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Ahlem Mosteghanemi Posted by on Aug 15, 2016 in Arabic Language, Culture

Ahlem Mosteghanemi (أحلام مستغانمي‎‎), is an Algerian writer who has been called “the world’s best-known arabophone woman novelist”

Ahlem was born in Tunis. She is the daughter of a militant political activist who was forced into exile during the Algerian liberation war. In the wake of independence, her family moved back to Algeria, where her father, an intellectual and a humanitarian, occupied high positions in the first Algerian government.

In the 70s, following the assassination attempt during the Boumediene coup d’état, and the consequent hospitalization of her father, who was also targeted, Ahlem, as the eldest sibling, took up the responsibility of providing for her family as a radio host. At the age of 17, she became a household name in Algeria with the poetic daily show Hammassat (Whispers) on national radio.

The Arabic language, encouraged by her French-speaking father as if in revenge, provided her with a sense of liberation since her family had not mastered the newly reacquired Arabic language. But, at the time, the Algerian society was rebuilding its identity and recovering from a colonial past that resulted in the death of over a million and a half. It was not prepared to see a girl express herself freely on subjects such as love and women’s rights. It was even less prepared to see her do it in the sacred Arabic language. This is where Ahlem’s battle begins against sexism. Although women had fought alongside men during the revolution, in the postwar period they were generally relegated to their traditional roles;[3] they were denied the freedom to express themselves and to aspire to success. After she received her B.A in Literature, the board of directors of the University of Algiers refused her enrolment for a Masters under the pretence that her freedom of expression had a negative impact on students. She was also expelled from the Union of Algerian Writers for not conforming to the political line of her time.

In Algiers, Mosteghanemi met Georges El Rassi. A Lebanese journalist and historian with a deep knowledge of Algeria, Rassi was preparing a thesis about “Arabization and cultural conflicts in independent Algeria”. They were married in 1976 in Paris and settled there. Ahlem pursued her university studies at the Sorbonne, where in 1982 she obtained a doctorate in Sociology. Her thesis explored the misunderstanding and malaise between both sexes in the Algerian society. The doctorate was under the guidance of Jacques Berques, an eminent orientalist, who also wrote the preface of her thesis (published in 1985 by L’Harmattan as Algérie, femmes et écriture). During the fifteen years she spent in Paris, Ahlem contributed to various magazines.

Once she settles down in 1993 in Lebanon, she presents her novel “ذاكرة الجسد” (Memory of the Flesh), to the editor of the renowned publishing house Dar Al Adab. Excited, the editor will declare: « this is a bomb». It will be the revelation. This novel, written in a style highly poetic and with political bravado, will have a phenomenal success throughout the Arab world. The love story is set between an armless painter and the daughter of his former commander encountered in Paris 25 years after the war. The novel evokes the disappointment of the post-war generation, which echoes the disappointment of a generation of Arabs.

Ahlem continues her literary success by giving two sequels to her novel: “فوضى الحواس” (The Chaos of Senses) in 1997 and “عابر سرير” (Bed Hopper) in 2003. Each part of the trilogy, now a classic, is a bestseller in its own right throughout the Arab world. In 1998, Ahlem receives the Naguib Mahfouz literary prize for “ذاكرة الجسد”. This prize was founded by the American University of Cairo.

For over 35 years, Ahlem’s contribution enriched the Arabic literary scene with her highly acclaimed sentimental and poetic work. Furthermore, through her writings she led the fight against corruption, injustice, totalitarian regimes, fundamentalism, new forms of colonization and the denigration of women’s right. Her quotes, on love as well as politics, are widely used by the Arab public. As of January 2016, the author is followed by more than 9 million fans on Facebook and 700,000 on Twitter.

Source: Wikipedia (

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