The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Al Aswany bails on lit festival, criticizes selection process

A while back, we mentioned the Beyrouth 39 Literature festival, which aims to select and promote 39 Arab writers under 39. It is a cooperation between the well-know British literary Hay Festival and the UNESCO Beirut World Book Capital 2009 initiative. I just read that Alaa Al Aswany--who was one of the judges--has quite the festival, disagreeing with the selection process. Al Aswany first objected to the competition being characterized as "open" when a list of 90 authors, submitted by the literary magazine Banipal, was under consideration. 

But the organizers agreed to postpone the nominations deadline, and publicize the festival more widely. I have seen articles about the festival in the Egyptian press. There is a link on the festival's site that allows one to nominate writers. (And the organizers of the festival actually solicited suggestions from Arabist--we could only think of a few, because of the age limit). So the festival does seem to have been open, even if a whole slew of nominations was submitted by Banipal editors.

So I'm left confused as to what Al Aswany's real, unsurmountable objection was. Articles in the Arab press have suggested--without quite coming out and saying so--that the festival's nominations list was fixed or flawed in some way. In any case, it seems a pity that an event promoting Arabic literature should be bogged down in rancorous debates and resignations before it even starts.