3 inspiring feminist Arab women leaders that you need to follow


I have a great respect and admiration for strong women who are vocal about their rights, who have crossed boundaries and stood up to outdated cultural values, who never shied of saying things as they are. I have been lucky to meet few of them, and here in this post, I’d like to show my appreciation, admiration and love to these inspiring three ladies, who gave support to my work and honored me with talks by their side.

Mona Eltahawi

Mona Eltahawy is a journalist and social commentator based in New York City. She has written essays and op-eds for publications worldwide on Egypt and the Islamic world, on topics including women’s issues and Muslim political and social affairs. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Miami Herald among others. Headscarves and Hymens, Eltahawy’s first book, was published in May 2015. Eltahawy has been a guest analyst on U.S. radio and television news shows. She is among people who spearheaded the Mosque Me Too movement by using the hashtag #MosqueMeToo. (source)

I have been connected to Mona via Twitter for years but only had the chance to meet her last March in NYC when I did a book event. I was over the moon when she accepted the invitation to moderate the session and she impressed me with her professionalism and eloquence. My admiration to her has only grew after I met her.

A group photo with Mona El Tahawi at LAU in NY – March 2022

Joumana Haddad

Joumana Haddad is a Lebanese author, public speaker, journalist and human rights activist. She has been selected as one of the world’s 100 most powerful Arab women by Arabian Business Magazine for her cultural and social activism. In 2021, she was on Apolitical’s list of 100 most influential people in Gender Policy. (source)

I have been a fan of Joumana for so long! I don’t know exactly when I fall in love with her. Probably when I first saw her talking in a show she hosted on New TV about gender and sexual issues. I then read her “Superman” and was impressed with her boldness and courage. Joumana is a legend and I was honored to appear in her show “Al Mamnoo3” (Forbidden) on Al Horra TV in 2019. At the time, my book Laila got banned from entering Jordan and Joumana gave me her support in this special interview that I will never forget.

My interview with Joumana Haddad on Al Horra News Channel in 2019

Shereen El Feki

Shereen El Feki is journalist and author, most notable for her book Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World (source).

I first met Shereen at Global Salzburg Forum in 2013. I remember flying to Salzburg from the UK when I was doing my masters to attend the forum. She arrived for a short time for her session and I was impressed with the way she speaks. She was promoting her newly launched book “Sex and the Citadel”, and I was intrigued when she told me that feminists groups in Beirut recommended “Arous Amman” to her. Later on, in 2016, when the English version “The Bride of Amman” came out in English, she was generous enough to write me a book blurb. I was also hosted by Basira in London for a book event, and she accepted our invitation to join the talk, which makes me happy, till today.

With Nahla Al Ajeli and Shereen Al Feki – London 2016
Shereen El Feki book blurb for The Bride of Amman

ELF session: A Needle and a Thimble [photos]


It was a wonderful session yesterday at the Emirates Literature Festival. I was super happy to see friends, family members, and readers filling the room. My friend, Hani Yakan, did a great job in moderating the session. He introduced me eloquently and was right on point with his question which he masterfully prepared to take us through the one hour session.

He started off with the most important question that lies at the core of the idea of the book and subsequently the discussion of the session. What is gender? Whats the difference between gender as a social construct and sex as a biological one? And from there we moved to talk about the concept of the book. How, building on the complexity of gender and related issues, and its definition of being a set of attributes built over a single biological attribute (sex in our world), I decided to examine it and project it on another world where the human awareness develops differently, to divide gender per height, rather than sex.

That’s the core of the story of “A Needle and a Thimble“, a concept which allowed me to explore gender getting constructed differently. A world where two gender exist; tall people and short ones. A world where gender roles are strict, and attributes are divided per the hight of a person.

After explaining the concept and part of the storyline that takes us through a love relationship between the narrator and middle height (socially rejected) Tawalan. A relationship that follows how the narrator’s gender awareness develops as the storylines unfolds. Hani moved on to ask about important questions related to how I managed to create this parallel world. He asked about the language and the importance of language in developing our gender awareness. Knowing that Arabic language, which I wrote the book in, is a gendered language at its core. He also asked about the solution to the gender issue. Does it lie in a needed revolution, similar to the failed one I presented in the book? or it is an evolutionary process? He also highlighted the gender neutral language forms that started emerging in different languages around the world, asking if that is a natural progression or a forced one?

