Egypt’s Blog-to-Book Phenomenon: Positive or Negative for Arabic Book World?

Journalist and blogger Ahmed Naji has out a new book, Blogs From Post to Tweet. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which is making printed copies available for free, “This book is the first to monitor five years of Arabic blogging by documenting history of the world of Arabic blogs since they started.”

You can also read the book here in Arabic, and here in English.

Naji says in his introduction (which I have re-translated a little): “You should know that blogs are the heresy of our time. In them, you can find both virtue and sin, and there are many benefits to reading them.”

Naji gives a good deal of background about Egyptian blogs before he gets to the relationship between Egyptian blogs and literature (again, re-edited a bit):

In the middle of all of this, the literary blogs succeeded in attracting many readers. They also got the most attention, particularly after the excitement generated by a number of publishing houses turning blogs into printed books, as in the case of Dar Al Sherouk blog series. But it came to the establishment of publishing houses to publish the blogs in paper as in the blog of Dar Doon.

Naji details how this began:

A fundamental motivation behind the blogging is the love of writing itself. So it was natural that many of the bloggers had a literary project. Some blogs displayed their creativity in diaries, short stories, scripts , or any new form of literature that may evolve.

The number of readers of the “literary” blogs increased, which was a temptation to publishing houses—particularly as Western publishing houses had seen financial success from turning blogs into books.

Al Naji writes:

The beginning was with Malameh printing house, founded by activist blogger Mohamed El-Sharkawi. He published three bloggers: Ahmed Naji (the author of this book), Mina Girgis and Omar Mostafa. Although the publications were not from their blogs, this initiative was a precedent, and a recognition of the existence of a different creative arena. Dar El Shorouk later established a series entitled “El Shorouk Blogs.” A number of books were released: Rice Pudding for Two by Rehab Bassam, I Want to Get Married by Ghada Abdel Aal and Amma Hazhi Faraqsati Ana by Ghada Mahmoud.

Note that I Want to Get Married can probably not be called high literature, but was such a success that it’s been translated, and is coming out from University of Texas Press this fall.

Naji also discusses how blogs had the potential to juice up the traditional book market:

The other side of relationship between blogging and book industry is an informative one. Some blogs will post a cover photo in a frame tagged as “reading now,” as well as reviewing important books.

In addition, many bloggers have reported on cultural events, like book fairs, another indirect form of advertising for books. Some bloggers launched book sharing campaigns. All this gave new life to the book market. Blog books editions are steadily increasing as a new publishing house focused on publishing for bloggers appear on the market.

What Naji does not mention—in his generally positive review of blogging and its effect on Egyptian society—is the complaints of some in the literary sphere that blogs have worsened the “craft” of Arabic fiction. Some have complained that blogs hurry writers along in their process, causing them to go for immediate gratification (publication) instead of toiling over a perfect sentence, a beautiful image, a pleasing and resonant structure.

Nonetheless, despite any omissions, Naji’s book is very informative, giving the outlines of the blogging phenomenon in Egypt. And, to my mind, whatever its negative effects, blogging also has re-enlivened book discussions, discussions about the environment, political freedoms, and culture, and has had a growing “offline” impact.

Again, you can read Naji’s book yourself in Arabic or in English.