On Monday 19/04/2010 I was a speaker in a seminar on (The Internet and New Arab Literature) which was part of the events hosted by London Book Fair 2010, unfortunately due to flight restrictions following the volcanic ash eruption in Iceland, the other two speakers on the panel, Samuel Shimon and Khaled Horoub were stranded outside the U.K and couldn't participate in the event. Margaret Obank, publisher and editor of Banipal Magazine sat in for Samuel Shimon and gave an overview on the Arabic literary online magazine Kikah.com.
You can Also listen to a recording of the complete seminar, and some pictures from the event with thanks to Mohamed Mesrati for taking them and thanks also to friends Juma Bukleb and Ghassan Ferjani for attending.
- Arabic literary websites (1998-2001), Arabic short story, Kikah, Ofouq, web magazines, e-newspapers, with limited number of personal website.
- Discussion forums, 2001-2004- produced many possibilities for writers to experiment, no obstacles, no rules, no censorship, quick response, interaction, development of skills.
- Blogs 2003-2007, gave possibility for writers to have their own web space to present work, English, Arabic, interaction, focusing on specific issues, building relations with the publishing world.
- Blogs produced many new writers that changed their style of writing, free Arabic language, interaction with other cultures, commenting made feedback easier.
- Blogs made possible for Arab writers to address taboos and break silence on different issues in Arab societies, but with consequences sometimes.
- Internet made it possible for Arab writers from different parts of the Arab world to interact, comment and publish their works easily and break censorship and barriers, especially with restriction in each Arab country.
- We can call this age of Arab literature the age of the internet writers although that can sometimes be used to mock the quality of the works produced, or to criticise the big number of new names of writers.
- Podcasting, Imtidad experience, still new and will take some time.
Blogs in the Arab world began spreading as early as 2003, but they didn’t become popular until 2005 where many Arab political and human rights activists used them as platform to express their opposition and dissent to different Arab government’s policies. Later on literary writers began using blogs as tool to break through censorship but eventually they were used as means to break through the slow, inefficient Arab publishing industry, as they couldn’t find a way for their works to cultural and literary pages and journals in the Arab world, and also facing difficulties in publishing even in online literary websites, which was not able to cover the demand to publish all the material they received.
Blogs gave the possibility for writers to avoid all these obstacles and publish and control their works directly and interact and get feedback directly from readers not from Arab literary critics who usually didn’t catch up with the information revolution quickly enough and some used the term “internet writers” to mock and degrade these writers and the quality of their work.
Blogs also produced the possibility for readers across the Arab world regardless of boundaries and censorship and government control on all reading material, blogs allowed writers from Morocco to Bahrain through Libya and Egypt to interact and build relations and readership, sometimes a single blog can have three times the readership of one a published book, thus giving the writers the opportunity to develop and improve their skills.
The Arab publishing houses caught up with in 2007-2008 with the new writings coming out of blogging, Al Shoruq publishing house had five books published by six Egyptian bloggers, and more books are coming out every year either electronically or paper bound.
Many established Arab authors followed the blogging boom by signing up for their own blogs, some were just carried away with the youthful energy of the new writers, and didn’t last long, some continued the experience and developed new cultural websites in blogging style, and others even stopped publishing in newspapers and literary journals and magazines and focused all their efforts on blogging.
Some estimates that there are more than half a million blogs in Arabic, not all are active and there are indications that the blogging wave is receding, giving way to new internet inventions, like social networks and micro blogging, Facebook and Twitter, but one thing for certain is that blogging made it possible for many Arab writers to express their opinions and ideas and manage to publish their literary works freely and without restrictions.