Dystopian, but make it Arab

Arab authors have long found a place in dystopian literature, though not with mainstream success with Western audiences, for the most part.

However, some Arab authors have had success in writing dystopian novels set in Middle Eastern cultures and countries, and have been delivering on that front. As Kuwait-born novelist Saleem Haddad said, “There’s a shift away from realism, which has dominated Arabic literature.”

Here’s a list of dystopian novels written by Arab authors.

Set against the backdrop of a failed political uprising, The Queue is a chilling debut that evokes Orwellian dystopia, Kafkaesque surrealism, and a very real vision of life after the Arab Spring.

In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer…

Palestine + 100 poses a question to twelve Palestinian writers: what might your country look like in the year 2048 – a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba? How might this event – which, in 1948, saw the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes – reach across a century of occupation, oppression, and political isolation, to shape the country and its people? Will a lasting peace finally have been reached, or will future technology only amplify the suffering and mistreatment of Palestinians?

Iraq + 100 poses a question to contemporary Iraqi writers: what might your home city look like in the year 2103 – exactly 100 years after the disastrous American and British-led invasion of Iraq? How might that war reach across a century of repair and rebirth, and affect the state of the country – its politics, its religion, its language, its culture – and how might Iraq have finally escaped its chaos, and found its own peace, a hundred years down the line? As well as being an exercise in escaping the politics of the present, this anthology is also an opportunity for a hotbed of contemporary Arabic writers to offer its own spin on science fiction and fantasy.

In this pithy, powerful parable, the masterly Naguib Mahfouz explores life’s secrets and the mysterious maze of the human heart–a mystical and lyrical Pilgrim’s Progress set in a mythical, timeless Middle East.

2025: fourteen years after the failed revolution, Egypt is invaded once more. As traumatized Egyptians eke out a feral existence in Cairo’s dusty downtown, former cop Ahmed Otared joins a group of fellow officers seeking Egypt’s liberation through the barrel of a gun.

As Cairo becomes a foul cauldron of drugs, sex, and senseless violence, Otared finally understands his country’s fate.

In this unflinching and grisly novel, Mohammad Rabie envisages a grim future for Egypt, where death is the only certainty.

Aber scrapes a living in a Beirut hospital morgue by night, stealing from both the bodies he tends and his bosses. But he has a dark history that continues to haunt him. During the civil war, he fled his village for Beirut and, lost in the big city, joined a political party to survive. When he is kidnapped from the hospital, he knows he has not escaped his past and the many crimes he witnessed. But what or who is still chasing him?

Khaled Mamoun works at the Palace of Confessions, a mysterious state-run security agency located in middle-class Cairo, transcribing the testimonies of criminals. At one interrogation, he encounters Mustafa Ismail: a university professor turned master thief, who breaks into the homes of the great and the good and then blackmails them into silence.
Mustafa has dedicated his existence to the perfection of his trade and authored a book titled The Book of Safety, the ultimate guide to successful thievery, containing everything from philosophical principles to the best way to open a door.
Yasser Abdel Hafiz’s beautiful and deceptively effortless novel tracks Khaled’s descent into obsession with this mysterious book and its author, in a narrative that holds us spellbound.

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