North Africa (Maghreb)
The Maghreb is the name that Arab writers and geographers gave to the region north of the Sahara which, for Europeans, corresponded to Barbary or Africa Minor, and for Ibn Khaldoun, to the Berber zones before the seventh-century Arab conquest. Nowadays, the term is much more specific but not fully unequivocal. As opposed to the Mashreq (i.e., the place of the rising sun), which covers all Arab lands east of Egypt, the Maghreb (i.e., the place of the setting sun) refers to the westernmost fringes of the Arab world in northwestern Africa. At the height of Arab Muslim rule in the medieval Mediterranean, the Maghreb used to denote not only northern Africa but also Sicily and Spain. Given that the word Maghreb in Arabic comes from the root gharb (“west”), it has at times been used sweepingly in reference to different regions west of the Arab peninsula. Hence, the association between the Maghreb and the West in the Mashreqi imagination has enjoyed an enduring resonance throughout Arab history and did not fully diminish after either the collapse of Arab rule in Europe nor of European rule in the Maghreb.
Because it is the Arabic word for Morocco, Arabic writers have reserved the expression al-Maghreb al-Aqsa for Morocco and al-Maghreb al-Kabir for the Greater Maghreb. Whether in English or French, the word Maghreb is synonymous with what is called in Arabic the Greater Maghreb. As to what specific countries (should) constitute the Maghreb, or the Greater Maghreb, this remains an unresolved issue, continually rehearsed by scholars depending on their own political, disciplinary, and methodological approaches and purposes. Sometimes the Maghreb is used interchangeably with the whole of North Africa (at times with and at others without Egypt in the mix); most commonly, however, the geopolitical reach of the term is considerably narrowed down to include only Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—the three countries whose common colonial experience has been thought, particularly among Francophone scholars in the U.S. and elsewhere, to have fostered their decolonial affinities and solidarities and, later, postcolonial ties to their former colonizer, France. While it is understandable why Libya, being a former Italian colony, is left out of this Francophone trio, the reasons why Mauritania, a former French colony, has been routinely overlooked have never been fully accounted for.
On 17 Feb. 1989, the leaders of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia met in Marrakesh and officially signed a treaty creating Ittihad al-Maghreb al-Arabi, the Union du Maghreb Arabe (Arab Maghreb Union, or UMA). Although UMA is still a frail geopolitical and economic entity, it has gone a long way toward promoting fraternal and cooperative relations between the five Maghrebian countries. Bilateral relations between, for instance, Libya and Tunisia, on the one hand, and Algeria and Morocco, on the other, underwent various crises from the 1970s onward before they improved by the late 1980s. The abortive union between Tunisia and Libya in 1974 wrecked interstate relations between the two countries for several years. The dispute between Algeria and Morocco over the fate of the Western Sahara (which was abandoned by Spain in 1975) resulted in a breaking-off of diplomatic relations between the two countries for a dozen years. The Western Sahara question deteriorated into a continual cold war between Algeria and Morocco, resulting in UMA's patent failure to make any substantial progress in establishing a common economic market in the Maghreb. Economically, the member states of UMA compete among themselves for partnership with Europe rather than partner each other against European hegemony. Culturally, the Maghreb is thriving: many pan-Maghreb projects such as Nessma TV are now bringing into dialogue the dialects and cultures of UMA member countries.
The Arabic novel owes its beginnings, in good part, to East—West intellectual and crosscultural encounters and exchanges through, among other factors, travel, colonial contact, and translation. While the different motives behind these encounters can be discerned retrospectively through, for instance, the lenses of Orientalism or Occidentalism, the literary and cultural entanglements they (must have) produced remain hardly mappable into a master historiographical narrative from which a genealogy of the novel proper can be reconstructed. Early Arab literary narratives—such as the eighth-century Kalila wa Dimna, a volume of animal fables of Indian origins, which Ibn al-Muqaffa’ translated from Persian into Arabic; the maqamat or chivalric tales of Hamadhani and Hariri in the tenth and eleventh centuries, respectively; the twelfth-century philosophical tale Hayy Ibn Yuqzan (Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yuqzan) by the Andalusian physician and philosopher Ibn Tufayl; and, particularly, Alf layla wa-layla (The Thousand and One Nights), an authorless narrative that spans geographies and centuries—had variably informed the rise of the novel in Europe from Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quixote (1605, 1615) and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719—22) to Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759—67) and beyond. The early Arab novels (at least in their ostensibly formless or searching forms in the second half of the nineteenth century) were, in turn, informed by the gradual development, translation, and dissemination of the novel in and outside Europe from the eighteenth century onward. As such, the novel emerges less as the property of one geopolitical or sociocultural sphere of production and influence than as the materialization of transformational and generative entanglements—really, the crystallization of transcultural and transnational collaborative endeavors.
