Once again, our friends at Arabic Literature (in English) are drawing attention to the plight of yet another writer held by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was arrested by Saudi authorities on January 1, 2014 — charged with “insulting the Godly self and having long hair” — and has yet to face trial.

ashrafFor the last year, Fayadh has been detained in the Saudi city of Abha without clear legal charges beyond having “ideas that do not suit the Saudi society,” based on a reader’s complaint about Fayadh’s 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within.The poet was also detained in the summer of 2013 after a Saudi citizen filed a complaint with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, accusing Fayadh of having “misguided and misguiding thoughts.” At that time, Fayadh was released. But then, on New Year’s Day, he was re-arrested.Last February, a hundred Arab writers and thinkers signed a petition condemning “these acts of intimidation targeting Ashraf Fayadh as part of a wider campaign inciting hate against writers and using Islam to justify oppression and to crush free speech.”Many Saudis and others expressed solidarity on Twitter.

But after an initial hubbub around Fayadh’s arrest, there has largely been silence. In an effort to raise the volume again, activist-scholar Mona Kareem has started a translation movement. Emirati commentator Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi has translated the first section, “Asylum” from Fayadh’s Instructions Within:

Asylum: To stand at the end of a queue..To be given a morsel of bread.To stand!: Something your grandfather used to do.. Without knowing the reason why.The Morsel?: You.

The homeland: A card to put in your wallet.

Money: Papers that carry images of Leaders.

The Photo: Your substitution pending your return.

And the Return: A mythological creature … from your grandmother’s tales.

End of the first lesson.

اللجوء: أنتقففيآخرالصف..


الوقوف: شيءكانيفعلهجدك.. دونمعرفةالسبب!

والكسرة: أنت.

الوطن: بطاقةتوضعفيمحفظةالنقود.

النقود: أوراقترسمعليهاصورالزعماء.

الصورة: تنوبعنكريثماتعود.

والعودة: كائنأسطوري.. وردفيحكاياتالجدة.




If you’re interested in participating in any way, join the Facebook group Freedom for Ashraf Fayadh.


Watch an interview with Fayadh’s father on France 24

Mona Kareem’s Global Voices report on Fayadh’s detention

Catalogue of exhibition Ashraf Fayyadh co-curated at the 55th Venice biennale in 2013 

Petition for Fayadh’s release, on Jadaliyya 

The poem “Frida Kahlo’s Moustache” (Arabic)

In Vice: “The Saudi Arabian Artist in Jail For Having Long Hair