The Syrian writer and activist Mustafa Khalifa was born in 1948 in Jarabulus, near the Turkish border, and grew up in Aleppo. As early as his teenage years, he participated in political acts and was arrested twice. He completed his studies in law in Damascus afterwards. In 1979/1980 and from 1981–1994 he was imprisoned without trial in various prisons, including the infamous military prison of Palmyra. After his release, he was banned from leaving the country until 2006, when he emigrated to the United Arab Emirates. He has been living in Paris since 2011.
His experiences and impressions from his imprisonment were processed in his first novel »Al-Qawqa’a« (2008; Eng. »The Shell«, 2017). The protagonist is a young Syrian, who returns to Syria after studying in France in the early 1980s. When he is arrested at the airport, he is accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is punishable by death. For some time, he thinks he is a victim of a mix-up, because he comes from a Christian family and views himself as an atheist. However, he is only released from prison after 13 years pass, during which he witnesses severe human rights violations. In the midst of the prison terror, however, a deep friendship emerges between him and Dr. Nassim, a soulmate in this horrible place. When the protagonist is finally transferred to an intelligence center in Damascus, where he is tortured again, he finally learns the reason for his imprisonment: He had allegedly joked about the Syrian president at a party in Paris. The last chapter of the novel tells of the first year after his release. The relationship with Dr. Nassim ends tragically, and the protagonist is shocked by society’s ignorance of the conditions in the state prisons. The novel was first published in French translation in 2007 and in Arabic in 2008. In addition to German, »Al-Qawqaʼa« has also been translated into English, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, Turkish, Hungarian, and Albanian. »A painful novel that calls for life; a violent novel that begs for mercy« (Rafik Schami). Khalifa’s second novel »Raqṣat al-Qubūr« (tr: The Grave Dance) was published in 2017.
Khalifa is also the author of political and journalistic texts. His analysis »What if Bashar Assad Wins?« was published in 2012, in which Khalifa, using a hypothetical victory of the Syrian regime as his starting point, thoughtfully plays through the consequences at the domestic level. In addition, the Arab Reform Initiative 2013 published Khalifa’s study »The Impossible Partition of Syria«, in which he assesses a possible division of Syria as a catastrophe because it would not restore peace and would also threaten the stability of neighboring countries. In 2015 Khalifa was awarded the German Ibn Ruschd Prize for Free Thought.