Essays and Features

‘The Jewish Quarter:’

Ramadan Drama Revisits 40’s Egyptian-Jewish Relations
Elie Chalala

“The Jewish Quarter” has sent some unsettling messages about the “Ramadan series” (or soaps), prompting commentaries in the Arab press and beyond, and finally meriting a feature article in the New York Times. This 30 episode serial, which runs through the month of Ramadan in Egypt, offers a viewpoint unlike that featured in any other serial before or after the Arab Spring.


Nawal Al Saadawi Speaks on Intellectuals, Politics, and Sexuality

Elie Chalala

Nawal el-Saadawi remains one of the most famous Arab feminists. She is also considered a radical and uncompromising activist. Her radicalism spans a wide range of gender issues, and perhaps most irritating to Arab governments has been her insistence on the interconnectedness of sexuality and politics, a perspective which leads her to conclude that they need not be separated.

Assia Djebar (1936-2015)

Home in France; Heart in Algeria
Elie Chalala

The remarkable Assia Djebar has proven almost as controversial in death as in life. Some argued that the writer, who focused on the very human concerns of women, could not be a feminist. Other issues of contention included the Algerian author’s choice to write in French, the language of her country’s former colonizers. Certainly, her induction into the prestigious French Academy as an “immortal,” or life-long member, created controversy, with many critics overlooking the fact that the writer used “the language of the colonizer to document its savagery and some of its bloody memories.” In death, as in life, it appears that Djebar will continue to challenge her critics and provide topics of lively debate. Read more about her life and final journey back to Algeria in the following article.

Assia Djebar has been a problematic for some Arab intellectuals, both when she became an "immortal" or a life-long member of the prestigious French Academy, and when her name was frequently mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender. Her recent death on February 6 proved no exception.  As her body lay in one of Paris’ hospitals, the same questions arose:  Why were her works not translated enough into Arabic, while her novels were translated into scores of other languages? A valid question.

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.



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