Archive for the category “News”

Every revolution is messy

Egypt celebrated world press freedom day last week with one of the highest number of journalists under arrest, ever, and many more silenced through the on-going frenzy to clamp down on everyone.

One of Egypt’s most respected journalists, Hani Shukrallah, expects things to go on in the current chaotic fashion for a few more years. The Egyptian revolution is a messy one, he believes, because all revolutions are that way by definition.

Shukrallah was speaking to author Karl Schembri during the first edition of the Book Festival on Campus, which was organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti (Università).

The journalist explained why the ouster of “the dictator loved by the west”, Hosni Mubarak, from the presidential palace three years ago, was not followed by a new political movement made by the very same people who rallied in the streets to get rid of him.

“The young revolutionaries were incredible; impressive in their determination to bring change,” Shukrallah said. “They would be shot at by the police and instead of running away as we used to do, they would charge back with even more determination. Yet, they made awful politicians as they had no programme, no vision of what to do after getting rid of Mubarak.”

Young revolutionaries, Shukrallah believes, need time to learn strategy, to be able to navigate through the pragmatic world of politics. Yet, it is thanks to them that a completely decades-old debilitating paradigm has been shattered – what Shukrallah called “the period of ugly choices” for the Arabs.
“We had to either side with Saddam or with George Bush; with Islamists or with brutal dictators. Thanks to the Arab revolutions, this has been shattered and we are now exploring alternatives,” Shukrallah said.

With the Muslim Brotherhood now driven underground, just like in Mubarak’s time, there is a clear attempt to instal the worst form of police state ever inside Egypt.

Shukrallah compares the current climate to “a cartoon impression of the US after September 11”, where the media was blindly and willingly spreading the “war on terror propaganda by the Bush administration, while liberties were thrown out of the window”.

The journalist has himself experienced firs-thand the implications of unchecked and unfettered power. In 2005 he was sacked from chief editor of Al Ahram Weekly after a series of critical articles aimed at the political class and his vociferous scepticism about the then promised reforms.

He was again forced out of Al Ahram Online, Egypt’s largest English-language news website, which he had founded himself. His forcible removal last year by allies of the Muslim Brotherhood prompted him to publicly denounce the rapidly deteriorating Islamist regime led by Morsi.

“I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?” Shukrallah wrote on his Facebook page in a message that would be picked up by some of the world’s leading media.

Now he’s back to writing for Al Ahram, although one never knows for how long.

“We have to work through the cracks; that’s how we claim our freedom of expression,” he said.

Born in Cairo in 1950, Shukrallah was a Marxist student activist during the time of Anwar Sadat, but he was also critical of the dogmatic leftist thinking. Throughout his career as journalist and author, he built a reputation for stand-ing up to speak the truth to those in power.

Besides the session with Shukrallah, the book festival saw a large tent erected in the Campus Quadrangle, with several local publishers exhibiting and selling their latest titles.

The week-long festival brought with it a number of literary events, including debates on sexuality in Maltese literature, readings by seminal contemporary authors such as Immanuel Mifsud and lectures about literary translation and the preservation and restoration of historical documents. Young, aspiring authors were also allotted evening slots where they could share their writings as part of the Taħżiż2 initiative. The festival closed with Leħen il-Malti poetry readings set to music by Danjeli and friends.

Speaking truth to power

Hani Shukrallah

Hani Shukrallah

My little island has just had the great idea of organising a second national book festival, which for the first time ever will be held at the University of Malta campus. It’s great to see that, besides cars, computers, condoms and mobile phones, our one and only university remembered what should be its bread and butter. I hope it won’t be hijacked by the usual corporate dicks who always take over precious campus space — banks, religious publishing pests and other waste of space that is only producing complying zombies keener on reading their own CVs than the stuff that matters. The programme of events as organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti is very promising, even if a modest one; it’s a breath of fresh air.

Injecting more of that fresh air will be my good friend and journalist from Egypt, Hani Shukrallah, whom I admire immensely. I had met Hani for the first time at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali in 2012, where I saw him speaking fearlessly about the Egyptian revolution, the Arab Spring and the idiocies of then president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We stuck to each other during the duration of the festival like two lovers, bound by our journalists’ blood and love of freedom.

Since then, Hani has been fired from the newspaper he edited by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Ahram Online, which he founded. I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t the first time either. During Mubarak’s reign, he was already dismissed from Al Ahram  Weekly in 2005 for criticising the regime and the ridiculousness of Egyptian politics. Last year, he responded publicly with his typical firebrand response to the powers that be: “I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?”

The author of Egypt, the Arabs and the World, will be the main guest at the Book Festival on Campus on 30 April. I have the honour to be interviewing him on that evening, and can’t wait to meet him again. We have a lot to catch up on, and there’s a lot of his revolutionary fire that needs spreading on my comatose island.

Back on the rock for our rocking literature fest


I’m back in Malta where, besides meeting again comrade Marx I will also be joining 10 other writers from the Mediterranean for a week-long writers’ retreat and workshops in which we will be translating each others’ works.

We will then present them in the weekend (Thursday 29 to Saturday 31 August) in what has now become a fixture of the Maltese literary calendar, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. You can find the full programme and details here: Festival website.

Here is one poem I will be reading in Maltese, translated by Albert Gatt, who will interview me on Thursday.

