The novel did not begin to take root in the Middle East until after World War I and did not develop into a serious genre until after World War II. Although Arabic, Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish literatures have a long and rich assortment of oral narrative forms, it seems that none of them has become a major narrative type in the way of the European novel. Lacking a native tradition of their own, Middle Eastern novelists thus turned to Western models for inspiration and guidance.
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, there was some contact between the West and the Middle East. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798; following the French withdrawal, the country’s ruler, Muhammad Ali, began to send missions to Italy and France to study military tactics and new weaponry. In 1882, the British occupied Egypt. However, nonmilitary contact with the West, including the sharing of literature, did not occur to any significant degree until after the region came under French and British domination following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.
Many Western editors argue that the literatures of the Middle East are always about politics. This is indeed often the case. However, this should not be surprising. The Middle East has been a volatile region politically. The widely publicized Arab-Israeli conflict is only one of several conflicts in the Middle East. In addition, regional secularism and freedom of expression have faced ongoing challenges from orthodox Islam and undemocratic systems of government. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to imagine literature not entering political life.