Friday, January 4, 2008

Saudi Culture and Information Minister: Saudi Media Enjoy Full Freedom

"[Saudi] Culture and Information Minister Iyad Madani has highlighted the press freedom in Saudi Arabia and said his ministry had put no restrictions on foreign journalists and media persons who came for Haj coverage. 'We did not tell any foreign news agency or television station what they should cover and what they should not ... and with whom they should speak and with whom they should not ... the field was open to them and all facilities have been provided so they could do their work in an objective manner,' the minister said.

'This is one of the features of media work in Saudi Arabia and we at the Ministry of Culture and Information will not dictate that the Saudi media or a newspaper must say what we want it to say and we also will not exert influence on the foreign media to say what we want it to say,' he added. [...]

"The King emphasized the need for tolerance and promoting dialogue with people of other faiths. 'We, the media persons, should carry the king’s message in order to give it wider publicity,' he added. [...]

Source: Arab News (Saudi Arabia), December 24, 2007

Saudi daily: "How Free Is the Blogosphere?"

"When we congratulate ourselves on the expanding role of the media in Saudi Arabia, we do this with a sense of the different atmosphere surrounding us; there are still social problems, which we journalists cannot write about and there are still attitudes, which are anything but tolerant. [...]

"The news of the arrest in Jeddah on Dec. 10 of Saudi blogger Fouad Farhan will be seen by many as a setback at a time when international news agencies had begun quoting our newspapers on some of our most important and sensitive issues.

"One would think that the blogosphere should be even more open and free than newspapers.

"And generally it has been: Bloggers in Saudi Arabia have varied their goals and subjects from fun-oriented ones to social networks to comments on current affairs.

"For Saudis it was a breath of fresh air; the blogosphere offered freedom and an unrestricted space for all voices. Some of the bloggers have continued while others, for various reasons, stopped. The blogs dealing with lighter subjects, such as entertainment and fashion, survived while the more daring ones, which comment on current affairs, dance close to the red lines. [...]

"Whether you agree with them is completely up to each person for after all that is the beauty of the blogosphere — live and let live, express and let express.

"This sense of freedom is now at risk. According to some Saudi bloggers, Farhan’s arrest is making them think twice before posting comments that they might get in trouble for. [...]

"The arrest of Farhan, however, seems to many people to be a much more drastic step. According to the authorities, Farhan’s arrest was for 'non-security related issues' which implies that his website might not be the cause of the arrest — and indeed, this is supported by the fact that the site is up and running. [...]

"At a time when the world media is focusing on Saudi affairs — whether we like it or not — a little openness could help our image a great deal. We must learn from the Qatif Girl case.

"Because the authorities refused to talk, others did the talking; all sorts of theories came to the surface and there was no way of challenging or refuting them as there was no clear official information.

"Maybe this time a clear statement as to why Farhan is being detained on a very imprecise charge would go a long way to clearing things up. In this age when news is available to everyone around the clock, it is hard to be convinced by a vague statement."

Source: Arab News (Saudi Arabia), January 3, 2008

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Abu Dhabi to translate 100 books into Arabic

"As part of efforts to transform Abu Dhabi into the cultural lodestone of the Middle East and expand libraries there, the emirate's Authority for Culture and Heritage has chosen the first 100 books to be translated into Arabic under a new program.

"Among them are Alan Greenspan's memoir, "The Age of Turbulence," John Maynard Keynes's "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," and Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom." The goal is to translate 100 titles every year.

"The authority, known as Adach, has formed a nonprofit organization called Kalima, which is Arabic for 'word,' to undertake the translations [...]

"The effort is part of the emirate's lavish spending on culture, which includes $27 billion for building five museums, including a Guggenheim outpost designed by Frank Gehry and a Louvre satellite designed by Jean Nouvel.

"The first 100 titles draw from history, science and fiction; Kalima is still securing the rights to most of them. More than half were originally written in English, and they include a Pulitzer Prize winner, 'The Looming Tower' by Lawrence Wright, which examines the origins of Al Qaeda, as well as the best-seller, 'The Kite Runner,' by Khaled Hosseini. Classics in the first group of books to be translated include Milton's 'Paradise Regained.' A number of works by Jewish writers are on the list, including 'Collected Stories' by the Nobel Prize recipient Isaac Bashevis Singer. [...]"

Source: Internation Herald Tribune, January 2, 2008

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Pakistani Review on Musharraf's book

" 'Political speech and writing,' says George Orwell is largely the 'defence of the indefensible.' So if the literary genius read General Pervez Musharraf's memoir, In The Line of Fire, What would he say? Though most of the world knows George Orwell for his book, Animal Farm, I remember him for the essay called, Politics and The English Language. It is his classic work on all political writing to date. Orwell deconstructs bad writing by politicians and fascists alike with ease, but I feel that he would be in quiet a fix with Musharraf's book, and wouldn't know what to make of it really.

