Abbas El-Zein was born and raised in Beirut. He went to the Mission Laïque Francaise school and studied civil engineering at the American University of Beirut. He was twelve years old when the Lebanese war broke out in 1975 and lived through most of it. He left Lebanon in 1986, at the age of 23, and has since lived in the UK, France and Australia and has traveled in Europe, America, the Arab world and Asia.
Abbas has published essays and short stories about war, identity and displacement for HEAT Magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian Newspaper, The Age, Meanjin and Tank Magazine, among others. His first novel, Tell the Running Water, is set in Beirut and tells the intersecting stories of two young men and a woman coming to terms with the violence around them. His memoir, Leave to Remain, is an autobiographical meditation war, identity and East-West relations, and won a New South Wales Premier literary award in 2010. The Secret Maker of the World, a collection of short stories about violence, justice, love and loss, set in different continents and eras, is published by the University of Queensland Press in early 2014.
Abbas lectures in environmental engineering at the University of Sydney and has written on environmental and climate change issues. He lives in Sydney with his wife Ann and their sons Ali and Sami.