The Arab novels that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century were wittingly or unwittingly inclined to reconcile between the westward and eastward or inward strains and constraints by which they were shaped and to which they in turn gave concrete shape. This bidirectional impulse has largely animated the various novels of this period, namely: Kahlil Khoury's Oui...idhen lastu bi-Ifranji (1859, Yes...So I am not a Frank); Salim al-Bustani's Al-Hiyam fi Jinan al-Sham (1870, At a Loss in the Levantine Gardens); Francis Marrash's Ghabat al-haqq (1865, The Forest of Truth); Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq's Al-Saq ala al-saq (1855, Leg upon Leg); and Muhammad al-Muwailihi's Hadith Isa ibn Hisham (1907, Isa ibn Hisham's Tale). In addition to Khalil Gibran's Al-Ajniha al-mutakassira (1912, Broken Wings) and Muhammad Husayn Haykal's Zaynab (1914), almost each of the above novels has at one point or another been claimed as the first Arabic novel, which goes to suggest that the Arabic novel emerged from several rehearsals and multiple beginnings rather than from one single origin. Given that the very Arabic word riwaya, which is now used exclusively in reference to the “novel,” has traditionally conjured up a tangle of narrative genres such as hadith (prophetic tradition), sira (prophetic biography), hikaya (tale), and maqama (in which authorial transmission or riwaya of speeches, stories, reports, and news, or akhbar, is central), it might not be unfair to contend that the Arabic novel owes its early formation not only to the appropriation of the novel genre from Europe—a widely accepted view by Edward W. Said and Mohamed Berrada, among others—but also, and more importantly, to the revival and transformation of traditional narrative genres in the wake of Napoleon's 1798 expedition into Egypt and the Arab world's firsthand encounter with industrialized imperial Europe.
The pioneers of the Arabic novel were part and parcel of the experimental ventures of the nineteenth-century nahda—the largely intellectual movement that sought to revive and reinvigorate Arab culture by assimilating European modernity and resurrecting forgotten Arab modernity (following, as it were, three centuries of Ottoman rule). Little surprise, then, that Nasif al-Yaziji, al-Shidyaq, al-Muwailihi, and Hafiz Ibrahim, to name only a few, returned to the maqama in order to write novels. While for Abdelfattach Kilito al-Muwailihi's Hadith Isa ibn Hisham concludes the transition of Arabic prose from the maqama to the novel, ridding the latter from the stylistic adornments and constraints of the former, it can be argued that the Arabic novel has not fully abandoned all the formal aspects of the maqama. Elias Khoury's experimental novels, for instance, rely heavily on episodic narration across orality and textuality, and Ahlam Mosteghanemi's trilogy is an exercise in saja’, or rhymed prose, weaving together idiomatic neologisms and elaborate rhetoric across poetry and prose. It might be the case that the colonial scramble for the Arab world in the long nineteenth century pushed some Arab novelists to turn to traditional forms of expression such as the maqama as acts of resistance to European cultural hegemony, but the fact remains that the Arabic novel as such never quite flourished at the time when major parts of the Arab world had been under unchallenged colonial rule. Poetry, that oldest form of Arab literary expression, continued to reign supreme. It was not until decolonial struggles gained momentum across the Arab world that Arab novelists felt warranted not only to appropriate the novel as a form of decolonial expression but also the very language of the colonizer itself. This is most noticeably the case with the Maghreb, whose placement in the Arab Muslim world and submission to a very long French (and, to a lesser degree, Italian and Spanish) colonial domination produced a rich tradition of novel writing, along with some of the most compelling debates about the postcolonial or Third-World novel in relation to questions of language, ethnicity, modernity, culture, nation, decolonization, and a host of other issues.
