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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

The Haze of Desire: Exploring Narration, Gender Politics, and Social Critique in Ahmed Abdo’s “The Enamoured Demon-Possessed”


Hatem Al-Shamea Seeking Cures on Arduous Roads: Postcolonial Analysis of Healthcare and Infrastructure in Arafat Musleh’s “Exhausting Rides”


Ahmed Abdo’s novel “The Enamoured Demon-Possessed” opens with a dense, dreamlike passage brimming with poetic imagery and uncertain reality. The excerpt’s haziness invites literary examination of its unreliable narration, subtextual gender politics, and subtle social commentary. Drawing on postmodern narrative theory, feminist criticism, and postcolonial analysis reveals multilayered themes around perception, repressive patriarchal structures, and communal power dynamics. Ultimately, Abdo’s lyrical, metaphorical style problematizes tangible truth while offering an atmospheric portrait of a traditional village grappling with modernity’s encroachments.

The Labyrinth of Perspective

At its core, the opaque and uncertain nature of the passage stems from its limited, subjective narrative perspective that obscures factual reality. Literary theorist Wayne C. Booth coined the term “unreliable narrator” to describe narrators whose version of events seems questionable or untrustworthy (158). Ahmed Abdo’s unnamed narrator fits this model, as his feverish focus and obvious obsession with the village woman Faten seems to reveal more about his own psyche than any definitive events.

As narrative scholar James Phelan outlines, unreliability frequently manifests when there is a disconnect between the narrator’s perceptions and the implied, accurate version of events (150). This disconnect clearly proliferates in Abdo’s fragmented, dreamlike vignette. The narrator is consumed with ambiguous visions of Faten and other village women accusing him of sexually infiltrating their dreams. But it remains entirely unclear whether these acts actually occurred or are simply a paranoid figment of the narrator’s imagination.

Phelan further notes that unreliable narration opens up an interpretive gap between “what narrators say or think and what authors want readers to understand” (150). Abdo’s intentional opacity of narrative truth encourages the reader to closely analyze the gaps between the narrator’s clearly distorted perspective and reality. When overlaying the concept of the male gaze from feminist criticism, the narrator’s obsessive fixation on the women’s physical beauty and allure seems to reveal more about his own warped psychology than any reliable truth about the female characters themselves.

Through both postmodern and psychoanalytic lenses, the metafictional uncertainties woven into the narrator’s perspective reflect the innate difficulty of ever obtaining stable, objective truth and singular meaning in storytelling (McHale 84). The narrator himself even admits “words” can “lead to confusion” in attempting to distinguish reality from imagination. Abdo’s narrative technique purposefully problematizes and subverts assigning clear narrative authority or reliable fact, inviting analytic questioning of the narrator’s descriptions.

Patriarchal Gazes and Female Objectification

A central theme that emerges from close analysis of Ahmed Abdo’s novel excerpt is the unnamed narrator’s consistently patriarchal framing of female characters through an objectifying, sexualized male gaze. Drawing extensively on feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s paradigm of the “male gaze,” this section will delve deeper into how the narrator’s descriptive language regarding the village women reflects androcentric scopophilia and commodification of the female body under rural patriarchal norms.

In her influential 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Mulvey critiqued how classical Hollywood films are crafted to satisfy the heterosexual male viewer’s voyeuristic pleasure in visually consuming eroticized female bodies displayed on screen for his enjoyment. She argues the camera’s perspective in these movies reflects the innate pleasure men derive from “looking” at the female form, reducing women to passive “to-be-looked-at-ness” and suppressing their subjectivity in order to fulfill masculine scopophilic desires (14).

Extrapolating Mulvey’s theoretical framework from film to literature, Abdo’s narrator demonstrates an analogous entrenched gender bias in his descriptive language that focalizes the village women entirely through an objectifying, consuming male gaze. His elaborate visual and poetic portrayals of the female body for the pleasure of this imagined male viewer epitomize the concept of the gendered gaze centered on female eroticism as a commodity.

The narrator lavishes hyperbolic admiration on Faten’s superficial physical attributes, idolizing her “captivating beauty” and “charming allure” (Abdo 10). Rather than develop her into a fully realized subjectivity, Faten merely serves as a decorative object for his desirous male gaze, defined only by her power of sexual attraction. His declaration that “the eye of instinct always turns to beauty” rationalizes and normalizes his treatment of women as ornamental objects to be visually consumed and appreciated for their erotic appeal (Abdo 11).

Similarly, his elaborate lyrical descriptions reduce other village women like Sherine, Salwa and Hasna to the sum of their alluring physical parts – “the beauties of the village” (Abdo 14). Even older female characters hold erotic value for the narrator’s gaze, as he sexualizes and objectifies the mayor’s wife as an object of lust despite explicitly deeming her physically unattractive.

