freedom? Hamad asked himself.

The Imperialism of Indifference: From Colonial Voice to Reliable News Source Trusted by Generations, the BBC Closes its Iconic Arabic Radio After 85 Years

Elie Chalala

The demise of BBC Arabic closes a chapter in modern Arab history. This is not a romantic or idealistic lamentation. Any Arab student or scholar who lived through or part of the post-WWI era of the 20th century can easily recognize the association between BBC Arabic and major political events. The question becomes not who are the writers of history — it is a history written by the literate or middle classes as opposed to a popular history. How can scholars tell that BBC Arabic was part of the lives of the groups who have written about the contemporary history of the Arab world? We rely on two indicators: literacy and politicization. When I use the term history, I believe that most if not all those who wrote on the political history of the Arab world came from literate classes and were part of groups ‌that cared for and even were engaged in politics. Those included pan-Arabists of the radical schools such as Nasserites and Bathists, conservatives, Islamists, and those moderate liberals opposed to socialists and communist groups.

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

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.

Artist, Activist, and Guardian Angel of the Literary Word: Mai Ghoussoub’s Long Journey from Trotskyite to Liberal-Democrat

Lauren Dickey

For a woman who spent her early years as a pro-Palestinian Trotskyite revolutionary, risking her life in the process, Mai Ghoussoub went through an extraordinary evolution to become the co-founder of a major publishing house, the London- and Beirut-based Al-Saqi Books. This publishing house has distinguished itself by publishing moderate and liberal books that breach taboos and break down cultural and gender barriers. Her recent death is a significant loss for the Arab literary world. Her friend, a famed Syrian poet Adonis, mourned in As Safir newspaper, “I do not cry on hearing of a death, but I cried for the death of Mai Ghoussoub. I’ve known her since her school days – full of life and enthusiasm.” Mai Ghoussoub, publisher, artist, and writer, died on February 17, 2007. She was 54 years old.

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.”


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