This Sunday morning, the organizers of the biannual Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Award announced their 2010-2011 winners. The winners included Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour (fiction) and Lebanese poet Mohammad Ali Shamsuddin (poetry).

Palestinian writer Faisal Darraj won an award for literary criticism.

The biannual prize is administered by the UAE’s Sultan Bin Al Owais Cultural Foundation. Although the awards have gone to many of the finest Arab writers and the prize is significant — $600,000 to be divided among the winners — the award also has had its less-pretty moments: In 2004, the poetry prize was apparently given to Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef but later withdrawn, reportedly because of Youssef’s criticism of UAE ruler Sheikh Zayed bin al-Nahiyan.

According to Gulf News Editor-In-Chief Abdul Hamid Ahmad, who is also Secretary-General of the award, “Radwa Ashour was selected for the variety of her story telling techniques which she had mastered with full recognition of Islamic and Arab identity and values.”

Ashour surely should be saluted for the range of her writing — from the meta-autobiographical novel Specters to the wide-ranging, detailed Granada to the popular and philosophical Farag — and indeed she also has a particular interest in Islamic and Arab identity. Fortunately, hers is not a narrow or tightly defined idea of Muslim/Arab “identity and values.”

The praise for Shamsuddin was a little more difficult to understand:

“He has acquired modern and developed experience which prompted the committee to nominate him for the prize.”

You can read some of his poetry on Jehat (Arabic only) and decide what’s meant.

More on Radwa Ashour:

Bloomsbury-Qatar Signs Radwa Ashour’s Novel ‘Farag’

Writing, Teaching, Living: Egyptian Novelist Radwa Ashour

In Celebration of International Women’s Day: Egyptian Women Writers