From there he moved on to asking me about my choice of narrating through women characters in my books, echoing floating criticisms of having male authors using female voices. And here we had the chance to discuss my other books, Laila and The Bride of Amman, which revolve around similar issues we deep sensitive in our society. Some deem them provocative, but that’s the issue of gender now, gender equality, body rights and sexual freedoms are hot topics, and the fight for a more tolerant and just society is a daily struggle.

One of the important questions he asked me is the difference between equality and justice. A discourse that opponents of women rights have been using a lot lately, emphasizing that women are different than men, and consequently it is more important to talk justice than equality. A very critical point here, which I answered from the concept of the book itself, we don’t set different laws for people from different height, do we? when it is clear that in certain situations, people of very tall or very short stature need special attention. In law, people are equal in general, and that what should be applied.

When we opened the questions to the audience, I was happy to hear good feedback from those who read the book. Two sisters said that the book made them realize how silly is the gender issue, when they have been taking it seriously for a long time. Others asked about the impact of creative work in shaping our reality. Which is better starting from reality in creating fictional words, or starting from fictional constructed worlds into shaping ours?

It was an interesting session, a nice discussion, and beautiful audience. Ended with a book signing and a nice dinner with my dear friends who came for support.

L’homosexualité dans le roman arabe : le triomphe de la moquerie


I like this article entitled “Homosexuality and the Arab Novel”, originally posted on Arablit blog by Marcia Lynx Qualey in English in 2015 and now translated and posted in French by Etienne Gomez.

Translator's Lodge

Par Marcia Lynx Qualey

L’Épouse d’Amman, traduit de l’arabe par Davide Knecht, L’Asiathèque, 2021.

Le premier roman du blogueur Fadi Zaghmout,L’Épouse d’Amman, en 2012, a été un événement bienvenu.

Pas seulement le roman, d’ailleurs, mais aussi le brio avec lequel Fadi Zaghmout l’a présenté dans les médias. Nadia Muhanna évoque ainsi sur son blog une interview à la télévision jordanienne quelques mois après la publication. La présentatrice ayant qualifié un personnage gay deshaz, Fadi Zaghmout a corrigé ce terme offensant par «muthley». À la fin de l’interview, la présentatrice utilisait un «vocabulaire plus inclusif».

Le roman cadencé de Fadi Zaghmout, traduit en français par Davide Knecht (2021), sert un projet social autant que littéraire, plaidant sans radicalité pour une plus grande liberté sexuelle et de genre. La lecture donne le sentiment que le plus important pour l’auteur n’était pas tant d’écrire un grand…

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Launching L’Epouse D’Amman in Paris [Photos]


I finally had the chance to travel to Paris for a quick visit where I met “L’Epouse D’Amman” translator Davide Knecht, editor Thomas Scholari, and publisher Philippe Thiollier (and his lovely mother who started the publishing house and proof read the French translation), as well as Clara Pero who is handling the communications and PR at L’asiatheque and doing a wonderful job at it.

Philippe kindly hosted me at their bookstore L’asiatheque for a book launch event where we read few passages from the book in both French and Arabic, presented the story and characters, and discussed the topic the book tackles. It was a very lovely night and we had a beautiful crowd. And I was particularly happy to finally meet Cheryl Toman, Professor of French and Chair, Modern Languages and Classics at The University of Alabama, which was a very pleasant surprise. Cheryl contacted me more than a year ago informing me that she has been teaching the book to her students and planning a visit to Jordan for the group. At the time I couldn’t make it to Jordan, neither did they as covid happened. Fortunately, we had the chance to meet in Paris. My good friends Naji Haddadin and Mohammed Sleeq joined and Naji put on the photographer hat and took these beautiful shots (more photos on my Instagram page).

I had also the chance to pass by L’Institute Du Monde Arabe bookshop and Gibert Joseph bookstore, and was happy to see them selling the book.

Madian Al Jazerah memoir is a tale of hope in a world of colliding identities. A must read!


Are you this? or are you this?: a story of identity and worth.

When Madian’s agent Lara from Hurst Publishers approached me in early April to provide a book blurb for this superb memoir of Madian, I felt honored. I knew Madian for a long time, and I consider him a good dear friend. I have always respected him and looked up to him for what he did for the gay community in Amman. To be chosen as one of the few people to provide a book blurb for his book meant a lot to me.

