A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Could Arabs Win TWO Nobels This Year?

There has been a lot of speculation that the Nobel Peace Prize could go to one or more figures associated with the "Arab spring," and several (Esraa Abdel Fattah, Wael Ghonim, and others from Egypt and Tunisia) are known to have been nominated; somewhat less attention has been paid to the fact that "Arab spring" and the uprising in Syria could also be driving the decision on the Nobel Prize in Literature, where the Syrian poet Adonis is considered a front runner.

We'll be finding out later this week; if Arabs take both prizes, the Arab world will doubtless be proud, but the message will also be that the Nobel committees are awarding the prizes for the changes taking place, not the old regimes. Previous Arab winners of the Peace Prize were both political leaders and shared the prize with Israelis (Anwar Sadat and Menahem Begin in 1978; Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994); awarding it to a symbol of the youth movement would be a significant symbolic message to the established regimes still clinging to power. (I should probably root for Abdel Fattah, as she'll be receiving an award at the MEI Banquet next month.)

There is a political message as well if the Literature award does go to Adonis, as the great Syrian poet has been an outspoken critic of the Asad regime and has supported the uprising there. He is also an obvious candidate, as perhaps the most prominent living Arab poet. The only previous Arab winner of the Literature prize was the great Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, in 1988; Adonis is said to have been a contender back then as well, and, at 81, the window of opportunity may be closing. Like Mahfouz, Adonis is a symbol of modernity and a secularist. (The award to Mahfouz led to much more of his work being translated into English, making him far better known in the West.)

The Literature Award will be announced Thursday and the Peace Prize on Friday, so we'll know soon.

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