Essays and Features


Mona Takieddine Amyuni

In a meeting with my students at the American University of Beirut on December 14, 2000, the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan told us that she began writing her long, prophetic poem “The Arab Apocalypse” (The Post-Apollo Press, 1989) in January 1975 in Beirut, two months before the outbreak of the Lebanese War (1975-1990).  “Then, the war took the poem over,” said Adnan, and she added: “The war wrote this poem. I started with tensions and rhythms and later wrote 59 pages corresponding to the 59 days of the Tal-el-Zaatar (a Palestinian camp in the outskirts of Beirut, destroyed by the Lebanese Forces in 1976) siege and destruction.”

Andrée Chedid’s 'Wounded Beirut'

Mona Takieddine Amyuni

I have coined the phrase “Wounded Beirut” as an expression of the state of my bleeding heart and my city’s as I lived and suffered the war that decimated my country between1975-1990.  I witnessed the agony of my city being reduced to ruins, and yet, refusing to die. Indeed, “Wounded Beirut” summarizes in my imagination all that we did, witnessed, and resisted throughout those long, tragic war years.  Writing about my city has certainly been part of the healing process and a tribute to Beirut.

‘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.


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