I was intrigued to know more about this great man and expected a good read, but once I started reading, I could’t stop. It was a draft version of the book that I read on my phone screen, and it hooked me till I finished it. It wasn’t only a good read but a great one.

Few days later I emailed Lara the blurb, which she thankfully edited to appear at the back cover of the book as:

This is the story of a great man, full of emotions, pride, dignity and determination. A tale of hope in a world of colliding identities; a must-read!’

Fadi Zaghmout, blogger and author of ‘The Bride of Amman’
Back cover of the book

These two lines of-course don’t do it justice, as it is much more than that. Madian takes us on an emotional journey of a man who is as delicate as a flower and as strong as a rock. A man who grew up in a world of colliding identities, carrying them over his shoulders, molding them into a beautiful mix, and riding them to turn every ugly incident he faces in his life into a colorful ray of light. Madian grew up as a Palestinian in Kuwait, a moderate Muslim in world that have seen Islam drift into extremism, and a gay man in a homophobic surrounding.

The combination of these three identity pillars might not be an exclusive identity to this man, but the way he handled it and lived it, is what makes his story gripping. There is an undeniable tone of pride in Madian’s words. He is a man of integrity and love, and his human side shows in every decision he takes along his life journey.

What makes this read enjoyable is that it is honest and intimate. Madian doesn’t shy from telling personal stories related to him, his family and his close friends. He talks about his life in Kuwait, and what meant for him to grow up in a country that he doesn’t hold its citizenship. How the security of his childhood home gets shattered when Iraq invades Kuwait, forcing him and his family to move to a different country. How he ends up living in a country where he holds its citizenship yet it is not the country of his origins. How he faced his own fears and came to terms with his sexuality. And how he navigated all this misfortune by holding onto the anchor of the loving family he has.

He might not have always made the best decisions, and at times, he let fear guide him, but he has also shown much talent, and it is here where we can see his utmost pride. Most of us know him from the haven he created in Amman – Books@cafe. The first internet cafe in the region that grew to be a hub for tolerance and acceptance. A place that shaped Amman in the past 20 years and empowered many of us to stand up and fight the exclusionary culture that tainted our lives.

Are you this? Or are you this?” might be the active expression his mother used when she asked him about his sexual preference. A reflection of how mainstream thinking in Jordan and around the world used to define what is an acceptable sexual behavior and what is not. But the title is more than that, and the story is more than that. It is the story of all of us, of how we tend to categories and place people into neat boxes to complete and perfect our views of the world around us. We feel comfort with simple stories, black and white ones that either accept people or reject them. We tend to ignore the complexity of the human condition and focus on one simple characteristic – are you this? or are you this?

The world is full of choices, and the nature of things are seldom binary. If you are to choose today, I’d advise you to choose to read this book. It is an emotional enjoyable read and there is much to learn from Madian and his life.

I wanted to be one of the first to review this book. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

The book is out for orders. You can order your copy now from publisher’s website directly by clicking here.

مشاركتي في مؤتمر نقاط للعقل المطاطي وكلمتي عن التقسيم المبني على النوع الاجتماعي


سعدت بالمشاركة في مؤتمر نقاط للعقل المطاطي الذي عقد في دولة الكويت في شهر نوفمبر الماضي حيث تعرّفت على العديد من الأشخاص الملهمين الذين تحدّثوا في مواضيع ابداعية مختلفة شيقة. يمكنكم الآن مشاهدة كافة الحوارات على قناة نقاط على اليوتيوب.

خلال مشاركتي قدّمت كلمة عن الرواية التّي أعمل عليها والتي تحاول أن تتخيّل عالماً يكون فيه تفسيم النوع الاجتماعي الأساسي مبني على الطول لا الجنس. شرحت فكرة العالم واسقاطاتها على واقعنا وكيف أنّ هذه الفكرة أتتني بعد سنوات طويلة من العمل في مجال الحريات الجنسية والحقوق الجسدية ومحاولة توضيح ما يعنيه النوع الاجتماعي (الجندر) والفرق بين الجندر كصفة اجتماعية والجنس كصفة بيولوجية. أترك لكم هنا الكلمة كاملة لمشاهدتها ويسعدني تلقي تعليقاتكم وأسئلتكم.

كذلك خلال المؤتمر شاركت في ندوة حوارية حول القيود والأعراف الاجتماعية وأثرها على حرية الفرد، يمكنكم مشاهدتها كاملة هنا:

A reward and punishment VR system – imagining the future Black Mirror style


The future might be both, beyond our wildest dreams, and so much familiar where it manifests many of our beliefs and traditions. With the exponential advancement of AI and technology, it would be near impossible to predict what is coming our way.


