AWEJ for Translation & Literary Studies, Volume 5, Number 1. February   2021                                Pp. 210 -224

“Fuel Burns Mixed with Seawater”: The Relationship between the Refugee Tragedy and the Ecological Crisis in the Mediterranean Sea in Khaled Mattawa’s Mare Nostrum (2019)

Department of European Languages and Literature
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
King Abdulaziz University
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


With environmental sustainability gaining more attention in contemporary literature, Arab-American poets have begun to focus on the connection between nature and current Middle Eastern and North African politics. Khaled Mattawa’s fifth collection of poems, Mare Nostrum (2019), discusses the twenty-first-century refugee crisis in the Mediterranean through the effects of economics and environmental destruction on both humans and marine ecosystems alike. This paper aims to examine the Mediterranean migrant tragedy’s entanglement with its ecological crisis in Mattawa’s poems. The study seeks to answer the question: can an analysis of Mare Nostrum (2019) illustrate a parallel between humans’ oppression and the environment? A postcolonial ecocritical lens can explore this connection by looking at the “changing relationship between people, animals, and environment . . . that can be recuperated for anticolonial critique” (Huggan and Tiffin 12). The study’s significance exists in showing the destructive impact of political crises that extend beyond human displacement to become an ecological issue that threatens marine ecosystems. The study’s findings reveal that Mattawa’s poems illustrate that the environmental and humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean is a result of both economic and political instability.

Cite as:

Mu’in, F. (2021). Developing Language Skills and Building Characters through  Literature. Arab World English Journal for Translation & Literary Studies 5 (1) 210 -224.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24093/awejtls/vol5no1.15


Achebe, C. (1994). Things fall apart. New York: Anchor Books.

Ahmed, H. Y., & Hashim, R. S. (2014). Resisting colonialism through nature:

An ecopostcolonial reading of Mahmoud Darwish’s selected poems. Holy Land Studies, 13(1),

89–107. DOI: 10.3366/hls.2014.0079

Allani, C. (2017). Nature in Naomi Shihab Nye’s works: A vehicle for creating

peace. Arab World English Journal for Translation and Literary Studies, 1(3), 32–45.


Alaimo, S. (2012). States of suspension: Trans-corporeality at sea. Interdisciplinary Studies

in Literature and Environment, 19(3), 476–493. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/isle/iss068

Bujupaj, I. (2015). Nature in Arab American literature Majaj, Nye, and Kahf. European

Journal of American Studies, 10(2), 1-23. http://dx.doi.org/10.4000/ejas.11130

Baldick, C. (1996). Oxford concise dictionary of literary terms. Oxford: Oxford University


Doney, S. C. (2010). The growing human footprint on coastal and open-ocean

biogeochemistry. Science, 328(5985), 1512–1516. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1185198

Elmusa, S. S. (2013). The ecological bedouin: Toward environmental principles for the Arab

region. Alif: Journal of Contemporary Poetics, (33), 9–35. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24487180

Fejjari, S. (2011). Erano come due notti, [Image]. Else srl.


Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. (2020, January 29). Alarm over

desert locusts increases as new generation of the destructive pests starts breeding in horn of Africa. Available at https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1258877/icode/

Geddes, A., Espinoza, M.V., Brumat, L., & Abdou, L. H. (2019). The dynamics of regional

migration governance. Cheltenham: Edgar Elgar Publishing.

Giles, S. (2018, December 10). Fuel burns. Blogs from Doctors Without Borders.

Available at https://www.blogs.msf.org/bloggers/sarah/fuel-burns

Glotfelty, C. (1996). Introduction. In C. Glotfelty, & H. Fromm, (Eds.), The ecocriticism

reader: Landmarks in literary ecology (pp. xv-xxxvii). Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Halpern, B. S., et al., (2008). A global map of human impact on marine ecosystems. Science,

319(5865), 948–952. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1149345

Haque, D. (2019). Water occupation and the ecology of Arab American literature. Multi-

Ethnic Literature of the United States, 44(1), 65–86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/melus/mly064

Hassan, S. D. (2006). An interview with Khaled Mattawa. Multi-Ethnic Literature of the     United

States, 31(4), 135–144. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/melus/31.4.135

Huggan, G., & Tiffin, H. (2010). Postcolonial ecocriticism: Literature, animals,

environment. Oxon: Routledge.

Iovino, S. (2017). Mediterranean ecocriticism. Interdisciplinary Studies in

Literature and Environment, 24(2), 1–16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/isle/isx011

Kenyon Review. (2019, July/August). Khaled Mattawa: Kenyon review conversations.

Available at https://kenyonreview.org/conversation/khaled-mattawa/

Koeneke, R. (2014, August 11). Qasida. Poetry Foundation,

Available at www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2014/08/qasida

Mattawa, K. (2019). Mare nostrum. Louisville: Sarabande Books.

Mattawa, K., Bakara, H., & Miller, J. L. (2020). Fugitive atlas: Lyric documentation

and the migrant flow – an interview with Khaled Mattawa. Journal of Narrative Theory50(3), 444-452.

Metres, P. (2010). Foreword. In Mattawa. K., Tocqueville. Western Michigan University.

Mobility and Movement. (2018, October 6). Mare nostrum: Lyric

documentation and the migrant (crisis/flow) [Video]. YouTube. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRDM2PQtS9Y&t=2740s

Nabhan, G. (2016). Foreword. In G. Nabhan, & L. Adwan, (Eds.), Mizna: Prose, poetry, and art exploring Arab America (pp. vi-vii). Minnesota: Mizna, Inc.

Nolasco-Bell, R. (2013). Nature and the environment in Ana Castillo’s so far from God and

Elmaz Abinader’s children of the roojme, (Unpublished Doctoral dissertation). University of Arkansas, USA.

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.) Forms & features: Erasure poetry.

Available at www.poetryfoundation.org/events/92457/forms-and-features-descriptive-poetry

Said, E. (1994). Culture and imperialism. London: Vintage Books.

Sartre, J. P. (1956). Being and nothingness: An essay on phenomenological ontology (H.

Barnes, Trans.). New York: Philosophical Library. (Original work published 1943)

Sinno, N. A. (2013). The greening of modern Arabic literature: An ecological interpretation

of two contemporary Arabic novels. Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 20(1), 125–143. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/isle/ist013

Smyth, G. (2019, August 19). Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa tackles the migrant crisis in

‘Mare Nostrum.’ The National. Available at www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/books/libyan-poet-khaled-mattawa-tackles-the-migrant-crisis-in-mare-nostrum-1.897581

Stafford, K. (2014, September 17). UM professor wins MacArthur grant. Detroit Free

Press. Available at www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/09/17/um-macarthur-fellow/15752847

Sunday, O. (2018, January 19). ‘They ensure each twin baby dies’: The secret killings in

central Nigeria. The Guardian. Available at www.theguardian.com/working-in-development/2018/jan/19/twin-baby-dies-secret-killings-nigeria-remote-communities

Taylor, K. (2019, November 30). Mare nostrum by Khaled Mattawa. The Rupture. Available at


Zemel, C. (2018, January 11). In transit: No end in sight. AJS Perspectives. Available at



Dr. Ashwaq Basnawi is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She specializes in contemporary women’s poetry. Her interests lie in ecocriticism, environmental studies, and representations of diaspora and migration in postcolonial literature.