Syria Literature and Cinema

By | December 17, 2021


For decades, Syrian literature has bowed to censorship and repression by the regime. The events of 2011 shaped a new cultural identity in the country and what many authors, such as the Syrian-American Mohja Kahf (b. 1967), called the “silence of Syrian literature”, now seems to be broken. Key date 27 September 2000 when ninety-nine intellectuals circulated a petition (Bayānal-99, Manifesto dei 99) asking the government to end the state of emergency established in 1963, the release of political prisoners, the return of exiles, freedom of expression and respect for human rights. A civil society movement was formed through informal discussion groups, Muntadayāt al-muǧtama῾ al-madanī (Civil Society Forum), organized in the homes of intellectuals and artists. In January 2001, a thousand intellectuals and representatives of civil society signed a second petition (Bayān al1000, Manifesto of the 1000) more ambitious and detailed. If the government seemed to accept at first some of the intellectuals’ requests, starting from February 2001 the pressure on civil society, through restrictions and arrests, grew stronger and stronger.

Since 2011, intellectuals have found themselves caught between the grip of the regime and the armed factions supporting religious extremism. Adonis (῾Alī Aḥmad Sa῾īd Isbir, b.1930), one of the major Arab authors, was also among the signatories of the first manifesto, together with the poets Šawqī Baġdādī (b.1928), ῾Alī al-Ǧundī (1928-2009)), Mamdūḥ ῾Udwān (1941-2004), Nazīḥ Abū ῾Afaš (b.1946), Ḥāzim al῾Aẓamah (b.1946). In more recent years a new generation of poets has emerged heavily engaged in expressing their dissent including ῾Ābid Ismā῾īl (b. 1963), whose dark verse focuses on human pain; Nihād Sayyid ῾Īsà (b. 1966), who lives in Saudi Arabia; al-Ǧūlān Ḥāǧī (b. 1977), of Kurdish origin, but Arabic-speaking in exile in Paris; the Syropalestinian Ġiyāṯ al-Madhūn (b. 1979), resident in Sweden. Karazah ḥamrā᾽ ῾alà balāṭ abyaḍ (1997; trad. It. Red cherry on white tiles, 2005) and Anẓur ilayk (2000; trad. It. I look at you, 2009); Līnā al-Ṭībī (b. 1963), author of the Nisā᾽ collection (2011, Women) and resident in Cairo as Rašā ῾Umrān (b. 1964) who reconciles her activity as a writer with that of a lawyer; and Syropalestinian Dīmā Yūsuf (b. 1986). For Syria 2004, please check

The narrative also puts the country’s situation at the center of its concerns. Zakariyā Tāmir (b. 1931), in voluntary exile in London since 1980, created the al-Miḥmāz (The Goad) page on Facebook in 2012, on which he publishes reflections and stories on the Syrian reality. The best known novelists are Fawwāz Ḥaddād (b. 1947); Nihād Sīrīs (b. 1950), who fled Syria in 2012, author of al-Ṣamt wa al-ṣaḫab (2004; trans. It. Silence and tumult, 2014); Muṣṭafà Ḫalīfah (b. 1948), author of al-Qawqa῾ah (2008; transl. It. The shell, 2014), on the period spent in prison; Ḫālid Ḫālifah (b.1964), author of Madiḥ al-karāhiyyah (2006; trans. It. In praise of hatred, 2011), on the clashes between the Syrian government and the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, and Lā sakākīn fī maṭābiḫ haḏihi al-madīnah (2013, There are no knives in the kitchens of this city); as well as Fādī ῾Azzām (b.1973), exiled to Dubai, author of Sarmadah (2010), named after the Druze city on the heights of the country, and the writers Samar Yazbak (b.1970), refugee in France and author of Ṭiflat al-samā᾽ (2005; it. The scent of cinnamon, 2010) and Lahā marāyā (2011; it. The mirror of my secret, 2011); Salwà al-Nu῾aymī (b. 1950), Mahā Ḥasan (b. 1966), Līnā Huwiyān al-Ḥasan (b. 1975), Dīmah Wannūs (b. 1982).

