Girls of Riyadh and Desperate in Dubai: reading and writing romance in the Middle East

Publication year

Here's the abstract on the publisher's website:

The Middle East has long held a romantic fascination for the West, characterised by the popular sheikh romance. Yet as Burge and others have argued in these novels Middle Eastern women are often depicted as helpless, veiled, and silent. This chapter approaches romance, gender and the Middle East from a different perspective, analysing two novels written by Middle Eastern women that respond to and challenge the way Western popular romance has represented women and the Middle East. Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawai (2011) and Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea (2007) both “Arabic best -sellers”, describe the romantic lives in four women in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, respectively. We argue that these novels are responding, in their own way, to a global genre (romance/chick-lit) that has for decades monopolised definitions of the “romantic Middle East”. By globalising their own local forms of romance through international publications, Al Hakawai and Alsanea are developing a unique form of popular romance that offers a new perspective on the romance genre and the Middle East.

Here's another abstract:

In this chapter, we look closely at these two examples of Muslim chick lit novels from the Middle East – both ‘Arabic best-sellers’– and their relationship to genre, narrative, and audience. Our focus is on the way these texts respond to and challenge the representation of Arab-Muslim women in popular romantic culture through their articulation of genre tropes. The originally intended local readership of both novels makes them excellent sources to examine their relationship to western foremothers, articulation of narrative forms, and audience identification. Drawing on close readings of each novel, interviews with the authors, and reviews, we argue that these novels respond to genre tropes in ways that do not privilege Anglo-western models and, in the process, present an alternative model for representing Arab-Muslim women in romantic culture.

A pre-print version can be downloaded from the University of Birmingham page linked to above. Although this is about chick lit, there is mention made that "Al Hakawati claims Desperate in Dubai as an explicit response to 'the way Arab and Muslim woman are portrayed in romance novels.'"