Twilight Colonialism, Decolonial Novelism
The novel in the Maghreb emerged de facto during the decolonial struggles that started to take shape in the early twentieth century and gained momentum after WWII. Much like Jurji Zaydan, Salim al-Bustani, Farah Antoun, and Numan Abduh al-Qasatili, all of whom variably turned to the past glories of Arabs and Muslims to write HISTORICAL novels writ large, the pioneers of the novel in the Maghreb were no exception to this overall trend that accompanied the rise of the novel in Egypt and the Levant in the late nineteenth century. In addition to translations from French, Spanish, and Russian (e.g., Leo Tolstoy was introduced to Tunisian Arabic readers in 1911), the beginning of the Maghrebian novel occurred in Tunisia at the hands of writers of historical novels or social romances, including Saleh al-Souissi, Al-Haifa wa Siraj al-Lail (1906, Haifa and Siraj al-Lail); Al-Sadiq al-Rizgi, Al-Sahira al-Tounisiyya (1910, literally, The Tunisian enchantress); and, particularly, Ali al-Dou’aji—Jawla hawla hanat al-bahr al-mutawassit (1935, A Tour around the Mediterranean Taverns). This early generation of Tunisian and Maghrebian novelists wrote at the crossroads of narrative genres, particularly at a time when what is now called “novel” used to mean qissa tawila (long story) as opposed to qissa qasira (short story). If we abide by this distinction—and bear in mind the many lost or unpublished novelistic manuscripts as a result of the colonial clampdown on Arabic writings and publications at the turn-of-the-century Maghreb—a long list of pioneering novelists may be drawn up, including Zine al-’Abidine Al-Senussi, Sliman al-Jadawi, Muhammed al-Habib, Muhammed Fahmi Ben Sha’ban, and Hasan Hosni Abdelwaheb, who wrote Amiratu Gharnata (The Princess of Granada) as early as 1905.
A much more bold development of the novel in the Maghreb takes place in the 1930s and 1940s—the two decades that consolidated the decolonial struggles that would bring about the demise of colonialism by the late 1950s and early 1960s from the entirety of the Maghrebian countries. In Tunisia, the Neo-Destur (or New Constitutional) party led by Habib Bourguiba appealed to the masses and became the center for the broad-based Tunisian independence movement Jama’at tahta al-sur (literally, against-the-wall group), which brought together a heterogeneous number of intellectuals, helped raise awareness about the colonial condition through regular meetings and debates organized in a popular café; Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi (1909—34), one active member of the Jama’a, wrote “Iradit al-hayat” (The will to life), a poem that became a rallying cry against oppression across the Arab world; several periodicals, newspapers, and magazines offered timely outlets for translations of European fiction and for the creative output of several early Tunisian novelists from al-Dou’aji to al-Bashir Khrayyif. Apart from al-Dou’aji, whose narrative skills would inspire generations of Tunisian writers, Mahmoud al-Messadi helped found a singular tendency of novelism in the Maghreb that remains unequalled to this day. Educated at the Sorbonne and immersed in the Arabic literary heritage, al-Messadi wrote unclassifiable novels, cutting across several genres, including quissa, hadith, maqama, drama, and Islamic existential philosophy. Al-Sudd (The dam, wr. 1939—40, pub. 1955) is an inimitable work whose elegant language (using saj’), imagery, and rhetorical power combined to make it into an exceptional phenomenon in the history of the Arabic novel. Like al-Shabbi's poem, Al-Sudd dramatizes human will, creativity, and transformational generative powers; it is a subtle allegory of empowerment in the face of the colonial policies of francisation that would diminish Arabic literacy in certain parts of the Maghreb. Like Al-Sudd, Haddatha Abu Hurayra Qal (Thus Spake Abu Hurayra) and Mawlid al-Nisyan (The Genesis of Forgetting) were all written in the 1930s and 1940s, partly serialized in the literary review Al-mabahith, but not published in full until the early 1970s. By this time, however, not only would al-Messadi have become the minister of culture in post-independence Tunisia and devoted himself fully to the reformation (and Arabization/Arabicization) of the educational system, but he would have already passed the torch to several other budding novelists. While his intellectual vision and influence cannot be overstated, al-Messadi's writing style constitutes a rare trend in modern Arabic literature.