11

Conclusion

'We have no theatre, no cinema, no research, no education. We have only festivals
and conferences and a trunkful of lies.' (Ṣun‛ Allāh Ibrāhīm, on rejecting an Egyptian
Higher Council for Culture award in 2003)

The preceding chapters have attempted to describe some of the main ways in which the literature of the Arab world has developed over the last two hundred years or so, since the time when the existing literary traditions of the Middle East outlined in the first chapter first became exposed on a large scale to the different literary forms of the West. The resulting 'revival', or nahḍa, centred initially in Egypt and Greater Syria, and greatly stimulated by the input of Arab émigrés to North and South America, has led to the emergence of a modern literature that has seen an Arab writer, Najīb Maḥfūẓ, win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. As the preceding chapters have also shown, however, the path has been a far from smooth one. Literature in different areas of the Arab world has developed in different ways and at different rates, closely dependent on the political, social and cultural traditions of the individual regions. So great, indeed, have been these differences that some critics have questioned whether there is such a thing as 'Arabic literature' (as opposed to 'Egyptian literature', 'Tunisian literature' etc.) at all and although, put in this form, the question may be no more than a debating point, it remains true that many Arab writers at times seem almost 'parochial', little concerned (the Arab-Israeli dispute excepted) with the wider Middle East outside their own individual countries.

What, then, of the future? By the nature of things, any survey of a contemporary literature must be an unfinished story. Of the three main genres which this book has discussed, the future outlook for poetry and imaginative prose seems in little doubt: the Arab world can boast an increasing number of imaginative and creative writers of novels and short stories, and although it is perhaps less easy to identify the leading figures in the next generation of poets, poetry in the Middle East continues to flourish and enjoy an esteem seldom paralleled in the West. The future for the drama seems perhaps less certain: despite the vigour of the theatre in certain periods and countries, despite the emergence of contemporary playwrights such as Lenin al-Ramlī in Egypt, and despite the

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