Belletrista Blog

Middle East

Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty, published by The Guardian:

The past few weeks have seen extraordinary political upheavel and social unrest in North Africa. The protests that originally started in Tunisia now seem to be engulfing Egypt.

Like many people I’ve been glued to the rolling coverage on Al-Jazeera English with its footage shot from the window of the TV station’s Cairo office. The streets are full of men shouting for the downfall of President Mubarak. But how are Egyptian women making their feelings known? Prominent writer Ahdaf Soueif  published an article in The Guardian, a UK newspaper, on Thursday 27th January about the popular uprising. It would be good to hear how other Egyptian women who are participating in or writing about these momentous events.

Soueif has also contributed to the paper today as part of a collection of ten Arab writers’ reflections on the legacy of the Tunisian protests. Moroccan writer Laila Lalami feels a sense of excitement about the possibility of change; Joumana Haddad, a Lebanese poet, is unsure that what is happening in Africa will change life in Beirut. (Click on the coloured tags on the map at the beginning of the articles to access other writers’ thoughts)

I have a sense of hope but feel uncertain about whatn the future holds. Will whatever happens this weekend lead to real and lasting changes in Egyptian society and in other countries in the region? Will the gender oppression against which writers like Nawal el Saadawi rail so vociferously actually be broken down?

Posted by Char

I’ve just spent an hour or so in the company of Suad Amiry, a Palestinain writer best known for her book Sharon and My Mother-in-Law which describes her family’s experiences during the 43 day curfew imposed on the residents of Ramallah by the Israeli army in March 2002. Amiry is in London to promote her new book, Nothing to Lose But Your Life: An 18 Hour Journey with Murad. I saw her being interviewed by Jo Glanville (Editor of ‘Index on Censorship’) at the Southbank Centre.

Amiry is a fantastic storyteller. She uses the stories of individuals to illustrate the desperate situation Palestinians have to live in, concerned to show the real texture of life in Palestine rather than the single stories of victim or aggressor that she believes have led to Palestine becoming a cliché. The stories she recounts are often humorous; she rebels against the situation by making fun of it, saying that in Palestine you either laugh or cry – there is nothing in between.

Intelligent and forthright, Amiry does not pull any punches when talking about Israel and the land they have stolen from her people. She became visibly upset when recounting how her father returned to the home he lost in 1948 only to find that the family now living there would not let him in to the house. Her anger and incomprehension also came through clearly. Why, she asked, don’t Israelis notice that for Palestinians to accept the idea of a two state solution is a huge step?

Amiry’s new book is about the 18 hours she spent with young Palestinian men as they entered Israel illegally to find work. As well as being incredibly dangerous (people have been shot dead trying to cross the wall that Israel has erected between territories) this experience has given her a new perspective on her country’s future. While she feels uncomfortable in Israel, her young companions move easily between the two cultures with little fear. Perhaps these migrant workers, and the thousands of others like them, will enable a solution to be reached one day.