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Tunisian novel developed further along the historical and social realist lines of prose fiction inaugurated by al-Rizgi and al-Dou’aji at the turn of the twentieth century. Three of the more notable novelists of this period are without a doubt al-Bashir Khrayyif, Muhammad La’roussi al-Matwi, and Muhammad Salih al-Jabiri. While he wrote numerous short stories and novels and published to great acclaim his historical novel, Barq Al-Layal (which is a knight's name—literally, “lightning of the night”) in 1961, Khrayyif is more commonly known for Al-digla fi ’arajiniha (Dates in their Branches). Published more than a decade after Tunisia's independence, the novel takes place in the south of Tunisia in the 1920s and chronicles the beginnings of syndicalism and the nationalist movement by focusing on the multifaceted struggles of the mineworkers, inventing, in the process, a language that vacillates seamlessly between Arabic fusha in narration and Tunisian darija in dialogue. Similarly, al-Matwi's novels of this period—Halima (1964), and, particularly, Al-Tut al-murr (1967, Bitter Blueberries)—are mostly situated in the south and stage both the struggle against colonialism as well as the misery of subaltern Tunisians. Al-Jabiri is an accomplished critic, novelist, and playwright. In addition to Al-Bahru yanshuru al-wahahu (1971, The Sea Scatters its Driftwood) and Laylat al-sanawat al-’ashr (1982, The Night of the Decade), his acclaimed debut novel Yawm min ayyam Zamra (1968, One Day in Zamra) sheds light on the popular uprisings against French rule even while it brings into relief the treason of local collaborators. Other novelists of this period who engaged with the question of national self-determination in tandem with the emancipation of women and other related issues such as the clash between the country and the city, migration, and experimental socialism include Abdel Qader Ben Shaikh in his Wa Nasibi min al-Ufuq (1970, My Share of the Horizon), Mustafa al-Farsi in Al-Mun’araj (1969, The Curve), Muhammad Rached al-Hamzawi in Bududa mat (1962, Boudouda Died), Omar ben Salem in Waha bila zilal (1979, Shadeless Oasis), and Al-Bashir Ben Slama in Aisha (1981). Of note also are the plethora of novels produced by, among others, Hammouda Karim al-Sherif, Abdelmajid ben Attia, Abdelaziz al-Sa’dawi, Abdelrahman Ammar, Muhammad al-Mokhtar Janat, Muhammad al-Dib ben Salem, Mohsen ben Diaf, Moheddine Ben Khalifa, and Muhammad al-Hadi ben Saleh. I would be remiss here not to mention such influential short-story writers as Hind Azzouz, Hasan Nasr and, particularly, Ezzeddine al-Madani, whose social realist and experimental style has been crucial to several Tunisian novelists who started writing after independence.
In the two decades that followed independence, the preoccupations of the Tunisian novel revolved around largely didactic and decolonial aims: it exposed sociocultural ills such as witchcraft, alcoholism, gambling, hypocrisy, and ignorance and engaged with (as well as mobilized Tunisians to engage with) the colonial legacy and its sedimentations. The same could be said about the novel in Morocco in the period that followed its independence in 1956. What is somewhat puzzling is that the Moroccan novel did not begin in earnest until the mid-1960s—when Abdelkrim Ghallab published Sab’at Abwab (1965, Seven gates) and, particularly, Dafanna al-Madi (1966, We Buried the Past) and Al-Mu’allim Ali (1971, Master Ali)—even though the conditions for an earlier beginning were present: Morocco did not become a French protectorate until 1912, more than thirty years after Tunisia submitted to a similar fate; therefore, it must have had access to Arabic sources of information from the Mashreq without the interposition of the kind of colonial censorship policies that were in place in Tunisia and Algeria. Be that as it may, there have been a few rehearsals of novel writing before Ghallab, which include autobiographical or semibiographical attempts by al-Tohami al-Wazzani (1942, Al-Zawiya; The Hermitage—literally, The Corner or The Cell), Ahmed Abelsalem al-Baqqal (1956, Ruwad al-majhoul; Pioneers of the Unknown), and Abdelmajid Benjelloun (1956, Fi al-tufula; On Childhood). The latter's novel resembles Taha Hussein's Al-Ayyam (1933, The Days) in its autobiographical and sentimental strain but lacks the critical maturity and satiric portrayal of Morocco that marks the autobiographical novels of Mohamed Choukri and Muhammad Zafzaf. In addition to Mubarak Rabi’ and Ghallab, it is with Choukri and Zafzaf that the Moroccan novel reaches the stage of social realism and becomes a vehicle of nationalist, political, and ideological aspirations, disenchantments, and harsh criticisms (particularly in the wake of the 1967 Arab nationalist setback and the successive 1971 and 1972 coups that sought to dethrone King Hassan II). No wonder, then, that Choukri and Zafzaf wrote novels that were routinely censored in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world because of their searing portrayals of social reality.
