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  • Selves and Identities in the Arabian GulfThe Year in the Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Szidonia Haragos (bio)

The Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates), the historical Arabian Gulf States, constitute some of the fastest-changing geopolitical landscapes in the world. Following the extraction of oil in the 1950s, the region experienced a major economic boom fueling dramatic sociocultural and demographic transformations: fast-paced globalization; large-scale interventions in indigenous ecosystems; the rise of desert metropolises like Dubai, Riyadh, and Doha; the influx of a working expatriate population forming a very significant numerical presence next to the local, national communities; along with, more recently, the push for the diversification of local economies and a gradual move away from an exclusive reliance on oil revenues. One of the most highly anticipated moments of global exposure in the region will be the 2020 World Expo to be held in Dubai, UAE, and the ongoing development and construction in the Emirate is visibly changing the cityscape on a daily basis. Reflecting upon the particular cultural tensions arising from sociocultural and demographic transformation, auto/biographical production in 2017–2018 in the GCC incorporates two connected, yet distinct trends. Forming a sort of tradition of their own, biographical narratives of historical figures and local luminaries constitute one set of tendencies. For example, in the United Arab Emirates, 2018 was declared "The Year of Zayed," celebrating Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, leader of the 1971 unification of the UAE, hence the publication of gorgeously illustrated biographies in bilingual English and Arabic editions, like Zayed: Life of a Great Leader, a volume published by The Dubai Chamber of Commerce commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sheikh Zayed. Probably the best-known UAE publishing house, Motivate Publishing, marked the occasion with Father of Our Nation: Selected Quotes of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a bilingual English-Arabic edition. Soud Ba'alawi and Florence Marguerite Guillerm Mandet's Sheikh Zayed: A Personal Tribute: How His Philosophy Is Now More Important than Ever is another exploration of Sheikh Zayed's historical role, while Sheikh Zayed: [End Page 55] Life and Times is a collection of photographs by royal photographer Noor Ali Rashid. Bookstores also carry the multilingual editions of Prime Minister of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Reflections on Happiness and Positivity along with previous collections of his poetry, Flashes of Thought. Reissued editions of the well-known local businessman Khalaf Al Habtoor's autobiographical work, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor: The Autobiography, also appeared in 2018. In addition to this particular trend, the repertoire of auto/biographical works includes personal explorations of self and identity profoundly marked by the various tensions registered between tradition and the paradigm changes induced by modernization: works dealing with women's rights, with the role of moderate Islam, and with illness and disability, detailing the challenges faced by people diagnosed with lifelong conditions. In my review, I consider this latter type of life writing through the analysis of three representative texts from the Gulf States: Kuwaiti author Shahd Alshammari's Notes on the Flesh, UAE writer Omar Saif Ghobash's Letters to a Young Muslim, and activist writer Manal al-Sharif's Daring to Drive from Saudi Arabia.

"I am a woman, a tribal woman, a hybrid, a disabled woman, but so what?" asks Shahd Alshammari in her biomythography—a term she borrows from Audre Lorde—Notes on the Flesh. Echoing Sojourner Truth's question, "Ain't I a woman?" uttered more than a hundred fifty years ago in a different climate amid the material realities of another era, its defiance fits into the zeitgeist of #MeToo. Alshammari's text reveals a self "enmeshed" (9) within multiple identities and situated within a text that is "part-memoir, part-illness narrative, part confused, part confusing, partially fabricated, partially the truth" (iii). She performs a recuperative gesture, working through "shards and fragments of memory and trauma," while purposefully avoiding a sense of closure or stability. Instead, she records a "multiplicity of voices," not just her own, aiming to go to places in the archive of human suffering "where there are not the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 55-61
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-14
Open Access
No
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