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Plagiarism and Robbery at the Writers Union
Iraqi singer Kadim Al Saher performs at the citadel of Damascus on Aug. 5, 2008, at a musical event to honor Syria's late poet Nizar Qabbani. (Louai Beshara/AFP via Getty Images)

Plagiarism and Robbery at the Writers Union

Akhbar Al-Youm, Egypt, February 13

Last week, news came out that an alleged poet who applied for membership in Egypt’s Writers Union had plagiarized a famous piece of work published by renowned Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani in his application. What is worse than the actual act of plagiarism is that the applicant was actually approved as a member of the Writers Union. The man — Mustafa Abu Zaid — took an existing poem that is known across the entire Arab world, written by the person who is widely cited as Syria’s national poet, and published a verbatim copy of it under his name. Yet, the men and women sitting on the review committee of the Writers Union didn’t even notice the stolen work presented to them. They read it and approved the application. Yes, the very same people who claim to promote and protect our cultural national treasures couldn’t even recognize a famous piece of work published decades and decades ago. It is true that the Writers Union is investigating the incident, in preparation for revoking Mustafa Abu Zaid’s membership, after the incident was revealed. The union is also investigating how the review board approved the publication of Abu Zaid’s book. But the issue goes well beyond the issue of stealing a poem. Abu Zaid chose a poem written by Nizar Qabbani in 1970. This poem was composed and sung by famous Iraqi singer and songwriter Kadim Al Sahir, doubling the poem’s prominence and spread. Yet Abu Zaid somehow managed to “steal” a notable poem written by one of the most famous Arab poets and sung by one of the most prolific Arab singers, and publish it in his own book titled “Letters of Love,” which was submitted to the Writers Union to obtain membership. There, the book passed the examination of the review committee and the registration committee without a single person noticing the theft and raising a red flag. Consequently, Abu Zaid was accredited as poet and welcomed into the union’s ranks. This is a case of both extreme ignorance and extreme corruption. Above all, it begs the question of how many other cases of plagiarized works passed the union’s review committee undetected. Indeed, a thorough investigation of all members and all applicants must be carried out immediately, in order to ensure that all work submitted to the union is legitimate and authentic. –Abla Al-Ruwaini (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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