Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Let me give you the background: San`allah Ibrahim is one of the most accomplished contemporary Arab novelists. Some of his books are available in English translation, see He has also suffered for his leftist views, and spent years in jail under different Egyptian presidents. A few weeks ago, he was awarded the top Egyptian government prize (which carries a monetary value of some $80,000.00 or so) for literature: he decided to attend the ceremony, but surprised everybody when he delivered the speech in which he rejected the prize, as you shall see in this translation of his words. (thanks Bassam for forwarding the text):
FYI -- The English translation of Sonallah's speech when he refused the state prize in literature --

Sonallah?s Speech in the Cairo Forum for Arab Literary Creativity
I shall not be able to compete with Dr. Gaber Asfour?s ability to improvise. It is therefore that I have hurriedly written a short speech to express my feelings.
Believe me when I say that I never expected this honor and that I never sought to get it. There are many who are more entitled to it than I am. Some of them are no longer with us...Creative pioneers who represent this nation whose present and future have gone astray with the wind have chosen me (for this award). I would like to especially acknowledge my teacher Mahmoud Amin El Alem. I was imprisoned with him and he and his comrades taught me the true values of justice, progress and loving one?s country.
Their choice proves that serious and persistent work is eventually met with the appropriate appreciation, with no need for public relations, compromises or flattery of the official institution, from which I was always keen to keep a distance.
And yet this choice has another important value. For it is an evaluation of an approach in creativity that is down to earth addressing real and existing concerns of the individual, the homeland and the nation.
This is the fate of the Arab writer. He (she) cannot ignore what is happening around him (her), or pretend not to see the humiliation of the nation from the ocean to the gulf, the oppression and corruption, the Israeli flagrancy and the American Occupation, and the shameful collusion of Arab regimes and governments in all that is happening.
At this very moment as we are gathering here, Israeli forces are raiding what is left of Palestinian land, killing pregnant women and children and rendering thousands homeless, thereby implementing, with an obviously accurate methodology, a plan of genocide against the Palestinian people and forcing it out of its country. Arab capitals, however, open their arms to receive Israeli leaders. A few steps away from here lives the Israeli ambassador in full security, and another few steps away the American Ambassador is occupying a whole district while his soldiers are in each and every corner of a homeland that was once Arab.
I have no doubt that every Egyptian here realizes the extent of the disaster that has befallen our nation. The matter is not only restricted to actual Israeli military threat to our eastern borders, nor to the American dictates and the apparent helplessness in our government?s external policy, but extends to all aspects of our lives. We no longer have any theater or cinema or scientific research or education. We only have festivals, conferences and a parcel full of lies. We no longer have any industry, or agriculture or health or justice. Corruption and plundering are widespread, and any protester is faced with humiliation, beating and torture. The exploiting minority has deprived us of our souls. The reality is frightening. And within that reality a writer cannot pretend not to see or keep silent or give up on his (her) responsibility.

I shall not ask you to issue a statement of protest or condemnation. This is no longer useful. I shall not ask you to do anything, for you know better than me what should be done.
All I can do is to once again thank my honorable teachers who have honored me by choosing me for this award. I declare my apologies for not accepting it, since its is given by a government, who ? to my mind ? does not have the credibility to award it. Thank you.
Sonallah Ibrahim
25th October 2003