Egypt author wins Arab fiction prize for Beelzebub

Mon Mar 16, 2009 12:48pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - Egyptian writer and scholar Youssef Ziedan won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Monday with "Azazeel" (Beelzebub), his best-selling novel which angered the Egyptian Coptic Church.

The award is unofficially known as the "Arabic Booker," and is held in association with Britain's Booker Prize Foundation which operates the coveted literary award.

Beelzebub, set in fifth century Upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria, was selected from a shortlist of six authors and Ziedan will receive a winner's prize of $50,000 plus the $10,000 awarded to each of the nominees.

He is also guaranteed an English translation of his work.

"There is a great range of Arabic literature which continues to deserve the widest possible audience in the Arab world and beyond," said Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, managing director of the Emirates Foundation which funds the prize.

The 2009 winner was announced at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2009.

The prize and fair are examples of a growing number of arts initiatives in a region seeking to put itself on the international cultural map.

The choice of Ziedan may prove controversial in his native country, after the Egyptian Coptic Church said the author "intended to destroy authentic Christian doctrine" and accused him of interfering in internal Christian matters.

But speaking to Reuters late last year, Ziedan said Church elders were upset he challenged their authority as the heirs of St Mark the Apostle and their exclusive claim to Egyptian history between the end of paganism and the arrival of Islam.

"The Egyptian Coptic Church imagined for years that the centuries that preceded the arrival of Islam (in 640 AD) are a history private to the Coptic Church, and I cannot accept that, and I see no meaning or logic to it," he said.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)