Writing in the Arab World

In a Popmatters column, Ursula Lindsey reviews the well-known problems that affect the publishing industry in the Arab world, and which became all even more apparent during the 2004 Frankfurt Book Fair.

A large part of the pre-fair debate involved questioning whether the Arab League a political organ of unparalleled ineffectiveness, representing authoritarian governments that all engage in varying degrees of censorship had any place coordinating the event. A few countries, such as Morocco, decided that they would go solo rather than be amalgamated into a questionable “Arab world” whole. Some prominent writers were excluded. Some declined to attend. Those who didn’t question the league’s right to organize the presentation still worried about its ability to do so. The fair was huge, and without having been there it’s very hard to gauge how successful it was. Arab visitors and attendees had good things to say about the degree of German interest, and the quality of some of the forums and discussion panels. But they also complained that works were poorly translated, and that some of the official presentations were folkloric and apolitical: kitchy amalgams of carpets and sand dunes.

Lindsey argues that the single biggest problem facing Arab writers these days is censorship, but, she says, that hasn’t stopped them from creating.

As the Arab Human Development Report itself notes, writing is one of the few creative fields in which a lack of funding or support is not an insurmountable handicap. Writers aren’t like scientists. They don’t need labs. You don’t have to live in a rich country, or a free country, or a powerful country, to write a good book.

And while they continue to write the books, they still have trouble getting them published, finding readers for them, or getting them translated outside their countries, which is why projects like Words Without Borders need support.
Thanks to Mark for the link.

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