‘An honour to be refused’

The perceptive Kate Mosse reports from the Dubai literary festival where the plight of Arab writers – they routinely face persecution, isolation and censorship – makes the petty struggles of Western scribblers in recession seem like so much mist in the air.

For me, though, the question of the huge differences facing female and male authors in the Arab world was paramount and became clearer as the festival went on. Several women admitted they would have found it impossible to be published at all had they not either been supported by fathers, brothers, husbands to work, to write. Many had struggled in the first instance and several had experienced death threats, intimidation and isolation as a result of it. Many were in exile from their own countries, not for the substance of what they had written necessarily, but simply for writing at all. As a corollary to this, the essential influence and possibilities of the internet was highlighted by authors on the platform time and again, particularly for female writers in countries where there are different legal and social restrictions on men and women – Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Palestine and the UAE itself. Many of the Arab authors, male and female, had published online in the first instance, thereby building up support outside the country for their poetry or novels or polemical writings. This modern day equivalent of samizdat of the Soviet era, gave visibility, a voice, a little authority as author.

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