The Inverted Worlds – Congress on Cultural Motion in the Arab Region was held in October 2012 by the Orient Institut Beirut and focussed on exploring arenas and manifestations of cultural change effective in the eventful and disruptive outbursts of the Arab spring. The Keynote Address was given by the journalist, literary critic, novelist and dramaturge Elias Khoury. Khoury was born in Beirut in 1948 and studied history and sociology at the Lebanese University in Beirut and in Paris.
He supported the interests and rights of Palestinians and worked at the PLO Research Center in Beirut in the 1970s and published Shu’un filastiniya (Palestinian Affairs) together with the Palestinian lyric poet Mahmud Darwish. In 1979, as editor for literature, he switched to the daily paper As-Safir, where he worked until 1991. Since 1992 Khoury has been publisher and editor-in-chief of the culture and literary supplement to Beirut’s daily paper An-Nahar.
Elias Khoury is considered one of the leading contemporary Arabic intellectuals and writers. His literary work includes eight novels, including al-Jabal al-Saghir (1977), Rahlat Gandhi al-Saghir (1991), and Abwab al-Madinah (1993). The novel The Kingdom of Strangers (1996) shows the Lebanese capital as the scene of warring historical and political powers, as the scene of the Israeli-Lebanese war, which breaks apart at the seams of its various ethic groups, languages, and religions during the civil war.
His novel Bab Al-Shams (1998) was translated into Hebrew and received the Palestine Prize. It was named Best Book of the Year by Le Monde Diplomatique, The Christian Science Monitor, and The San Francisco Chronicle, and a Notable Book by The New York Times and The Kansas City Star. A novel was thereby honoured that told of the Palestinian exodus and the life of the Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese camps. In 2004 the novel was turned into a film by Yousry Nasrallah.
Khoury’s novels have been translated into numerous languages. His recently released As Though She Were Sleeping was shortlisted for the Guardian’s 2011 Book of the Year. He also is the author of numerous plays, which have been performed, among other places, in Beirut, Cairo, Paris, and Vienna. Since 2001, Elias Khoury is global distinguished professor at New York University (NYU), and since 2011 he is the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies.
During his Keynote at the Inverted Worlds Congress, Khoury made the point that the Arab Revolutions are still in the forming and that the Arab World is in the midst of a change, what oblies people like him to be humble. The Keynote Adress was filmed and can be watched here: