Essays and Features

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.”

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. 


Subscribe to RSS - Essays and Features