The International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s choice of shortlisted novels might have been a surprise (with acclaimed novels and big-name authors not making the shortlist); it would, in any case, have been difficult to whittle down from an excellent longlist. But a number of eyebrows seem to be raised not over the shortlisted authors, but this year’s chair of judges:
Cultural journalist Mohammad Shoair added, over email: “I have read only two of the novels from the longlist, those by Ibrahim Eissa and Mohammed Abd Elnaby. Both are good novels, but I know that literary taste of my colleague Dr Galal Amin, professor of economics at the AUC. He is conservative and traditional and he is anti-experimentation. I can’t forget his articles against the Moroccan writer Mohammed Choukri; he considered Choukri’s works immoral.
Novelist Hamdy Abu Golayyel also posted on Facebook his questions about Galal Amin as the head of the jury.
Indeed, Amin lost a few friends in the literary community in 1999, when he joined the press campaign against Dr. Samia Mehrez’s teaching of Mohammad Choukri’s For Bread Alone with his article, “A Definitive Demonstration of the Difference between For Bread Alone and Season of Migration to the North.”
In it, Amin wrote:
A novel can be humanistic while describing theft,debauchery, drunkenness or drug addiction, but of course under certain conditions. The most important of them is that the hero, the narrator of the story, he through whom we see the novelistic facts taking place and through whose eyes we judge these facts, must be fundamentally noble (…), intrinsically clean, however dirty be the actions he is led to commit, despite his own will. (…) As a matter of fact, there is not, in the one hundred and fifty pages of For Bread Alone, the faintest indication that its hero is intrinsically clean. He appears to be a rogue, devoid of any positive attitude…. So what is to be expected from the reader except indifference and disgust?
The other judges are: Lebanese academic and critic Sobhi al-Boustani; the esteemed Ali Ferzat, who is head of the Arab Cartoonists’ Association, and owner and chief editor of the independent Syrian daily newspaper Al-Domari; Polish academic and Professor of Arabic Literature at the Arts College of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow, Barbara Michalak-Pikulska, and Professor Zahia Smail Salhi, specialist in Arabic Literature Classical and Modern and Gender Studies at Manchester University.
The novels on this year’s shortlist are Sinan Antoon’s Ave Maria, Jana Elhassan’s I, She, and Other Women, Mohammad Hassan Alwan’s The Beaver, Ibrahim Eissa’s Mowlana, Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stick, and Hussein al-Wad’s His Excellency The Minister.
From ArabLit Facebook comments:
Nesrine Muhammad: I do trust Galal Amin, I don’t think he’s conservative at all but professional. I remember that he praised Alaa Al Aswani’s Chicago when it was first published, so I dont think it is fair to describe him like ” conservative and traditional and he is anti-experimentation”!!
Amira Abd El-Khalek I remember the issue at AUC with the teaching of Mohammed Choukri. I’m not a huge fan of Amin and my friends will frown but regardless of what I think about him, I don’t believe an economist should be the judging chair of the IPAF. One of the judges maybe, maybe, but not chair.
Cleopatra Rogers Mohammed Choukry’s works immoral? I am astonished!
I’m fairly sure that last one is sarcasm.