In the 1980s, the Moroccan novel tended toward experimentation in narrative form and theme and moved beyond the molds of social realist fiction and traditional styles of storytelling. Authors as various as Abdallah Laroui, Muhammad al-Haradi, Muhammad Ezzeddine al-Tazi, Al-Miloudi Shaghmoum, Muhammad al-Ash’ari, Mohamed Berrada, and Bensalem Himmich, among others, variably made use of stream of consciousness, polyphony, flashback, prolepsis, allegory, folktales, dreams, fantasy, history, mysticism, and philosophy in order to rediscover reality through mirrors rather than portray it through mimetic realism (see NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE). The same can be said about a number of Tunisian novelists in the 1980s, including Muhammad Tarshouna, Slaheddine Boujeh, Salimi al-Habib, and Aroussia al-Nalouti. There might not be much here that is specifically Moroccan or Tunisian about these techniques of novel writing beyond their local appropriations, but it is a feat of the Maghrebian novel that it compressed neatly the otherwise long stages of development of the European novel from REALISM to postmodernism. This accomplishment has been achieved on a smaller scale in Libya and Mauritania partly because both countries possess few (albeit important) novelists and partly because they are located on the outskirts of the Maghreb and, in the case of Mauritania, on the outskirts of both the Arab world and Black Africa.
Libya is the only country in the Maghreb to have submitted to Italian rather than to French rule and for the shortest period of time (1912—51). Yet, because Italian colonialism was averse to literacy (e.g., Mussolini built no schools), the emergence of the novel was retarded till the early 1970s (if we discount Huseen Zafer Ben Moussa's 1937 Mabrouka and Muhammad Farid Syala's 1961 I’tirafatu Insan, or Confessions of a Human Being, because of the controversies surrounding their publication, circulation, and censorship). Other post-independence novelists include Muhammad Ali Omar, who published two novels between 1962 and 1964, but the real beginning of the Libyan novel occurs after the dissolution of the monarchy during the 1969 revolution and with the foundation of the Union of Libyan Writers (which, ironically, transformed writers from forces of rebellion to advocates of the revolution), the establishment of new publishing houses, and the rise of such internationally acclaimed novelists as Al-Sadiq al-Nayhum, Khalifa Hussein Mustapha, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Faqih (a.k.a. Ahmed Fagih), and, particularly, Ibrahimal-Koni, whose novels brought Tuareg and desert culture to a worldwide readership, consolidating a trend of Maghrebian Sufi literature that was inaugurated by the writings of al-Messadi and carried on by several other novelists, particularly in Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania.
Mauritania is arguably the only Maghrebian country in which the novel is a true latecomer. Obtaining its independence in 1960 (albeit, ironically, not abolishing slavery until 1980), Mauritania remained true to its reputation as “the land of a million poets” (with poetry writing undertaken not only in classical Arabic (form) but also in Fulani, Wolof, and Soninke) until 1981 when Ahmed Ould Abdelqader, an accomplished poet himself, took it upon himself to pioneer the Mauritanian novel. He published Al-asma' al-mutaghayyira (The Changing Names) in 1981 and Al-qabr al-majhoul (The Unknown Grave) in 1984; both novels were critical of the Ould Daddah one-party system (1960—78), servility to France, and the vision of “Greater Mauritania,” which brought the country to near-collapse. While Tène Youssouf Guèye and Di ben Amar published novels in French in the 1980s, it was not until Moussa Ould Ebnou published L'amour impossible (Impossible Love) in 1990 and Barzakh in 1994 that the Mauritanian novel reached a stage of maturity in terms of its narrative form and thematic content. Ould Ebnou's novels bring into intimate collision philosophy and literature, myth and history, social realism and politics, and, above all, SCIENCE FICTION and mysticism (the former is a rarity in Arab literature and the latter a mark of the Maghrebian novel, according to Ghazoul). What is important to stress here is that Ould Ebnou wrote both novels in French first and then Arabicized—not translated—them himself under the titles of Al-hub al-mustahil (1999) for L'amour impossible and Madinat al-riyah (1996) for Barzakh.