"[...] Now that I have read Musharraf's Memoir, I wondered if I should go back to Orwell, or shall I put a value on the popularity that this head of state of a developing country has on, say, the Jon Stewart show. Pakistan is headed by a military dictator who can neither be dictator enough to do away with the extra-constitutional Hudood laws, nor benevolent enough to resign as army chief and stand for elections. Flip-flopping between appeasing the mullahs and the west, he plays to the theatre by walking the much acclaimed tightrope of a moderate Muslim country's leader, all on Pakistan's expense. Orwell asked readers of political literature to notice how the word 'democracy' is used in a 'consciously dishonest way' and notice that when we say that a country is democratic 'we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.'

"When I bought the memoir, angry, I thought I was ready to unleash Orwell onto it. I thought I could circle a few embarrassing quotes from Musharraf that have 'private definitions but allow his hearer to think he means something quite different.' [...]

"I thought I could point to the images of a decapitated bomber who tried to assassinate him and say that it was in bad taste, that he was using an image of war to define urgency which reflected the decay of his political thought. I wanted him to stop condemning earlier politicians for what they did and begin by undoing their wrong if he cared enough. It wasn't that simple though, I noticed that Pervez Musharraf steers clear from George Orwell's most cautioned malaise -- lack of clarity.

"[...] Musharraf labels rot as rot, and if his story is to be believed he never would be a dictator, nor does he support the interference of the military into politics, as he explains at length, for the right reasons too. Any witness to the history that maps his last 10 years has reason to substantiate the circumstances that led to his rise as army chief and supreme leader of Pakistan. [...]

"Refreshingly though, the book isn't written for the American, as much as it resonates with the nationalist Pakistani with the Jinnahist ethic -- the secular democratic Pakistan that is successfully liberal because of its culturally Islamic background rather than despite it. Despite the clarity with which Musharraf approaches the book, he cannot be pardoned for the mistakes he's made in real governance. One only wishes he walked his text. Musharraf, as a young boy, escaping the violence of the Hindu mobs before Pakistan was created, says he cried on the day Pakistan's founder, Barrister Mohammad Ali Jinnah died. A claim no one can testify to, but the nobility of which is not lost, for it to deserve mention in this world best-seller. Yet, I find that Musharraf's understanding of the political history of Pakistan's creation is a bit shallow. [...]"

Source: The News (Pakistan), October 20, 2006

Bhutto's new book

"Immediately after receiving the manuscript of Benazir Bhutto’s new book, leading publisher HarperCollins decided to move quickly to get it on the shelves by February, following [...] assassination of the former prime minister. The book, entitled 'Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West,' was part political treatise and part memoir of the first woman elected prime minister of a Muslim nation.

"HarperCollins had signed up the book for an advance estimated to be around $75,000 shortly before she returned to Pakistan in October after years of living in exile.'We have a finished manuscript,' said HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, who learned about Ms Bhutto’s murder from an email alert. When HarperCollins Executive Editor Tim Duggan sealed the deal with Ms Bhutto, he said: 'Pakistan is an increasingly volatile place, and Ms Bhutto’s book is an eye-opening look at the mistakes we’ve made in the region and what we can do to correct them -- as well as what the consequences will be if we don’t.' "

Source: Dawn (Pakistan), December 29, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Arabic speakers, a dying breed in the Arab world?"

"Arabic is the fifth-most spoken language worldwide, with 206 million native Arabic speakers in the world and more than 20 million people speaking it as a second language. But many Arabs feel that globalization has affected their native tongue negatively.

"Arabic, especially classical Arabic, or fus'ha, is a fading tongue between its native speakers, or at least it is becoming less important than it once used to be. Classical Arabic, though the language of the Holy Quran and used in books and formalletters, is now left to the sophisticates. Ali, a 22 year old Kuwaiti, thinks the reason behind the declining standard of Arabic learning is that people associate other languages such as English with better education and career prospects. [...]

"Ali, who is a graduate from a bilingual school and currently studying English literature at Kuwait University (KU) is an example for many other young Kuwaitis and Arabs who would forego their native tongue for a more global language. Though Ali talks Arabic well with a Kuwaiti dialect, he admits that he prefers to speak English among his peers. At home, we usually talk Arabic together, but my sisters send me emails and text messages in English rather than Arabic. And I talk with my friends most of the time in English, he said. [...]"

"Arabs talk in different dialect depending on their region and country. Certain dialects are more difficult to understand than others. For example, Egyptian Arabic is considered the easiest dialect to understand because of the flooding of Egyptian movies and songs, while Algerian dialect is usually considered the most difficult and complicated because of the inclusion of French. That's why classical or literary Arabic is the unifying platform for all Arabs, regardless where they come from, to communicate without misunderstanding. But many Arabic native speakers cannot speak fluent Arabic, in their own dialect, and don't read or write well in classical Arabic. Poor education and fast-moving technologies are some of the reasons behind the declining interest in learning Arabic.

"The English language is becoming the competing language to Arabic now. There is a decline in learning Arabic in public schools now especially in grammar and dictation. There is no love to the language and there is nothing interesting in the curriculums for students anymore, said Abu Mohammad, a Syrian Arabic teacher in a public school in Kuwait.He sees the reason behind this decline or lack of interest in learning Arabic is a shared responsibility between the parents, teachers and the students themselves. 'There is a negligence from the students' side and no cooperation between the teachers and the parents; the parents don't bother to come to schools and check on how their kids are doing, and some teachers' qualifications are minimal so they don't care if their students didn't do well,' he said. [...]"

