Press Office

Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Release

BBC Radio 4's focus on the Arab wave

BBC Radio 4's Letters To The Arab World (14-18 March at 9.45am) is the latest special commission from Controller Gwyneth Williams.

In this week-long series, five writers from North Africa and the Middle East consider the momentous events that are reshaping lives in these areas. As the political and cultural landscape shifts around them, these authors and thinkers pen open letters to reflect on the consequences for the region and for its people.

The writers: Ahdaf Soueif lives in London and Cairo and is a novelist, political and cultural commentator and was on the ground in Cairo during the Egyptian revolution; Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer and award-winning writer, lives in Ramallah; Hanan Al-Shaykh was born in Lebanon and writes particularly of women's experiences in the Arab world; Rana Kabbani, a Syrian cultural historian and commentator who regularly writes on Arab affairs; Hisham Matar is a Man Booker prize shortlisted author who was born in New York to Libyan parents and spent his early childhood in Tripoli and Cairo.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller, Radio 4,says: "The wave of change sweeping the Arab world is profound and will have an impact on all of us. These specially commissioned letters from Arab writers and thinkers will, I hope, give the audience a different perspective on these remarkable events.

"The rebroadcast of the splendid Naguib Mahfouz Cairo Trilogy opens up life across the generations in Egypt for listeners who are interested in a deeper cultural exploration – and who might just enjoy a good story.

"One of my ambitions for Radio 4 is to bring a sense of cultural internationalism to the network. By building on our existing programming across all genres, I hope to offer listeners the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of such stories as they unfold."

Following Letters To The Arab World (repeated in Archive On 4, Saturday 19 March), special programming marking the Arab wave includes:

File on 4Egypt's Missing Millions: 15 March. Fran Abrams explores efforts to trace vast sums of money misappropriated from the Egyptian people by members of the Mubarak regime.

World Tonight – Chatham House Debate special – Upheaval in the Arab World – Is this the Dawn of a New Order?: w/c 14 Mar 2011(TBC). A group of leading experts on the Arab world join chair Robin Lustig to discuss whether the toppling of leaders in several countries across the region by popular protests will lead to real democratic change or whether vested interests will reassert themselves in new guises. Panel features Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Dr Khaled Hroub, Davis Lewin and Dr Mai Yamani.

The Cairo Trilogy: 18 and 25 March and 1 April, 9-10pm. Another chance to hear this classic drama (first aired five years ago) adapted from the Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz. Recorded on the streets of Cairo, Omar Sharif stars in this generational saga chronicling the life of a middle class family as Egypt emerges from colonialism and adjusts to the modern world.

Lebanon – The Next Generation: 3 May 2011. John McCarthy goes back to Lebanon to meet both old and young. Across the Middle East and North Africa a new generation is demanding that things must change – politics must be transformed, economic priorities redefined, autocratic regimes replaced by democracy. Young adults are taking to the streets and encouraging their parents and grandparents to join them in this popular revolution.

Details on further Radio 4 programming on these events can be found at

Notes to Editors

Ahdaf Soueif is the author of Map Of Love which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and Mezzaterra: Fragements from the Common Ground. Her translation of Mourid Barghouti's I Saw Ramallah came out in 2004 (tx: Monday 14 March).

Raja Shehadeh is the author of the highly praised When The Bulbul Stopped Singing and Strangers In The House and Palestinian Walks which won the Orwell Prize for political writing. He is a founder of the pioneering human rights organisation Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, and the author of several books about international law, human rights and the Middle East (tx: Tuesday 15 March).

Hanan Al-Shaykh is a writer particularly of women's experience in the Arab world. She has lived in Lebanon, Cairo and Saudi Arabia. She is the author of The Locust And The Bird which was a previous Radio 4 Book of the Week (tx: Wednesday 16 March).

Rana Kabbani is the author of Europe's Myths Of The Orient, A Letter To Christendom, and, translated from the Arabic, Mahmoud Darweesh's Sand And Other Poems (tx: Thursday 17 March).

Hisham Matar's novel In The Country Of Men was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and has been translated into 28 languages. This month he has published Anatomy Of A Disappearance (tx: Friday 18 March).

Radio 4 programmes previously broadcast on the Arab wave have included:

How Did We Get Here – Egypt: 4 February 2011. Stephen Sackur and a group of experts uncover the hidden history behind the political upheaval in Egypt. How did President Mubarak rise to power and what were the factors that finally threatened his iron grip?

Front Row – Hisham Matar: 11 February 2011. Hisham Matar's second novel follows a boy whose world is turned upside down when his father is kidnapped. Hisham talks about how his own father, a Libyan dissident, was kidnapped over 20 years ago and is still being held in detention somewhere in Libya.

Special – From Our Own Correspondent: 12 February 2011. A special edition of From Our Own Correspondent. Reports on the joy in Cairo's Tahrir Square as the president steps down; the future of those who enforced Mubarak's police state; the difficulties faced by western diplomats.

Tahrir Square: 17 February 2011. In Tahrir Square, the BBC's Magdi Abdelhadi, himself Egyptian-born, relives the drama of the last few weeks and talks to Egyptians about their hopes for the future.

Four Thought – Ahdaf Soueif: 23 February 2011. Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif describes how the anti-Mubarak protests have allowed Egyptians to reconnect with thousands of years of history and regain their sense of self.

Analysis – Rethinking The Middle East: 28 February 2011. Dr Maha Azzam looks at the recent history of US involvement in North Africa and the Middle East, including the brief shift in policy during the presidency of George W Bush, the role that Israel plays in US/Arab relations.

Start the Week – Engagement With Libya: 28 February 2011. The former UN deputy secretary-general Mark Malloch-Brown, on whether national governments are still able to address complex international issues, and Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski on the idea of 'principled engagement' with Libya.

From Our Own Correspondent – Talking Politics With Gaddaffi: 3 March 2011. Jeremy Bowen talks politics and revolution with Colonel Gaddaffi in a restaurant overlooking Tripoli harbour. He seems determined to hold on, and has now launched a counter-attack in the country's rebellious east.

The Report – Libya Special: 3 March 2011. Hugh Miles talks to some of those charmed into assisting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime and to former members of Saif al Islam's circle who saw much of Libya's wealth squandered on buying influence.

Excess Baggage – Raja Shehadeh: 5 March 2011. Sandi Toksvig talks to Raja Shehadeh, the Palestinian writer and lawyer, about his walks around the rift valley in the footsteps of a great uncle who fell foul of the Ottoman authorities in Palestine during World War One.


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