But understanding the power of human beliefs and imaginations and how persistent it can be, and coupling that with the powers of our future technologies of AI, VR and censoring, let’s imagine the following scenario:


For those who still believe in heaven and in hell, who believe in reward and punishment in a world where aging does no longer exist and death is far more rare. You don’t have to worry!


I have a solution.


We can run a mini experiment and create the world you think is fair and true. To assist the angels on your left and right shoulders, we will create artificial invisible angels, planted on your shoulders to log whatever action you do. They will be ran by an advance AI that can asses every single action, collect data from your body and brain activities, and determine if the action should be logged in your deeds or sins records.


This can start any moment, from the day of your birth, or the day you subscribe to our service. It will also have a time limit. We recommend 100 years. After which, your judgement day will arrive. But don’t worry, we can do it in groups, or patches, so it can feel real, with a real judgment day for all. And we can keep the date a secret that no one knows.


On your judgment day, the AI will measure your balance and how it tips. It will determine if you have been a good person or a bad one. And accordingly, it will channel you to one of our afterlife chambers; the VR chamber of Hell or the VR chamber of Heaven.


In Heaven, you will be seated comfortably in a perfect room and you will delve into an experience of joy that you have never thought of. Your body will be monitored all the time to ensure your safety. Your mind will be constantly induced with happy hormones. And your imagination will be living the Heaven you always dreamt of and longed for. You will not feel time, because there is not time in Heaven.


In Hell, we will burn you “virtually” to atone your sins. You will be tortured to the highest levels your body can endure. We will repeat that constantly, every time till you lose your consciousness, and reset once you wake up again. All in a safe environment, with your body tightened into a comfortable chair and sensors that can guarantee you would never die.
Who is up for this? Add your name in the comments!


– This can either be a Black Mirror episode or a blue print for a sequel for my Heaven on Earth

Joker – a wake up call for social justice


The Joker is in the back of my head as I come today to office. I greet the security guard and the office boy with a smile, and with a part of me that feels sad, reflecting on the emotions of Joaquin Phoenix who knew exactly how to portray the feelings of someone enduring social injustice.


That’s the core message of this strong film. Social injustice that we grew to accept as a natural state of life, embracing the status quo and brushing off the harsh reality of the lives of many people living with us.


And while, enduring the daily struggle of living at the bottom of the social ladder, or the invisible side of it, is a valid reason for someone to develop contempt towards this society, the Joker has been lucky to combine that with a history of abuse and mental illness. A formula that built a character we grew to love and admire at the end.


The film doesn’t glorify villains as some critique claims. In the contrary, it raises an alarm. It is a strong wake up call. It is a call for every single one of us to pay more attention, to be nicer and look beyond our own needs and vanity. The Joker, hasn’t been a villain in this film, not to me, and not even towards the end when his character develops into enjoying killing other people. And to be honest, the minute he shots the first person is a turning point in the film. Not because he pulls the trigger, but the effect of it on him. The empowering look on his face, the liberating feeling and the healing from the psychological pain he endured for so long.


It is not right. I know. But I accept it because it is a film. There is a part of me that can’t handle the sight of psychological struggle of other people. I wish to help and I know that I fall short in many times. But that same part, played on by the film makers, made me cheer to the Joker as he took those lives. Yes, smile. I wanted to see him smiling and clapped when he did. Yes, dance. I loved how he danced and wanted to dance with him.


Be happy. I wanted to see him happy but that didn’t happen. And that is unreasonable to expect at the point he reached. He is broken beyond repair and his actions are no longer to seek justice or take revenge, but more of becoming mad to fit into the craziness of the world he found himself in.
And here, I can’t ignore the connection my mind made between the Joker and Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, triggering the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring. One might find this film dark and heavy, but looking at our reality and the state of the region since Bouazizi burnt himself, shows us clearly that more than often, reality is darker than fiction.

Dividing gender based on height? My next project!


I miss blogging. It has been a while since I wrote anything on my blog, and even when I did, it has been more of an announcement or photos without much of written words or ideas or opinions like I used to do back in the days.