Source: Kuwait Time (Kuwait), December 27, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mohammed Choukri: The Moroccan Bukowski

"Mohamed Choukri is one of North Africa's most controversial and widely read authors. The distinguished writer Paul Bowles, perhaps best known for his novel The Sheltering Sky, worked closely with Choukri on the translation of For Bread Alone, and penned the introduction.

"For Bread Alone is autobiographical. After a childhood of poverty and petty crime, Choukri learned how to read and write at the age of twenty, after a bout in prison. He then became a teacher and writer, finally being awarded the chair of Arabic Literature at Ibn Batuta College in Tangier. Choukri died of cancer in 2003 at the age of sixty-four. His life is now captured in a film where Choukri himself makes a brief appearance.

"The book itself was banned in Arab countries for its sexual explicitness. Dar al-Saqi was the first publishing house to publish it in Arabic in 1982, thirty years after it was written, though many translations came out before the Arabic version. [...]"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Beirut book fair salutes freedom of speech"

"The 51st Beirut International Arab Book Festival opened at the BIEL (Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure) conference center on Thursday afternoon after an opening address delivered from the Grand Serail by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. [...]"
Source: Daily Star (Lebanon), December 25, 2007

Two Egyptians arrested at Sudan book fair

"Two Egyptians have been arrested in Sudan for their participation at the Sudan book fair, the PANA quoted the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) as reporting.

"The organization said Abdul Fattah Al Sadany, 30, and Mahrous Mohamed Abdel Az im, also 30, were arrested on charges of 'abuse of Islam' for the book 'Aisha: The Wife of Prophet Mohamed.'

"[...] The two men, from the Madbouly Publishing House in Egypt, were promoting a book that criticizes Aisha at the international book fair in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The book sparked interest of the Sudanese Minister of Justice, who said it promotes ideas 'harmful to the islamic religion'.

"The minister said the defendants were selling a book called 'A mother that ate up her children' and that includes phrases criticizing the Prophet. The book was confiscated at the book fair.
"The Egyptians will be tried under article 125 of the Sudanese penal code for ins ulting religious beliefs and inciting hatred and contempt for religions. They could face up to six months in jail and 40 strokes of the cane if convicted. [...]

"Among the books confiscated at the exhibition were two books about the Shiites , a book called 'Darfur, the history of war and genocide,' published by the Horizons House for publication and distribution."

Source: Panapress, December 17, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sana'a: Two million people and only two libraries

"With a population of two million, the capital city’s only two public libraries are insufficient for education and gaining knowledge.
"When librarians classify books without a computerized system, many errors occur because everything is done the old way, which is writing by hand the book title, who borrowed it, etc., and then having to search through such handwritten record books, which is awkward and time-consuming. Due to such an archaic system, one anonymous individual points out that, 'If any book is lost, librarians usually should take responsibility and pay for it, but because there’s no strict rule to control this, officials don’t say a word and nothing is done about it.' [...]"
Source: Yemen Times (Yemen), December 19, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tintin thrives in the Arab world despite censorship

"Neither censors nor 'Orientalist' stereotypes have dampened demand for the cartoon adventures of Belgian boy reporter Tintin, who has stoked the imagination of generations of Arabs from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

"Created in the middle years of the 20th century, Tintin spent more time in the Arab world than anywhere else, in four books: 'Cigars of the Pharaoh,' 'The Crab with the Golden Claws,' 'Land of Black Gold' and 'The Red Sea Sharks.'

'It's extraordinary that Tintin came here so many times and still has so many friends,' according to Tunisian academic Issam Marzouki.

Opium smuggling, the scramble for Middle Eastern oil, the slave trade and more were all sources of adventure and -- to this day -- controversial storylines for Tintin's Belgian creator, the illustrator Herge. [...]

"But the end of the relationship a year ago between Belgian publishing giant Casterman and Egyptian publisher Dar al-Maaref, which had the right to print Tintin in Arabic for 30 years, means the daring reporter with the trademark quiff is no longer available in Arabic. [...]

Dar al-Maaref declined to comment on the end of the relationship.

Nevertheless, in this centenary year of Herge's birth, the Arab world still reads Tintin in English and French, apparently ignoring the charges of racism and colonialism levelled at the books in Europe and Africa.

"Cliches and stereotypes, sure, but nothing harmful, and Herge refined his view of the Arabs throughout the series... as well as his use of written and spoken Arabic," said Marzouki. "But the adventure is the most important thing."

Source: AFP, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Look at Sudanese Literature

Fatima Ibrahim is a writer and a human right activist.

"A Muslim, a former Member of Parliament in Sudan and [former ]president of the banned Sudanese Women's Union, she has a long history as an outspoken defender of human rights in her country. Now [...] she crackles with energy as she denounces the Islamic fundamentalists whose regime, she says, has turned her homeland into a war torn, shattered nation."