MECAM Papers English | 2022
Contemporary (predominantly post-2011) Arabic fiction exhibits a dystopian strand that projects a pessimistic view of the future. This literature has become particularly prominent not least because environmental degradation is a major problem in the Arab region, but also as climate change looms on the horizon as an even bigger threat to global life conditions through desertification and sea-level rise.
Arabic-language dystopian fiction written since 2011 explicitly deals with the issue of climate change. Prominent examples are the novels Using Life (Istikhdam al-Haya) by the Egyptian author Ahmad Naji (2014) and The Solar Grid by the Egyptian artist and writer Ganzeer (2020), along with the short stories “The Worker” and “The Gardens of Babylon” by the Iraqi writers Diaa Jubaili and Hassan Balasim (2016).
Interestingly, a range of common issues spans most of the works: first, how air and water pollution, waste disposal, traffic congestion, and the built environment affect the daily lives of citizens; second, the imminent coming of the apocalypse as a result of resource exploitation and climatic changes; and third, the building of smart, futuristic cities and the use of technology and renewable energies as a means of navigating the ashes of the catastrophe.
Most of these works depict the future environment in a way that resembles the present. Others, while projecting apocalyptic scenarios, imply that life does not end with the apocalypse and that Arab societies will find ways of surviving, often through technological solutions and foreign investments.
Context Ecological theories should be applied more often to fictional works that do not necessarily fit neatly into the category of dystopia or science fiction. The presence of non-human creatures and descriptions of environmental degradation in realistic fiction show that climate change is a theme preoccupying most Arab authors and artists and thus pervades most forms of contemporary cultural production.
Arab version: أزمة المناخ في أدب "الديستوبيا" العربي المعاصر
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Merian Center for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb
Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oslo