Arabic Literature in Europe

Studies on Arabic literature published in ten European countries

These ten studies on the translation of Arabic literature into European languages were carried out by translators and experts who studied a period spanning 2010–2020. They examine which Arabic language authors have been translated and published and by whom, and what the evolution and challenges have been. Because of the difference in size, interest, and publishing models in the specific countries, each study varies in length and content, with the studies on translation into English and German the longest. It can be noted that when Naguib Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, it marked a turning point in interest on the part of publishers and readers in several countries. Likewise, while the former countries of the eastern bloc/ Soviet Union used to have contact with countries in the MENA region, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union these contacts diminished and hence the interest in the region. Recent political events in the Middle East and the repercussions on certain European countries, such as Greece and Germany in particular, where there has been a rapid growth of an Arab cultural diaspora, seem to have sparked an interest in culture from the Arab world, and by extension, its literature.

This series of studies was made possible by the Anna Lindh Foundation and coordinated and edited by Alexandra Büchler of Literature Across Frontiers in partnership with Arablit and iReMMO. The research studies built on previous research carried out by Literature Across Frontiers and Transeuropéennes, which produced the 2012 report “A Mapping of Translation in the Euro-Med-Region”.

Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic 30-40 percent of book production relies on translations, but those from Arabic are few and far between. Short fiction represents the larger portion of literary translations as does classical literature. Translations, in particular novels, are translated into Czech via bridge languages such as English or French. The study finds that publishers in general are not interested in publishing contemporary Arabic Literatures perhaps due to the public’s negative stereotypes about Arabs. That said, cultural festivals that promote Arab culture have been increasingly successful, and young people continue to be interested in studying Arabic at a university level, showing they are open to change. The author is Adéla Provazníková who researches modern Egyptian literature and journalism, teaches Modern Standard Arabic, organises an Arabic student theatre group, and is an occasional translator.

Dutch-speaking regions (Netherlands and Belgium)

In the Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, the volume of sales and titles of translated Arabic literature to Dutch is low. Except for a few successful titles, translations from Arabic rarely have a second printing. However, there are numerous cultural initiatives including literary festivals related to Arabic culture that are held in both countries and in the Netherlands, it appears that significant social or political events lead to interest in the region and thus the literature. In both the Netherlands and Belgium, there is funding available to promote literature and provide support for literary translators. The author is Arjwan al-Fayle, translator, who also fights for equal opportunity in the Dutch education system.


In Finland the publication of translated titles from Arabic is modest, but they are direct translations and well received. It appears that the limited number of translations of Arabic literature is not due to a lack of interest on the part of publishers or the public, but to a lack of knowledge. Iraqi author Hassan Blasim, who has lived in Helsinki since 2004, is nearly singlehandedly responsible for a surge of interest in contemporary Arabic literature in the last decade because of his international success. The author is Maria Pakkala, translator, who has also taught Arabic and translation.

French-speaking regions (France, Belgium, and Switzerland)



Contemporary Arabic literary production translated into French, which includes France, Belgium, and the French-speaking region of Switzerland, has remained stable; political upheavals such as the Arab Spring and the subsequent exile of authors, intellectuals, and artists have not led to an increase in translations. Arab authors who write in French enjoy success among Francophone readers, but the only author translated from Arabic with the same status is Alaa El-Aswany. Actes Sud continues to be the only mainstream publisher to translate Arabic literature, while other publishers translate Arab authors sporadically. The novel remains the most translated form of writing and children’s book and graphic novels have seen some interest recently. The authors are Mahmoud Abdelsalam, translator and interpreter, and Richard Jacquemond, translator and professor of modern Arabic literature and language at the University of Aix-Marseille and director of the Institut de Recherches et d’Études sur les Mondes Arabes et Musulmans.

German-speaking regions (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria)

The longest of these European studies is from the German-speaking region of Europe which includes Germany, Switzerland (Deutschschweiz), and Austria. It is thought that the 2004 Frankfurt Book Fair, where the Arab world was the guest of honour, had positive repercussions on the publishing world, and more recently Arabic literature has moved into the mainstream book market where its visibility is higher. Still, in German-speaking countries where 25% of all literary publications are translations, translations from Arabic make up only approximately 0.3%, with Egyptian and Syrian authors the most translated.

The study examines the numerous cultural initiatives by Arabs living in Berlin and how this is changing the translation landscape, even if for the moment the output remains diffused. The author is Sandra Hetzl, literary translator, researcher, writer, and project curator with a focus on contemporary Arabic literature. Katharina Schütt and Inana Othman assisted with the data research.


The study on Greece notes that relations between the Greek and Arab worlds have been long-lasting, but that modern Arabic literature only gained prominence in the 1980s following the publication of books by Naguib Mahfouz and Edward Said. Because of the physical proximity to the Middle East and world events such as Greece’s recent role in receiving Syrian refugees, interest in Arabic literature has sparked, however Greek universities lack formal departments of Arabic or Middle Eastern studies and translations are often via a bridge language. A positive development is the new Athens-based Centre for Greek and Arabic Literature and Culture (KELALP) that will focus on literature and culture from both language territories. The author is Persa Koumoutsi, author, translator, and co-founder and content coordinator at the Centre for Greek and Arabic Literature and Culture.


Translations into Italian have been rising quantitatively, in part due to an awareness of the potential in this market, as well as like in all countries, the initiative of translators. The study includes literary prizes, events, blogs, and websites pertaining to Arabic literature with a handy bibliography of translations into Italian between 2010-2020. The authors are Mariangela Masullo, professor of Arabic Language and Literature, University of Macerata, and Pamela Murgia, who teaches Arabic Language at University of Urbino and Arabic Translation at SSML CIELS Bologna.


In Poland the trend is optimistic, with an increase in translations from Arabic into Polish. The titles translated over the past ten years were by authors from the Middle East, whereas there have been no translations of novels from the Maghreb. The study includes profiles of, and questionnaires answered by the (independent) publishers who have published at least three translated books of Arabic literature, as well as profiles of, and questionnaires answered by translators. The author is Marcin Michalski, translator, and professor of Arabic and linguistics, Adam Mickiewicz UniversityPoznán.


In Spain translation of Arabic literature into the four official languages (Spanish, Catalan, Galician, and Basque) represents only 0.1% of all translations. Moreover, the number of literary translations has decreased. Academic translations and republication of works from the Andalusian period, however, have remained consistent. Much remains to be done to further translations of literary production in Arabic. The recent launch of Banipal magazine in Spanish could contribute to a greater visibility of this production as well as its translators in Spain and Latin America. The authors are Bachir Mahyub Rayaa, professor of translation and interpreting, University of Granada, and Angelina Gutiérrez Almenara, translator and researcher.

UK & Ireland

Over the past ten years translations of Arabic literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland have been rising, with fiction and poetry the most published literary genre for Arabic translations into English. Authors from Egypt are the most translated, with Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon following. The study includes profiles of the UK’s top ten publishers of Arabic literature as well as profiles of translators in the field. Literature prizes and translations prizes are listed as are arts organisations and initiatives that support Arab culture, of which there are many. The authors are Alexandra Büchler, co-founder and director of Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), the European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate, based at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and Abdel-Wahab Khalifa, lecturer in translation and interpreting at the School of Modern Languages, Cardiff University.