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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.

Unraveling Mysticism and Identity in Rural Egypt – An Analysis of Majdi Jaafar’s Diaspora

Unraveling Mysticism and Identity in Rural Egypt – An Analysis of Majdi Jaafar’s Diaspora

 by Hatem Al-Shamea



“Diaspora” (“الشتات”) by the Egyptian novelist Majdi Jaafar is the second part of an ambitious novel project, which began with “On the Edge of a Pit” (“على شفا حفرة”) released in 2011. The novel intertwines themes of mysticism, societal conflict, and the struggle for identity and belonging in a rural Egyptian setting. This analysis will explore the narrative structure, character development, thematic elements, and cultural context of “Diaspora,” reflecting its significance in contemporary Egyptian literature.

“Diaspora” delves into a pivotal chapter of Egyptian history: the aftermath of the failed Urabi revolution.  Under the shadow of English occupation, the novel explores the colonizer’s attempt to dismantle the very essence of Egyptian identity. The narrative confronts the struggle of a nation grappling with defeat and the fight to preserve its character in the face of cultural domination.


Narrative Structure


The novel opens with a vivid and mysterious scene where a decrepit old man, described in unappealing terms, arrives at the village of “Al-Ayiq.” His presence and subsequent actions cast a shadow over the village, leading to various interpretations and superstitions among the villagers. The introduction of this character sets the stage for a series of events that blend reality with the supernatural, a common motif in Jaafar’s narrative style.


Jaafar employs a non-linear narrative, moving between different timelines and perspectives to build a multi-layered story. This structure not only deepens the reader’s understanding of the characters but also emphasizes the pervasive sense of dislocation and fragmentation experienced by the protagonists, mirroring the central theme of diaspora.


Character Development


Sheikh Saadoun

Sheikh Saadoun is a pivotal character who embodies the intersection of religious authority and social manipulation. He is depicted as a figure who uses his influence to incite division between Muslims and Christians in the village, highlighting issues of religious intolerance and power dynamics. His actions and motivations provide a critical lens through which Jaafar explores the impact of religious fanaticism on communal harmony.


The “Poor Girl” (البنت الفقرية)

The character known as the “poor girl” is central to the novel’s exploration of mysticism and power. Trained in dark arts by the old man, she becomes a figure of both fear and fascination in the village. Her journey from a victim of societal neglect to a wielder of supernatural power reflects themes of agency and resistance against patriarchal structures.


Abu Reqaba

Abu Reqaba, a character entwined with the “poor girl,” serves as a representation of rural masculinity and its complexities. His relationship with her, marked by a mix of dominance, desire, and eventual dependence on her magical abilities, underscores the gender dynamics and the interplay of power and sexuality in the village.


Thematic Elements


Mysticism and Supernatural

One of the novel’s strongest themes is the use of mysticism and the supernatural to reflect societal issues. The old man’s introduction of magic into the village disrupts the social order and exposes underlying tensions. This theme is particularly relevant in the context of rural Egypt, where folklore and superstition often intersect with everyday life.


Religious and Social Conflict

Jaafar delves deep into the religious and social fabric of the village, portraying the friction between Muslims and Christians. This conflict is personified through characters like Sheikh Saadoun, who uses religion as a tool for control and division. The novel critiques the exploitation of religious sentiments for personal gain and the consequent social fragmentation.


Identity and Belonging

The title “Diaspora” itself hints at the theme of displacement and the search for identity. Characters in the novel grapple with their sense of belonging, whether it’s within their community, in the eyes of their loved ones, or within the larger societal framework. The novel reflects on the broader experience of diaspora, not just in a geographic sense but also in terms of cultural and emotional alienation.


Gender and Power

Gender dynamics are intricately woven into the narrative. The “poor girl’s” transformation from a powerless figure to one who controls mystical forces challenges traditional gender roles. Her story highlights the struggle for female agency and the complex ways in which power is negotiated in a patriarchal society.


Cultural Context


Majdi Jaafar’s “Diaspora” is deeply rooted in Egyptian cultural and social realities. The rural setting, with its specific customs, beliefs, and power structures, provides a rich backdrop for the novel. Jaafar’s portrayal of village life captures the nuances of Egyptian rural communities, including the interdependence of religion, superstition, and daily life.


The novel also reflects contemporary issues facing Egypt, such as religious intolerance and the struggle for social justice. By situating these issues within a rural context, Jaafar emphasizes that these are not just urban or modern concerns but pervasive challenges affecting all strata of society.


Symbolism and Imagery


Jaafar’s use of symbolism and imagery is noteworthy. The old man’s description, for instance, evokes a sense of decay and foreboding, symbolizing the corruption and moral decline that he brings to the village. The transformation of the “poverty girl” into a figure of power through her mastery of magic symbolizes the potential for resistance and change within oppressive structures.


The village itself, initially a place of simplicity and routine, becomes a microcosm of larger societal issues as it grapples with the disruptions caused by mystical and social upheavals. This shift in the village’s character mirrors the novel’s broader themes of change and the search for identity.


Language and Style


Jaafar’s prose is marked by its lyrical quality and its ability to evoke a strong sense of place and character. His use of dialect and local idioms adds authenticity to the narrative, immersing the reader in the cultural context of the village. The dialogue, in particular, captures the rhythms and nuances of rural Egyptian speech, enhancing the realism of the characters and their interactions.




“Diaspora” by Majdi Jaafar is a rich, complex novel that weaves together themes of mysticism, social conflict, and the search for identity against the backdrop of rural Egypt. Through its multi-layered narrative, compelling characters, and evocative prose, the novel offers a profound exploration of the forces that shape individual and communal lives. Jaafar’s ability to blend the supernatural with the social, and his keen insight into human nature and societal dynamics, make “Diaspora” a significant contribution to contemporary Egyptian literature.


Map of Sorrow and Wind – Ahmed Abdo – trans. Hatem Al-Shamea

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