Sunday, June 21, 2009

Traduttore, traditore : translation is a treachery…

A few days ago, Mr Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian minister of Culture, announced the forthcoming translation into Arabic of various contemporary Israeli novelists like Amos Oz or David Grossman. Something which has not been done before, according to Gaber Asfour, the well-known literary critic who heads the Supreme Council for Culture because of exclusively legal problems: on one hand, dealing directly with an Israeli publishing house was absolutely impossible, due to the boycott, a motto particularly effective on the cultural scene, and on the other Egypt was not willing to publish such works without an agreement of the publishing house, thus enforcing the international agreements on the copyright.

Finally, a "smart" solution has been founded and the Egyptian will make the deal with… the European publishers of the Israelis writers! But if the novels are to be translated from European languages too, the Arabic versions of the works originally written in Hebrew will be real treacheries!

But it is not the only treachery which is suspected with this initiative, and many people in Egypt and in the Arab world think that the sudden love of the Egyptian official cultural bodies for modern Hebrew literature has something to do with Hosny’s campaign in order to be elected General Director of the Unesco.

Indeed, after a rather offensive “open letter” published in the French daily Le Monde by three well-known (at least in their country) French intellectuals calling President Sarkozy to act against somebody who had said that he was ready to burn Israeli books if they were to be founded in the Egyptian libraries, Farouk Hosny thought he had to give public apologize.

Something which has been understood as one more “positive sign” – or rather concession – made by the Arab candidate in order to facilitate an election, difficult to win in case of an Israeli opposition.

Indeed, the translation of Hebrew novels into Arabic is not the first manifestation of Faruk Hosny’s “good will”. Coming after previous initiatives (see previous post), it has been written in the Arab press that the Egyptian ministry of Culture was hoping very much an Israeli participation at the “Red Sea Festival”.

And now, according to this article published in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar, there are talks about the possibility of an official Israeli participation during the next Cairo book fair, a demand always rejected by the Egyptian since the signature of the Camp David agreements in 1978…

But the next book fair will in February 2010, when the election of the General Director of the Unesco is next October…

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

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