Lucien de Samosate le Syrien
the first (unofficial) Arab science fiction conference
Kawthar Ayed reports on the first unofficial conference (June 2007) on Arabic SF which itself turned out to be a preliminary to the forthcoming first official event
The first conference of Arab science fiction, subtitled 'the science fiction of Arab nations', took place in Damas in Syria on the 3rd and 4th June, 2007. Its actual title bore the name of Lucien de Samosate; after the Syrian, who was born in the 2nd century when eastern Turkey was part of Syria, and whose tale A True Story concerned a voyage to the Moon: he was therefore one of early proto-SF authors.
In his opening speech the conference organiser, Taleb Omran, emphasised the value of promoting SF literature within Arabic culture and the need for recognising important Arabic SF works. Science Fiction is, according to Taleb Omran, providing a perspective of the world that makes it possible to re-interpret politics and scientific developments and so express concerns.
Subsequent speakers tended to take a genre perspective that compared Arabic SF to that of its Anglophone western equivalents. During the conference's two days many aspects of Arabic SF were discussed. For example, the genre's remote origins compared to mainstream literature, its terminology as well as the distinction between SF and fantasy. The translation of terms into other languages was also an issue, and here how Arabic SF novels might be translated into French and English compared to their non-SF counterparts. In addition, the question of scientific and political prediction was considered of great interest: indeed the connection with science and technology was frequently returned to during discussions. The speakers were hugely appreciated by the audience. Authors, such as Sherif Nihad, Taleb Omran, Teba Al Ebrahim, Lina Keilany and Salah Maati, told of their experiments in writing.
The conference itself came under the aegis of the Ministry for Culture. Indeed the Minister himself gave the opening speech in which he defended science fiction as a worthy genre and claimed a personal interest in such writing. The Minister for Culture made reference to Nihad Cherif, the pioneer of Arabic SF and who wrote its first novels of SF in the 1970s as well as radio broadcasts on science fiction. Indeed one of his works was adapted by Egyptian cinema in 1985. Homage was also paid to a Syrian critic of Arabic SF, Mouhammad Azzam, due to his many SF commentaries.
The conference attracted quite a bit of media attention with both newspaper and television coverage. Authors and SF specialists were invited during the conference to take part in a live broadcast so as to involve the public. Talks were also recorded and made available in the time for a weekly TV programme on science fiction presented by Taleb Omran.
Taleb Omran, who is himself an SF author, announced in the event's closing speech the idea of organising (with Lina Keilany) the first proper Arabic SF convention to follow this event (which then naturally became a preliminary one). The announcement generated many ideas and suggestions and made for a lively finale. The next immediate task is for a charter is to be drafted so as to determine goals and administrative procedures. This second conference would be held in six months time and officially celebrate the birth of Arabic SF conventions. But it will not be solely confined to participants from the Arab world but will welcome Western participants so as to establish bridges with other parts of the international SF community. Of course not all this second event's preparations were finalised. For example the exact topics on the programme needed to be worked out so that there is no overlap of similar issues being addressed at the same time.
With regards to the facilities available to the preliminary conference, these were excellent. The accommodation was good and well-placed near the centre of town. This allowed us, after the conference, to see sites and for one of us to visit Damas' neighbouring areas. Overall the event was impressive. I have in the past attended SF events in Tunisia, France, Spain and so forth, but nowhere with such a reception, nor such broadmindedness.
My Personal opinion is that this preliminary conference was very successful especially with it being a first of the kind; and it is thanks to the enormous efforts, largely creditable, of Taleb Omran and its team that the organization was exemplary. An excellence that can only prepare the advent of other happenings on greater scale. I was sincerely very agreeably surprised.
Kawthar Ayed is in the third year of her postgraduate studies at the Universities of Aix-en-Provence (France) and Sousse (Tunisia). She is examining the expression of crises in western and Arabic literature. The article was originally submitted in French, so any problems with this translation are due to those of us editing the Concat site and not Kwathar.
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