Arab authors call for boycott of Emirati book prize after Israel normalisation deal

Arab authors call for boycott of Emirati book prize after Israel normalisation deal
3 min read
22 November, 2020
Some of the Arab world's most well-known authors have demanded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction cut ties with the UAE.
Ibrahim Nasrallah won the Emirati-funded prize in 2018 [Getty]
A growing number of Arab authors are boycotting the region's lucrative book prizes funded by the UAE in protest against Abu Dhabi's decision to normalise ties with Israel.

Noted authors are now eschewing two of the Arab world's most esteemed literary awards, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, Palestinian-Jordanian writer Ibrahim Nasrallah and Palestinian academic Khaled Hroub are among a group of 17 authors to demand IPAF trustees cut ties with Abu Dhabi to "maintain [the prize's] independence".

The IPAF - also known as the Arab Booker prize due to the fact it was launched in cooperation with the UK-based Booker Prize Foundation - offers its winner a $50,000 prize and a guaranteed published translation into English.

Shortlisted novelists are offered $10,000 each.

Nasrallah, whose novel "The Second War of the Dog" won the IPAF in 2018, says he will not apply again as long as the normalisation deal remains in place.

"Hundreds of Arab writers" share this stance, Nasrallah told The Financial Times.

Lucrative prize funds "should never be a way to compromise human values such as justice and freedom", he said.

"We write guided by our conscience and values. Writers must have a voice, in general, and in their books, about what is happening in the world we live in," added Nasrallah, who has also been featued on the IPAF shortlist three times.

The United Arab Emirates has "replaced" cultural ties with the Arab world with Israel, Hroub said.

The Palestinian academic and writer was a founding member of the IPAF but resigned in protest against the Emirati-Israeli normalisation agreement.

"What would you learn culturally, educationally or artistically from a state that colonises and suppresses an entire people by force?" Hroub asked, referring to Israel's decades-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Emirati-run Sheikh Zayed Book Award has also faced resignations and boycotts in the wake of the normalisation deal.

The prize offers 750,000 dirhams ($204,000) per category winner.

Moroccan poet Mohammed Bennis quit the award's organising committee after a decade in protest.

"My first role is to defend the value of freedom and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who now find themselves isolated and alone," Bennis told the FT.

Earlier this year, 80 prominent Arab filmmakers, artists and musicians signed an open letter pledged a boycott of all Emirati state-funded cultural events.

Support for normalisation deals met between Israel and states including the UAE and Bahrain this year is sparse in the Arab world.

Arab nations have historically refrained from forming diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with Israel out of solidarity with the Palestinians.

In recent years, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has also gained traction in Western nations.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected