PEN enters the Arab world

November 2006 -

In 2004 Danish PEN proposed an Algerian member in the board of International PEN, since the Arab world was very little represented. At that time PEN centres only existed in Egypt, Algeria and a very passive one in Libanon, besides Palestine and Morocco were about to start.

“The international agenda was dominated by the contradicitions between the Arab world and the West. We wanted to talk with - not to - the Arab world”, says Anders Jerichow, the head of Danish PEN.

The Arab centres were more interested in dialogue with the West than with their Arab neighbours, whom they could meet regularly. They wanted an exchange of cultures - to receive new ideas from the West in exchange for Arab perspectives.

“Besides, it was more convenient for The Arab countries to deal with Scandinavian countries than the super or colonial powers”, Anders Jerichow says.

Earlier PEN centres could not exist in countries like Iran, Irak, Syria, Tunesia due to the oppressive regimes and lack of cultural environments.

“The literary circles in the Arab countries were rather small, and the knowledge about literature across the Scandinavian/Arab countries was little due to few book translations. Besides, the possibilities of publishing for the small Arab publishers were limited. Economic reasons combined with the lack of Western interest in Arab literature caused the ignorance of the others’ culture”, Jerichow says.

The financing of the meetings among the Scandinavian and Arab partners originates from the Danish-Egyptian Dialog Center in Cairo. Besides the Anna Lindh Foundation will propably finance a conference in Algeria ultimo 2007 about translations of books from both parts of the world. A common book project ‘Mirrors of perception’ about how the others’ culture is reflected in the others’ literature will be published in early 2007. And a webside will be launched in English/Arabic on the Scandinavian-Arab initiative. New PEN centres will eventually open in Jordan and Tunesia after the next PEN congres in Senegal in 2007 and later in Irak, the Emirates and Bahrain.