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A Book Fair Writes an Old Story: How a Poster — And Regional Politics — Sank Effort to Invigorate Lebanon’s Publishing Industry

By 
Elie Chalala

Book publishers, journalists, authors, and cultural activists received a large blow earlier this month. The anticipated return of the Beirut International and Arab Book Fair was met with disappointment and anger as violence broke out over Hezbollah’s presence through some publishing houses, which many argued overshadowed the spirit of the event. For over half a century, the book fair has held a celebrated place in Lebanon’s culture. Considered the oldest Arab fair, the tradition began in April 1956 at the American University of Beirut, becoming a prestigious event showcasing thousands of titles and visited by tens of thousands for decades since its launch. Not even ceasing during the Lebanese civil war, the only time the book fair was previously canceled was in December 2006 during the anti-government sit-ins in downtown Beirut. The outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, the explosion of Beirut’s port later that year, and the worsening economic crisis forced it to once again close its doors until the surprise announcement of its return, marking its 63rd session, running from March 3 to March 13.

The Tragedies and Political Realities of Aleppo’s Old Red Light District

By 
Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
In a tale that spans generations, a recent novel shows the suffering of Syrian society through the abuse of sex workers and a struggle to make their smothered voices heard. Syrian novelist Ibtisam Ibrahim Tracy’s latest work, “Daughters of Lahlouha” (House of Culture for Publishing and Distribution, 2021), introduces readers to Syrian women suffering under both French mandate and Syrian regimes, social oppression, political tyranny, and the machinations of intelligence services over the past century. The novel was recently reviewed by Salman Zainuddin in Independent Arabia.
The corpse of the novelist Farida al-Raydah greets readers in the opening pages of the novel, crumpled in a chair with torn remnants of paper in her hands. On her computer lies an open, blank document entitled “Novel.” When a deliveryman named Abdel al-Salam discovers her, he searches through her belongings and finds the ready-to-publish manuscript of her novel discarded in the neighborhood trash bin.

Book Examines Lasting Legacy of Assassinated Cartoonist, Whose Work Drew on Experience of War and Exile

By 
Elie Chalala

A beloved artist in and beyond the Arab world, Palestinian political cartoonist and caricaturist Naji al-Ali's influence continues after 30 years after his death by assassination. Boualem Ramadani in the New Arab Diffah Supplement recently discovered a French book dedicated to al-Ali’s work, the first of its kind in France. Though published only in French, the book — "Le Livre de Handala" by Sivan Halevy and Muhammad al-Asaad, published by Scribest — includes important input from Naji al-Ali's eldest son, Khaled. He endeavored to preserve his father's legacy through the project. The book was first published in 2011 and received a new edition in 2015 with an updated preface from French political cartoonist Siné.

Beating Up the Already Battered: Modern Arab Media’s Role in Bullying and Harassment

By 
Naomi Pham

Harming, intimidating, or mocking the vulnerable are familiar behaviors; some have witnessed the abuse from afar, while others have experienced it. We used to think of bullying as something that children do in the schoolyard, and ideally something they learn to stop after reflection and normal maturation. But beyond the playground, bullying and harassment serve as standard practice in fields like modern media. Arab media and television promote harmful and offensive depictions to impressionable audiences for higher ratings and money. Media networks also give platforms to regressive messages that cause both emotional and sometimes physical harm.

Plot Twist Ties up Distribution of Controversial Arab “Life Smuggling” Film

By 
Naomi Pham

Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab’s 2019 “Amira” faced a storm of social media backlash following accusations that the film belittles the Palestinian struggle. Diab — director of the well-received “Cairo 678” (2010) and “Clash” (2016) — has pulled the film from any future screenings, including Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival. This decision comes after Jordan’s Royal Film Commission ultimately withdrew “Amira” as its entry as the Oscar’s 2022 Best Foreign Film.

Poet, Publisher, Painter, and Patron of the Arts: Remembering the Extraordinary Etel Adnan (1925-2021)

By 
Elie Chalala
 
Lebanese-American writer Etel Adnan, beloved by many for her ‘meditative’ voice and colorful language in writing, passed away on November 14 in Paris at 96, leaving behind an evocative legacy of poetry, novels, and art that vividly depicted war, history, and nature.

Egyptian Belly Dance Losing Touch with Roots as Cultural Phenomenon

By 
Naomi Pham

Belly dance in Egypt has undergone major cultural and social transformations since the mid-20th century. Dancers often perform at live gatherings and across social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. However, belly dancing as an art form has become redefined in today’s age. It has increasingly been the target of criticism, the latest being a claim by Abdel Halim in Al Araby that the dance has deteriorated further under neoliberalism.

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