SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Social and Political Dimensions of Modern Arabic Literature

Module Code:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

The module concentrates on a structured survey of modern Arabic literature through a range of selected texts that will be studied as literature but with constant reference to the social and political contexts in which they were written. Attention will be paid to the process of socio-political and cultural change and to the effects produced by ideological transition on theme, form and language.

Students are encouraged to attend lectures and seminars organised by the AHRB Centre for Asian and African Literature and the London Middle East Institute.


The module is a major or minor option in MA Arabic Literature and an optional component of MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies and MA Comparative Literature. MA Arabic Literature candidates will be expected to be able to read and understand modern Arabic texts and to consult reference material in Arabic. Otherwise, all assigned Arabic works and critical sources will be read in English translation and seminars will be conducted in English. All students will be trained in the various methods of close reading and critical analysis as well as in the understanding and application of the literary terms and analytic tools relevant to critical discourses and ideological debates in the history of Arabic literary criticism

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students will be familiar in general terms with the range of themes, techniques and genres to be found in Modern and Contemporary Arabic literature and will have been introduced to the principal critical works on the subject. The objective of the module is to introduce students to the richest and most rewarding areas of Arabic Literature, and to relate the processes of change and search for personal and cultural identity on the literary level to the projects of change in the political and social spheres. The ultimate aim is to sharpen students’ awareness of the significance of literature to the understanding of vital cultural, social and political processes, and especially to the quest for modernity and modernization in Arab societies. This aim can only be achieved, however, by attending first to the peculiarities of literary consciousness and to the closely allied complexities of self-insight and self-presentation, as well as to the relation to history and tradition, which together incite the experience of modernity. Students are expected to be able to apply a range of critical theories to the literature in question and to demonstrate their ability in their coursework essays.


This module will be taught over 20 weeks with 2-hour seminars per week.

The two hours each week are devoted to close reading of texts, discussion of aspects of language, structure, imagery, rhythm and some formal lecturing on the more general aspects of the subject, especially on the relation of literature to the wider cultural, political and social contexts. Students’ participation is vital as they are expected to prepare texts in advance of lectures and to be able to provide initial impressions and insights and to discuss and substantiate them in class. Some required readings and other relevant primary sources will be handed out in advance of the relevant unit or lecture. Other primary, secondary and background sources will be available in the SOAS library.

Scope and syllabus

The main themes and periods covered are: 

  • The Age of Translation
  • The Neo-Classical revival 
  • The Rise of Fiction 
  • The Birth of Rationalism 
  • The Romantic Imagination and a new Nation State 
  • Realism, Social Polarization, and the Aftermath of 1948 
  • Revolution in Literature and Society in the 1950s 
  • 1967 and after: Modernism and Post-Modernism:

General Areas for Expansion: 

  • Women in Society and Literature
  • The Country and the City 
  • Occidentalism : the Self and the Other Bibliography Poetry:

Method of assessment

One essay of 2000 words to be submitted on Monday, week 1, term 2 (30%); one essay of 3000 words to be submitted on Monday, week 1, term 3 (45%); one oral presentation of 15 minutes (10%); one textual analysis of 1000 words (15%).