Keeping a blogging habit has been challenging in the past few years, and I don’t think that I am ready to overcome this challenge anytime soon, but I feel the urge to write something today and happy to use this platform. And as I have been doing lately, using it as a platform to talk about my writing projects, I feel like pitching the idea of the next novel I am working on, with a working title ‘Khait Hareer’ (A silk thread).

I am not sure how well the title goes with the idea and how well it will be weaved in the storyline. I have actually finished writing 9 chapters already and working on the 10th. It is kind of exciting but challenging, more challenging than writing my previous books as I am trying to imagine a fictional world. I have done this before with ‘Heaven on Earth’, and it was challenging too, but I think it was a bit easier, because in that book I tried to imagine the future, but in the new one, I am trying to imagine a parallel society.

So here is the pitch in simple terms. I am trying to imagine a society where gender is divided based on height, not sex. I know, it might be a tough sell, as not so many people understand the concept of gender and how much it is related to sex. For me, I understand that gender is a social construct, it is a sectioning system that divides people into two categories based on their perceived sexual organs. On top of the sexual division, comes a huge burden of dividing every single human attribute in an attempt to exaggerate the sexual organs distinction and make clear divisions between two types of humans – in our world today we call them men and women.

In a nutshell, we build on a single human characteristic our main human classification. And we divide all of the other thousands of human attributes, that are irrelevant to our sexual organs between the two types of humans we created. It is the most dangerous classification of humans in our history, one that most believe is natural and has always been their in every single human society. A division that clearly over simplifies the sexual organs shape and size spectrum and ignores the power of nature in brining in a wide range of manifestation to every single human attribute.

Sex is not different than height. The sexual organs come in all shapes and sizes. And if we can hold a knife and cut human populations into two sexes based of the state of development of male/female sexual organs, hiding a big portion of human beings that fall under what we call ‘intersex’, then we can use the same knife into cutting human populations into two heights (tall and short people) and hide those of middle height.

And yes, like what we do top our sexual organs distinction or dividing other attributes between two sexes, we can do the same, and divide human attributes based on the height of a person. In my story for instance, tall people will have to be thin and weak, while short ones will be thick, stocky and strong. It is not physical attributes that I divide, but also psychic ones, same like we do men and women. I even outline a dress code, a behavior code and strict gender roles that these tall and short human beings have to adhere too.

It is a very exciting practice trying to imagine how such humans would behave under these constraints. How they build their life and how they define things! There is a lot to explore and I might fell short in bringing up all of the angles such a drastic change might mean to us. It is a challenge that I decided to take, one that I am pleased with its outcome so far.

The most challenging aspect of imagining such society, is the language to use in describing it. I am writing the story in Arabic, and for those familiar with the language, it is pretty much gendered. For Arab speakers, everything has a gender, even unanimated objects. It is either a thing is feminine when it has the ta’ at the end of the word, or is masculine when the ta’ is not there. Yes, we have queer objects, but thats not the rule of the language.

In their world, their language is gendered too, and it is gendered based on height. But inventing such a language is beyond my capacity. I can outline it, and maybe try writing few phrases, but even then, no one would understand it. So I had to come up with a twist for the book, one that I hope will give you an “aha” moment and a smile once you get to it.

Not sure if I succeeded in pitching the idea, but if you got what I was trying to say, please let me know what you think. Try to imagine that society and let me know what comes to your mind. That would help me adding to the story.

WOMEN CROSSING BORDERS: SHEREEN ABOUELNAGA, HUZAMA HABAYEB & FADI ZAGHMOUT


Saturday 2 March, 6pm-7pm

Al Ras 1, InterContinental, DFC

Authors: Fadi ZaghmoutHuzama HabayebShereen Abouelnaga

Don’t miss this session at Emirates Literature Festival. I look forward to seeing you all there and look forward to a wonderful discussion with these amazing and inspiring ladies.

What is the nature of boundaries that women in novels have to contend with? How do these boundaries reflect the real world? Who sets boundaries? And is there a big difference between boundaries facing men and women? What is the difference between boundaries imposed on men and those imposed on women in the contemporary narrative experiment?

Dr Shereen Abouelnaga is an Egyptian author, literary critic and professor at Cairo University – Egypt.

Huzama Habayeb is a Palestinian novelist and winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature 2017 for her novel “Velvet”. 

Fadi Zaghmout is a Jordanian author who started writing in 2006, motivated by desire to achieve social justice and challenge narrow gender roles.

Language: Arabic with English translation

Book your ticket now!