The Maltese festa
Date slices – half a dozen,
some qassatat, a dozen cheese cakes;
bread dripping rivulets of oil
like tears of sorrow
of Our Lady;
a statue of the patron saint
held high upon a gilded dais,
his head swinging from left to right
smacking the electric wire;
there's merrymaking in the streets,
the church bells knell
welcome respite from the panegyric,
a vintage sermon, worthy of UNESCO heritage status;
promiscuous youngsters gad about while on a break
from Cana’s marriage course,
a little boy high on his father’s beer,
petards in the sky poking at God,
an officer with damp armpits wielding an ice cream,
a fat man in a stained singlet,
his fatter wife nicking his chips,
a pushchair in the middle of the road, its wheel stuck in a ditch,
a chair reserved for the president of the band club,
the mayor decked with ribbons,
colourful toys all Made in China,
handfuls of paper shreds from balconies,
flags on their poles topped with blue lights
which imitate the solutide of latrines,
lightbulb festoons aglow with stolen power supplies,
houses with open doors,
chandeliers ablaze
and brand-new lace,
endless mounts of ganutell on marbled chests of drawers in hallways,
the envy of the neighbours grouped outside
in sour clouds of sweat, petards and powder
waiting to be dragged by next day's current
into an azure sea polluted
by an entire village.

9789995738235And in other news, my new book of poems in Maltese, Passju Taħt ix-Xita (which translates into Hopscotch in the Rain – also the name of this blog, just in case you missed it) is on sale, just published by Horizons Publications. I just love the cover photo and design by my friend Gilbert Calleja. Gilbert, you’re not only sexy, but a great artist too.

You can now order a copy by clicking here.

Love: can’t get it wrong, can’t get it right


A passionate conversation of love and poetry with CJ Bowerbird, Kelly-Lee Hickey, Lisa Jacobson and Karl Schembri filled the tent with the incredible emotions of both humour and sorrow.

The most powerful element of the session was listening to the poets perform their work.

Poetry slam champion CJ Bowerbird said he writes love poems obliquely with the emotions of longing, lust and loss in mind.

“I write about human love not romantic love,” he told the audience.

Bowerbird recited his poem, Hunger Trilogy, which is about the connection between food and love.

“First to know the thing you seek, learn you must the way to eat. I asked again how should a man truly purely live his life? He said how could you learn this one great truth when you don’t know how to eat some fruit.”

Poetry slam champion of 2010, Kelly-Lee Hickey said “I’m a poet, I…

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When facts lie


Drones fly overhead 24 hours a day. It’s like having a factory upstairs that never switches off and whose humming you cannot escape.

At night, when the navy attacks it’s worse. You listen to the whizzing of missiles sliding overhead and the inevitable explosive follow-up and wonder where did it hit? Who did it hit?

There is violence every day but when there is an escalation like this, there is no break, no shelter and no safety.

Karl Schembri described the recent violent surges in the Gaza Strip where he lives and works with such poetic elegance that, for a moment, you share some small part of that discomfort.

With a journalistic background, Schembri holds facts sacred but says they rarely serve to move people.

“I could tell you all the facts about the Palestine/Israel conflict and you wouldn’t flinch. You cannot measure suffering with a statistic,” said Schembri.


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Byron Bay, hey hey hey


In a few days’ time, I will be joining other authors in Byron Bay, Australia, for the yearly writers’ festival there. It’s always an inspiring experience, meeting other writers, and even more the readers, getting their reactions instantaneously. There’s a whimsical touch to such encounters that I love to take back with me, after all is said and done.

I will be reading from my new book of poetry, Remember the Future, and participating on three sessions:

Discomfort zone: how extreme environments affect creativity.

Do poets do it better? Writing the book of love.

In this I believe: credos, faiths and affirmations for the 21st century.

For more information, click here, and here to download the festival programme.

Remember the Future published in the US

0044-REMEMBER-FUTURE-CoverMy collection of poems Remember the Future has just been published by Writing Knights Press (US). This is my first ever collection of poems in English. I’ve only been writing creatively in English since July last year, so it’s both exciting and terrifying.

The book can be bought directly from the publisher by clicking here.

My sincerest thanks to Adrian Grima, Albert Gatt, Albert Marshall, Mario Azzopardi, the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, Festival de Lodève Voix de la Méditerranée, and the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival.

Biljett Miftuħ/Open Ticket

Biljett Miftuħ/Open Ticket – Tales, poems & music of protest, love & death

10 April 2013, Coach and Horses, Malta

Photos by Gilbert Calleja/ 

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Biljett Miftuħ/Open Ticket


Biljett Miftuħ/Open Ticket – Tales, poems & music of protest, love & death

Heading home to Malta next week where I will be reading some of my latest stories and poems in English and Maltese that will be published later this year. My friends Albert Gatt and Glen Calleja will be helping me with the readings, and Antonio Ghio agreed to finally get his legendary double bass out of the loft to play.

Last time we were all together reading and musing on a stage was longer than I care to mention, next to a fire place in an old cellar at a place called The Labyrinth in Valletta. We used to improvise a lot – improvise being the artistic justification for playing and writing while drunk.

This time it will be at Coach and Horses in Valley Road, Msida, on Wednesday 10 April at 8pm.

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