The devastating impact of IS on the one hand and the tenacity of the ruling dictatorship on the other, with the consequent unprecedented wave of migration involving the country, have sparked numerous reactions among Syrian activists and intellectuals, many of them they now live outside Syria. First of all Yāsīn al-Ḥāǧ Ṣāliḥ (b. 1961), imprisoned by the Syrian regime between 1980 and 1996 for his belonging to the Communist Party and in exile in İstanbul. Defined as “the conscience of the Syrian revolution” and appreciated for his intellectual independence and the defense of the universal values ​​of justice and freedom, al-Ḥāǧ Ṣāliḥ, whose brother and wife were kidnapped by Islamist factions, received the Prince Claus in 2012 award. In İstanbul he founded, together with other intellectuals,


Syrian cinema, among the most representative of the Middle East, born at the same time as the Egyptian one in the early decades of the twentieth century, but forced to a much more limited development due to continuous financial restrictions, has been able to react to the scarcity of productive resources with imagination and the poetic story of filmmakers capable of constructing surprising works and filmographies. This creative path has been confirmed in more recent years and made more relevant by the presence, alongside the fictional texts for the cinema and the television series called musalsalat and widespread especially in the period of Ramadan, of a conspicuous documentary production, independent and courageous, witness of the war that started in 2011.

Mohammad Malas reiterated his realistic and dreamlike gaze in Bab al makam (2005, known as Passion), on a conservative family that in Aleppo hinders a woman’s passion for music, and in Soullam ila Dimashk (2013, known as with the title Ladder to Damascus ), where war is seen through the stories of characters who live in the same building. The processing of Soullam ila Dimashk is described in the documentary autobiographical antimilitarista Al-Rakib al-Khaled (2014, known under the title The immortal sergeant) of Ziad Kalthoum, who was Malas’s assistant and, at the same time, sergeant in Baššār al-Asad’s army. Omar Amiralay (who passed away in 2011) with Déluge au pays du Baas (2005) returned to the location of his documentary Nuhawwilu sad al-Furat (1970, film essay on the Euphrates dam) to observe how Arab socialism betrayed its people ; Usama Muhammad, after years of silence, has signed, with the Kurdish-Syrian filmmaker of Homs Wiam Bedirxan, the masterpiece Ma᾽a al-fidda (2014, known with the title Eau argentée, Syrie auto-portrait), an essay for images on exile and living in a besieged city.

An arthouse and popular cinema was well represented by the director and actor Abdu al-Latif Abdu al-Hamid; among his direct and starred films, Kharej al-Taghtiya (2007, known as Out of coverage), a comedy shot in Damascus with a man torn between two women in the age of the cell phone, and September rain (2010), on the misadventures sentimental stories of a family of musicians. He starred in the works of Joud Said Once again (2010), a story of love and war, and My last friend (2012), a choral work around a case of suicide. Emerging Meyar al-Roumi, son of director and cinematographer Muhamad al-Roumi, made Sit kosas adyyah (2006, known as Six ordinary stories), in which Syrian society emerges from the stories of Damascus taxi drivers, and Round trip (2012), in which it tells with originality the relationship of a couple who, in order to find spaces of intimacy, takes a train journey from Damascus to Ṭeherān.

In the documentary, several directors have found the genre to investigate the political, social and religious reality of their country. Hala Abdallah featured prominently in making her militant and experimental voice heard with Ana alati tahmol azouhour ila qabriha (directed with Amma El Beik, 2006, known as I am the one who brings flowers to her grave), portrait of three Syrian women; Hey! La tensi el kamoun (2008, known as Hey! Don’t forget the cumin), a journey into the collective consciousness of artists and writers; As if we were catching a cobra (2012, signed as Hala Alabdalla Yakoub), reflection on freedom of expression through the work of cartoonists in the Middle East and the Arab Spring. The fight against dictatorship has been humorously described in Syria inside (2013) by Tamer Al Awam and the German Jan Heilig. Al Tawam was killed in Aleppo in 2012 while he was filming.

Syria Cinema