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Prominent Yemeni novelist defends minority rights in Arab world

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A prominent Yemeni novelist and writer known for his controversial views on Jews and Muslims has urged Arabs in the Middle East to give the region’s minorities more rights and to look more “objectively” to history.

Ali al-Muqri, who once stated that “wine is not forbidden in Islam” told Al Arabiya that “unfortunately, the Arab revolutions did not offer a new vision for minorities.”

“I was one of those people who were excited to see dictatorial regimes fall, but still minorities have no rights in our constitutions…Non-Muslims in Muslim constitutions cannot be leaders or heads of states.”

The author, who has published nine novels, with two -- Black Taste, Black Odour and The Handsome Jew -- are listed for the Arab Booker Prize, criticized the Arab revolutions’ lack of motivation to eradicate sexism and social oppression against women.

“Islamic groups do not rule via democracy anyways,” he added. “These groups believe in God’s rules and the government for them is merely the intermediary between these divine rules and the nation.”

Authorities emerging from the ashes of the revolutions shouldn’t rule, he warned, sounding the alarm of dictatorial regimes possibly coming back to power.

His said while Islamists have long been oppressed, their ascension to power will test their ability to lead and govern democratically.

“It is their choice if they want to live in a modern world or in the past?”
The novelist expressed concern that the dictatorship may return to his country, Yemen.

“There is a revolution in Yemen that is cooking on low fire but there is fear that the flame might be put off by totalitarianism, old methods similar to the former regime that pillage resources and monopolize power.”

The Yemeni writer is known for defending minorities, including Jews, in the Middle East.

In his book “The Handsome Jew” the writer addressed the plight of Yemen’s Jewish population.

He claims to be “non partisan” in addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“I do not have an answer [on the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], if I did, I wouldn’t write my book.”

The book tells the story of two teenagers, a Muslim and a Jew, who meet and fall in love against the backdrop of the Yemeni culture.

In another book, "Black Taste, Black Smell," he exposed the marginalization and mistreatment of people with dark skin. The book was widely read in the Arab world.