Mona Kareem 10/4/2015 – translated by Tarjema
Muawiyah al-Rawahi did not know that his Omani citizenship, which allowed him to drive his car across the borders and bridges in the Gulf, would be the thing that would entrap him. Muawiyah was on his way to the Sultanate of Oman, crossing the border they share with Emirates after a short trip to the neighboring states. This border was the source of many tales of problems encountered by colonists, regular people, and transients. Muawiyah had relayed these stories in his blog, “Muawiyah al-Rawahi’s Delirium”, the contents of which were deleted after his arrest.
However, this was not the first time that Muawiyah was detained. The Omani authorities placed him in a mental hospital as part of the sandstorm blowing through on the winds of the “Arab Spring”. They considered him subversive to the Qur’an and an atheist, writing vertical poems, and teaching people how to memorize verses with the help of numbers.
Muawiyah has several books of poetry and prose, including his most recent volume, “The Charter of Salvation”, in which he talks about his experience in the prison/hospital. However, Muawiyah did not raise the ire of anyone through his literary work. Instead, it was his virtual presence on his blog and YouTube channel. He “theorizes” that the internet is like an “intellectual experiment” to determine and discover the self. He “intellectualizes” to his viewers through long vlog posts about a walk to buy cigarettes or a trip to look for a taxi driver. Muawiyah thinks that his “lengthy postings distance him from impatient meddlers, and provoke the eyes of security observers who are worn out by the ramblings of all-night chatter”. These video clips are part of what the poet calls a “free-form” of “field extrapolation” of his surroundings.
On Muawiyah’s channel on YouTube, we find his recorded poetry, including poems about Sultan Qaboos that seem to have been written after he was released. They might be a subtle attempt to reconcile with a man who has remained untouched by overthrow and revolution. But the poet’s repentance was not accepted; if the Sultanate refrained from arresting him again, prisons do not respect borders. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, before and after the Gulf Security Agreement, have the ability to take over an issue like this. Muawiyah’s visit was the perfect opportunity to discipline the neighbor’s child and to settle the score with a young author for his criticism of “the authorities of the Emirates and the state symbols”. Muawiyah’s family did not know where in the Emirates he was imprisoned. Talk was that he was being tortured.
Author Fatimah Alshidi sees her colleague al-Rawahi as an example of “the phenomenon of personal and text abuse”, fluctuating between “acceptance, refusal, overt compliance, and internal departure”. Al-Rawahi is now waiting for his court hearing coming in October, after it had been postponed yet again. Despite the seriousness of his statements, the Sultanate’s literati have not completely given up on Muawiyah. They have released a statement requesting his release, and some of them have continued to write articles and blog posts about him.
Poet of the Perpetual Revolution
The Gulf prisons are not just for agitators and modernists. Often times the poet in prison is a poet who works in the vernacular, like Mohammed Ben Alzib, who has spent 15 years in prison because of a sensational poem about the Tunisian revolution; or the poet might be a young girl like Ayat al-Ghermezi who was imprisoned for a year in Bahrain because of the “Dawwar” poems (the Pearl Roundabout, where the protests broke out in the February, 2011 revolution). Then there is the tale of the Saudi poet, Adel Lobad, nicknamed “Poet of the Revolution”, who was detained in 2012 and sentenced to 13 years in jail.
Lobad’s latest arrest was his fourth, but his prison saga started a few decades back when he joined the “Vanguard Messengers Movement”, a “Shiite Movement” , many of whose members ended up in Syria before King Fahd “pardoned” them. Lobad was one of those who came back, but the Qatif demonstrations in 2011 and the arrest of Nimr al-Nimr brought Lobad back to his place as the “Movement Poet”. The Saudi authorities sentenced him to “five years for information crimes, three years for passport forgery – 30 years ago – and five years of back-to-back penalties”.
The Immigrant and the Sin of Poetry
In January of 2015, another poet – one who had not participated in demonstrations or badmouthed a ruler – was arrested. His name is Ashraf Fayadh. He is a Palestinian who moved his family to live in Saudi Arabia twenty years ago. His arrest garnered some outcry at the beginning, but the majority were silenced by fear of being charged with atheism, a charge Fayadh was facing. A reader filed a complaint against the poet, accusing him of spreading atheism through his book, “Instructions Within”, which had been published in 2008 by Dar Alfarabi. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice was behind the imprisonment this time, not the Security Service or Intelligence Service. They interrogated him and talked to him about Islam; they asked him about his long hair and his photos on the internet with his female colleagues, artists and authors. The charge had nothing to do with the text, but with its author who was full of pride at the time because of his recent participation in the Venice Biennale, and he had just organized an exhibit for young artists.
After his arrest, Fayadh’s father spoke to some media outlets in an attempt to explain his son’s situation. He said that “a citizen quarreled with [his] son and filed these spiteful charges, demonstrating the morality of a barbarian, even if the charges would have been dismissed.” More than a year passed after Fayadh’s arrest, and the charges against him diversified shifted, and the date set for his trial changed with the judges assigned to his case. There is nothing left to see now but the interpretation of a reader who does not yet believe in the author’s death.
Copyright ©: 2015 – Raseef 22
- UPDATE: Somehow I had attributed this article to the wrong author, my apologies to Mona Kareem. I encourage you to visit her bilingual (Arabic/English) blog at http://monakareem.blogspot.com/