In 2014 the Palestinian writer and lawyer, Raja Shehadeh, was invited by the Edinburgh International Book Festival to chair a series of discussions on the past, present and future of the Middle East.   These discussions, involving writers and thinkers from across the region, looked at how the changes and conflagrations erupted, what long term dynamics lay behind them, and explored some of the possibilities for the future.  The series of events in Charlotte Square Gardens generated some passionate debates, and twelve months on Shehadeh has published Shifting Sands, a collection of writing from fifteen of the participating authors inspired by the Book Festival discussions.  Shifting Sands will be launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival later this month.


Shifting Sands brings together impassioned and informed writers to talk about the Middle East, in discussions ranging from Arab countries in crisis to the dilemmas facing Iran and Turkey. This is a region with unlimited potential and yet, in the words of one writer, it feels today ‘as though the world around me is on fire’. Revealing how the roots of the current conflict lie in the past, from the catastrophic long-term effects of colonialism to the interplay of religion and politics, the book also explores more recent events, such as the seismic after-effects of the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamic State. And it goes on to explore a number of important questions: What is it like to be a writer in the Middle East? What hope does the future hold? Where do we go from here?


Raja Shehadeh said “Only by better understanding what is going on in the Middle East today can we hope to bring about change. Not only do the peoples of the region urgently need change towards secure peace, social justice and equality for all, and civic participation, but our globalized world does as well. The contributors to Shifting Sands, writing on Turkey and Iran as well as the Arab region, hope to contribute to that understanding by moving beyond quick generalizations to address the hard questions all of us in the region face today.”


Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said “There is no false optimism in Shifting Sands, but the pages of this startling book bristle with a mixture of passion, wisdom, exasperation and hope. Just like the Edinburgh International Book Festival discussions that inspired them, the essays in Shifting Sands offer clear, navigable paths through the labyrinthine complexities and seemingly intractable problems of the Middle East. Although the writers in this book come from diverse backgrounds, they share a common belief that there are people in the region with the imagination and the determination to find lasting, peaceful solutions. It is to their great credit that Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson have assembled a highly informative book which also succeeds in generating a spirit of cautious optimism. It’s an honour to have played a part in making this important publication possible.”


Shehadeh will be joined at the 2015 Edinburgh International Book Festival to launch Shifting Sands by his co-editor Penny Johnson, together with contributing authors, Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy, Kuwaiti novelist Mai Al-Nakib and Middle East historian Avi Shlaim, to discuss the rapidly-changing situation in the Middle East on Friday 21 August.


The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from 15 to 31 August 2015 in Charlotte Square Gardens in the heart of the city.  Entrance to the Gardens is free and this year the Book Festival welcomes over 800 writers, poets, politicians, journalists, illustrators, photographers and thinkers from 55 countries around the world.  Full details of the programme, and all tickets, can be found at


Shifting Sands is published by Profile Books.




Review Copies of Shifting Sands are available: 

Please contact Valentina Zanca at Profile Books on


Notes to Editors:

Raja Shehadeh is Palestine's leading writer. He is also a lawyer and the founder of the pioneering Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq. Shehadeh is the author of several acclaimed books including Language of War, Language of Peace and Occupation Diaries and winner of the 2008 Orwell Prize for Palestinian Walks. He lives in Ramallah in Palestine.

Penny Johnson is a founding member of the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine and an associate editor of Jerusalem Quarterly. She co-edited ‘Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home.’

Contributing writers:

Avi Shlaim, James Barr, Salim Tamari, Khaled Fahmy, Tamim Barghouti, Justin Marozzi, Ramita Navai, Alev Scott, Mai Al-Nakib, Selma Dabbagh, Marilyn Booth, Dawn Chatty, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Malu Halasa and Raja Shehadeh.



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