This relentless emphasis on female beauty as totalizing essence exemplifies cultural critic John Berger’s argument that in visual art, “women are depicted in a quite different way from men – not because the feminine is different from the masculine – but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male” (63). Abdo’s narrator perfectly enacts this homogenized, idealized male spectatorship that frames women exclusively as décor for scopophilic consumption.

Crucially, the narrator’s exploitative framework extends beyond mere scopophilia to explicitly commodify women’s bodies as possessions under patriarchy. His disturbing reference to wives as their husband’s literal “property” cements a worldview that equates female virtue with appearing untouched to preserve their commodified sexual and reproductive value for male usage (Abdo 19).

This comports with feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon’s theory situating gender inequality within an overarching paradigm of sexuality as a key construct of male power used to sexually objectify women’s bodies as currency and resources for exchange in patriarchal systems (124). The narrator’s clear sense of possessive male entitlement regarding the village women stems directly from this understanding of female sexuality as a owned commodity to be guarded, bartered, and consumed entirely on male terms.

Mulvey argues visual media can propagate “a hermetically sealed world” that perpetually reinforces these patriarchal pleasures of female objectification and consumption by an implicitly male viewer (19). Similarly, Abdo’s narrator conjures an imaginary poetic atmosphere where reducing women to purely decorative objects of beauty becomes normalized and inescapable. Even Faten’s limited defiance in denying the narrator’s dream infiltrations barely punctures this projected fantasy world steeped in visions of owning feminine beauty.

A Critique of Communal Power Dynamics

Beyond gender issues, Ahmed Abdo’s novel excerpt also offers sociocultural critique by exploring village social hierarchies through the spread of gossip about the protagonist. The mayor’s wife plays a pivotal role in weaponizing rumor, hinting at the privilege her upper-class rank holds in determining reputations based on elusive words alone.

Postcolonial scholar Abdul JanMohamed’s concept of the “Manichean allegory” proves relevant here, proposing that social structures form an oppressive power dichotomy between those considered sophisticated dominators and their inferior subjects (63). The mayor and his wife occupy the top tier in this rural village, bolstering rumors about the lower-status protagonist to cement their communal control.

Their insidious use of gossip taps into what sociologist Max Gluckman termed “gossip and scandal” as means for those in power to nefariously “affirm norms” and compel conformity from their subjects (307). The protagonist seems aware of these mechanisms, ruminating on how the mayor strategically weaves together disparate accounts into one authoritative narrative used to condemn him.

He ponders the arbitrary nature of “evidence” manufactured from unprovable dreams yet still wielded to pronounce his guilt. In a postmodern vein, Abdo suggests reputational truth relies more on situational power dynamics than any empirical facts in this village (Lyotard 10). The mayor’s wife’s rumors carry more weight solely due to her elite position rather than credibility. This oblique social commentary offers deeper insight into the village’s inner workings than the narrator’s professed “confusion” over her motives.

Abdo’s poetic yet kaleidoscopic passage resists straightforward interpretation. But using lenses from feminist and postcolonial scholarship illuminates his subtextual exploration of biased perspectives and oppressive power structures regulating communal life through gossip. The novel’s opening suspends objective reality with its dreamy tone. Yet it also gestures toward deeper thematic concerns over the micropolitics governing traditional villages.

Notably, the protagonist remains unaware of his own participation in the systems critiqued. While pondering village gossip, he simultaneously engages in spreading rumors about the mayor’s impotence to retaliate for the accusations against his own morality (Abdo 17). However, the unreliable narrator’s endorsement of gossip as justifiable retaliation against his scapegoating only underscores the systemic corruption caused by unregulated rumor.

Here, anthropologist Suzanne Brenner’s research on gossip proving a performative method for establishing morality norms in traditional societies proves enlightening (145). The village rumor mill aims not to uplift truth but rather assert communal standards. Brenner asserts gossip functions as a regulatory social tool protecting village cohesion through informal means of shaming and consent.

From this view, the narrator’s own gossipy ruminations paradoxically provide covert affirmation of the very repressive status quo he openly critiques, perpetuating the systems of rumor-based control. His resentment stems less from objection to mechanisms of coercion but rather frustration at temporarily losing his own patriarchal privilege within those unspoken rules.

Nonetheless, Abdo’s layered social commentary suggests not just complicity but glimpses of hope through the female solidarity subtly resisting patriarchal morality dictates. The village women band together to denounce the protagonist’s sexual transgressions in visions difficult to prove yet socially potent. Their collective action, however, dubiously motivated, forges bonds of sisterhood against expected gender roles rarely afforded in realities of isolation and competition under village patriarchy (Kandiyoti 98). Through deploying gossip as a lens, Abdo exposes complex social stratifications and reciprocal means of control enforcing conformity in traditional communities. Layers of irony and meaning reveal solidarity and complicity alike in the gendered mechanisms tacitly regulating rural power structures. The novel hints that liberation may arise not from condemnation but from incrementally transforming the bonds and norms that implicitly shape collective life.