Multilingualism and its Discontents
While in all the UMA member states discussed above the novel first appeared in Arabic, in Algeria it appeared in French. More than a dozen novels were published in the first half of the twentieth century by, among others, Seddik Ben El-Outa, Caid Ben Cherif, Abdelkader Hadj Hamou, Said Guennoun, Assia Zehar, Djamila Débêche, and Taos Amrouche. These pioneering novelists were critically neglected not only because they wrote in French but also because they wrote under the influence of the variably assimilationist or atavistic Latinism as well as Orientalist racism of colonialist French writers, namely Louis Bertrand, Robert Randau, and Louis Lecoq. Unlike these early novelists who were variably fascinated by and assimilated to French culture, the generation of Francophone novelists that emerged in the 1950s—including Mouloud Feraoun, Mouloud Mammeri, Mohammed Dib, Kateb Yacine, Assia Djebar, and Malek Haddad—had a strong commitment to Algerian independence and dramatized the experience of alienation, identitarian crisis, and anger against colonization. Many of these novelists and several others—namely Nabile Farès and Rachid Boujedra—went on to write in the following decade novels expressive of popular disenchantment and discontent with the FLN (National Liberation Front), whose transition from a revolutionary organization to a political organ was marred by cumulative factionalism and serial military dictatorships. It was not until the early 1970s when dozens of novels had already appeared in French that the Arabic novel emerged with the publication of Abdelhamid Ben Hadduga's Rih al-janoub (The South Wind) in 1971 and Tahir Wattar's Al-zilzal (The Earthquake) in 1974. In the decade that followed, a record number of more than sixty Arabic novels were published, including novels by the now canonized Wasini Laraj and Rachid Boujedra. By the early 1990s, Algeria would see the spectacular birth of its first Arabic woman novelist, Ahlam Mosteghanemi, whose Dhakirat al-jasad (1993, Memory in the Flesh) continues to be one of the most sold and widely read novels in the Arab world.
The delayed start of the Arabic novel in Algeria had been routinely attributed to the cultural and linguistic longevity of French settler colonialism from 1830 to 1962 and beyond; it should equally be attributed to the precolonial lack of centers for teaching Arabic and Islamic civilization such as the Zaytuna Mosque in Tunisia (founded in 732) or the Qarawiyin Mosque in Morocco (founded in 859), both of which ensured the endurance and cultivation of Arabic throughout the French colonial era. It is worth noting here that both Ben Hadduga and Wattar studied in the Zaytuna Mosque because of the lack of the infrastructure for teaching Arabic in colonial Algeria, where Arabic was legally a foreign language. Not unexpectedly, the FLN was eager after independence not only to make up for such a lack, but also to embark on a process of cultural Arabization and linguistic Arabicization which would fuel debates about language, ethnicity, and national identity among Arabophone, Berberphone, and Francophone communities in Algeria and across the Maghreb. Kateb Yacine, who famously claimed that he wrote in French to tell the French he was not French, would abandon French shortly after independence and devote himself completely to creating drama in the Algerian dialect; Malek Haddad would also reject French only to withdraw into silence for the rest of his life, given that he could not write in Arabic (and, hence, becomes, in the eyes of Mosteghanemi, “a martyr of the Arabic language”); Rachid Boujedra, however, would successfully switch to writing in Arabic after fulfilling his contractual obligations and producing six novels in French; in 1981, he published Al-tafakkuk and translated it into French as Le Démantèlement (1982, The Dismantling). During the Algerian civil war between the army-led government and FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) in the 1990s, the choice of the language of expression was not inconsequential, since Francophone writers and journalists were routinely targeted for assassination (e.g., Tahar Djaout and Youssef Sebti) and forced into exile (e.g., Boujedra, Djebar, Mammeri, and Rachid Mimouni).
