Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Keeping the flame alight

Meeting with the scholar Anwar Mogeith, Rania Khallaf finds out about the translation scene’s hopes and frustrations

Keeping the flame alight
Keeping the flame alight
Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week on World Translation Day, 30 September, the National Centre for Translation (NCT) won a Gerard di Cremona award for its role in supporting translation in the Middle East. A prestigious school of translation in Toledo, Spain, the Gerard do Cremona – named after the famous Italian translator (1114-1187) who translated scientific including ancient Greek books from Arabic to Latin, covering such legendary Arab scholars as Ibn Sina – is the right place to be associated with – if translation is your thing. 

Though himself an acclaimed translator, NCT head Anwar Mogeith, philosophy professor at Helwan University, has been suffering from publication issues for five years now. Since he took his present position two years ago, he has therefore devoted himself to solving those issues, leaving him little space for future plans. 

“My first mission at the centre,” he says, “was eliminating all obstacles facing the publishing sector. And, in one year, we managed to publish 300 books in various fields, an unprecedented record since the NCT was established in 2006. To accomplish this mission, the NCT extended its joint initiatives with notable private publishing houses such as Afaq, Al-Tanweer and Al Mahroussa, and beyond Egypt with institutions like Bait Al-Hikma in Tunisia and the Arab Organisation for Research and Publication in Beirut. 

“Joint publishing projects enrich the cultural sphere, as they ensure better distribution strategies and target new readers. Among other key issues,” Mogeith went on, “the development plan of the centre includes the revival of the training department for young translators, increasing the number of courses in various fields and languages including children’s literature, Chinese and Japanese. There are plans to publish encyclopaedias, and enhance the distribution of translated books among Arab countries, but there are always problems concerning pricing and security policies...” 

To help solve those problems, Mogeith announced, a meeting will be held under the auspices of the Arab League to discuss the composition and translation of children’s books series. Literature, he feels, should continue to enjoy the lion’s share of translations despite the importance of scientific advances and significant contributions to the political and economic domains. 

“Through literature the reader assimilates the development happening in other countries, ways of life, stories of success. Translating literature should not be seen as a luxury. It is through translated literature that people around the world have shared symbols, meanings and unforgettable characters. And scientific studies do take up a considerable portion of our translation efforts.” 

Fields that remain neglected – fine art, music, autobiography – suffer either from lack of interest on the part of translators or high printing costs that the NCT is unable to meet. And perhaps that is why Mogeith does not object to other Ministry of Culture bodies having their own translation projects: the General Egyptian Book Organisation’s Awards Series, for example. GEBO’s primary responsibility, he says, is to organise events and make books available all over the country; should publication remain among its priorities, efforts will be coordinated. 

As for translating Arabic literature to other languages, “That is one of the objectives behind the NCT, though we haven’t been able to start working on it yet. We need well-trained professional translators, and a good budget. Previous translations done by the GEBO were full of problems and the books ended up in the warehouses.” The choices were made by Egyptians, he says, without any awareness of the target markets.

“At a time when true Arab and Muslim culture is misunderstood in the West,” Mogeith explained, “a special fund should be allocated to translating Arabic literature, and the money should come from the Foreign as well as the Culture Ministry. If we had a fund to work with, we could start contacting publishers and translators and gauging out the market.”

In addition to a budget, Mogeith insisted, effective distribution is a huge challenge. With its 17 thousand libraries the Education Ministry should take on part of that responsibility, and so should the Youth Ministry, neither of which have contacted the NCT so far...

On a positive note, the NCT will hold a translation conference this November to discuss the cultural migration of concepts such as existentialism, how they originate in one culture and take root in another thanks to translation.

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