International Prize for Arabic Fiction winners Mohammad Achaari from Morocco and Raja Alem from Saudi Arabia attend a discussion at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs until March 20. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A Moroccan co-winner of this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction praised the changes sweeping the Middle East.

"These kinds of changes reveal people's readiness for global values, such as democracy, equal rights and fighting corruption," Mohammad Achaari said during a discussion at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (Adibf). "While I'm very happy that I've lived to see what's happening here, we also have to be cautious about the future with its outcome of these revolutions," he added.

Achaari shares the award, which was granted for the first time to two winners, with Saudi novelist Raja Alem for their works, The Arch and The Butterfly and The Doves' Necklace respectively. They were chosen from six finalists to receive the award and $50,000 (Dh183,635) prize money. The four other shortlisted authors each received $10,000. The award ceremony took place in the capital ahead of the fair.

"I'm very honoured to share the prize and award money with Raja... We are both very excited at the prospect of having our books becoming accessible to a wider audience," Achaari said. Both works are to be translated into English.

The Arch and The Butterfly discusses the effect of extremism with its tale of a father who receives a letter from Al Qaida informing him that his son has died a martyr in Afghanistan.

Hidden life

"I wanted to cast light on the families of those who died as a result of extremism, whether as suicide bombers or as victims of such attacks through my novel.

"It also shows how even though the world of the father collapsed, he was able to find a way to restructure it, just like what happens to those in similar situations in real life," Achaari explained.

In The Doves' Necklace, Raja explores the hidden life of Makkah through a Saudi woman's romance with a German man.

"I've already been asked whether my novel is autobiographical. It is and it isn't, in that it is based on the city I grew up in, Makkah, and my experiences and memories of the city behind its shiny facade," she said.