The Representation of Dictators in Contemporary Arabic Literature

Faculty Member: Sami Alkyam

This project focuses on the manifestation/s of dictators and dictatorships in contemporary literary genres—the representation of its various configurations, and the politics of re/writing history. Specifically, the project focuses on contemporary Arabic novels that call attention to the parallel/s between narrative and the rhetorical processes and structures that once played a role in empowering dictators and helping them to create godly-like figures of themselves. Each literary work offers an articulation of history and history-making where it is conceived as a fluid narrative that is ideologically constructed through interaction, rejection, and recognition. The project focuses on opening a discussion on how novels can be read as tools of dissent against “Arab dictators” ongoing rhetorical self-empowering over their own people and nations. In reading of such literary texts the project revisits the famous concept of “art for art’s sake” which has become the target of pointed critique with the emergence of post-colonial theory, critical race theory, cultural studies and a number of area study models concerned with nation, cultural difference, history, ideology and other seemingly “non-literary” disciplines and issues. In agreement with the critiques, this research tries to show that literature is inseparable from politics and social context. The discussion far from ends with this affirmation. The larger question is not whether literature is political, but how is it political: more precisely, what kind of politics does and/or can literary fiction advance?

Responsibilities: Scan, photocopy, organize and build bibliographies. Read and provide critical thinking to content. In this project, RA will gain more insights into how to approach a literary text with the eye of a critical thinker.


  • Must be a Harvard College undergraduate. If hired, will participate in the IQSS URS Program.
  • Prior research in the Humanities required.
  • Ability to speak Arabic and/or French is a plus.

To apply, please send your C.V. to Professor Sami Alkyam at