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March 14, 2012
Writing in times of revolution – a pannel at AUB, Lebanon

Writing in times of revolution – a pannel at AUB, Lebanon

On Monday evening, the American University of Beirut’s West hall auditorium featured an impressive pannel of Arab authors, come from countries who have known, and are still knowing, uprisings: Tunisia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and Lebanon. Among the panelists were authors Khaled Khalifa and Kamal Al Riahi, from RAYA’s list.

Below, is NOW Lebanon’s summary, by Ellie Violet Bramley.

On Monday, esteemed Arab authors assembled at West Hall at the American University of Beirut (AUB) for a day of literary readings and a panel discussion revolving around the place and effect of Arab writers in light of the current uprisings that have gripped the Arab world.

Titled “Writing in the Time of Revolutions,” the event was chaired by renowned Lebanese author, academic and ex-Fatah Movement member Elias Khoury. The panel consisted of Cairo- and London-based author and commentator Ahdaf Soueif, impassioned Bahraini poet Ali Al-Jallawi, jovial but hard-hitting Syrian author Khaled Khalifa, Yemeni novelist and academic Nadia Al-Kokabany, and Tunisian author Kamel Riahi. Together they created a compelling, staccato narrative about what it means to be a writer in times dominated by revolution.

The choice of venue was apt and ironic. AUB has long been a gathering spot for intellectuals and revolutionaries; however, Lebanon remains relatively removed from the revolutions taking over the Arab world. Khoury agreed, pointing candidly to the examples of his two mother countries: Lebanon, with its crippling confessional political system, and Palestine. Though both were pioneers of revolution, they have failed at growing their own seeds of revolution.

Reflecting on the relationship between authors, writing and revolution, one can safely say it is long and complex. Writing as a response to or an incitement of revolution or political and social discontent is nothing new. Throughout history, novelists and poets have used revolution as a touchstone for their creativity. But the Arab Spring is a unique phenomenon and the Arab adage, “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads,” was not the only one called into question at yesterday’s event. For Syrian novelist and scriptwriter Khalifa, this time, the revolution has caused misgivings about the strength of the pen versus the strength of the sword.

Khalifa gained acclaim with “In Praise of Hatred,” which was first published in 2006. He spoke movingly of having “dreamt over and over that I was a wrestler, a boxer, a karate master, anything but what I am, so that I can protect a child from certain death by tank shelling.”

In the shadow of Homs, who wouldn’t feel troubled by his inability to take direct, life-saving action? Where Khalifa once felt sure of the worth of his trade, now he feels his convictions have been demolished, and his “egotism” has been dislodged by the Syrian revolution.

Read more on Now Lebanon‘s website.