The joined-up forces of Arab nationalism (’uruba) and Arabicization (ta’rib)—which promised the political unity of the Maghreb and the Mashreq on the basis of the extraterritorial bonds of language, culture, and history—sought to eradicate French from public life and restore Arabic throughout the Maghreb and particularly Algeria where a fatwa (a religious decree or ruling) against teachers of French went hand-in-hand with a massive recruitment policy of teachers of Arabic from the Mashreq. Although it was officially reduced to a foreign language—and although Algeria routinely declined membership in the Organization internationale de la francophonie—French has continued to dominate daily and weekly newspapers, education, and government (Abdelaziz Bouteflika's first national speech in April 1999 was in French), which leaves largely unfulfilled the promise of national unity on the basis of language (all the more so given the Berber resurgences and defiance of the post-independence clampdown on Amazigh studies and indigenous languages). Since the imposition of Arabic as the national language, the Francophone Algerian novel has flourished beyond expectations, as if Algerian novelists were energized by the paradox of writing in the colonizer's language—really, a language whose semblance of underdog status in postcolonial Algeria only matched its legitimizing and marketing powers in Paris. Boudjedra, the enfant terrible of the Algerian novel, reverted back to writing in French in the wake of the Algerian civil war and in such nonfiction works as FIS de la haine (1992, The FIS of Hatred) and Lettres algériennes (1995, Algerian Letters). Surely, the Algerian civil war has provoked a novelistic insurgency of sorts, yet it is Paris that provided the incentive: many exiled Francophone novelists such as Yasmina Khadra, Malika Mokeddem, and Leila Sebbar produced their novels at a secure distance from the events in Algeria and catered for the thirst for knowledge about the war that had struck the French public sphere and which the publishing industry capitalized on.
The Francophone Algerian novel has derived its legitimacy, at least in part, from its marketability. Yet it does not suffice to write in French to be marketable. With few notable exceptions (Tahar Ben Jelloun, Driss Chraibi, Abdellatif Laâbi, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Mustapha Tlili, and Albert Memmi), the Moroccan and Tunisian Francophone novel has generally garnered less attention than its Algerian counterpart. In fact, during the Algerian civil war, Orientalist and marketing calculations combined to valorize the Francophone Algerian novel (almost beyond measure) and simultaneously ignore the Francophone Tunisian and Moroccan novel produced at the same time. The same scenario replayed itself in the wake of 9/11, when not only the Francophone but also the Anglophone world became thirsty for knowledge about Islam and Islamism. Several Francophone novelists (e.g., Slimane Benaissa, Zahia Rahmani, Salim Bachi, and Yasmina Khadra) felt warranted in writing 9/11 novels because of their vicarious or firsthand experiences of the Algerian civil war. I do not wish to undermine the value of these novelists or their novels, but any discussion of the novel in the Maghreb must confront at the outset the technologies of literary value which are inevitably entangled with questions of language, geopolitics, and marketing.
Despite the ideologies of Arabization and Arabicization, the multilingualism of the Maghreb has challenged the continuum of language and nationalism (see NATIONAL), yet by no means should it undermine the politics of language choice, particularly when such politics is dramatized, displaced, or resolved at the level of narrative poetics as is the case, most notably, in Assia Djebar's and Abdelkebir Khatibi's novels. Today, the novel in the Maghreb is truly multilingual, yet with profound power asymmetries between Arabic, French, Berber, and English. Hence, multilingualism is also another word for competitive or insulated monolingualisms, particularly made worse by the lack of translations between languages. For instance, while the Tunisian novelistic tradition is the oldest in the Maghreb, not even a handful of novels have—at this time, one decade into the twenty-first century—been translated from Arabic into English.
In addition to the Arabophone and Francophone novel, which continues to flourish consistently, the Maghrebian novel is consolidating itself in France with the emergence of such immigrant and Beur (French verlan slang for Arab) novelists as Leila Sebbar, Mehdi Charef, Azouz Begag, Farida Belghoul, Faïza Guène, Tassadit Imache, Akli Tadjer, and harki (Algerian soldiers loyal to France) novelists like Zahia Rahmani, Dalila Kerchouche, and Brahim Sadouni. Maghrebian novelists such as the Moroccan Anouar Majid and Laila Lalami, the Tunisian Sabiha al-Khemir and the Libyan Hisham Matar have written successful novels in English; indeed, Matar's In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. Other immigrant Maghrebian novelists have taken up writing in a multitude of languages, including Italian (Nassera Chora, Abdelmalek Smari, and Amara Lakhous), Spanish (Najat El Hachmi and Saïd El Kadaoui) and Dutch (Fouad Laroui and Abdelkader Benali). If anything, the multilingualism of the Maghrebian novel might attest to the attenuation of the politics of language, which might, in turn, be a price willingly paid—provided the Maghrebian novel begins to be approached comparatively rather than exclusively from a French and Francophone perspective, which is the ongoing practice in North American universities, or from an equally exclusive Arabophone perspective, which is largely the case in departments of Arabic across the Arab world.
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