At first glance, Ahmed Abdo’s novel provides fertile ground for examining ingrained gender bias and objectification of women under rural patriarchal society. However, deeper investigation reveals the female characters enact subtle defiance of repressive structures through their limited acts of agency. By applying feminist narratology, the conclusion cannot simply categorize the text as upholding or condemning patriarchy outright. Instead, Abdo offers nuanced commentary on the complex dynamics of conformity and resistance within insular traditional communities.

Close analysis of characters like Faten reveals small acts of autonomy and self-determination despite commodification in a patriarchal setting. Faten’s refusal to corroborate other village women’s false rumors about the protagonist’s supposed sexual transgressions represents a bold yet risky confrontation of dominant masculine power. Her denial exposes the duplicity and performance underpinning their words alone, potentially inviting backlash for noncompliance (Abdo 7).

However, her defiance highlights that words on their own cannot fully capture truth or morality, only perspectives skewed by situational interests. Scholar Kamla Bhasin contends that women forced to operate under patriarchy frequently resist through “non-cooperation, boycott, disobedience” and other subtle subversions of expected submission (152). While the unreliable male narrator dismisses Faten’s subjectivity, her quiet rebellion suggests deeper personal integrity that evades simplistic tropes of victim or heroine.

Indeed, Abdo resists depicting the village women as one-dimensional stereotypes. On one hand, the wives exhibit some power through collectively spreading gossip yet also face sexual repression and morality policing from patriarchal forces. Their bonding offers glimpses of solidarity yet also perpetuates systemic constraints. Ultimately Abdo reveals how gender dynamics manifest in complex, nuanced ways within evolving traditional settings rather than simplistic tropes.

However, the conclusion cannot definitively claim Abdo’s novel provides an uplifting feminist narrative of liberation. The setting remains staunchly patriarchal, with rare acts of female defiance operating on a small, symbolic scale rather than leading clear systemic revolution. But Abdo’s literary skill lies in subtly planting the seeds for critical examination of internalized gender bias and the everyday micropolitics of both complicity and resistance when living under intersectional systems of race, class and gender-based oppression.

Literary scholar Claire Chambers argues texts like Abdo’s offer “dualist” perspectives that simultaneously document the realities of patriarchal oppression while subtly questioning and resisting its premises through characters’ covert defiance (7). The lack of definitive liberation reflects the slow, uneven pace of social change actually possible in insular village communities bound by tradition. Rather than moralizing sermons, Abdo’s novel provides a complex tableau of the cultural dynamics and contradictions shaping gender politics and restrictive mores in flux.

Abdo’s sophisticated literary commentary rejects facile binaries of resistance vs complicity in depicting evolving rural patriarchy and taps into broader questions of modernity transforming traditional life. Through honing close narrative focus, Abdo brings into relief the small mysteries of human behavior and motivation during intersecting cultural transformations. His novel reminds us that social change emerges gradually through cumulative small acts rippling through collective consciousness, not just singular heroic defiance.

Works Cited

Abdo, Ahmed. [Excerpt of] The Enamored Demon-Possessed. Translated by Hatem Al-Shamea, ALT Magazine & Press, 2023.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin Books, 1972.

Bhasin, Kamla. Understanding Gender. Kali for Women, 2003.

Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Fiction. University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Brenner, Suzanne. “Why Women Rule Inhambane.” American Ethnologist, vol. 11, no. 1, 1984, pp. 141–155.

Chambers, Claire. “The Decolonisation of Arab Women.” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, 2013, pp. 113-130.

Gluckman, Max. “Gossip and Scandal.” Current Anthropology, vol. 4, no. 3, 1963, pp. 307–316.

JanMohamed, Abdul R. “The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 12, no. 1, 1985, pp. 59-87.

Kandiyoti, Deniz. “Bargaining with Patriarchy.” Gender & Society, vol. 2, no. 3, 1988, pp. 274–290.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

MacKinnon, Catherine. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Harvard University Press, 1989.

McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. Routledge, 2004.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, vol. 16, no. 3, 1975, pp. 6-18.

Phelan, James. “The Nature of Narrative Uncertainty.” The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, edited by David Herman, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 149-160.

3 thoughts on “The Haze of Desire: Exploring Narration, Gender Politics, and Social Critique in Ahmed Abdo’s “The Enamoured Demon-Possessed””

  1. Dr Elsayed Moawad Eltantawi

    New approach to analyze Arabic Novel
    I went through the Arabic novel for Ahmed abdo , and really enjoyed Dr Hatem study on that novel , i have translated the same study to Arabic hope it will be useful

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