Ghalib Halasa was one of the foremost literary figures of the Arabic-speaking world. He wrote novels and short stories, was an active literary critic, translated books from English to Arabic, and was a great patron of modern literature.
After long years of exile, his works have become part of the national heritage of Jordan. His writing spans twenty years, and is still being read and re-published today. There is a literary prize named after him, there was a television series based on his story "Sultana", and several Arab scholars have written books about him.
This page will tell you about Ghalib Halasa's life as it has been recounted, from his upbringing in Jordan to his first forays into writing, his political activities and persecution because of it, to his time in Egypt as a teacher and translator and his life as a general exile.
Ghalib Halasa was born in Ma'in (ماعين), near the Dead Sea in Jordan, in 1932. Although most people would say he was born on the 18th of December, there are some conflicting sources about this, and it may be that he was actually born on the 3rd of December. The town of Ma'in was mostly Christian, however it is now full of ruins, and Ghalib's old house is nothing more than a pile of rubble. The town belongs to the Madaba governate, which has seen many archeological finds, such as old Christian mosaics and clay works. As a young Christian, Ghalib was affected by attacks on his faith: In one of his writings, he recounts getting so outraged by the 1001 Nights's insults of Christianity, that he wrote an angry letter to its publisher in Egypt. He already read books in Arabic, French and English from a young age.
Between the ages of 10 and 16, Ghalib attended a Christian boys' boarding school called Mutran (مطران, also known as The Bishop's School in English). At Mutran, Ghalib first started writing: first he would write down his dreams, initially writing solely for himself, and later he would base his stories on his own surroundings and the people he knew. It was also at Mutran that he had his first small successes as a writer: he won first prize in a writing competition and had two articles published in the school newspaper.
During this time, he already had a great interest in global politics and ideologies; he was introduced to Marxism, and one of his published articles was a discussion on socialism and the Third Reich. He was clearly a child of many nations, and kept abreast with the current affairs of Europe (he was still a teenager while WWII was in full throttle) as well as the Middle East, and had a voracious appetite for American literature.
At the age of 17, after finishing high school, Ghalib moved to Beirut, where he enrolled at the American University and studied at the department of Journalism. Between the years of 1953 and 1954, while still a student, he also worked as a teacher, and although he was still very young, he divided his time between studying in Beirut and teaching in Amman.
During his time in college, he was also an active member of the Communist Party, and as a result saw the inside of a prison cell more than a few times. Between the ages of 20 and 21, he spent his time in a prison in Baghdad.
In 1955, after his release from prison and banishment from Jordan, Ghalib moved to Cairo, where he enrolled at the American University. By taking frequent walks, he managed to familiarize himself with Cairo's many different neighborhoods as well as its dialect. The Cairene dialect, as well as other Arabic dialects, featured prominently in the novels he published between 1970 and 1980.
In Cairo he would spend most of his life, first studying and teaching at the American University, writing articles on world literature and literary criticism for the university's students, and later translating for the Chinese Embassy and the German Press Agency. He became interested in Trotskyism, and invited poets, intellectuals and writers to his home in Doqqi, for discussions on literature and politics.
Still involved in politics as well, now with Trotskyist leanings, he managed to get himself in trouble again. He was arrested while taking part in protests against Anwar al-Sadat, spent more time in prison, and was eventually banished from Egypt in 1976.
After being exiled, he took a few years to settle, traveling to Iraq, Libya, and even Germany, before settling in Damascus. On the 18th of December, 1989, he died, a bachelor with no children, of a heart attack. His legacy is a wealth of stories and knowledge.
Last updated: June 2016.