Mohammad Habeeb is one of the most prominent translators in Syria. He is also a poet and a writer, though he did not have the chance to publish his books in Syria. Habeeb has translated a number of well-known literary works into Arabic, such as works by T.S. Eliot, José Saramago, James Kelman, Sindiwe Magona, Erich Fromm, Moris Farhi, Carl Gustave Jung, Erich Fromm and others.
Habeeb holds a Bachelor of Arts from the English Department of Tishreen University in Lattakia in Syria, and has over ten years experience as translator and interpreter of Arabic-English/English-Arabic within the fields of literature and ideas. He has worked as a school teacher in Syria, teaching writing and translation techniques for junior university students. During the past ten years, he has been working as a freelance translator, and continues to conducts research, translations and drafting campaigns for Reprieve, a UK based charity organisation. Habeeb is a member the Arab Syrian Writers Union (a society for translators), an editor and advisor to a publishing house in Lattakia.
In 1989, Habeeb co-founded the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDF), and became the editor of the organisation’s underground magazine The Voice of Democracy. The organization was primarily established to repeal Syria’s state of emergency from 1963, when the Baath party came into power in a military coup. The state of emergency suspended most constitutional protections in Syria and allowed the authorities to place restrictions on freedoms of individuals with respect to meetings, residence, travel and passage in specific places or at particular times; to preventatively arrest anyone suspected of endangering public security and order; to authorise investigation of persons and places; and to delegate any person to perform any of these tasks.
In 1991, Habeeb was arrested together with a group of other activists, for distributing a flyer criticising human rights violations and the conditions surrounding the re-election of Hafez al-Assad. Sentenced by an exceptional court, which lacked the International Standards for Fair Trial, he was a prisoner of conscience for 9 years in one of Assad’s prisons. After release, Habeeb lost his civil rights and he could not work or practice any public profession.
In the wake of the Arab spring in 2011, Habeeb co-founded and was a leading member of Maan (Together), a peaceful movement to accompany the Revolution in Syria, and support Syrians’ peaceful demands, 2011-2013. Habeeb automatically came under the Syrian regime’s watch list, also because of his previous imprisonment, his continued critical writings and his calls for a peaceful change in the country. His family was constantly harassed and living under threat from government soldiers, IS and other militias. Living in the government friendly city of Lattakia was not un-problematic for the family.
Mohammad Habeeb and his family arrived in Stavanger City of Refuge in August 2015.
Some published translations
T.S. Eliot – The Family Reunion
José Saramago – Blindness
Khaled El Hosseini – And the Mountains Echoed
J.M. Coetzee – Elizabeth Costello (still in process)
James Kellman – How Late it Was
Sindiwe Magona – Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night (noveller)
Angela Carter (still in process) – Knights at Circus
In the media upon arrival in Stavanger
Aftenposten18.09.15 Hva skjer i Syria? | Mohammad Habeeb, syrisk forfatter
Aftenposten 21.09.15 Lynkurs i syrisk litteratur
Aftenposten 21.09.15 - Selvfølgelig vil det bli fred i Syria
Stavanger Aftenblad 10.09.15 - Vi syrere flykter fra krigen vi ikke vil ha
NRK Rogaland 10.09.15 Fleire syriske forfattarar søkjer seg til fribyane
NRK P2 Kulturhuset 16.09.15 Radio/Kulturnytt
NRK Nyhetsmorgen 100916: Radio/Morning news and In the local news
Interview with Mohammad Habeeb at Kapittel 2015