Suggested reading

Selected poems from:
  • Mahmud Sami Al-Barudi, 
  • Ahmad Shawqi, 
  • Hafiz Ibrahim, 
  • 'Abbas Al-'Aqqad, 
  • Ma'ruf Al-Rusafi, 
  • 'Abd Al-Rahman Shukri, 
  • Ahmad Zaki Abu-Shadi', 
  • Ali Mahm-ud Taha, 
  • Ibrahim Naji, 
  • Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab, 
  • Salah 'Abd al-Sabur, 
  • Adun-is, 
  • Mahmud Darwish, 
  • Amal Dunqul 
  • and Muhammad 'Afifi Maflar
Novels, plays and short stories:
  • Muhammad Al-Muwilihi, Hadith '¡sa Ibn Hisham; Muhamad Husain Haykal, Zaynab; Tawfiq Al-Hakim, 'Awdat Al-Rawh and Al-Sulflan al-Ha'ir; Mahmud Tahir Lashin, Yuhka Ann and Hawa' bila Adam; Yahya Haqqi, Qindil 'Umm Hashim; Ibrahim Al-Mazini, Ibrahim al-Katib; Najib Mahfuz, The Trilogy and Awlad Haratina; Tawfiq Yusuf 'Awwad, Al-Raghif or Tawahin Bierut; Ghasan Kanafani, Rijal fi-l-Shams; Fu'ad Al-Takarli, Al-Raj' al-Ba'id; Fathi Ghanim, Zaynab wa-l-'Arsh; Nu'man 'Ashur, Al-Nas Illi Taht; Zakariyya Tamir (selected short stories); Sa'dallah Wannus, Haflat Samar and Al-Fil Ya Malik al-Zaman; Yusuf Idris (selected short stories) and al-Farafir; Baha' Tahir (selected short stories); Al-Tayyib Salih, Mawsim al-Hijra ila-l-Shamal; Muhammad Barrada, Lu'bat al-Nisyan; Muhammad Shukri, Al-Khubz al-Hafi or (selected short stories); Amin Salih (selected short stories); 'Abd al-Qadir 'Aqil (selected short stories) Criticism: 'Abbas Al-'Aqqad, Al-Diwan; Mikha'il Nu'aymah, al-Gurbal; Taha Husain, fi-l-Shi'r al-Jahili and Mustaqbal al-Thaqafa fi-Misr
Background reading:
  • Al-Biheiry, K. A.: L'Influence de la literature francaise sur le roman Arabe (1980) 
  • Allen, Roger: The Arabic Novel: An Historical Introduction (Manchester, 1982) 
  • Badawi, M. M.: Modern Arabic Literature (Cambridge, 1995) 
  • Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry (Cambridge, 1975). 
  • Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt (Cambridge, 1987). 
  • Badr, Abd al-Muhsin Taha: Tatawwur al-Riwaya al-Misriyya (Cairo, 1963) 
  • Brugman, J.: An Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature (Leiden, 1984) 
  • Bullata, I. (ed.): Critical Perspective on Modern Arabic Literature (New York, 1980) 
  • Genette, Gérard: Narrative Discourse (Oxford, 1979) 
  • Hafez, Sabry: The Genesis of Arabic Narrative Discourse: A Study in the Sociology of Modern Arabic Literature (London, Saqi Books, 1993) 
  • Haqqi, Yahya: Fajr al-Qissa al-Misriyya (Cairo, 1960) 
  • Hourani, Albert: Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Oxford, 1962) 
  • Jad, Ali: Form and Technique in the Egyptian Novel: 1912- 1971 (London, 1983) 
  • Kilpatrick, Hilary: The Modern Egyptian Novel (London, 1974) 
  • Moosa, Matti: The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction (Washington, 1983) 
  • Ostle, R. C. (ed.): Studies in Modern Arabic Literature (London, 1975) 
  • Modern Literature in the Near and Middle East, (London, 1991). 
  • Writing the Self: Autobiographical Writing in MAL (eds.) (London, 1998) 
  • Abdel Wahab, Farouq (ed.): Modern Egyptian Drama (Minneapolis, 1974) 
  • Antonius, George: The Arab Awakening (London, 1938) 
  • Bakhtin, M. M.: Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (Manchester, 1984) & The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1981)
  • Barthes, Roland: Image, Music, Text (New York, 1977) 
  • Chatman, Seymour: Story and Discourse (Ithaca, 1978) 
  • Martin, Wallace: Recent Theories of Narrative (Ithaca, 1986) 
  • Said, Edward: Beginnings (1985) & The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983) 
  • Chambers, I. & Curti, L.: The Post-Colonial Question (1996) 
  • Williams, P. & Chrisman, L.: Colonial Discourse & Post-Colonial Theory (1993) 
  • Mangia, P.: Contemporary Post-Colonial Theory (1996) 
  • Ashcroft, B. & Griffiths, G.: The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules